The State of the PCA

Further comments on the present state of the Presbyterian Church in America

Why should we think that in our church in our generation the church should move forward without controversy? I don’t like controversy. I fear those who do. But iron sharpens iron, and that means disagreement. If those in the PCA are unwilling to engage with those in the denomination with whom they disagree, there is no hope for the long-term viability of the denomination.

 

A post with this title by Bryan Chapell appeared earlier this week. A response a couple of day later appeared from Rick Phillips. So I figured I’d add my two cents worth.

First, where I’m coming from. I have served the entirety of my ministry in the PCA in Calvary Presbytery, which is probably notorious as one of the more conservative presbyteries in the denomination. I am not widely traveled in PCA circles, unlike both Bryan and Rick. I teach at Greenville Presbyterian Seminary, which at least some folks in the PCA have never heard of, and some wish they hadn’t. I attend GA sporadically, though I have served three years on the Review of Presbytery Records Committee. So my perspective is parochial, but informed by a certain level of awareness of what’s going on the denomination at large.

First, I think Rick got a lot right in his response to Bryan. I would fall into the “traditionalist” group that Dr. Chapell identified, but I don’t recognize myself in his description. In fact, I was shocked by how far off his description was. I thought he knew his denomination better than that. His statement identifying Colson, Falwell, Robertson, and other such as being the heroes of the over-50 crowd couldn’t be wider of the mark. There are no doubt those in the denomination who looked to those men as Christian leaders thirty years ago, but even then, they would not necessarily have considered them heroes or even good guides on how best the church should function. I appreciate some of the things that Al Mohler and Russell Moore have to say, and I’m thankful to God for their work, but I wouldn’t want either one of them in my presbytery.

Further, his characterization of the progressive churches as the ones that are growing, and the churches of the others (traditionalists and neutrals) as not is unkind as well as inaccurate. Certainly there are churches in all three groups that are growing, and there are churches in all three groups that are not. There are also many PCA churches that are located in rural areas with small populations where much growth will not happen, no matter how “progressive” the church might be.

I could go on in this vein, but Dr. Phillips has already dealt with much of it. Instead I want to focus on one statement that Dr. Chapell made, and one point that neither he nor Dr. Phillips addressed. Dr. Chapell made the comment early on that the progressives “are increasingly concerned that the church cannot move forward without controversy.” It may come as a surprise to Dr. Chapell and the “progressives,” but the church has never moved forward without controversy. There were the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the early church. There was the iconoclastic controversy of the medieval church. There were generations of controversy leading up to the big controversy of the Reformation. There was the Synod of Dordt. There was the Westminster Assembly. There were the Old Side-New Side and Old School-New School controversies. Why should we think that in our church in our generation the church should move forward without controversy? I don’t like controversy. I fear those who do. But iron sharpens iron, and that means disagreement. If those in the PCA are unwilling to engage with those in the denomination with whom they disagree, there is no hope for the long-term viability of the denomination. But if we’re going to disagree with one another, we need to know those with whom we disagree better than Dr. Chapell seems to.

Finally, there is an issue that neither Dr. Chapell nor Dr. Phillips addressed. That is the ministry and outreach of the PCA to minorities. Now I know that some of my African-American and Hispanic brothers think that there is too little of this going on. I understand their concern, and I sympathize with them. But I would also like to encourage them. It may not seem like much now, but given where the PCA started, and the fact that the PCA has only been round for a little over forty years, the PCA has actually made significant progress in these areas. Yes, it needs to make more. But that will only come by patient sowing and watering. There are increasing numbers of church plants and outreaches by PCA ministers and churches to minority communities. My generation (I am 61) will not see much fruit from these works. There is too much baggage that needs to be cleared out. But the next generation will see more, and hopefully the following generation even more. But we do well to remember Paul’s admonition, “And let us not grow weary of doing good. for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9)

In short, the PCA can have a bright future, but it will take more getting to know one another, and what others really think and are committed to, and willingness to engage in some controversy when necessary.

Benjamin Shaw is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. This article is taken from his blog and is used with permission.