Why the Mission Needs the Marks

Introduction
Doubtless the one of the most significant movements within evangelicalism at the moment is the “emergent” or “emerging churches” movement. The adjectives “emerging” and “emergent” designate different wings of the movement. Generally, the “emergent” wing is more radical and the “emerging” wing a little less radical. Just as frequently, however, in the contemporary rhetoric from both wings of the movement no distinction is made and this essay will speak of the “emerging movement” (hereafter, EM). Like their older evangelical brothers and sisters, the EM also rejects (at least elements of) fundamentalism and revivalism. In their place, they are constructing a cross-traditional, eclectic synthesis. Christianity Today writer Andy Crouch describes the approach to worship and theology of Mars Hill Bible Church (Grand Rapids) as simultaneously “echoing and subverting a fashion-driven culture of cool.”1 This hip veneer covers an intentional theological synthesis. As pastor Rob Bell puts it,

We’re re-discovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life. Legal metaphors for faith don’t deliver a way of life. We grew up in churches where people knew the nine verses why we don’t speak in tongues, but had never experienced the overwhelming presence of God.2

An eclectic approach to Christianity, with somewhat different results, also marks Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, in which he describes himself simultaneously as a “missional, evangelical, Post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.”3 Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger characterize the EM thus:

Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. This definition encompasses nine practices. Emerging (1) churches identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities.4

Scot McKnight gives his own list of 5 characteristics. The emerging churches (which he distinguishes from “emergent” churches) are “prophetic (or at least provocative). They are “postmodern,” “praxis-oriented,” “post-evangelical,” and “political.”5

The Problem of Defining “Missional”
If the EM is hard to define, it is even more difficult to understand what they mean by the word “missional.”  Perhaps no single word in the EM is used more than the word “missional.” No single word is more central to their identity and purpose and yet it is not easy to find them defining the word “missional.”  They often use it as a crucial qualifier for their understanding of Scripture or the Christian faith. For example, on his blog, Scot McKnight has been publishing a series of studies called “Missional Jesus” wherein Jesus life and ministry are analyzed in “missional terms,” with the result that Jesus appears quite similar to the EM movement. Judging by the accounts by the EM and judging by their characterizations of the adjective “missional,” the two seem to be used as synonyms. In other words, if one will be genuinely “missional” one must agree with the EM theology. Further, if we compare the basic attributes of the EM’s self-description with the accounts given by scholars of pietism they are virtually identical.6 Thus, in other words, to be identified with the EM is to be missional and viewed historically, the EM/Missional movements, are simply contemporary ways of re-stating Pietism. For all the new rhetoric, what we have is, at bottom, an argument between those who value religious experience as the highest good and those who, while valuing religious experience—I call to the stand the Heidelberg Catechism, William Perkins, and John Owen—value an objective theology, piety, and practice above subjective religious experience.

What are confessional Reformed Christians to do with these movements and particularly with this adjective “missional”? This essay argues that we must do two things: First, if we are to apply it to ourselves, we must challenge the prevailing EM definition of “missional.” Second, we must recognize that the Reformed theology, piety, and practice presents a clear alternative to the EM definition of “missional” because, unlike the EM, Reformed theology has a doctrine of the church, which confesses that it is in and through the church that the Triune God is accomplishing his mission. For us to say “the mission needs the marks,” is to say that without the visible, institutional church, there is no mission. In order to have a proper definition of what it is to be “missional” we must have a proper definition of what the church is.

First, the definition of the adjective “missional.” There is a some controversy in the EM over whether the word “missional” is being “co-opted” by folk such as we who are not entitled to use it. Anthony Bradley asks whether the term “missional” was being “hijacked” by traditionalists of various sorts. He raises the question whether “missional” types need another adjective to describe themselves.7 He complains about the fact that “Church Growth” guys are now using the term. He cites a document by Tim Keller—who actually provides something of a definition of “Missional”8 and says the term is being co-opted by “the traditional/seeker/program oriented ‘ministries’ driven church”).9 The problem, he says, is that none of these folks are genuinely “missional.”  He asks, “Can you really be missional if your personal relationships are confined to the Christian shire? If your church has no non-Christians attending? If adult baptisms of the unchurched aren’t a regular occurrence, if the church is not serving the needs of the local community, etc?”  The folks at “Reformergent” define missional as:

Social action, community involvement, and sacrificial hospitality is primary in lifestyle living. There is once again an interest in being light and salt in a broken world. This involves primarily politics and culture. Although the emerging church sometimes lacks an emphasis on evangelism as part of missional living, there is still value in their approach to how we can be ‘in this world, and not of it.’10

They give three marks of what it means to be “emergent” and “missional.” Those marks are a concern for “social justice,” “authenticity,” and an “unstructured ecclesiology.”11

It should be clear by now that the definition of “missional” raises serious questions. What is at stake here is the very nature of Christianity. This is not simply my assessment; this is the assessment of leaders of the EM. For example, in response to Driscoll’s criticisms, Doug Pagitt says, “I think that we’re basically talking about two different versions of Christianity” and Tony Jones agrees.12 Spencer Burke, says that his goal is to radically re-shape the visible, institutional church. He says,

I challenge the institutional church, where are you spending your R&D [research and development] money now? … If it’s trying to figure out the next big church, I think you should not spend your money that way. … I actually believe that you will see major organizations in the next few years investing in R&D because of the missional question … because of the things they are discovering now…13

Confessional Reformed churches should share this concern. It is a fair question whether building mega-churches is the mission of the church. As he continues, the picture becomes clearer:

I really believe the institutional church will die to itself … even though it will destroy our Sunday morning event … even though it will mean no longer investing in training biblical teachers for the one-hour event … for the greater good, the greater cause, the missional opportunity….14

Let me be clear, if Reformed folk are to apply the adjective “missional” to themselves, it must be defined clearly and that definition must be quite distinct from that used by the EM. Indeed, if we are to use it to describe ourselves we must, to use Bradley’s terms, hijack it or co-opt it.

Let’s us begin doing so. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it in this use as an adjective relating to missions or missionary work, but this is not what the EM means by it. According to the EM, Sunday mornings are no longer considered the Christian Sabbath or the Lord’s Day morning, the day of public worship, the divinely appointed time and place for the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. Sunday morning is just an event and not even a “missional” event at that! Tripp Fuller says,

There is much to learn and keep from the Reformation, a movement that was thoroughly modern, but there is reason to give pause to returning to it with a clenched fist. Right now I think the last thing the Church needs are white dudes with clinched fists, especially when what they are clenching is ‘God’s Truth.’ Throughout modernity white Dudes have had God’s truth in their hands too much, and behind them are ditches filled with God’s and/or their enemies. (This confusion is easy when you have truth tightly gripped in a fist.) … I am confident that, as the Church finds its bearing in a new world, we don’t need any more clinched fists, for it is God’s world and God’s truth after all.15

We see a similar anti-ecclesiastical approach to mission in The Missional Church edited by Darrell L. Guder and co-written by five different authors.16  They agree with many of the EM writers who reject the “Western mission” as a “European-church-centered enterprise.”17 In its place they seek a “theocentric reconceptualization of Christian mission.”18 In the EM/Missional movements there is a turning away from the church as organization and toward the church as organism. They regard the institutional church as a remnant of “Christendom,” the medieval church-state complex.19 Many of the EM/Missional theorists seem to accept, to greater and lesser degrees, the nineteenth-century theory that the apostolic church was purely kerygmatic and charismatic and that organization was a later, post-apostolic corruption of authentic Christianity.20 On that premise they seek to recover some version of primitive Christianity. In the chapter on the church drafted by George Hunsberger, Missional Church contrasts the a missional approach to the doctrine of the church with the “heritage of a functional Christendom and forms of church life shaped by modern notions of voluntary association and rational organization.”21 This is at least partly true and helpful, but they continue by calling into question the very notion of the “marks of the church.” They write that, though the Reformers did not intend it, the result of speaking of “the marks of the true church” has been that Protestants have come to think of church as “a place where certain things happen.”22 The argument throughout the chapter is that we must move beyond a conception of the church as a “place where things happen” to a dynamic community caught up in the mission of God in the world. They are more helpful, however, when they note that the verbs most often used by the New Testament in association with the “kingdom of God” and the “kingdom of heaven” are “to receive” and “to enter.”23 That the kingdom is not something we can usher in through evangelism or cultural action is a truly important point.

Finally, in contrast to a good bit of the contemporary literature coming from the EM/missional movements, Christopher J. H. Wright provides one of the most helpful approaches to the question of a missional theology.24  He argues that we should use a “missional” hermeneutic on analogy with our Christocentric hermeneutic.25 Just as we read the Bible to see how it progressively reveals the person of God the Son in Christ through the history of redemption,26 so too we ought to recognize that the mission of God is also progressively revealed in redemptive history.27 Thus, e.g. he distinguishes between the missional character of Israel’s relation to the nations, inasmuch as they existed to fulfill the divine intention, and the Christian mission to preach the gospel to all the nations.28 In that respect, he argues that though it is true to say that the Bible teaches a mission, it is also true that the Bible itself is the product of God’s mission.29 The whole history of redemption is the history of the outworking of the divine plan moving from creation, to fall, to redemption, and finally to glory.30

What the EM/Missional Movement Gets Right
There are a number of fundamental disagreements between the EM/Missional movements and the Reformed confession. Nevertheless, there are at least five points about the EM/Missional movements that confessional Reformed churches should appreciate.

  1. Christendom was a mistake and more importantly we live after Christendom. Christians ought to engage the whole world with all of God’s revelation. The attempt to recapture or reconstitute Christendom is a great diversion from our true vocation and the mission of God at this stage in redemptive history. The gospel may not be safely identified with any particular political program (left, center, or right) and it may not be identified any particular cultural program.
  2. Christianity has always been and will always be a global phenomenon. As we think about our relations to the “mission of God” in the world, we need to reckon with the fact that we are part of a much larger enterprise. We, in North America, are not necessarily the center of world Christianity. For example, we can learn much from our one million brothers and sisters in the Church of Christ Among the Tiv (NKST) in Nigeria about what it means to be truly submissive to the mission of God as they live their faith before a largely hostile and often dangerous culture.
  3. The “mission of God” has very little to do with the contemporary evangelical obsession with programs. The “program-driven” church is probably much more about satisfying the social needs of middle class suburbanites than it is about the mission of the church.
  4. The modern church is too closely associated with particular cultural forms. We are not nearly as critical of our own debt to our own time and place as we need to be.
  5. The modern evangelical church is too easily reckoned as just another voluntary organization. This is why evangelicals shop churches. They do not think of the institutional church as a divine institution to which they have a sacred moral and spiritual obligation and connection. The local congregation has become just another service provider.

What the EM/Missional Movement Gets Wrong
As many things as there are to appreciate about the EM/Missional movements, there are at least nine points of serious disagreement between the Reformed faith and the EM/Missional movements.

  1. The EM/Missional movements are unhelpfully vague about exactly what the “mission” of God is and as a consequence they are unhelpfully vague about what the “mission” of the church is.
  2. When the EM/Missional movements do speak clearly about the mission of the church that mission has precious little to do with the mission of God and the history of redemption and revelation as Reformed churches have understood it. Almost invariably the mission is re-cast in activist, social-gospel, and even Anabaptist terms. This is not my judgment, it is the judgment of EM/Missional advocate Scot McKnight, who says of Brian McLaren’s new book, Everything Must Change: “Truth be told, Brian is an Anabaptist [sic] as I am reading him….”31
  3. The EM and Missional accounts of church history seem unaware of a century of criticism of the old and outdated “Kerygma to dogma” model of church history in which the EM and “Missional” groups attempt to re-capture or re-create the “authentic” “kerygmatic” and socially conscious apostolic communities in our time to get past the ossified “dogma” with which Christianity has been encrusted. I understand why they are attracted to it, since it is just a slightly more sophisticated version of the sort of evangelical and fundamentalist primitivism that they are offering now. The great problem with this model is that it just is not true. The whole Kerygma to dogma model assumed, a priori, that the apostolic church could have no institutions, offices, or organization. Any evidence of such organization only meant that portion of the NT could not be taken to be authentic.The repeated claim that the Reformation was a modern phenomenon has no basis in actual history. The Reformation occurred a century and a half before modernity began to dominate the West. The Reformation and post-Reformation Reformed churches were pre-modern people and they were hotly critical of modernity when it appeared. The leading critics of Rene Descartes were not Pietists, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. The leading critics of modernity, as it began to appear, were the orthodox Reformed. It was the Pietists, the forebears of the EM/Missional movements who conceded Christianity to modernity. The nineteenth-century German liberals who laid waste to the faith, who laid siege against the Scriptures were all the children and grand children of Pietists. The EM/Missional movements seem to be counseling us to drink more deeply from the very wells that brought about the destruction they lament.The great irony of the EM/Missional complaint about orthodoxy as “modernist,” is that the Modern creed had four great points, to which most segments of the EM/Missional movement give assent.
    1.  The Modernist creed confesses the universal Fatherhood of God. In the modernist religion, the utterly transcendent (or immanent) deity is everyone’s God/god in precisely the same way. It is not confessional Calvinism, but the EM/Missional movement that includes universalists in its midst.
    2. The Modernist creed confesses the universal brotherhood of humanity. In the modern religion, all human beings are all one great human family without distinction before the deity in any way. Of course, confessing as we do double predestination and limited atonement, it is unlikely that confessional Calvinism will be confused with modernity, but how distinct from the modern creed is the EM/Missional movement?
    3. The Modernist creed confesses human and social perfectibility. If you are of a certain age, you may remember the slogan, “we’re getting better every way and every day.” As dark Calvinists with our doctrine of the depravity of every human faculty we are not good candidates for alignment with the Modernist creed, but the same cannot be said for many elements of the EM/Missional movement.
    4. The most basic Modernist confession is that of human autonomy, the ability to will the contrary to all other wills, even God, is what makes one human. As confessors of human depravity and divine sovereignty, confessional Reformed theology utterly rejects this foundational Modernist doctrine, which is a significant reason we are seen as unreasonable and even anti-human by Modernists. It is far from clear that the EM/Missional movements find themselves with the same antithesis to Modernity on this basic point.
  4. The EM and “Missional” complaint about the close association of the church with cultural forms could be taken as a form of Gnosticism. Our Lord took on a true human nature. As a true man, born of a virgin, he entered human history, spoke a natural language, and was, as a man, completely embedded in a particular culture and time. He commissioned his apostles, also embedded in a particular culture and time, to preach the gospel that transcends all cultures and times, to every language, tongue, and tribe. The paradox of the mission is that the transcendent, triune God entered history to accomplish the great mission, to redeem his people in the fullness of time, and he committed the proclamation of the reality of that fulfillment to the visible church, which shall always remained embedded in time and history until there is no more time and history.Let us also remember that it was the Anabaptists, with whom the EM/Missional movements seem to be so enamored, who overtly and repeatedly denied the true humanity of Christ and who adopted the Docetic doctrine of the so-called “celestial flesh” of Christ. The Definition of Chalcedon better serves the biblical and holy catholic faith than the Christology of the Anabaptists does.
  5. Though the EM and “missional” movements often write as if they were distinctively post-modern, there is little evidence that they really are genuinely post-modern. In many ways it is not a modern movement, beginning with late modern assumptions. The first “modern” people were the Anabaptists and then the Pietists. It is they who made the faith wholly private and personal and who divorced it from history and made it chiefly about the Quest for the Illegitimate Religious Experience.By “modern” I mean they accept the premise that the subject of the verb is “I.”  This is the great difference between Christian antiquity, where the overwhelming consensus was exactly opposite that of modernity, and modernity. The pre-modern church assumed universally that God had spoken, that his revelation is objective and normative for all people, in all times and places. The great question of Christian antiquity was not whether God has spoken but what has God said.The great modern question is has God really said? Of course that question has ancient and diabolical roots, but never until the Modern period did it become the dominant question, the dominant assumption. It was in reaction to the ascendancy of the modern question and the accompanying assumption of personal autonomy that Christians began to regard the faith not about objective, verifiable historical truths such as creation, redemption, resurrection and return, but about the personal experience of the divine. Calvin and Luther are one thing, and Friedrich Schleiermacher is another. The EM and “Missional” movements have much deeper roots in the liberal Pietism of Schleiermacher than they do in the confessional, churchly Protestantism of Calvin and Luther.
  6. The EM/Missional movements are much to be faulted for their lack of clarity about what the gospel is. The Scriptures are unequivocal that the gospel is the announcement of deliverance from judgment and damnation on the basis of the righteousness of Christ and received through faith alone in Christ and his finished work. This is not the clarion call of the EM/Missional movement.
  7. The EM/Missional movements fail consistently to distinguish between the two kingdoms. According to God’s Word there are two kingdoms in this world, one from heaven and the other of this age. Christians live in both kingdoms simultaneously. The visible, institutional church, the “true church,” represents the spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of God as we confess in the Belgic Confession Art. 29. Here, we should credit the chapter in Missional Church that gets this aspect of the question right.32 Only the baptized live in this kingdom outwardly and only believers inhabit this kingdom spiritually. All humans, however, live in another kingdom, the civil or earthly kingdom and much of that to which the EM/Missional movements are calling the church actually belongs to the civil kingdom. Christians may and should work to alleviate suffering, but the visible, institutional church, as such, is called to only three tasks: To preach the gospel, to administer the sacraments, and to administer discipline. We confess these as the marks of the true church. We confess:

    The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church—and no one ought to be separated from it (Belgic Confession [1561], art. 29).

    When we adopted the three marks of true church, we were in a situation very much like ours today. It was difficult for Christians to know where they should worship and to which institution they should give their allegiance. They needed clear, objective indicators of where the true church could be found. That need has never been greater than it is now. That is why we chose three objective marks that can be tested by empirical evidence. Listen to the sermons, is the gospel preached? That is not a trick question. Either the gospel justification through faith alone in Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension is present or it is not. Are the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper administered? By our lights, if as often happens in our hyper-spiritual age, they are absent or fundamentally corrupted in favor of “new measures,” then the church is also absent. Finally, it will become clear soon enough if a congregation is disciplined. If the minister is unaccountable or if there are no elders or gross sin and error are winked at, then there is no discipline.

    It is often said that we should add a fourth mark, If we add to these marks then we gain nothing and risk losing them all. To be sure, there are subsidiary obligations in the church. For example, we must love one another, but there are good reasons why “love” or charity is not a mark of the true church. At first glance, the evidence for making “love” a mark of the church seems overwhelming, after all Paul is very clear in 1 Cor 13 that, whatever else is true of us, if we have not love, we are of little use to the kingdom. The chief problem with adding love or any other virtue to the list of marks is that the list becomes useless. If we make “charity” a mark of the visible church so that one can look at a congregation and determine whether it is a true church on the basis of whether it has love, then who gets to say “how much”? Who gets to define what counts as love and what does not? If we may add “love” as a mark of the church, then why should we not add holiness and if holiness then why not other virtues? On what basis do we stop adding virtues to the list of marks?  We know the answer to that question as soon as we answer another. Which congregation on the face of the earth has all the necessary virtues or even one of them in sufficient quantity to qualify as a true church?

    As it happens, the Reformed churches already considered this question. We assign the virtues to the marks of the Christian. Those marks are also in Belgic Confession Art. 29. “As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ.”

  8. They love the true God and their neighbors, they love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works. In our theology, piety, and practice, there is no question whether faith, hope, and love are necessary. We are not Donatists. The lack of perfection in the saints or even in the ministers does not disqualify the church. What matters most about the church—between Reformed confessionalism and evangelical pietism there is, on this question, fixed an unbridgeable gulf—is what the church confesses, what it preaches, whether and how it administers the holy sacraments, and whether it administers discipline. In our view, however, the visible church, i.e. the congregation of the saints in stated worship services where the Word is preached and the sacraments and discipline are administered are exactly “places where things happens,” and those assemblies are ordinarily the only such places where such things happen.
  9. To say that the mission needs the marks is to say that the mission needs the true church. One of the greatest faults of the EM/Missional movements is that they seem bent on destroying or circumventing the visible church. Perhaps this is because of their context? Perhaps they see the visible church as disposable or worse, as an obstacle, because they are in mainline churches where dead heterodoxy seems to flourish or they are in mega-churches where the main “mission” seems to be to fill the seats?The Reformed understanding of the Scriptures is that mission is impossible without Christ’s visible church just as the accomplishment of redemption was impossible without Christ’s human nature. In Matthew 16 our Lord gave the keys of the kingdom to his designated representatives, to the visible institutional church. He did not give the keys to any other entity. In that sense, then, the visible church is unique among all human institutions in that it alone represents the authoritative, official proclamation of the Gospel of the kingdom. To the visible, institutional church alone Christ gave the power to remit and to bind. In Matthew 18 we see the same pattern. When our Lord instructed his disciples to “tell it to the church” he did not have in mind the “invisible church” of all times and places. He had in mind the visible, local, congregation with officers. Indeed, the Apostles were deeply concerned with the local church as the center of the administration of the kingdom of God on the earth. The Apostle Paul devoted about half or at least a generous portion of most of his epistles to addressing the practical administration and life of visible, true congregations churches. He spent a considerable amount of energy seeing to the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, and discipline. Those who denied the humanity of Christ, in the churches of Asia Minor, “went out” from actual congregations because they were never really, spiritually “of” those congregations.
  10. As the intellectual and spiritual children of Pietists and Anabaptists the EM/Missional movements seem to lack altogether a doctrine of what our forefathers called “the means of grace.” The EM/Missional movement seems entirely taken with the modern, pietist, autonomous, and individualistic approach to spirituality and piety. The candles and labyrinths of the EM/Missional piety are just medieval trappings over pietist individualism. The piety and spirituality of the EM/Missional movement is still Bonaventure’s journey of the mind into God or the piety of the ascent of the soul to the divine.Reformed piety is covenantal. It recognizes that God the Son administers his grace through visible means, that we are baptized into a community, that we are redeemed into communities, and that we are brought to faith by the public proclamation of the gospel (Rom 10:17) and that faith is strengthened and confirmed through our baptism and the regular use of the Lord’s Supper. Confessional Protestants confess that every day we repent and die to self and live to Christ and, in that way, we daily renew our baptism. Lord permitting, each week, after we hear the gospel in our ears, we receive it again with our mouths confessing that, as certainly as I receive the elements from the hand of the minister, so surely are the promises of God true for those who believe.

Conclusion
If the mission of God in history is to announce, accomplish, and apply salvation to all of his people in all times and places, in that case the marks of the church are absolutely essential to the mission. Throughout the whole history of redemption, the divine mission was always executed through his covenant people beginning in the garden, after the fall, through Noah, Abraham, national Israel, and finally in the New Covenant church. In every epoch there was always a visible representation of the kingdom and covenant. Nothing has changed. Our Lord Jesus cut a covenant with his people in his blood and he administers his salvation, which is the essence of the mission, through that people. The marks of Christ’s church have always been evident: Gospel, sacraments, and discipline.

Therefore, so long as we continue to accept the Reformed reading of redemptive history, we cannot accept the EM/Missional movement’s definition of “missional.” By these lights, in order to be “missional” we have to reject what we understand to be the gospel and we should have to reject what we understand to be the mission and finally, to embrace the EM account of “mission,” we should have to adopt an Anabaptist doctrine of the church.

Fortunately, none of this is necessary. We should take the EM/Missional movement as a challenge to reinvigorate our vocation to take seriously our doctrine of the church as the covenant community, as the visible representation of the kingdom of God, and the external administration of the covenant of grace. Let us agree with the EM/Missional movement where they remind us that the mission of the church is grounded in the mission of God and the mission of God is expressed in the voluntary submission of God the Son to his Father, whose “food” was “to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Our work is, first of all, to “believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29) and out of those missions, the institutional church must manifest the marks and so doing to go as we have been sent (John 20:21) by the him who was sent for us.

NOTES
* This essay first appeared online in 2008.

1. Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique,” Christianity Today, November 2004, 38.
2. Ibid.
3. From the cover of Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004). For a critique of McLaren’s attempted synthesis see R. Scott Clark, “Whosoever Will Be Saved: Emerging Church? Meet Christian Dogma,” in Reforming or Conforming, ed. Gary Johnson and Ronald Gleason (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008).
4. This is condensed from Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating a Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 43–44.
5. Scot McKnight, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church,” Christianity Today, February 2007, 36–39.
6. For a more extensive treatment of this phenomenon and a confessional invitation to the citizens of the “Emergent Village” to visit Geneva and Heidelberg see R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007).
7. http://bradley.chattablogs.com/archives/060218.html (accessed 5 October 4, 2007).
8. “adapting and reformulating absolutely everything it did in worship, discipleship, community,
and service—so as to be engaged with the non-Christian society around it” http://download.redeemer.com/pdf/learn/resources/Missional_Church-Keller.pdf (accessed 5 October 4, 2007).
9. http://bradley.chattablogs.com/archives/060218.html.
10. http://www.reformergent.org/?p=4 (accessed 10 October 10, 2007)
11. http://www.reformergent.org/?p=4 (accessed 10 October 2007).
12. http://theoblogy.blogspot.com/2007/10/different-versions-of-christianity.html (accessed 5 October 4, 2007).
13. http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/missional-has-it-been-shrink-wrapped-too (accessed 5 October 4, 2007).
14. Ibid.
15. http://pomopirate.blogspot.com/2007/09/driscoll-acts-29-and-demerging-church.html (accessed 5 October 4, 2007).
16. Darrell L. Guder, ed., Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).
17. Ibid., 4.
18. Ibid.
19. See e.g., ibid., 5–6.
20. The writers of Missional Church recognize that a missional church must be “historical” (p.11) but it is not entirely clear what this means.
21. Missional Church, 77. Remarkably, the chapter calls us to do exactly that which William Willimon has charged us not to do, i.e. to continue doing theology in “translation mode.” On this see William H.  Willimon, Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 9.
22. Missional Church, 79.
23. Ibid., 93–97.
24. Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006).
25. Bearing in mind Richard Muller’s recent caveat about the difficulty of using this adjective. See Richard A. Muller, “A Note on ‘Christocentrism’ and the Imprudent Use of Such Terminology,” Westminster Theological Journal 68 (2006): 253–60.
26. See R. Scott Clark, “What is the Bible All About,” Modern Reformation 16 (March/April, 2007): 20–24.
27. See, e.g., 26, 30–32.
28. Ibid., 24–25.
29. Ibid
30. Ibid., 62–63.
31. http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=2917 (accessed 12 October, 2007).
32. Missional Church, 102–09.

Three Things Dispensational Apologists Should Stop Saying

Introduction
There are varieties of Dispensationalism, e.g., classic (Darby, Scofield), modified (Chafer, Ryrie), and progressive (Bock, Blaising). To be sure there are varieties of covenant theology, e.g., classic e.g., that taught in the classical period that taught the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis), the covenant of works (foedus operum), and the covenant of grace (foedus gratiae) and revised (which omits the covenant of works and/or the covenant of redemption). Nevertheless, despite the significant differences between revised and classic covenant theology, they are united in their conviction that the history of redemption is united by a single, typological, covenant of grace progressively revealed in the Old Testament, beginning in Genesis 3:15 and ratified by Christ’s obedience and death.

For a century, beginning in the 1870s, American evangelicalism was heavily influenced by Dispensationalism. Advanced through Dispensationalist prophecy conferences, Bible Colleges, seminaries and perhaps most of all, through the Scofield Bible (1909), it became the dominant paradigm for the interpretation of redemptive history among those influenced by revivalism and fundamentalism, which is to say most evangelicals in the period. Dispensationalism appeared to be at the peak of its influence in the 1970s with the publication of Hal Lindsey’s, The Late, Great Planet Earth (1970),  John Walvoord’s Armageddon, Oil, and the Middle East Crisis (1976; rev. 1990), and the Ryrie Study Bible (1976) seemed to signal that the influence of Dispensationalism, especially the modified Dispensationalism was only continuing to grow.

In retrospect, however, it appears that 1970s were not a staging ground for further growth but the zenith of Dispensationalism. Its influence began to wane through the 1980s. In 1990 Bock and Blaising  published Progressive Dispensationalism, which signaled a movement away from the Dispensationalism of not only of Scofield but also of Chafer, Ryrie, and Walvoord. There are bastions of modified Dispensationalism, however, that are continue to hold the fort but they seem to feel beleaguered not  without and within.

I. Covenant Theology Began in the 1640s?
Perhaps in reaction, some defenders of modified Dispensationalism are prone to make certain exaggerated historical and theological claims as part of their defense. One of them is that covenant theology arose in the 1640s (or 1670s).

C. Fred Lincoln made this claim in a series of articles published in Bibliotheca Sacra beginning in 1943. His work has been further reduced to the bald claim, as one pastor puts it on his website: “Covenant theology is a system developed by two men, Johannes Cocceius (1603–1669) and Hermann Witsius (1636-1708).” I have heard this claim repeatedly.

However comforting such a narrative might be to Dispensationalists it is demonstrably false. Covenant theology did mature in the 17th century but the very system of a prelapsarian (pre-fall) covenant of works and a postlapsarian covenant of grace, which allegedly arose in the 1640s, existed explicitly as early as 1561 and implicitly much earlier than that. In the transitional period from 1561 until 1600 one sees multiple writers doing explicitly what some Dispensational apologists claim did not exist until the 1640s.

Further, there is good evidence to think that the roots of the explicit covenant theology of the early 1560s were in in the magisterial Reformers as they worked out an account of redemptive history from the 1520s. forward By the early 17th century the Reformed themselves believed that the roots of their covenant theology were in Oecolampadius (1520s). Certainly Zwingli and Bullinger were working out a covenant theology in response to the Anabaptists. The latter published a treatise on the covenant of grace in 1534. Ursinus taught the covenant of works or a covenant of nature in 1561. Caspar Olevianus published a series of treatises on covenant theology in the 1560s, 70s, and 80s culminating in his work, On The Substance of the Covenant of Grace Between God and the Elect (1585). Arguably, Olevianus taught a legal, prelapsarian covenant between God and Adam which was substantially identical to that found in Ursinus and later in Rollock and Perkins. He also taught something very much like the pre-temporal covenant of redemption. See Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant for a survey of his theology.

Long before the Reformed developments in the late 16th century there had been covenant theologies current in the medieval and patristic periods. Much of what the Reformed argued in their account of the substantial unity of salvation was influenced by those earlier responses, e.g., to the Albigensians in the 13th century and to the Gnostics and Marcionites in the 2nd century. Among the second-century writers Barnabas, Irenaeus, and Justin were clearly proponents of a covenantal explanation of redemptive history, which the Reformed would repeat in the 16th century against the Anabaptists. In short, the evidence that a developed covenant theology pre-existed the mid-17th century is overwhelming and claims that Reformed covenant theology arose as a system in mid-17th century are not tenable.

Part 2: Is Reformed covenant theology a “replacement theology”?

Resources:

R. Scott Clark, “Christ and Covenant: Federal Theology in Orthodoxy,” in Herman Selderhuis, ed., Companion to Reformed Orthodoxy (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

R. Scott Clark, A Brief History of Covenant Theology.

Here’s the syllabus for my course on the history of covenant theology (with a bibliography).

II. Covenant Theology Is Replacement Theology
Our English word canard is actually a French word for duck (the noun, not the verb). Used figuratively in both French and English it signals “an unfounded rumor or story” (Oxford American Dictionary). In this brief three-part series I am addressing three canards, i.e., three unfounded claims that Dispensational apologists make about Reformed theology. This series should interest those more irenic Dispensationalists who seek to build bridges between the Reformed and Dispensationalists. It should also interest those who, though they have been raised in Dispensational congregations, are investigating Reformed theology or who are in transition between Dispensationalism and Reformed theology, piety, and practice. In part 1 we looked at the claim by some Dispensationalists that covenant theology arose in the mid-17th century.

The second thing that Dispensational apologists should stop saying that Reformed theology is a “replacement” or “supersessionist” theology. According to this criticism Reformed theology is supposed to teach that whereas the Jews were God’s visible people under the Old Testament, under the New Testament, they have been replaced or superseded (hence supersessionism) by the New Testament Church. This is a gross mischaracterization of Reformed theology and it begs the question, i.e., it assumes what it must prove.

The charge is loaded with a premise that we do not accept: that “Israel” and “the church” are two distinct or parallel things. As we understand redemptive history the church has always been. There was a church, of sorts, even before the fall. The garden was a temple, a holy place, which Adam as prophet, priest, and king was to rule, guard, and administer. He failed. There was a church after the fall, beginning with Adam, then Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc.

This is not some theory that the Reformed impose upon Scripture. The doctrine that the church has always been is a biblical idea. According to Deuteronomy 4:10, when Israel was gathered at the foot of Sinai (Horeb) they were gathered, before the face of Yahweh (‏לִפְנֵ֨י יְהוָ֣ה) as the covenant assembly (‏קהל). The Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which was highly influential upon the vocabulary of the Greek NT uses the expression “on the day of the assembly” (τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῆς ἐκκλησίας). The noun that the LXX uses there and in Deuteronomy 9:10, 18:16. In Deuteronomy 23:3 (LXX) the same noun is used for the “assembly (‏ (קהלof the Lord” (ἐκκλησίαν κυρίου). Deuteronomy 31:30 speaks of the “assembly of Israel” (ἐκκλησίας Ισραηλ). This is the noun which, in the New Testament, is translated “church.” When our Lord says, in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church” he uses this noun (ἐκκλησίαν). In v. 17, when he says “tell it to the church” (ἐκκλησίᾳ), he is saying, “tell it to the covenant assembly.” It is the very same idea, the very same sort of assembly in view in Deuteronomy 4, 9, 18 (as surveyed above) that is being invoked in Matthew 16. Here is a longer, more detailed explanation of the biblical doctrine of the church as the Christ-confessing covenant community. The Biblical understanding would be clearer if we used the same terms in both cases. We could speak of the church gathered at Sinai etc or Jesus building his covenant assembly.

In the Reformed understanding, the church gradually became predominantly and distinctively Jewish with the institution of the sacrament of circumcision, as Paul says in Rom 4:–12. Abraham believed before he was circumcised, i.e., while he was a Gentile and he believed after he was circumcised, when he became a Jew. So it is with the history of redemption. God had his people under Noah and Abraham but, in the providence of God, the focus of redemption gradually narrowed, like a funnel, through redemptive history as it became focused for about a millennium, temporarily, on national Israel. From Israel would come the Savior of the world. So, for a time the church was predominantly Jewish. In no way do we diminish the importance of this administration of the church or the outward administration of the covenant of grace under national Israel. We agree with Paul who wrote, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (Rom 9:4–5; ESV). In Ephesians 2:12 Paul says that to national Israel was given “the covenant of promise” (διαθηκῶν τῆς ἐπαγγελίας). They had the highest privilege.

The very notion of a “replacement” or “succession” assumes that God is no longer saving Jews. This is contrary to Paul’s teaching in Romans 11:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace (Rom 11:1–5; ESV).

Paul appealed to himself as a proof that God was still honoring his promise and still saving his people, his elect, from among the descendants of Abraham. Further, it is held by many faithful Reformed theologians, on the basis of Romans 11, that there will a future, great conversion of Jews to new life and true faith in Jesus as the Messiah. That would be a glorious thing indeed.

We must also remember, however, that Paul also says that, in Christ, the dividing wall erected by the 613 commandments (of the Mosaic law) has been broken down. It’s worth quoting at length:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph 2:11–22; ESV).

According to Paul, though there was a temporary dividing wall, under Moses and David (for about 1,000 years). That dividing wall has been demolished by the death of Christ. Now, for those who are in Christ there is only “one man,” as it were. Peace has been made. Reconciliation has been accomplished. Even under the Mosaic and Davidic administrations of the covenant of grace (the church) there were some Gentiles grafted in to the body as a foreshadow of the future ingathering of the Gentiles. Remember Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5)? He was a Gentile but he was received by the prophet as a member of the covenant community. Rahab is another case (Matt 1:5; Heb 11:31).  In the NT we see that the Old, Mosaic covenant (2 Cor 3:14) was fulfilled and cancelled (Col 2:14) by the death of Christ. In the New Testament the nations, Gentiles, would be called to faith in Jesus the Messiah just as the Jews had been (Isa 52:10, 15; 60:3). Indeed, the actual inclusion of Gentiles into covenant communities (into the church) created a crisis that had to be resolved by a formal assembly (Acts 15). Paul had to address the problem repeatedly (e.g., in Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians to name but a few).

Now, in Christ, there is no longer any distinction between Jew or Gentile (See Rom 10:12; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). The wall, erected in the temporary national covenant with Israel, has been destroyed never to be rebuilt. God is saving all his elect, Jew and Gentile alike (See Rom 11) and shall continue to do so until Christ returns. Reformed theologians and the Reformed churches have always believed this. The very category “replacement” is alien to Reformed theology. Like all Christians we pray for the conversion of Jews and Gentiles by the sovereign, gracious work of the Holy Spirit. With Paul, we pray for the conversion of Israel to saving faith in the ascended and glorified Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.

We reject the idea that there are two peoples, an earthly and a spiritual people. God’s spiritual promises were temporarily administered through an earthly national people but, as Paul says in Galatians 3:17, the Mosaic covenant was 430 years after Abraham and the Mosaic covenant did not change the Abrahamic. Agreeing with Paul in Galatians is hardly “replacement theology” or of “supersessionism.”

If Dispensationalists are genuinely interested understanding Reformed theology and it representing it accurately to others, they must stop saying that Reformed theology teaches “replacement theology.”

Here are some resources on the so-called “replacement theology.”

III. Reformed Covenant Theology Allegorizes?

“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6b)

It was widely held in the early church that 2 Corinthians 3:6 intended to distinguish between the literal sense of the text of Scripture and its figurative sense. The literal sense is that sense the text had in its original context, to its original readers (or hearers). The figurative sense referred to metaphorical or symbolic truth contained in the text, which might take a variety of shapes. There was never any doubt, even by that most prolific scholar of the figurative senses Origen (c. 184–c.254), that the literal sense is always present and most basic. What varied, however, was the degree to which a writer was interested in one category or the other. Thus, whereas Origen was much more interested in the figurative (theological and moral) senses, John Chyrsostom (347–407) was much more interested in the literal sense.

Over time, the figurative sense developed. Initially it was said to contain the doctrinal (allegorical) and the moral (tropological). Eventually, by the 7th century writers were speaking of a third sub-category of figurative meaning, the eschatological (analogical). Together, these 4 senses came to be known as the quadriga. The development of the three sub-categories of the figurative sense was not arbitrary. It was driven by two impulses. First, there was a correlation with 1 Corinthians 13:13, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Faith refers to the doctrinal sense (allegory) or what is to be believed (credenda), hope refers to what the text teaches about heaven (eschatology) or what is to hoped (speranda), and love to what is to be done (agenda). Each of these correlated to a cardinal, basic, pivotal (cardo = hinge) Christian virtue: faith (fides), hope (spes), and charity (or love; caritas). The medievals developed a song to help students remember how to keep the senses distinct:

Litera gesta docet, (The letter teaches of deeds)
quid credas allegoria; (allegory of what is believed)
moralis quid agas; (morality of what is done)
quo tenda anagogia. (anagoge of things to come)

Sometimes one is given the impression that users of the quadriga sought to find every sense in every text. This is not likely. In his commentary on Job (Moralia in Job), Gregory the Great (c. 540–604) wrote,

Let it be known that we survey some passages with a literal interpretation. Other passages we examine by means of allegory in a figurative interpretation. Still others we study through the exclusive use of moral comparisons. Finally, some passages we investigate with greater care through the combined use of all three ways. Thus, we first lay a foundation of literal meaning. Then, through the figurative sense, we raise the structure of the mind into a citadel of faith. Finally, through the moral interpretation, we clothe our building with an additional shading.

The second driver of the expansion of the figurative sense was the influence of the spirit/matter dualism of middle and neo-Platonism. In this scheme the material is less real and less significant than the spiritual. To the degree this bias influenced Christians, it is not surprising that they (e.g., Origen) came to see the literal sense of the text as superficial and the spiritual (or figurative) senses of the text as more significant. Thus, for Origen, the literal narrative about the ark in Genesis 6–9 was undoubtedly true (contra critics like Celsus) but the literal sense was obvious. What was less obvious, what required more skill, more insight was the figurative (spiritual) senses of the narrative, particularly the theological (or allegorical) sense of the narrative. Origen was most interested in the theological sense of the ark because it suited his apologetic program. For Origen, Celsus and the critics missed the point of the ark by focusing on its size and the number of animals on board. We see analogous use of Scripture by apologists today in the way some make us of “every thought captive” (2 Cor 10:5). In context Paul does not mean to teach immediately what that text is often used to say. If there is a connection, it is via the theological implication of the text.

By the fourth century, under Origen’s considerable influence—Origen was not condemned until 553—it became fairly commonplace for interpreters to assign multiple senses to an important term such as Jerusalem.

Literal = the actual city
Allegorical = Christ’s church
Tropological = Human souls
Anagogical = The heavenly city

In this approach, Jesus did not get into a boat to teach (Luke 5:3) for practical reasons but in order to send a symbolic message about the centrality of the visible institutional church. The boat was said to represent the visible church. Again, we recoil against such a reading (or we should) because it is arbitrary, because it ignores the context and the grammar but one can see how, under the influence of Platonic dualism and the ordinary pastoral need to try to impress God’s people with the significance of the narrative, or to apply the text, or even to maintain the congregation’s interest in a sermon—it is not as if evangelical pastors do not allegorize in precisely this way every Sunday across the globe for precisely these reasons—such an approach would have been attractive. Again, this approach, however misguided it might seem to us, it is not as if Paul did not invoke allegory (in some sense) in Galatians 4 in his explanation of the flow of redemptive history. Add a little Platonic dualism to one’s hermeneutic and voilà and the text becomes, in the tropological sense, about the journey of the soul to God. We would be less than honest if we did not recognize at least a little popular contemporary evangelical preaching and teaching in the very approach that many have been taught to condemn.

By the 13th century Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224–74) recognized the excess to which the quadriga had been taken and attempted to rein it in by leading a sort of back to the Bible movement wherein the spiritual senses were said to be embedded in the text itself, rather than derived outside the text and imposed upon it but he continued to read the text in ways that the Reformation would ultimately find unsatisfying and arbitrary.

In The Reformation the Protestants not only affirmed the primacy of the literal sense but they rejected the quadriga as an abuse of Scripture. This is not to say that they did not themselves find “spiritual” or figurative senses from time to time but that they were so committed to the notion that the text has one intended sense that rhetorically and in practice were highly critical of the quadrigal system. When the text was intended by the divine and human authors to be taken figuratively, they sought to do so. When the text was intended (as in the case of Luke 5:3) to be taken as a straightforward historical narrative), they did so. They certainly made theological and moral applications of the text but that was a rather different thing than finding multiple senses in the text.

I offer this narrative to help our Dispensationalist friends understand why it is so wrongheaded for them to continue to criticize Reformed covenant theology for “allegorizing.” What the Dispensationalist critic typically means by this criticism is not that the Reformed are guilty of looking for the doctrinal sense of the text, as the fathers and medievals did, but rather that the Reformed have reached a different conclusion than the Dispensationalist. In my experience with Dispensationalists there is not a great awareness of the history of hermeneutics, the quadriga, or even of what the allegorical sense really was. “Allegory” is used a synonym for figurative or even as a synonym for typology. In the classic and modified dispensational schemes, the promises made to national Israel are central to the unfolding of redemptive history. By contrast, in classic Reformed covenant theology, Christ is said to be at the center of the unfolding history of redemption. According to some Dispensationalist critics, any scheme which fails to read the divine promises to be chiefly about national Israel (e.g., in a millennial kingdom including the institution of the memorial Levitical sacrifices) is said to be guilty of “allegorizing.”

This charge is false. The reality is that Reformed interpreters are committed to the original, intended literal sense of Scripture. Historically, however, we have recognized that Scripture intends to use a variety of forms of speech and genres and we interpret Scripture in light of the human and divine authorship of Scripture. We let the clearer interpret the less clear. The prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel are manifestly less clear insofar as symbolic language is inherently less clear than didactic and narrative discourse. We let the newer teach us how to interpret the older. Thus, when Jesus said, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25, 26; ESV) and Luke adds, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27; ESV) and further that when Christ “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45; ESV) it was to see that the central message is, as Luke writes, “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46, 47; ESV). In other words, it is not “allegorizing” to see all of Scripture chiefly pointing to Christ as the fulfillment of divine promises but rather it is the intended sense of Scripture understood as Jesus and the Apostles would have it. That this is so seems abundantly clear to those who are not burdened with the a priori that God’s plan for national Israel and its restoration must be at the center of redemptive history and therefore the hermeneutical key to Scripture. As we understand the literal sense of Scripture, Jesus said, “Abraham saw my day and rejoiced” (John 8:56). Abraham literally believed in Jesus. Contra Dispensationalism, the “content” of faith has not changed throughout redemptive history. Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David all believed in Jesus. That is the literal, intended message of Hebrews 11 and Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “all the promises of God are amen in Christ Jesus.” Paul literally teaches in Ephesians 2 that Christ figuratively tore down the dividing wall that separated Jew and Gentile and that all those who believe in Christ form one, new covenant, man.

Scripture uses “types” (τύπος) and shadows (σκιὰ). Paul says that Adam was a “type” of Jesus (Rom 5:14). Paul teaches that the 613 Mosaic laws were a “shadow” of Christ (Col 2:16–17). Hebrews 10:1 says exactly the same thing in exactly the same terms. They were anticipations of the reality. They prefigured the coming of Christ. Heaven is a reality. Arguably, in John and Hebrews, it is the reality. After all, the true bread comes from heaven (John 6:32). On this see Geerhardus Vos, “True and Truth in the Johannine Writings” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation).

Hebrews 8:5 says that the Levitical priests serve at a copy and shadow (ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκιᾷ) of the reality, i.e., of the heavenly temple, where Christ is now. In other words, unless we are to accuse Hebrews of Platonism, which charge is nothing but rationalism, then we must say that the earthly temple was only and ever intentionally an illustration of something else. Thus, it is not allegorizing to recognize, as the fathers and the Reformed did, that when Jesus said “destroy this temple, and in thee days I will raise it up” (John 2:19) he was speaking figuratively, he was saying that he is the temple. He was saying that he is the fulfillment of the temple. This is not Reformed allegorizing. It is the patent teaching of God’s Word: “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). The true sense of Jesus’ words is a figure of speech. It is on the basis of our union with Christ that believers become corporately and individually, figuratively, the temple of God (1 Cor 3:16, 17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16). The dividing wall having been broken down by Christ’s death, Jewish and Gentile Christians are being made into one figurative temple (Eph 2:21). The Spirit of God and of Shekinah glory rests upon us corporately (1 Pet 4:14).

As Hebrews says, he is our high priest (Heb 2:17; 3:1; 4:15, 15; 5:5, 10, 6:20; 7:26; 8:1, 3; 9:11). That is why Jesus “once for all” (ἐφάπαξ) offered himself up as the sacrifice for sin (Heb 7:27). He entered “once for all” into the holy of holies (Heb 9:12). He appeared “once for all” to put away sin by his sacrifice (Heb 9:26). Believers have been sanctified by his “once for all” offering (Heb 10:10). There were literal sacrifices, priests, and temples but they prefigured the literal reality of Jesus’ perfect, active suffering obedience, which he accomplished for all his elect (Jew and Gentile) and which has been graciously imputed to all who believe by grace alone. His literal obedience made him figuratively the “lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36). He is the lamb who was led before its shearer (Acts 8:32). He is our Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19; Rev 5:6).

In short, as Hebrews teaches, Moses and the entire typological system, worked for (i.e., pointed to and was fulfilled by) Jesus:

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope (Heb 3:1–6; ESV).

Jesus is the literal Son, the literal heir, and the literal owner of God’s figurative house. Moses was a worker, a servant in that house. The whole Israelite arrangement was never anything but a type and shadow of the reality to come: Christ. That is not allegorizing. That is the way holy Scripture itself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, inerrant in every syllable, intends to be interpreted. Fidelity to Scripture requires that we distinguish properly between the literal and the figurative, that we recognize literary devices, that we recognize what is a type and what is a fulfillment. Fidelity to Scripture requires that we not only see where Scripture explicitly finds a fulfillment but that we learn from Scripture how to interpret Scripture. J. Dwight Pentecost was wrong (Things to Come, 17). The rabbis did not have the right hermeneutic but the wrong conclusions. Their system meant that Jesus could not be the Savior because he did not meet their expectations. The question we might ask, in light of the clear, repeated, and abundant testimony of Scripture is whether the hermeneutic of our Dispensationalist friends is more like that the Pharisees than it is like that of Jesus and the Apostles?

Further Reading
My understanding of the history of the quadriga is influenced by a number of sources beginning with the work of Beryl Smalley (e.g., The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 1940). The Song of the Exegete is taken from Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), s.v., “Quadriga.”

Presbyterians And Presbyterians Together: A Call To Charitable Theological Discourse

NOTE: This document is posted here for historical interest and research only. This document was published in April, 2006  and provoked considerable discussion in conservative Presbyterian and Reformed world in connection to the Federal Vision controversy. Since that time the original publication site has been removed. Here are some responses from the period that are still available on the web:

§

United in Mission
We are followers of Christ and heirs to Presbyterian and Reformed traditions, particularly as embodied in historic confessional standards. As such, we are committed to our Reformational heritage and believe it has an indispensable role in the mission of the Triune God, alongside and in cooperation with other churches, in our local communities, in North America, and throughout the world.

We embrace the highest view of Scripture’s absolute authority and trustworthiness and a fidelity to the Reformed theology of our doctrinal standards. These commitments are in no tension with the church’s missional calling to function, by Christ’s Spirit, as an alternative society within our dominant cultures. These commitments do not undermine, but support the larger shape of that calling:

  • worshipping our God who meets us in Christ through Word and Sacrament.
  • proclaiming his Gospel of grace to the ends of the earth.
  • serving others in deeds of love and mercy, embodying God’s justice and peace.
  • engaging and countering our cultures with the renewing power of Christ.
  • nurturing healthy, growing, and reproducing churches.
  • developing gifts the Spirit has granted to men and women among God’s people.
  • uniting with other Christians in mission as an expression of Reformed catholicity.

In these areas God calls us in Christ, empowered by his Spirit, and guided by his Word, to proclaim and be a sign of the reign of God to the eyes of a watching world.

To remain faithful to this calling, we must not allow legitimate differences and diversity within our own tradition to become obstacles to witness or to obscure the Gospel’s power in forming a new humanity around the person of Jesus Christ.

Together in Diversity The Reformed tradition, particularly as expressed confessionally, represents a definite set of dogmatic contours, doctrinal boundaries, and exegetical trajectories. And that is a tradition we happily and warmly embrace as our own, in conformity with Holy Scripture.

Nevertheless, the Reformed tradition itself has evolved, and even in its formative years, always included differing perspectives on matters of theological detail. Moreover, our tradition typically allows those submitting to its fundamental system of doctrine nonetheless to dissent conscientiously from specific confessional expressions and propositions where such dissent is neither hostile to the system as a whole nor strikes at the vitals of religion, as determined by the judgment of our gathered presbyters.

There are numerous areas in which acceptable differences historically exist. Among others, these include:

  • how we interpret the biblical doctrine of creation as to chronology, timing, and process
  • how we characterize the pre-lapsarian covenant, particularly as to probation, grace, merit, and reward, and its relationship to and distinction from the covenant of grace
  • the way we prioritize and integrate the tasks of biblical theology, historical-grammatical exegesis, apostolic typology, redemptive historical thinking, and study of ancient contexts
  • the relative role we grant to specific experiences of conversion in relation to practices of Christian nurture and the ordinary means of grace within the covenant life of God’s people
  • how we best characterize the spiritual life of covenant children prior to their coming to a maturing faith through the ministry of the Word
  • whether we regard sacraments truly to offer Christ and whether, when effectual, they confer grace instrumentally or are only occasions for the imparting or promise of grace
  • how we interpret and enact biblical teaching on worthy participation in the Lord’s Supper
  • how we apply the regulative principle of worship practically to worship style and order, frequency of communion, the church year, and the like.
  • how we translate scriptural teaching on the Jewish Sabbath into a new covenant understanding of resting upon Christ and celebrating the Lord’s Day.
  • how we construe and implement biblical principles of church polity in accordance with our respective church orders
  • how the church rightly relates to the civil magistrate and wider culture while maintaining her proper spiritual identity and mission.
  • the way we apply Scriptural teaching on election to the lived experience of God’s people as the church visible.
  • how we confess the return of our Lord and the final judgment in relation to the millennium and progress of the Gospel.

Of these differences, some are more matters of doctrinal content, emphasis, or articulation, while others are more matters of pastoral application or expression of our doctrine.

Such diversity, we believe, is healthy and welcome as part of the ongoing life of God’s people as we seek to grow up into unity of faith and live together in the peace of Christ. John Calvin himself writes,

For not all articles of true doctrine are of the same sort. Some are so necessary to know that they should be certain and unquestioned by all men as the proper principles of religion…Among the churches there are other articles of doctrine disputed which still do not break the unity of faith…Does this not sufficiently indicate that a difference of opinion over nonessential matters should in nowise be the basis of schism among Christians? (Institutes 4.1.12)

We lament our past failures to love our brothers and sisters as we ought, the ways we have broken the unity of faith over inessentials, and how we have countenanced foolish controversies, strife, and disputes within God’s church.

In virtue of the church’s mission, we purpose together to seek truth, all the while bearing patiently with and listening carefully to one another. We thereby seek to resolve our differences in the bonds of peace and unity, as is befitting those who confess the name of Jesus Christ, seek to live the Christian story, and work to advance his kingdom.

Signatures

Súler D. Acosta
Associate Pastor
New Life Philadelphia PCA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

James Adams
Member
Village Seven PCA
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Daniel Adamson
Assistant Pastor
All Souls Fellowship PCA
Decatur, Georgia

Kirk Adkisson\
Organizing Pastor
All Souls PCA of Boulder
Boulder, Colorado

Vito Aiuto
Organizing Pastor
Resurrection PCA
Brooklyn, New York

Paul H. Alexander
Pastor, Ukraine Mission Pastoral Resource
Mission to the World, PCA
Odessa, Ukraine

Daniel Allen
Ruling Elder
Redeemer PCA
Austin,Texas

Joshua Anderson
Member
Trinity PCA
Charlottesville, Virginia
MDiv student
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Seima Aoyagi
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

John H. Armstrong
President
Act3
Carol Stream, Illinois

Alex Arnold
PhD student
University of Notre Dame
Member, CRC
South Bend, Indiana

James Lincoln Ashby
Assistant Minister
Christ the King PCA
Houston, Texas

David L. Bahnsen
Ministry Leader
Redeemer PCA
Newport Beach, California

John Allen T. Bankson
Pastor
John Knox PCA
Ruston, Louisiana

Michael Wilson Barber
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

William S. Barker
Professor of Church History Emeritus
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Adjunct Professor of Church History
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri
Attending Old Orchard PCA
Webster Groves, Missouri

Tuck Bartholomew
Organizing Pastor
City Church PCA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Jeffrey Baumbach
Ruling Elder
First PCA
Dothan, Alabama

Paul Baxter
Deacon
Church of the Good Shepherd PCA
Durham, North Carolina

Robert Beatty
Pastor
Christ Covenant PCA
Lexington, Kentucky

Loren Bell
Student
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Brett Bonecutter
Pastor
Ancient Hope CREC
Mission Viejo, California

Jonathan Bonomo
Student, PCA
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Langhorne, Pennsylvania

David A. Booth
Member
Amoskeag OPC
Merrimack, New Hampshire

Randy Booth
Pastor
Grace Covenant CREC
Nacogdoches, Texas

Cal Boroughs
Pastor
St Elmo PCA
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Arthur Boulet
MDiv student, PCA
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Matt Boulter
Assistant Pastor
Christ the King PCA
Austin, Texas

Anthony Bradley
Assistant Professor
Apologetics & Systematic Theology
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Dennis A. Bratcher
Lay member
Canadian Reformed Churches
Norristown, Pennsylvania

Lawrence E. Bray
Deacon
Reformed PCA of Boothwyn
Boothwyn, Pennsylvania

Uri Brito
Intern / Seminarian
New Life PCA
Casselberry, Florida

Tobey Brockman
Associate Pastor
Zion PCA
Lincoln, Nebraska

Matthew Brown
Organizing Pastor
Park Slope PCA
Brooklyn, New York

Matthew Paul Buccheri
Assistant Pastor
Redeemer PCA
New York, New York

Kevin James Bywater
PhD student
University of Durham, England
Member
Cheyenne Mountain PCA
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Ray Cannata
Organizing Pastor
Redeemer PCA
New Orleans, Louisiana

Franklin Tanner Capps
MAR student, PCA
Westminster Theological Seminary
Westminster, South Carolina

N.A. Carswell
Ruling Elder
Community PCA
Louisville, Kentucky

David Cassidy
Pastor
Redeemer PCA
Austin, Texas

Robert Chapa
Deacon
Cornerstone Community PCA
Artesia, California

Biao Chen Pastor
Chinese Evangelical Church
Third Millennium Ministries
Orlando, Florida

Ken Christian, Jr.
Assistant Pastor
New Life PCA
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Stewart Clem
Director of Arts
Grace PCA
Stillwater, Oklahoma

Matthew Clement
Member
St. Peter Church
Bristol, Virginia

Scott Collins-Jones
Co-Pastor
Woodland PCUSA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philip Court
Part-time student
Presbyterian Theological College
Yarraville, Victoria, Australia

Randy Crane
Pastor
West Friesland PCA
Ackley, Iowa

Garrett Craw
MA student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Thomas Crawford Member
Christ the King PCA
Austin, Texas

Scott Cunningham
Deacon
Redeemer PCA
Athens, Georgia

John Cunningham
Ruling Elder & Church Counselor
Trinity PCA
Charlottesville, Virginia

Rob Davis Ruling Elder
Christ the King CREC
Springfield, Missouri

Bill DeJong Pastor
Covenant URCNA
Kansas City, Missouri

John Dekker Candidate for the Ministry
Presbyterian Church of Tasmania
Melbourne, Australia

Jonathan DiBenedetto Youth Intern
Faith PCA
Cincinnati, Ohio

Dan Dillard
Pastor
Grace Reformed OPC
Bend, Oregon

Douglas B. Doll
MDiv student
Visiting Instructor of Greek
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Justin Dombrowski
MA student, Ancient Judaism
Member
Emmanuel PCA
New York, New York

Justin Donathan
Incoming student
Covenant Theological Seminary
Member
Christ the King PCA
Norman, Oklahoma

Gilbert F. Douglas, III
Ruling Elder
Trinity Presbyterian CREC
Birmingham, Alabama

J. Darren Duke
Member
Harvest PCA
Jacksonville, North Carolina

Joshua Aaron Eby
Assistant Pastor
Redeemer Church PCA
Knoxville, Tennessee

George Edema
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Peter Enns
Professor
Old Testament and Biblical Hermeneutics
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Michael A. Farley
PhD student
Historical Theology
Saint Louis University
Music Director
Crossroads PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Andrew Field
Pastor
Grace PCA
Palo Alto, California

Travis Finley
CDL Truck Driver, DC
Baltimore, Maryland
Member, PCA

Bruce R. Finn
Church Planting Coordinator, PCA
Metro Philadelphia Church Planting Partnership
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Michaela M Forbes
MATS student
Covenant Theological Seminary
Youth and Community Worker
Edinburgh, Scotland

Jonathan Foster
MDiv student, PCA
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Alan Foster
Pastor
East Lanier Community PCA
Buford, Georgia

John Frame
Professor
Systematic Theology and Philosophy
Reformed Theological Seminary
Orlando, Florida

Gene Franklin
Pastor
Grace Covenant CREC
Hockley, Texas

Diana S Frazier
Member, PCA
Chapter President
Women in the Church
Signatory, The Cambridge Declaration

Nathan Froyd
Member
Christ the King PCA
Houston, Texas

Jamison Galt
MDiv student
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Charles Garland
Pastor
Ivy Creek PCA
Lawrenceville, Georgia

S. Joel Garver
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
La Salle University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Keith Ghormley
Associate Pastor
Zion PCA
Lincoln, Nebraska

Shane F. Gibson
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Rick Gilmartin
Director of Worship & Discipleship
Tabernacle PCA
Waynesboro, Virginia

James Graves
Ruling Elder
Amoskeag OPC
Manchester, New Hampshire

Douglas J. Green
Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Troy Greene
MDiv, Beeson Divinty School
Member
Park Cities PCA
Dallas, Texas

Jason Greer
MDiv student, PCA
Reformed Theological Seminary
Charlotte, North Carolina

Bryan Gregory
Associate Pastor
Back Creek ARP
Charlotte, North Carolina

Bobby G. Griffith, Jr. MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Matthew T. Grimsley
Chief Musician and Assistant Pastor
Redeemer Church PCA
Knoxville, Tennessee

David Hagopian Teaching Elder
Ancient Hope CREC
Mission Viejo, California

Joshua Hahne Church Planter
King of Kings PCA
Buckeye, Arizona

John K. Haralson, Jr. Pastor
Grace Church Seattle, PCA
Seattle, Washington

Jeff Harlow Pastor
Christ the Redeemer CREC
Pella, Iowa

Todd R. Harris Headmaster
Covenant Classical School
Fort Worth, Texas

Ken Harris Visiting Instructor in Old Testament
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Barb Harvey Member
Covenant OPC
Dayton, Ohio

Jonathan Hays
Ministerial Intern
New Song PCA
Salt Lake City, Utah

Walter Henegar Associate Pastor
Christ Church PCA
Atlanta, Georgia

Weston Hicks Member
Redeemer PCA
Austin, Texas

Will Hinton Member
Intown Community PCA
Atlanta, Georgia

Theo Hoekstra Pastor
Grace Covenant Church (Independent)
Gibsons, British Columbia, Canada

Mark Horne Assistant Pastor
Providence Reformed PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Joel Hunter Elder
Tates Creek PCA
Lexington, Kentucky
Virgil Hurt Pastor
Providence CREC
Lynchburg, Virginia

J. Nelson Jennings
Teaching Elder, PCA
Associate Professor of World Mission
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Greg Johnson Associate Pastor
Memorial PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Joseph Johnson Chair, Religion Department
Greenwood Christian School
Member
Due West ARP
Greenwood, South Carolina

Clay Johnson MDiv student
Covenant Theological Seminary
Member
New City PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Charles Johnson Ruling Elder
Director of Christian Education & Community
Twin Oaks PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Tony Johnson (Joncevski) Minister
St. Kilda-Balaclava
Presbyterian Church of Australia
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

David Jones Campus Minister, PCA
RUF at Stanford University
Stanford, California

Joan Jones
Member
Evergreen PCA
Portland, Oregon

Glenn Jones Seminary student
Reformed Theological Seminary
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Russell S. Jung MDiv Student
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Michael Kelly Assistant Professor of Old Testament
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ewan P Kennedy Pastor
Westminster PCA
Elgin, Illinois

Reggie M. Kidd Professor of New Testament
Reformed Theological Seminary
Orlando, Florida
Pastor of Worship
Orangewood PCA
Maitland, Florida

Iron Kim Associate Pastor
City Church PCA of San Francisco
San Francisco, California

J. Al LaCour
Campus Minister for Internationals
RUF – International, PCA
Atlanta, Georgia

Edwin Lang Headmaster
Geneva Academy PCA
Monroe, Louisiana

Wayne Larson Pastor
Redeemer PCA
Des Moines, Iowa

Timothy R. LeCroy
MDiv 2006, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
PhD student
Saint Louis University
St. Louis, Missouri

Thomas Lee Pastor
Cornerstone PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Peter J. Leithart Teaching Elder, PCA
Trinity Reformed Church
Senior Fellow
New St Andrews College
Moscow, Idaho

Stephen K. Leung Ruling Elder, PCA
Chinese Christian Church of Virginia
Student
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

John P. Lindsay Pastor
West Hopewell PCA
Hopewell, Virginia

David Linton
Ruling Elder, PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Samuel T. Logan Executive Director
World Reformed Fellowship
Chancellor and Professor of Church History
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tremper Longman III Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies
Westmont College
Santa Barbara, California

Glenn Lucke PhD student, Sociology
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia

Kris Lundgaard Member
Redeemer PCA
Austin, Texas

Kurt Lutjens Pastor
Grace & Peace Fellowship PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Gregg MacDougall Associate Pastor
Calvary PCA
Willow Grove, Pennsylvania

Sean Mahaffey Teaching Elder
Grace Covenant CREC
Texarkana, Arkansas

Andrew Malkus Ruling Elder
Grace and Peace Fellowship PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Rick P. Martin Ruling Elder
Community PCA
Louisville, Kentucky

Andrew Vander Mass
Pastor
Crossroads PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Stephen R. Master
Assistant Professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Drew Matter
MDiv Student
Westminster Theological Seminary
CityChurch PCA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Amanda McClendon
member
Redeemer PCA
Waco, Texas

Jonathan D. McGuire
Pastoral Intern
Director of Student Ministries
Trinity PCA
Rye, New York

James McGuire
Senior Pastor
Ward EPC
Northville, Michigan

Daniel McKinney
Assistant Pastor
Jordan PCA
West Jordan, Utah

Herb Melton III
Ruling Elder
Community PCA
Louisville, Kentucky

Rogers Meredith Pastor
Christ Reformed Church
Meeker, Colorado

Sara Mersfelder Minister of Congregational Life
City PCA
Denver, Colorado

Jeffrey J. Meyers
Pastor
Providence Reformed PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

J. Dawson Miller
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Joseph Minich Member,
PCA
Student
Catholic University of America
Hyattsville, Maryland

Melissa Partain Moore
Treatment Foster Care Case Worker
Delta Community Supports, Inc
Member, Trinity OPC
Hatboro, Pennsylvania

William Murray Member
Christ Covenant PCA
Cullman, Alabama

Sam Murrell Pastor
Forest Park PCA
Baltimore, Maryland

Bob Myers
Pastor
Covenant PCA
Doylestown, Pennsylvania

A. Randy Nabors
Pastor
New City Fellowship PCA
Chattanooga, Tennessee

William J. Nielsen
Licentiate
North Texas Presbytery, PCA
MDiv Graduate
Westminster Theological Seminary
Dallas, Texas

Cynthia R. Nielsen
PhD student, University of Dallas
MAR, Westminster Theological Seminary
Member
Park Cities PCA
Dallas, Texas

Joost Nixon
Pastor
Christ Church CREC
Spokane, Washington

David Bruce Noble
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Leon Pannkuk
Regional Director
Evangelism Explosion
St. Louis, Missouri

Patrick R. Park
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Michael N. Parker
Associate Pastor
New City Fellowship PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Brian Penney Pastor
Covenant Christian Fellowship CREC
Copiague, New York

Lloyd Pierson Pastor
Faith Covenant OPC
Kalispell, Montana

Brian Prentiss Associate Pastor
Grace PCA
Palo Alto, California

Sean Radke
Youth & College Ministry Team Leader
Twin Oaks PCA
Ballwin, Missouri

Matt Redmond
Pastor of Student Discipleship
Westminster PCA
Greenwood, Mississippi

William Reichart Assistant Pastor
Big Creek PCA
Alpharetta, Georgia

Andrew Richardson Pastor of Children’s Ministries
Redwood Chapel Community Church (Non-denominational)
Castro Valley, California

Meredith Riedel DPhil candidate, PCA
University of Oxford
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Stephen Robertson
Member
Valley Presbyterian PCA
North Hills, California

Peter Rowan MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

P. Andrew Sandlin President, Teacher
Center for Cultural Leadership
Church of the King CREC – Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, California

Michael Saville ThM, Covenant Theological Seminary
Licentiate, Western Canada Presbytery PCA
Calgary, Alberta

Ronald W. Scates Senior Pastor
Highland Park PCUSA
Dallas, Texas

Matthew Seilback MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Jeremy Sexton MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Michael Sharrett Pastor
Redeemer PCA
Lynchburg, Virginia

Amy L. Sherman
Senior Fellow & Director
Sagamore Institute Center on Faith in Communities
Charlottesville, Virginia

Gil Shivers Elder
Grace Covenant CREC
Hockely, Texas

Laurence C. Sibley, Jr. Minister, OPC
Lecturer in Practical Theology
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Riga, Latvia
Visiting Professor
Baltic Reformed Theological Seminary

Christopher T. Smith
Associate Pastor
Providence Reformed PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Jason S. Smith
Humanities Teacher
Oak Mountain Classical Christian School
Birmingham, Alabama

William Smith
Pastor
Community PCA
Louisville, Kentucky

Brian Steadman
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Michael Stevens
Pastor
All Nations PCA
Oakland, California

Josh Stevenson
Member
All Saints CREC
Elverson, Pennsylvania

Anthony Stiff Student, PCA
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Daniel Stoddart Deacon
Christ Church Mission, PECUSA
Wilmington, Delaware

Donald S. Stone Pastor
Lehigh Valley PCA
Allentown, Pennsylvania

Jon Storck MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Gregg Strawbridge Pastor
All Saints Presbyterian CREC
Moderator
Augustine Presbytery
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

George Stulac Pastor
Memorial PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Michael Quinn Sullivan Deacon
Redeemer PCA
Austin, Texas

Travis Tamerius Pastor
Christ the King PCA
Columbia, Missouri

Stephen S. Taylor Associate Professor of New Testament
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Michael Taylor
Member
Cornerstone PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Robert Terry
Ruling Elder
Christ PCA
Flower Mound, Texas

Russ Theisens Director of Student Ministries
Faith PCA
Cincinnati, Ohio

Greg Thompson Pastor
Trinity PCA
Charlottesville, Virginia

Ryan Tompkins Pastor
Trinity Harbor PCA
Rockwall, Texas

Joseph Tong President and Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophical
International Theological Seminary
Los Angeles, California

Mark Traphagen MDiv student
Westminster Theological Seminary
Member
liberti PCA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Robert Ulrich
Member
CREC
Laguna Niguel, California

Hendrik van Dorp, III Member
Covenant URCNA
Pantego, North Carolina

Garry Vanderveen Pastor
Christ Covenant CREC
Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Michael Vendsel MAR student, PCA
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Andrew Voelkel Assistant Pastor
South Baton Rouge PCA
Baton Rouge, Lousiana

Bryan J. Walker
MDiv Student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Richard Wattenbarger Member
Tenth PCA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Jeremy A. Weese MA student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Sam Wheatley Pastor
New Song PCA
Salt Lake City, Utah

Shayne Wheeler Organizing Pastor
All Souls Fellowship PCA
Decatur, Georgia

Andy White
MDiv Student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Hank Whitmore Ruling Elder
Auburn Road PCA
Venice, Florida

Jonathan W. Williams
Deacon
Bridwell Heights PCA
Bristol, Tennessee

Michael D. Williams Teaching Elder, PCA
Professor of Systematic Theology
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Laurence Windham Member
St. Peter Church
Bristol, Virginia

Brandon G. Withrow PhD candidate, PCA
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Bradley G. Wright Associate Pastor
Grace Woodlands PCA
Grace Woodlands, Texas

Stephen Young
MDiv Student
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Jeff Zehnder Seminary student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Donald Zylstra Member
Lynwood URCNA
Lynwood, Illinois

ABOUT
Presbyterians & Presbyterians Together is an inter-denominational grass-roots movement among Reformed pastors and leaders that desires to heal and move beyond the various rifts that seem to perennially surface in our tradition. While we acknowledge that important and substantive issues need to be considered and worked-through, we want to do so in the bonds of peace, not in a context of mistrust, suspicion, and sectarianism.

Christian charity assumes the best of the brethren, not the worst. Unfortunately, it seems that our ability to dialogue in profitable ways is often circumvented by assuming the worst of each others’ motives, commitments, intelligence, and diligence. Our hope and prayer is to encourage a renewed commitment to vigorous dialogue that is salted with love and affection, rather than rancor and animosity.

We do this all for the sake of Christ’s Gospel and our Triune God’s mission to a lost and broken world.  God calls us in Christ, empowered by his Spirit, and guided by his Word, to proclaim and be a sign of his reign before the eyes of a watching world.  Living as people shaped by that calling, we remain committed to truth and pursuing truth in love.  It is in that spirit that we offer the petition of this document.

QUOTES
“For many years I have felt that Presbyterians have wasted valuable time debating one another, time that could better be spent in worship, evangelism, and nurture. Pure doctrine is important, but total unanimity on every disputable issue is impossible, and that is not required by Scripture. So we need to be more careful about our priorities. We also need to take much greater care to be fair and gracious to one another when debates do arise. The principles expressed by the Presbyterians Together document give us biblical guidance in this area.” 
— John Frame

“Jonathan Edwards believed that censoriousness among Christians was one of the reasons why the Great Awakening lost its revival power. I believe he was right! And I believe that censoriousness is having the same kind of negative effect in our conservative Presbyterian circles today. The document ‘Presbyterians and Presbyterians Together’ is a wonderful Edwardsean call to orthodox and evangelical Presbyterians to avoid censoriousness for the sake of the Gospel. I am honored to sign the document and I hope that many, many others will do so as well.”
— Samuel T. Logan 

“Presbyterian and Reformed people often seem bent on using their marvelous insights into Scripture and Christian tradition in ways that do not provoke others to love, but rather to controversy. Some of this is, sadly, necessary. We are told to ‘earnestly contend for the faith’ as ministers of the Word of God. But the mission of Christ, in this increasingly dark time in Western history, can ill afford the continued border wars that keep promoting new schisms about boundary issues that should not be allowed to divide us further. I humbly and wholeheartedly support this present expression of unity with regard to our fundamental oneness in the great confessional tradition that Reformed Christians still happily embrace. It is not without reason that my own tradition speaks of accepted confessions as our ‘Forms of Unity.'” 
— John H. Armstrong 

“What impressed me at first glance was that the document called for ‘charitable theological discourse.’ It is not a call to silence differing views or to put an end to debate. Instead, it is a call to debate theological issues in love and respect for one another. If the Reformed Church starts down the path of suppressing different view points from being discussed in a charitable way, then it starts down the same path as the popish inquisition. Rooting out and expelling heresy is of utmost importance in the Church of Christ, but it cannot be done without love (1 Cor 13). I am reminded of what Matthew Henry said in his commentary on 1 Corinthians – ‘In the great things of religion be of one mind: but, when there is not unity of sentiment, let there be a union of affections.”
–Lawrence E. Bray

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Who started this?

Through informal discussion, a group of Reformed leaders, pastors, seminarians, and laity found they shared a burden for more irenic and profitable theological dialogue on substantive issues of faith and practice.  They went on to draft an inter-denominational document toward that end and circulated it to early signatories.

Is this an effort to cease dialogue?

The exact opposite is true. We long for true dialogue that escapes the rhetoric of division and derision. Our tradition must mature by working through these issues in a more profitable manner than we have heretofore pursued and, in that context, calling for trust in how our church structures function.

Are you trying to circumvent the work of church courts?

Absolutely not. We want to encourage the courts to work carefully through these issues without being politicized by certain factions, and to cultivate charity so these courts can continue functioning in a healthy and proper way.

Why now?

The level of rancor in our tradition has been elevating over the past several years and threatens our witness and ability to co-labor for the sake of the Gospel. We felt it was time to encourage greater unity before unnecessary schism erupted.

Are you starting a new organization?

Not at this time.

Doesn’t this threaten true unity by compromising the truth of the Gospel?

No. The Gospel is threatened more when we factionalize into sects over issues that should be lovingly and thoughtfully considered – and even tolerated within certain bounds.

Can people who are Reformed, but not Presbyterian sign this?

Of course. Anyone who is Reformed or who is a concerned observer is welcome to add their voice to the chorus.

Is this motivated by an effort to promote a particular agenda?

Not at all. This document does not advocate a particular point-of-view on any issue, but only suggests that various differences have always found their home within the bounds of the historic Reformed tradition and that the church must be allowed to discern appropriate boundaries without needlessly hostile rhetoric.

The Presbyterian Controversy: A Review

Bradley Longfield, The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).

This review was published originally in a slightly different form in The Reformed Heraldin 1993. It was written for the Reformed Church in the U.S. which publishes the magazine.

_____

Introduction

Bradley Longfield, of Duke University, has written an important book about the struggles surrounding the formation of the OPC in the 1920’s-30’s.

Know Yourself

This book is of interest to us for three reasons. First, the OPC is family and we have an interest in the history of our brothers and sisters. Knowing the family history helps us to understand ourselves and to make corrections where necessary. Knowing the sacrifices and faith of earlier generations edifies, reminding us that God uses sinful people for his own glory.

Second, we have, in many respects, a parallel history with the OPC. Both bodies are separatist churches who withdrew from (in the case of the OPC) or stayed out of (in the case of the RCUS) liberal denominations for the sake of the gospel and the reformed faith, at nearly the identical point in this century. That we are self-consciously, militantly reformed and separating bodies has largely determined our actions, methods and confession for more than fifty years. Certainly there is no other denomination with which we have closer ties. (2)

Third, there are a number of striking parallels between the struggles between the Presbyterian Controversy and what is taking place today in the wider reformed community, especially for those in the Christian Reformed Church, where the parallels with the Presbyterian Controversy are acute.(3) This book also speaks to the situation of those conservative UCC congregations who are mulling over their future.

It is not only theologically conservative Christians who find themselves in drifting churches who face a crisis, but those liberal bodies themselves. From 1966 to 1987 the Presbyterian Church (USA) has lost 1.2 million members. In roughly the same period the United Methodist Church suffered similar losses and every evidence suggests that the trend continues. (4)

Longfield tells us why these churches are becoming numerically anemic. In the 1920’s and 30’s American mainline churches deliberately adopted a policy of doctrinal pluralism. That is, the PCUSA, like the UCC after it, decided that it was in the church’s best interest not to require belief in or subscription to only the historic Christian faith as summarized in the reformation creeds and confessions (5). Instead, they believed, in order to remain credible before an increasingly secularized, sophisticated and urbanized population, the church could no longer present what they viewed as a quaint, out dated, message to society. (6) Pluralism meant that biblical, historic, confessional, reformed Christianity became only one option among many, but as it usually is with liberals, the pluralism didn’t last. Eventually, after the influence, first of Classical Higher Criticism, then of Neo-orthodoxy followed finally by the Death of God theology, reformed confessionalism became nearly extinct within these denominations.

The result of the banishment and death of orthodoxy in the mainline denominations has been ruinous. The immediate problem for these denominations is that, as far as most members can tell, the liberal church believes nothing substantially different than the vast majority of the culture. The liberal church simply lags a few years behind in ratifying the latest degenerate behavior of the culture.(7) If the church’s message is an affirming, “I’m okay, you’re okay” message, then why bother to roll out of bed on Sunday?

The Beginning of the End

How did mainline Protestantism decline so? Longfield’s main argument is that at the turn of this century, there were three options available to the mainline churches, Fundamentalist, Moderate and Modernist. The leadership in the Presbyterian Church made a tactical mistake in the 1920’s and 30’s by choosing the modernist option, doctrinal pluralism. For Longfield, of the remaining two options is still viable for the PCUSA and which, if deliberately chosen, might begin to rectify things in the PCUSA and other mainline churches.

Longfield has carefully chosen certain representatives of the various camps. The Fundamentalists are represented by J. Gresham Machen, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Macartney; the Moderates by Charles Eerdman and Robert Speer; and the Modernists by Henry Sloane Coffin. I think these are fair samples of the thought and leaders of the various factions in the PCUSA at the turn of the century.

Obviously, we are most interested in what Longfield has to say about those with whom we most closely identify, especially J. Gresham Machen.

The Modernists

One of the strengths of this book is that Longfield avoids simplistic characterizations. In truth, people rarely are simple neither are their motives. For example, it would be quite easy for us to dismiss a man like Henry Sloane Coffin whose views we so utterly reject, but there is much to be learned from coming to know him a little better. Coffin regarded himself as a “liberal evangelical” redeemed by Jesus Christ. He categorically rejected attempts to reduce Jesus to a mere teacher. (8) Coffin thought of himself as a man who wanted to reach people, particularly the residents of New Yorker City, with the gospel. Coffin was raised on the Westminster Standards, but he came to think of them not so much as living embodiments of God’s truth, but as charming relics of the 17th century. Like Schleiermacher, Coffin thought he was doing a service to Christianity by attempting to restate its truths in contemporary terms. The issue for Coffin was not “what do the Scriptures say?” but rather, “what do you believe and how has it affected you?” In other words, experience is king. (9)

The Moderates

The Moderates whom Longfield highlights were men who had solid evangelical credentials. Robert Speer was deeply influenced by the evangelist Dwight L. Moody (founder of the Moody Bible Institute), (10) associated with the YMCA movement and who was regarded as perhaps the leading missions expert of the day. Charles Eerdman was certainly no flaming liberal. (11) Eerdman became convinced that he could not learn enough about the Bible at Princeton, so he interrupted his studies there to study with his father for a year. Eerdman was also closely associated with Dwight L. Moody, pastoring Moody’s Chicago Ave. Church for three years.

These Moderates were men who personally held the Bible to be the Word of God and the fundamental tenets of the faith to be true. Nevertheless, they believed that it was necessary to cooperate with those with whom they personally disagreed, for the sake of the gospel. They valued the visible advance of the Kingdom over doctrinal differences. This pragmatic approach is most clear in the case of the Foreign Missions Board. Speer disagreed with the increasingly liberal and even blatantly non-Christian views of the Foreign Mission Board. Speer, however, refused to allow the presence of liberals on the board or its leftward drift, deter him from supporting the board. He disagreed with Machen who argued that liberalism on the board constituted grounds for ecclesiastical discipline.

One of the important messages of The Presbyterian Controversy is that although separated by labels, Coffin, Eerdman, Speer and Machen were united by a common desire. What motivated Coffin is what motivated the men whom Longfield describes as Moderates is what motivates many sincere, evangelical Bible believers today: the desire to see the Kingdom of God have an impact on our culture and nation. By impact, I mean concrete observable changes in morals, social policy and legislation. The difference between Machen and the others is that Machen ultimately was unwilling to sacrifice his doctrinal commitments for the sake of a social vision.

The Fundamentalists (12)

Longfield paints an equally engaging picture of the Fundamentalists, Machen, Bryan and Macartney. Bryan is portrayed as a populist, not terribly Presbyterian, evangelical who remained at essence a politician, ready when to make deals for the sake of his social vision.

The heart of the book is Longfield’s portrayal of Machen and Clarence Macartney. In Machen we have the engine of the controversy and arguably the most interesting character of the drama. In Macartney, Longfield sees the neglected solution to the problems of the PCUSA.

Macartney was a Princeton Seminary educated ally of Machen’s for much of the controversy. Raised in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, Macartney later became convinced of the old Princeton theology. Throughout his life, Macartney held on to one aspect of his Covenanter heritage, the vision of a Christian America. Ultimately, it is this vision, which led to his separation with Machen. Unlike Machen, Macartney was unwilling to press the matter of the Independent Board for Foreign Missions. 13) Macartney had been willing to support Machen’s new seminary (Westminster Theological Seminary) but he would not support Machen by joining him in the fledgling Presbyterian Church of America.(14) Macartney believed he could have a greater influence on the PCUSA and Princeton Seminary from within the denomination.

Machen is described as an articulate, cultured, politically and theologically conservative southerner committed to what some have called the “cult of the lost cause.” (15) For Longfield, Machen’s crusade against the Foreign Missions Board and against the reorganization of Princeton Seminary (16) shows that his downfall was his inability to reconcile himself to the pragmatic necessities of the day. For Longfield, it is Machen’s unwavering commitment to the truth of Scripture and principle which forced him to separate from Princeton and the PCUSA to create new institutions.

Clearly, Longfield has felt the force of Machen’s arguments. Repeatedly the author admits that Machen was essentially correct of his analysis of the consequences of compromise with liberalism and the decline of the Presbyterian Church. (17) Longfield’s response to Machen seems to be to say only that Machen was too ruthlessly logical and that Machen failed to understand that his southern upbringing and theological education (and crisis) in Germany equipped him to see the issues in a way that his opponents and some of his friends could not.

Let me deal with the latter argument first. Longfield creates a misleading impression by implying that the Presbyterian Controversy was as much a matter of personalities shaped by circumstances as a conflict of ideas. True, some previous biography has perhaps not fully accounted for Machen’s upbringing, but there is more to the story. It truly was and is a story of competing theologies.

Machen was no more a victim of his philosophical presuppositions, i.e., his unspoken but firm adherence to the Princeton Scottish Common Sense tradition, than were his modernist opponents. It is unquestionable that Machen accepted the Common sense tradition. It was that very intellectual heritage that Cornelius Van Til later called into question as a doorway of liberalism into the church, but the essence of the Common sense tradition is that it is not skeptical. Princeton believed that the Scriptures were clear enough to be understood. This is not a liability for Christians!

So why does Longfield fail to point out the equally obvious debt of the Moderates and Modernists not just to the New School theology of Bushnell and Taylor but to the Kantian presuppositions which lay behind it all? The Modernists believed that man is the measure of all things and there is a ditch fixed between the ancient and modern worlds such that we can never be too insistent on the truth or clarity of such a pre-scientific book as the Bible. Of the two sets of presuppositions, which has had the most disastrous consequences for the PCUSA, Christianity, the Nation and the West?

There are other criticisms to be made of Longfield’s portrayal of Machen. Longfield does not entirely succeed in making his case that Machen is a disciple of the great southern Presbyterian James Henley Thornwell. While it is true that Machen undoubted imbibed deeply of the spirit of the Old South, the identification of Machen with Thornwell ignores the fact that Machen received his formal theological education at a distinctly northern institution, Princeton, where Thornwell was not a dominant influence. (18) Longfield’s association of Machen with Thornwellian theology also overlooks the fact that when Machen had the opportunity to form his own seminary, Thornwell’s theology was not a significant component. Nor does “Machen’s denomination”, the OPC, reflect a great deal of influence of Thornwell.(19)

I could also quibble with Longfield’s characterization of Machen as a “radical civil libertarian” (20) This is somewhat like describing Machen’s love of mountains, as radical environmentalism. In current usage, “civil libertarian” is as misleading as would be “environmentalist.”

In the end, Longfield believes that although Machen was essentially correct, and that time and declining church attendance support Machen’s criticisms, Macartney’s response was the better one. Longfield tries to bolster his case for the Macartney option, that of maintaining an evangelical presence within the mainline denominations as opposed to separating, by pointing to the influence which Macartney had later on: a)Macartney pastored a prestigious church, b)gave prestigious lectures at Princeton, c)was able to publish his point of view in prestigious magazines, d)and that Macartney had a positive influence on the next generation of evangelical leaders such as Harold Ockenga.

It is doubtful whether more conservatives within the PCUSA would have had the effect Longfield predicts. In fact, many good men did stay in. Obviously, they did not have the salutary effect they wished. So is it a question of quantity? It is more likely that Macartney was allowed to remain in the Presbyterian Church because he tacitly accepted an arrangement with the liberal leadership of the Church whereby he was allowed to to maintain his position so long as he refrained from challenging the liberals.” (21)

Fuller Seminary is a case in point. Longfield points to Macartney’s influence on Fuller Seminary founder Harold J. Ockenga as proof that Macartney did the right thing by staying in the PCUSA. In fact, Fuller was the product of men who were not quite comfortable with Westminster’s fervent defense of the faith. They founded a school dedicated to the proposition evangelicalism could be reasonable and thus acceptable to the mainline majority. Instead, Fuller has ceased to leaven the PCUSA for good and has instead become leavened by the PCUSA. The present state of Fuller is full vindication of Machen. There is no middle way between liberalism and Christianity, they are distinct species of religion.

Most unhappily, Longfield points to the smallness of the OPC as proof that separation does not work. While it is certainly true that denominations which are primarily organized around doctrinal concerns are, by that fact, going to have relatively limited appeal in an overwhelmingly pragmatic nation typically disinterested in ideas, it is simply far too simplistic for Longfield to argue that the OPC is small primarily because it is doctrinal. First, It is the mainline communions which are bleeding to death, not conservative, doctrinally oriented groups. The PCA is a confessional church, and it is one of the fastest growing denominations in the U.S.

Second, Longfield’s argument is naive precisely because it ignores the the fact it is the apostasy of the liberal churches which has helped to create the highly secularized society in which many denominations are struggling. Separatist groups such as the OPC were divorced from their resources, institutions and organizational familiarity(22) at exactly the moment when the nation was emerging from its agrarian cocoon to become an industrialized economic super power.(23) Just how were rag-tag bands meeting in unfamiliar, often unpleasant settings, supposed to match the luster of the established denominations?

Longfield seems to have assumed that in the end, doctrine really is less important than perceptible impact and numbers. Is it true that we can measure the “success” of a given movement? What if, Speer, Eerdman and Coffin were correct and the Presbyterian Church had begun growing exponentially because the church chose the Modernist-Pluralist option? Would such a choice then be justified?

J. Gresham Machen remains a powerful and compelling personality is because he was right. Machen had stared into the lovely face of the liberal seductress and rejected her completely. Machen could not do what Longfield seems to have done, i.e., assume a stance of cool detachment toward the cardinal doctrines of Christianity, as though they were negotiable.

Conclusion

My criticisms of aspects of Longfield’s book should not obscure the fact that this is a very well written book. Longfield lays out his thesis clearly and supports it well. He has done an excellent job of recreating the historical situation in which this great drama unfolded. He brings the characters to life, painstakingly, even lovingly, placing them within their respective cultural and social settings. If you read this book you will come away with a clearer understanding of the beginnings of the OPC (and by analogy the RCUS) but also a clearer understanding of the present crisis in so many of our sister churches find themselves(24).

END NOTES

2. I intend no slight to our brothers in the RPCNA, or any of the other bodies with whom we have fraternal relations. The fact is, we are separated from most of these bodies by geography, culture or history in a way we are not separated from the OPC. It is also true that many of our pastors studied with OPC professors and future OPC pastors at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and in Escondido, CA. The same cannot be said about most of the other churches with whom have fraternal relations. This doesn’t mean we should neglect these brothers and sisters, on the contrary! We will have to work even more diligently to improve relations with the bodies with whom we have less natural affinity.
3. This is where I believe Longfield’s book will be most helpful. The experiences of Machen and Macartney should serve to warn CRC conservatives. Liberals do not long practice the “pluralism” they preach.
4. Over the same period, scholars Peter Berger and Dean M. Kelley, among others, have been warning for decades about these sorts of developments. Even the arch liberal, Henry Sloane Coffin, for Longfield’s purposes, admitted something of the truth of this charge later in his career.
5. Referring to the Presbyterian Church of fifty years ago as the PCUSA is anachronistic, since the PCUSA is really a composite body including the former UPCNA and PCUS. But it is clearer for my purposes to refer to use the contemporary designation or simply the title Presbyterian Church. I trust our brothers in the OPC and PCA will understand.
6. For an excellent critique of this position see the essay by Derke Bergsma, “Preaching for Modern Times” in Practical Theology and the Ministry of the Church, ed. Harvie Conn (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990).
7. Camille Paglia, has written a scathing critique of the attempt by the PCUSA, in their recent report on sexuality, to sanitize and normalize homosexuality. Paglia is much more honest about the matter. She says the point, and for her, the thrill of sexual deviance is that it is deviant and unacceptable. “The Joy of Presbyterian Sex” in Sex, Art, and American Culture (London: Viking, 1992).
8. p.88. For Coffin and other Modernists, the term liberal was worn as a badge of honor. For them liberal connoted generosity, charity and broadmindedness.
9. p.89.
10. For most of this century, the Moody Bible Institute, Moody Church and related enterprises (e.g., Moody Broadcasting, Moody Monthly, Moody Press) has been a bulwark of conservative evangelicalism.
11. Eerdman did, by the 1920’s adopt a “limited inerrancy” view of the Bible (p.140). Limited inerrantists, as they are called, believe the Bible to be true and authoritative on matters of faith but subject to challenge on matters of historical, geographical or scientific “fact”. How we are able to trust the Bible completely when it tells us that Jesus was raised from the dead but not when it tells us that animals talk, is a question which limited inerrantists have not answered for more than 70 years.
12. The term Fundamentalist was coined in 1920, derived from a series of volumes published between 1910-15 called The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. p.21.
13. In reaction to the liberalism of the Foreign Missions program of the Presbyterian Church, Machen and other conservatives formed The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. It was Machen’s refusal to disassociate himself from the IBPFM which became the formal grounds on which Machen was disciplined by the PCUSA.
14. The PCA later became of the OPC after a court challenge by the PCUSA over the use of the name Presbyterian Church of America.
15. pp.36-38.
16. Because of tensions between conservatives and liberals in Princeton Seminary, the denomination approved a reorganization plan which placed liberals in control of the school. This move, in the view of most of the faculty, seriously undermined the school’s ability to carry out its mandate, to uphold the historic reformed faith uniquely among all the seminaries in the U.S. at the time.
17. E.g., pp.176, 234.
18. it is true that Warfield is a southerner, but it is also true that his writings are not usually associated with traditional southern Presbyterian themes.
19. That the PCA has a strong southern, hence Thornwellian, influence and the OPC does not, is likely one of the factors which has kept the two groups apart.
20. p.50.
21. Proof of this implicit arrangement is that Macartney, like many conservatives in the CRC today, became functionally Congregationalist. See p.216. By opting out of Presbytery and Synod, Macartney is no longer engaging the liberals but conceding the fight.
22. From a marketing point of view, the OPC lost her “brand name” and had to start from scratch. That the PCUSA recognized such to be important is proven by the fact that they went to court to prevent the OPC from using a similar name, not to mention the numerous property battles which exhausted the resources of small local congregations.
23. This is not to say that separatist churches such as the RCUS and OPC share no blame in remaining small fifty years after their separations from the mainline churches. We have sometimes contented ourselves with defending the faith to the neglect of reaching the lost.
24. I would suggest that you supplement your reading of Longfield with other valuable books on the period including, D. G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (Grand Rapids, 1994); D. G. Hart and and J. Muether, Fighting the Good Fight. A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Philadelphia, 1995); Edwin Rian, The Presbyterian Conflict. OPC: (repr) 1992; Ned B. Stonehouse. J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954); Henry Coray. J. Gresham Machen: A Silhouette (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1981). In addition most of Machen’s books are still available. You should begin with the readable classic, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946).