Thoughts on the Strategic Plan for the PCA...

(The PCA needs to) provide safe places to talk about new ideas to advance the PCA’s faithfulness to biblical belief... (The PCA needs) more seats at the table; especially younger generation, women, ethnic leaders, global church representatives... e.g. advisory voice on committees, (S)essions, Boards, speaking at gatherings, consulted by presbyteries; employed in non-ordained ministries.

-Strategic Plan for the PCA

(Tim) I've been sent a number of links to discussions of the Strategic Plan for the PCA and I think it's time we do what is necessary to provide for the work of the Stated Clerk and the Office of the General Assembly in a way that relieves them of the indignity of begging for our support. The men and women who serve in these areas are essential to our well-being as a denomination and, in my experience, carry out their duties faithfully and with real wisdom. If it requires a change in the amount or method of payment to attend General Assembly to fund these works faithfully, let's do it.

However, there's no need for all the philosophical and sociological and political and metaphysical and ontological accretions and gnashing of teeth being tacked on as riders to the bill. Fund the OGA well and stop at that. All the rest of what's known as the Strategic Plan is simply jeopardizing this one thing we should all agree is necessary...

With almost perfect consistency, denominations decay in the fear of God and obedience to His Word, and it's the denomination's national structures--their church planting organization, in-house magazine, in-house Christian education publishing arm, in-house college, and in-house seminary that lead that decay. Take the Christian Reformed Church, for instance: anyone who watched its demise through the eighties and nineties had their attention riveted on tthe denomination's magazine, The Banner, and their college and seminary, Calvin College and Calvin Seminary.

Rather than pour a little less than half a million dollars into our denominational magazine each year, let's have the faith to cut byFaith loose and let it stand on its own. If it serves a legitimate need, its subscribers will pay for it. But what I've seen of its editorial direction has convinced me it's superfluous. (See David's post, "I should pay to be browbeaten?") Let's take a similar approach with Covenant College and Covenant Seminary. If they're serving a legitimate need, they'll have students who will support them. Meanwhile, there's no reason to give them a leg up on their excellent competitors.

Covenant Seminary is no better at training shepherds for our congregations than Reformed Jackson, Reformed Evangelical in Toledo, Greenville, ClearNote Bloomington, Westminster Philly, or New Geneva Colorado Springs.

With fast food joints, car manufacturers, cemeteries, cell phones, colleges, and seminaries, competition is good. Let's discipline Covenant College and Covenant Seminary to compete on a level playing field and may the best man win. If Hillsdale or Grove City or King's or Geneva or New St. Andrews are more trusted by parents, so be it. There are no perks to having in-house educational institutions sufficient to justify the conflict inevitably approaching. There's a moral to the story of the nasty battles being waged in our sister denomination, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, over Erskine College and Seminary right now.

Follow the trajectory: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oberlin, Wheaton, Calvin, Erskine, Covenant... We'd do well to let the free market carry out the discipline. Otherwise, put your ear to the ground and you'll hear the hoof-beats of General Assembly battles over boards of trustees approaching.

Similarly with our in-house Christian education and church planting organizations. We have lots of publishers across the country and world, many of whom are quite sympathetic or committed to the Reformed faith. Plus, publishing has changed. Any church or presbytery can easily publish their own curriculum now, at an entirely affordable rate, offering their work to every other church and presbytery of the PCA with the click of a trackpad. Again, let competition do the work of disciplining heterodoxy and namby-pambiness.

Churches and presbyteries know their men and locations best. Let's return church planting to presbyteries and churches where accountability is most knowledgeable and present and effective.

Here's a really strategic plan: let's see to the permanent and generous funding of the work of our Stated Clerk and Office of General Assembly, and at the same time, take concrete steps to pare back the rest of our denominational apparatus.

As for all the verbiage about "safe places" to talk, empowering women, and the top-down promotion of diversity, are we really so obtuse as to think these are the things that pave the rainbow trail to better numbers? Can anyone in their right mind think adopting this agenda lifted straight from the editorial pages of the New York Times is the meaning of ecclesia semper reformanda today?

No, but rather, let every pastor and elder and Titus 2 woman renew our obedience to this clear duty: "These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you" (Titus 2:15).

* * *

Here are several good discussions of the Strategic Plan: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and eleven.

Comments

As you probably know, Wes White is keeping a good track of all the writings on the Strategic Plan: http://johannesweslianus.blogspot.com/2010/05/updated-news-commentary-roundup-on-pca_19.html

Tim, I agree on everything except that we should be required to pay to be a commissioner to GA. We have that right/privilege as a presbyter. Yes, I don't think the requirement now should be there either. I do think however that each church and/or presbytery should give to the Admin. Committee as you talk about it.

Another good comment I saw from C. Hutchinson was that we should have each permanent committee give 5-10% of their budget to the Admin Committee. Surely, that would fund the Admin Committee.

Dear Andrew,

Yes, I forgot that good resource. It's added at the beginning of the post. And what a good idea--5-10% of the committees' budgets.

Love,

I've been watching many--inside and outside the PCA--talking about such issues, and what comes to mind for me is that if we're actually obeying Christ's command to make disciples of all nations, who needs to put this in a position statement?

And on the light, but very serious, side, part of me says that if you want to reach out to those who don't look or think like you, learn to eat their kind of food and speak their language. Ministry never tasted so good!

(one might get into a bit of difficulty when trying to re-evangelize Scotland, of course....actually, well made haggis is pretty good)

As a resident of Edinburgh, Scotland, and an honourary Scot, I *have* to comment on Bike's remarks ...

Haggis is fine. Whisky (note the spelling) is an acquired taste, but many in the evangelical and Bible churches have got themselves a taste for a dram. The diet, though, is another matter, very fatty (deep-fried Mars Bars, folks?) and it is no surprise the country has some very poor health statistics. MacDonalds is positively health food by comparison!

Thanks for all of these thoughts. They seem quite reasonable. I have just one question about a statement: "Similarly with our in-house Christian education and church planting organizations." Are you referring to just domestic (MNA)? Or would you include the international (MTW)?

Barnes,

You already have to pay to be a commissioner. A church with one pastor would have to pay $1200 just to occupy its allotted seats.

The governing structure has to be supported somehow.

I think the GA should be reformed (delegated, at some uncomfortable college, and all deliberation with no permanent committee advertis...er, I mean "reports."). But, even so, the bills have to be paid.

Tim, good stuff.

Sounds like the Minnesota State Fair, at least if you put the deep fried Mars bar on a stick, Ross.

Praying for you guys as you deal with deliberate obscuring of the Gospel....

“Follow the trajectory: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oberlin, Wheaton, Calvin, Erskine, Covenant... We'd do well to let the free market carry out the discipline.”

First, thank you, Pr. Tim, for reminding everyone that this trajectory is something one might consider for setting one’s wristwatch. I remember when I was a student of John Hannah, history prof at Dallas Seminary, when he opined that the shelf-life of orthodoxy for an evangelical institution (seminary, mission board, publishing house, etc.) was about 50 years. At the time he pointed this out (and, he was simply doing what Pr. Tim is doing here – pointing to the demonstrable facts), DTS was set to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its founding. Consequently, he got several pointed questions from the students in that class on that day, and Hannah stuck by his guns.

The history of DTS as to its “mere orthodoxy” since 1974 shows that Hannah’s observation holds here, and it adds additional validation to the trajectory Pr. Tim points to.

The history of DTS, however, obliquely contradicts the second sentence quoted above: “We'd do well to let the free market carry out the discipline.” The contradiction is oblique because DTS was never a seminary that could be “disciplined;” it has never been subject to oversight by any ecclesiastical body. But, what appears to be a premise of Pr. Tim’s observation – that market forces would work somehow to discipline a seminary’s (or publishing house’s or mission board’s) departure from orthodoxy … well, DTS is an example of how such a premise is inaccurate to the facts of evangelical history.

DTS, for example, shows us how evangelical institutions are actually led in the evolution of their commitments to orthodoxy by market forces, rather than being disciplined by them in the sense suggested above. When I attended DTS in the mid-70s, the student body was exclusively masculine. If you asked “why?” you were told the truth – the school existed to train pastors and Scripture was clear that the ordained office of elder is reserved for males who meet a variety of additional qualifications besides their sex. Why train women to preach to the church if they are not permitted to teach or to exercise authority over men?

Today, DTS is about half women, who follow any degree program (including those expressly designed for elders) that any man follows. Why the switch?

The switch was fermenting at that 50-year mark in DTS’ history, which is why Dr. Hannah got such pointed questions from several students that day. The possibility of women being admitted was roundly and hotly debated among the students and faculty, and (no doubt) also behind the closed doors of school administrators and board members. But the impetus for this debate came from the Federal Government, particularly the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, which jointed had decided to require equal access by women to any degree program available to men if a school’s students were to have their education loans approved by the Federal Government. If DTS had maintained the sex-specific focus of its degree programs, it would have faced the loss of a great number of students who were borrowing money or who were (like me) paying for their DTS enrollments with money from GI education benefits.

Guess what happened. Guess how it was, initially, explained to individuals and churches who supported DTS with financial gifts. “We have pastoral track degree programs for men training to be ordained as elders.” It was satisfactory for the largely-supportive constituency of the school, but pressure and threats from the Feds quickly swept away these Pharisaical distinctions, so that the school dropped all pretense of compliance to 1 Timothy 2. Instead, DTS began touting its current line – “We’re not the church; we’re an academic institution! All our programs are available to both sexes. It’s the church’s job to apply the Scriptures as it pleases in various places and times.”

The point: evangelical institutions ARE quite responsive to market forces, whether they be governmental regulations or the preferences of those who buy the institution’s products and services. This point may be demonstrated over and over and over again by reference to evangelical publishing houses. Evangelical institutions may escape compliance with these market forces only if they are overt initiatives of an ecclesiastical body ***which is willing to discipline that institution’s departures from orthodoxy***. Most ecclesiastical authorities are unwilling (or unable) to do this until it is too late.

Institutions gone astray are not really impersonal things – they’re made up of men, who look at the truth and turn their heads. This includes John Hannah. A couple of years ago, I reminded him of those words I heard him speak in his own history class. I specifically asked him if DTS, by the time of its 75th anniversary, was now well-past its shelf-life as to orthodoxy, particularly with respect to its teaching and practice regarding women in church authority. He dodged, saying that “DTS is an academic institution. Evangelicals in America have diverse views in this area, and we strive to minister to all of them … blah blah blah.”

In terms of training for their ordained ministry, the Pentecostals used a 'log cabin' model for years and it seemed to work. Two years in a Bible College proved to be more effective than four years in seminary. Women students were welcomed: (a) pastors need to be married if they aren't already ;-) and (b)a Biblically literate laity, both men and women, is priceless (many of the students in the Bible College model don't end up in 'direct' ministry).

Speaking as an outsider, admittedly, the deliberate abandonment of your own educational infrastructure, in terms of where churches look for their ministry, would do more to 'send a message' to your movement than any amount of blogging.

Fr. Bill is right to point out how well schools do financially long after they've turned away from God. Again, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oberlin, Wheaton...

So, what kind of discipline does the free market apply when Christendom is more concerned about an educational pedigree than submission to God's Word?

Little to none.

So, why did I recommend competition?

I suppose because I don't want Covenant and Covenant to trade on any formal association with the PCA as they compete. Other Reformed educational institutions are better choices and denominational affiliation should not tip the scales.

Tim,

I'm not sure that cutting Covenant Seminary free from the PCA would have any negative impact since most of the denomination's ministers already attend other seminaries. This would seem to support your proposal to eliminate the formal connection between the PCA and the school.

Nevertheless, it may be worth trying to reform Covenant first before severing formal ties. The problem with entrusting seminary education to market forces is that the market is driven by students and administrators and not by local churches and presbyteries. My guess is that market forces are a significant contributing factor to the watering down of academic standards at a substantial majority of seminaries. The goal is to attract more (not better) students - and one way to do this is to make it easier and easier to obtain a Masters degree.

Letting market forces determine which seminaries survive and grow will only work if churches and Presbyteries are willing to get back in the market by paying for students to go to the seminary that the Presbytery approves of. The fact is that semianry is not law school. The graduates of the most rigorous seminaries don't make twice as much money as the graduates of the easiest seminaries. That means that apart from Presbyteries intervening in the market (by funding or running seminary education) it is not likely that market forces will solve any of the current shortcomings in training future pastors.

I am not optimistic that there is the will in the PCA to turn Covenant Seminary into a rigorous bastian of Bible believing Reformed Theology. But as an outsider (I am a minister in the OPC) it seems like it would be worth the effort to try.

Best wishes,

David

Like them or not, per Fr. Bill's comment, Bob Jones U. has managed to maintain theological distinctives for 83 years now--I do have to wonder if it has something to do with their separation from ecclesiastical structures and competition with other fundamental colleges.

Ken,

I know a commissioner has to pay now, and I think wrongly. That's why I said what I said above. We shouldn't have to pay nor a church should have to pay. Doesn't it go against liberty of conscience to be required to pay?

Should a church give? Yes, obviously. Directly or through the presbytery. Yes, the Admin Committee needs to be funded, but there are so many different options here that could lead to funding Admin Committee and thus GA without requiring anyone to give.

REAL budget cutting, Hutchinson's idea that other permanent committees fund Admin. I mean if we did that, you could have GA funded easily (I think) and Admin.

Brother Bubba, you're correct regarding Bob Jones. They are so exceptional as to invite a wondering shake of the head. I have a couple of their grads in my parish, and now I recall that they explain (in part, but a large part) that school's escape from the blandishments of the market is through its fierce separatism.

Pr. Tim, I agree that it could be very helpful to keep a school that has departed orthodoxy from trading on the reputation created by forbearers whose convictions are now jettisoned by the school.

DTS, for example, will hotly deny that it is "egalitarian" or "feminist," lest those remaining saints and congregations that haven't checked things out will cease supporting the school financially. But compare this denial with their practice in the classrooom ... well, who in Podunk Bible Church is going to inquire or investigate THAT deeply?

Again, I recall that in my days at DTS 30 years ago, we poverty-stricken students would go each year to a book sale at Bridwell Library -- the theological library for the Perkins School of Theology at SMU. The sale was mostly stocked with scores of works of great value to the theological conservative, but little use to the theological liberal (except as examples of antiquated piety and neanderthal scholarship, by their lights).

At the second of one of these sales, when I realized that all the same sorts of titles were on sale, I asked one of the staff members about this. She informed me that the Bridwell Library received hundreds and hundreds of books each year as bequests from recently deceased Methodist ministers or from Methodist churches which were cleaning their shelves of those old fundamentalist sorts of writings (she didn't exactly put it this way, but you could tell she knew what was going on with these church beqests). All these evangelical works were given to Bridwell library because ... well, it's Southern METHODIST University, dontcha know.

Bridwell, therefore, traded on the reputation of its ancestors. The chief beneficiaries were poor students at DTS and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, who flocked to these annual sales to pick up very sound evangelical works for a song.

Sorry to butt in again. Just this, and I'll shut up for this thread ...

I read through the eleven discussions Pr. Tim linked to about the Strategic Plan. I am now Very Worried that only three of them seem to recognize that "safe places" and "places at the table" are code phrases which ought to make those who use such terms liable to tar, feathers, and a quick escort out of town astraddle a very narrow rail.

If you want to see these phrases deployed to great effect against the tender-hearted sheep whose fleece is being shorn while they listen to endless babble about safe places and seats at the table, read the original documents attending the demise of main-line Protestantism (Methodists and Episcopals are the ones I've read ad nauseum).

If one were to hear a political faction beginning to agitate for lebensraum for an ethnic group, one would immediately (and rightly) think of jackboots, brown shirts, and swastikas.

In exactly the same way, if one hears in an ecclesiastical setting appeals for safe places and seats at tables, one should think of theological revisionists and enemies of Christ.

Pr. Tim may choose to delete this comment, and I will not complain. But American ecclesiastical history for the past 50 years shows that such appeals expressed in precisely these terms reek of brimstone.

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