Keller advances four excellent strategies to help the PCA move forward together: We should acknowledge how much doctrinal unity we do have; we should acknowledge the complexity of the reasons of why we differ; we must repent and forgive each other; and we need far more face-to-face conversations. I couldn’t agree more. I believe that the majority of those on the “stricter” side of the denomination share upwards of 90% of their opinions with those on the “broader” side.
I was grateful to be asked by byFaith to offer something of a response to the often-insightful March 21 article by Tim Keller, entitled, “What’s Happening In the PCA?” Keller begins by correcting what he believes to be a misinterpretation of the recent failure of Overtures 23 and 37 and then proceeds to offer his perspective on the state of the denomination as a whole.
While I will interact with Keller’s piece at various points, in what follows I will also try to offer some thoughts of my own regarding the state and health of the Presbyterian Church in America which will present a slightly different take on where things stand and how best to proceed from here. Before I do any of that, however, I wish to thank Keller for his article and for his ministry in general. I hold him in the highest regard, have benefitted from his preaching and writing, and, like so many of us, I’ve learned a great deal about ministry, but especially about Jesus from him. He remains in my prayers as he continues to serve our common Savior and our beloved church, even in the midst of his fight with cancer.
We All Agree: Side B Christianity is an Unwelcome Guest
Keller takes as his primary target a narrative that reads the failure of the two overtures in question as indicating that, while “most of the PCA is sound,” a minority of the presbyteries of the PCA are “Side B-leaning.” If left unchecked, this argument runs, they will slide inevitably into Side A “and the end of orthodoxy.” He rejects that account of things for three reasons: First, no court of the church has ever endorsed Side B convictions; second, the Ad Interim Committee Report on Human Sexuality clearly rejected Side B theology; and third, given the overwhelming support for the report, we must recognize the many other valid reasons why presbyters and presbyteries voted ‘no’ besides agreement with Side B ideas.
So, Keller concludes, “As far as I can tell and as far as our documented actions can affirm, an overwhelming super-majority of the PCA does not accept the biblical legitimacy of a Side B perspective.”
In this, I am delighted to say, I am in complete agreement with Keller. Side B “gay-Christianity” is an unwelcome guest in the PCA, and the overwhelming majority of our members, churches, presbyters, and presbyteries reject it. That Overtures 23 and 37 failed, but only by the very slimmest of margins, surely reinforces that point. As Keller helpfully points out, many of those who voted ‘no’ did so without any disagreements with the theological or ethical issues raised in the overtures themselves. They voted ‘no’ out of concern for what they feared might be the unintended, negative consequences for our polity and procedures of some of the language used.
I can say that I’ve heard some — but really only a very few — voices (over)reacting to the failures of the overtures by suggesting that those who voted “no” are crypto-liberals who want the PCA to fling wide her doors to Side B-affirming candidates and officers. In my view, these are unworthy and unhelpful ways to characterize the votes of brothers to whom we are duty-bound to extend the most charitable interpretation of their actions.
Recent Votes Tell Us to Perfect Language, Not Retreat
Instead of concluding that the PCA has suddenly slipped further down the Side-B slope, I have a different interpretation of the failure of the overtures. In my judgment, the recent votes of both General Assembly and the presbyteries tell us not to back off from pressing the matters raised in the overtures, but that we are yet to perfect the language, and we must listen carefully to the polity concerns that have been raised, and bring back improved versions of these important overtures to this, and if necessary, to future Assemblies.
The message isn’t “the PCA is sliding into liberalism.” The message is “the PCA is in broad agreement on this issue, now let’s find language that allows us to implement wise provisions that address the problem.”