The news of Stellman’s departure is one that adds a great fuel to the current debacle occurring in the PCA. The PCA is having an identity crisis. This event adds to an already fragmented denomination.
Stellman, a staunch opponent of the Federal Vision and prosecutor of Peter Leithart in his trial in the Northwest Presbytery of the PCA, has resigned from his post as a PCA minister. Stellman argues that his views on Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide no longer comport with the Westminster Confession of Faith. According to Stellman, Sola Scriptura does not do justice to the process of how the canon came to be. In Stellman’s view, Sola Scriptura–as defended by the Reformed Church–fails by denying any role for ecclesiastical authority. Hence, Sola Scriptura is ultimately Scriptures read through the eyes of autonomous man.
Further, he says that Sola Fide fails the New Testament test. Stellman writes:
I have become convinced that the teaching that sinners are justified by a once-for-all declaration of acquittal on God’s part, based upon the imputation of Christ’s righteousness received by faith alone, is not reflective of the teaching of the New Testament as a whole. I have come to believe that a much more biblical paradigm for understanding the gospel—and one that has much greater explanatory value for understanding Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John—is one that sets forth the New Covenant work of the Spirit, procured through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, as internally inscribing God’s law and enabling believers to exhibit love of God and neighbor, thereby fulfilling the law in order to gain their eternal inheritance (Rom. 8:1-4).
This is in many ways a sad account of someone who never considered the broader Reformational claims. Stellman lived in a world where the Church and interpretation suffered from subjectivity overdose. Further, he embraced a soteriology that lacked any intention to harmonize Paul and James in a coherent fashion, or that placed union with Christ in a more preeminent role. He further defended a Christianity that prided itself in non-cultural engagement. These theologies offer nothing more than the crumbs, and they fall far short of the feast of the Reformation’s table.
In my estimation, Stellman’s conversion to Roman Catholicism is the result of finding an authority (WCF) unsatisfying and seeking refuge in another authority (Rome). The TR movement (strict confessionalists) suffers from a dis-placed authority problem. They cherish the confessions to such an extent that the Scriptures are interpretively strangled. For many of them, the Westminster Standards are elevated to such a status that psychologically it is not difficult to see such a transition occurring (one wonders how the Divines would have treated such exaltation of a document). When one authority fails you seek another authority to take its place. This is a sad state of affairs.
The Bible is the final authority. “Solo Scriptura” (to use Keith Matthison’s language) is the antithesis of Sola Scriptura. Solo Scriptura isolates the Bible from the community. “Me and my Bible” arrive at a conclusion divorced from the Church context and any form of accountability (cults are formed through this means). Sola Scriptura acknowledges the supremacy of the Bible, but it dares not separate or isolate itself from the Ecclesia. Responsible Sola Scriptura knows the limitations of autonomous man. Stellman’s failure to consider the aiding function of tradition led him to conclude that Sola Scriptura is fallacious, and that we need an infallible tradition from whence the source of our interpretation comes.
These conclusions are saddening. Jason Stellman–though guilty of accepting the presuppositions of a fallacious system as the Roman Church–is in many ways a product of Protestantism light; a Protestantism that lacks the strength and vitality of the 16th century Reformers. As Peter Leithart observed: “Biblicist, liturgical, sacramental, ecumenical Protestantism is the antidote to Roman fever, not the cause.”
Let this compel us Protestants to love the Church more. To serve one another more. To encourage one another to good works. To submit to those in authority over us (Heb. 13). To engage the Scriptures with a sure sense of its interpretive history. To refuse the interpretive isolationist temptation, and to commit ourselves to the Berean call.
As for Mr. Stellman, I pray for his return to Protestantism. I pray for his re-assessment of his newly found narrative. I pray that he will re-consider his decision and embrace a more thorough Reformed catholicism that does not exalt confessionalism, but places confessions always–both academically and psychologically–at the feet of the revealed Word of God in Sacred Scriptures.
Additional Notes and Quotes:
Doug Wilson has added a few thoughts: “In the meantime, I wish Jason Stellman well, and consequently I earnestly pray that — before he does one thing or another Tiber-wise — he seeks out godly counsel from more expansive and robust Protestants than he has been accustomed to, including men he once thought of as adversaries. The Protestant faith is a great city, not a tiny village.”
Peter Leithart wrote in a twitter post: “Biblicist, liturgical, sacramental, ecumenical Protestantism is the antidote to Roman fever, not the cause.”