Straining at gnats, swallowing camels...

(June 2--Please note that TypePad only displays the first hundred comments on a post by default. Comments past 100 can be displayed by clicking the "More Comments" link at the bottom of the 100th comment.)

Is Federal Vision theology (FV) worthy of the intense opposition Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) conservatives dignify it with? I suspect not. For a number of reasons, I suspect such opposition to FV theology in the PCA is a sign of conservative weakness rather than strength; opportunism rather than courage. But first a bit of history.

Four years ago when FV was first dealt with by the PCA at her 2007 General Assembly (GA), conservatives rallied in support of a report condemning aspects of FV theology. The report was adopted and trials of Federal Vision supporters followed, the latest of which is the upcoming trial of Peter Leithart in Pacific Northwest Presbytery. It would appear, then, that the PCA is dutifully reforming herself and the cleanup is mostly finished.

But perhaps as noteworthy as what happened within the PCA at the 2007 GA and following is what did not happen. To understand this, we must consider a pair of strange couplings that took place that year.

The 2007 General Assembly was notable, not only for its debate and subsequent vote on the FV report, but also for several mésalliances forged in the lead-up to that vote. On one side, the middle-aged lions of the Keller/Redeemer/hipster/missional party provided some support for the FV camp. On the other side, the old lions of the southern/tall-steeple/rich/broadly Reformed party provided some support for the Truly Reformed (TR) conservatives of the PCA.

When the heat of battle passed, though, both the hipster middle-aged lions and the rich old lions woke up to strange bedfellows. Neither alliance could last. Redeemer hipsters...

may hobnob with FVers for a day or two, but there's only a finite number of sentences that begin with the words "Wright is right, you know...." Similarly, tall-steeple broadly Reformed rich men may hobnob with TRs for a couple hours in the morning, but then the country club calls and TRs don't know the dress code, can't come up with the green fees, and never got an invitation to join anyway.

Neither alliance lasted longer than GA. But what were the rationales behind those alliances?

The tall-steeple/TR alliance can be explained by a combination of two factors.

First, TRs typically judge "the whole world crazy but me and thee, and sometimes I do wonder about thee," while tall-steeples have a non-negotiable commitment to the gentility of southern country club culture. The result was at best an "enemy of my enemy is my friend" dynamic between the two groups.

Second, TRs, who tend to do battle over any perceived defection from Reformed theology no matter how inconsequential, genuinely believe the Reformation is at stake in the controversy over FV. Possessing an opposite nature, tall steeples tend to value decorum more than theological precision, yet pushed to extremis they will do battle over their one abiding theological principle, justification by faith alone. Thus, when the 2007 debate was cast as a fight over central doctrines of the Reformation against opponents they were already sociologically uncomfortable with, the tall steeples reluctantly rose to the bait and an alliance was forged.

More interesting, perhaps, than the TR/tall steeple alliance is the FV/Missional pairing, a partnership between, on the one side, a cast of allegorizing, ecclesiastical-authority-reclaiming, covenantalist, former-theonomists and, on the other, shaved-head, authority-rejecting, artist-loving, not-unwilling-to-look-queer hipsters drawn together by two synergistic interests: commitment to post-millenarian cultural engagement (informal on the missional side, formal on the FV) and fondness for N.T. Wright.

What does this have to do with the PCA today? Only this: in four short years the landscape in the PCA has changed dramatically. Post 2007, tall steeple PCA conservativism swooned and is now nearing extinction. To the extent that it still lives, it does so subsumed within the Redeemer/Missional movement (for evidence, look at pictures from 2007 and the flops of PCA leaders since shorn). Some who were leaders in the tall steeple faction now fawn over Tim Keller while those who oppose missionalism do so tepidly and almost embarrassedly. 

At the same time Federal Vision is in decline both within and outside the PCA. The number of PCA churches lost over the FV controversy can be counted on two hands today and will still be counted on two hands once the trials are over.

Remaining TR conservatives within the PCA are isolated and largely without institutional influence: they have always been a small group pastoring mostly isolated churches and so they remain.

The vast gainer among the parties to the 2007 debate is the Redeemer/Missional faction, leaving the PCA controlled by Redeemerite/Missionals with TR conservatives operating on the fringes and an even smaller group reflecting neither TR narrowness nor Redeemer cool looking on from the sidelines and considering the future.

Meanwhile, Redeemer/Missionals whose fondness for N.T. Wright is not limited to the eschatological implications of post-millenialism as it was with FVers, are advancing their agenda within the PCA. The Redeemer/Missional embrace of Wright extends beyond FV interest in Wright, including but not limited to areas such as the implications of Wright's eschatology for cultural renewal, Wright's fluid approach to Scripture which permits him to stand boldly on the physical reality of the resurrection while avoiding the literal implications of passages such as those condemning homosexuality and female officers in the Church, and his reputation for combining Reformed conservativism with political liberalism.

Ironically, though conservatives are still reluctant to admit the fact, Wright's sway over the PCA is greater today through Redeemer/Missionals than it ever was through proponents of FV. And Wright is held in even higher regard among the powers-that-be within today's PCA than in the formally FV Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC) where disenchantment with Wright's political liberalism and inconsistency on Biblical authority has grown significantly since 2007. (If you doubt either side of this statement, just compare Doug Wilson's blog posts on Wright over the last few years with the required reading lists for any number of Covenant Seminary courses.)

These changes notwithstanding, FV theology remains the whipping boy of PCA conservatives. With the exception of a few conservative voices, Wright's influence among Redeemer/Missionals and at Covenant Seminary is simply ignored. 

That this approach is short sighted is obvious. That it's the result of cowardice is increasingly clear as well. It's easy for conservatives to attack the FVs: they're powerless, everyone's against them, they can't hit back. But conservatives have given the Redeemer/Missionals a desperately wide berth in their march to war against the FVs for reasons that should be obvious.

Dealing with Redeemer/Missional powers such as Covenant Seminary and Tim Keller jeopardizes a continued presence at the PCA feeding trough. Those who oppose such men and institutions of power may never again get voted onto the leading comittees of the denomination, never again be able to hobnob with pastors of 5000-member churches at GA. Attack such targets and you're not nibbling at the margins, you're attacking the PCA's moneyed, prestige-seeking, cultured heart.

And just think where that could lead.... What other denomination is there where presbyteries would insist on such generous terms-of-call for pastors? Where's the Reformed denomination which can claim multiple US congressmen among its members? Then as well, think of all the artists nurtured by Missional churches.... Why, an attack on the PCA's Missionals would be a blow to the culture of our nation. And so, the PCA's last best hope labors mightily against the FV, demonstrating again and again a willingness to strain at gnats while swallowing camels. At best, conservative strategy has been to engage the weak with great blows and shouts in order to scare the strong.

But the question of whether the Federal Vision movement should be considered a foe at all within the PCA is an open one for the following reasons:

First, FV is fracturing into good and bad sides--represented by Doug Wilson and James Jordan respectively. In the midst of this division bad FVers are losing clout. This is not to say that there are no troubling elements within the movement, but they are decreasingly prominent.

Second, FV as a whole is decreasing in influence within the Reformed world. The CREC denomination consists of approximately 85 churches, more than a dozen of which are located overseas. This makes the CREC considerably smaller than the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the URCNA (founded only two years prio to the CREC in 1996), smaller even than the psalter-only RPCNA, and just double the size of the tiny, precisionist RCUS. Though the CREC may possess greater potential for growth than many of these denominations, its growth has slowed in recent years, no doubt in part because of the vehement opposition by TRs in the PCA and elsewhere.

Third, escape the rhetoric and it becomes clear that in certain areas FV is seeking to deal faithfully with disputed Scriptural passages rather than seeking to overturn Scripture. While its solutions are not always convincing, the FV has at least identified important areas of weakness within Reformed theology and practice, including Scripture's teaching on apostasy and the necessity of works among the redeemed.

Fourth, speaking tactically, PCA FVers are the least influential FVers of all. They're men without a country. No one thinks they're influencing the PCA towards FV. In reality, most of the things TRs accuse FVers of advocating are being taught and practiced far more influentially in the PCA by the Redeemer/Missionals. Why not honestly acknowledge this and oppose the real foe?

Fifth, the FV has a dispersed and variegated leadership. Many in the FV don't follow leaders at all, while among the Redeemer/Missionals Tim Keller reigns unfettered and unchallenged.

Sixth, FV post-millennial cultural engagement looks vastly different from Redeemer/Missional post-millennial cultural engagement. 

Seventh, Redeemer/Missionals add further dangers to the mix of threats perceived in FV theology by PCA conservatives. To a perceived FV attack on justification by faith alone is added a clear threat to the substitutionary atonement in Redeemer/Missional teaching on Hell and the Church's role in redeeming culture. To the perceived FV weakness of spurious allegorical interpretations of Scripture must be added the Redeemer/Missional tendency to ignore clear Biblical teaching in areas including, but extending well beyond, human sexuality. To the perceived FV weakness on the covenant of works is added a view of the value of good works that at times eclipses the necessity of salvation from sin.

Does Peter Leithart belong within the PCA? Perhaps not. His book, The Baptized Body, leaves it an open question.

On the other hand, a denomination that rejects the orthodoxy of Doug Wilson out of hand while embracing Tim Keller unquestioningly is a denomination which has lost sight of what Reformed theology is all about. No one bears greater responsibility for this sad state of affairs than the conservative TRs of the PCA who have made a virtue of turning a blind eye to the wealthy and powerful even as they attack the marginal and disenfranchised with a vehemence bordering on fanaticism.



Do me a favor, please. Never use this straw man argument again:

TRs typically judge "the whole world crazy but me and thee, and sometimes I do wonder about thee..."

When I still lived at home, I left the Roman Catholic Church and started down the road toward the Reformed Faith and the PCA. One of my RC relatives threw that stupid saying at me constantly. I heard it until I was ready to start breaking things down at St. Bart's.

So quit it, willya? You two me a headache.

Well that won't make you too many friends of a certain sort.

This is correct, not least, because you are entirely right. I think a lot of people have gone after FV at least as much for the things they get right as for the things they get wrong.

I've observed there is no taste at places like Green Baggins for going after Keller in any meaningful way.

"Sixth, FV post-millennial cultural engagement looks vastly different from Redeemer/Missional post-millennial cultural engagement."

Precisely. Starting Christian schools, publishing houses, liberal arts colleges, encouraging a sincere observance of the Sabbath with feasting in homes, calling porn-loving husbands to repentance in books like FIDELTY, teaching parents to love (and spank) their kids, writing op-ed's in the local paper that make the pomo/pluralists squirm, and perhaps most controversally, teaching Christians to humbly work for and hope in God's mission to the nations as if He really intended to save them (cf. Iain Murray's work on the Puritans and prophecy) - this is cultural engagement Wilson-style. Recently, Doug pastored a church of 1000 in a "university town" climate where the population was 20,000 at best. Can any PCA hipster (let alone TR) point to such saturation? And Doug would be the LAST one to trot-out such a statistic...

Lots of PCA pastoral envy going on in the PCA. Doug is fruitful. Many PCA'ers and CREC'ers have lots to learn from him (including the writer of this comment).

I can see it now: Someone will get serious and do something extremely meaningful and valiant, like make a motion to erect a study committe on the hipster-missional bald guys.

That got a literal "laugh out loud" from me.

This post makes me sad, which I guess is better than it making me angry.

There is far more to the PCA than you've described.

What about faithful men serving mostly under the radar at average churches who oppose both the FV (and not because of its cultural aspects, which we largely find helpful, and not out of envy, I hope), and the emergent left-ism of the PCA, who are not big steeple guys (who are very few, at any rate). Is this just designed to discourage us, to indict us?

Please, my conscience does that enough already.

You don't think that the FV / missional alliance is strong? Here's a witness against your whole argument: the Missouri Presbytery response to those who asked them to investigate Jeff Meyers (of which I was one, and over which a very brave friend lost his job, at least in part). Read those papers and tell me the missionals don't like the FV.

What about those of us who just love the Bible and the confessions. There are a lot of us, you know. You know many of us. This is so simplistic, and I expect better out of you guys. Okay, now I'm getting more angry than sad so I'll just stop.

Thank you, Pr. Tim, for this analysis. Some of us watching the PCA from outside its boundaries (I speak for myself only, but I suspect there are many like me), appreciate analyses like this one, to help us guage subsequent developments, to understand what would otherwise perplex us, and to pray.

I have long believed and now am firmly convinced that the infatuation among broadly evangelical American Protestants (including all sorts of Prebyterian types) with religious feminism is the ~chief~ error which our Lord calls His faithful to oppose in this era of church history. It is a battleevery bit as momentous as that provoked by Arius' teaching in the Fourth Century, and unlike Arianism, which would transform Christianity into a baptized Gnostic Mumbo Jumbo, egalitarianism will transform Christianity into Molech worship.

Your analysis here, if it holds up to scrutiny and validation by further developments, shows that the egalitarian virus invades the PCA as an opportunistic infection, riding on the backs of several pernicious disease vectors. Within main-line Episcopalianism from the Seventies, the disease proceeded with a direct and undisguised attack, with "women's rights" and, as expected, "gay rights" relentlessly pressing an attack against sexual traditions which, though sound on their face, lacked any support from the Bible among ostensible Episcopal conservatives, who kept to sexual traditionalism primarily via inertia alone. What you describe, however, is far more insidious and, I fear, far more difficult for anyone to oppose within the institutional ying and yang of PCA politics.

It is going to be tragically ironic when those who esteem Wright within the PCA prove successful in ordaining women as ruling and teaching elders, when it was this very error which sparked the formation of the PCA in the first place.

I agree with Ken. I think I can oppose baptismal regeneration and justification by faithfulness/sola fidelity AND Moltmann's Christian Marxism filtered through the Emergent Church Movement and Miroslav Volf.

And while I consider myself a TR, I think that one need not be a TR in order to see problems with both of these movements. Old fashioned vanilla evangelicals ought to come out against this stuff in droves. I think they are not because they don't understand the issues, and because they are infatuated with cultural influence and Tim Keller seems to promise more cultural influence.

As for the supposed powerlessness of the FV, I would add the whole Leithart situation in Pacific NW shows that these men dominate that presbytery, just as they somehow dominate Missouri Presbytery, whether directly or through alliances with others.


I find it interesting that you set James Jordan at odds with Doug Wilson. I would like to hear more of that.

I agree with you that the FV'ers got into bed with the Emergents a few years ago, creating a Federal Emergency in the PCA. I think the bloom is now coming off that rose. It's great to talk about transforming the culture in general terms, but the Kellerites want a cultural transformation that's essentially left wing and the Wilsonites want a cultural transformation that's essentially Medieval in character. The Kellerites' view of God is so immanent that they are beginning to speak in classic liberal/social gospel theological terms... God redeeming everything (implied: even the reprobate.) Following Jurgen Moltmann's panentheistic dialectic lead, God is not just in the future. He practically is the future, and he's drawing all things into himself. Of course, Moltmann, along with almost all classical theological liberalism, is explicity universalist. Thus Christian universalism will soon raise its head in the PCA among the soul patch crowd. It's already baked into the cake. Their language will compel them to do so.


Are you using "missionals" and "emergents" interchangeably? If so, why? If not, you've introduced another alliance into the conversation.

“Men without a country.” It can be painful to see one’s epitaph in print.

Ken Pierce, You wrote, “You don't think that the FV / missional alliance is strong?” As a PCA RE, I don’t.

FV guys and Missional dudes, as perhaps former co-adherents to conservative reformed orthodoxy as practiced within the PCA, will often display a similar disdain for TRs who they think are hopelessly stubborn/outdated, but to think that a Peter Leithart and Tim Keller/Bryan Chapell are in some sort of intellectual alliance is certainly not something I’ve witnessed. Matt Beatty’s comments elucidate what well-executed “FV” looks like, and it looks nothing like what’s happening in Manhattan, Denver or San Francisco. I also think the link between FV and Wright is tenuous; in fact, I’ve often thought that the FV’s attitude to Wright is much like the poem about the girl with curl in the middle of her forehead…

You also wrote, “This is so simplistic.” Again, as a PCA RE who’s witnessed a great deal in my local presbytery, I think TB’s description is largely on target. There may indeed be a lot of PCA pastors who love the Bible and the confessions (but then so do the FV guys ) who are focused on their congregations and not what they consider aberrations, but I think Tim’s point is that guys like you have been hoodwinked into thinking that FV is the problem, and as a result, have used your votes to stone it out of the PCA, when all along the dudes holding your coats are the ones who are the real threat.

David Gray, I have to take exception to your comment. I disagree rather strongly with where Keller is headed in lots of ways: women's issues, evolution, cultural transformation, broadly evangelical-ness. But one of the reasons why I haven't dealt with it much is because the Bayly brothers are all over it. Plus, I haven't had time to read much Keller recently. I have picked up and started to read Generous Justice, but I haven't finished it yet. I don't think I'm that qualified to talk about Keller until I've finished that book and King's Cross.

I also have to object rather forcefully to the description of the TR's here, guys. That is not a loving thing to say about people who are concerned about doctrine. I see I'm not the only one to object to the language. I wish you would edit that part. I know that it is borne out of your frustration with the TR's not going after the target you want them to go after. But why do the TR's have to do all the judicial work? If you're concerned about Keller, then do something about it besides blog about it. Plus, if hob-nobbing with the gurus of the PCA is the real problem (I haven't experienced that the TR's have this fascination with gurus), why aren't you blasting the other side for ignoring the doctrinal issues at stake? Some of us think that one issue at a time is enough for us.

>>David Gray, I have to take exception to your comment. I disagree rather strongly with where Keller is headed in lots of ways: women's issues, evolution, cultural transformation, broadly evangelical-ness.

Good. I'd love to see it in practice. Did you leave FV alone because Duncan was all over it?

>That is not a loving thing to say about people who are concerned about doctrine.

That seems a bit ironic. Consider was it loving when you publicly stated that Doug Wilson denies sola fide when he publicly affirmed it? You tried to argue that he denied it based on what you consider to be his confusion on law/gospel distinction. But even if he was wrong there all he was guilty of was inconsistency and the "loving" thing to do would be to call him to consistency not create from whole cloth a charge of denying sola fide. Or do you consider Wilson to be unconcerned with doctrine? Plank, splinter, etc.

I think when this response is considered in context it shows that the unhappiness with this posting, in general, is not because it is erroneous but rather because it is spot on.


Yes, I think the terms are interchangeable. At the very least Set A is almost completely identical with Set B. Of course Set Theory is a rational enterprise and postmoderns are irrational to the core, so I expect some of them to deny this.

I think the Emergents adopted the term "Missional" in part because they were squabbling about whether they were "Emerging" or "Emergent" or could now be said to have placed all of their emerging tendencies in the past tense have have emerged. Plus "emergent" was more than a decade old and was therefore not fresh anymore. At least one leader has declared the movement over in its previous incarnation. The PCA, being the perennial late adopters of the evangelical world, are attempting to play catchup.

Regardless of what label you want to put on it, when you're going around saying that God is promising to put an end to class strife, racial strife, and corruption in NY City, and your group is at the nexus of how God is doing that:

or that helping people pay rent is "equally as significant as telling them about Jesus" (and is also really bad grammar):

or that, "The 'gospel' is the good news that through Christ the power of God's kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. When we believe and rely on Jesus' work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us."

then you've got way more than ordinary postmillenialism. You've got the realized eschatology of the theological liberals.

This concept is especially key in the thought of Jurgen Moltmann. Google "emergent" and "moltmann" and see the links for yourself. Or just go to and read the top article for today. Then compare Moltmann's language to the language above. Also, be on the lookout for references to Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, who did his doctorate under Moltmann.

The origins of realized eschatology are Christian Marxism or Christian Socialism (i.e. Hegel got it right about the dialectic flow of history, and Marx's analysis of the effects of powerful class interests is essentially accurate. Marx got it wrong because he was an atheist and a philosophical materialist. The workers' paradise he prophesied will come about in history, but God will cause it and it will be called the Kingdom of God. That's not a disruptive break with history initiated by the return of Christ, but rather the flower of all "natural" historical processes.)

Naturally, given that drank this sepsis directly from the infected wounds at Louisville Seminary, and that I fled the Sodom of the PCUSA to the Zoar of the PCA, I am quite irritated to find representatives from the City of Sodom Chamber of Commerce here in Zoar implementing a community development program.

Great post. It's a convincing political story to an outsider like me, and one would expect successful missional pastors to be better at politics than the FV or traditional pastors--- their emphasis is on persuasion and making temporary accommodations, after all.

I wonder if one problem, too, is that the rigorous folks in the PCA get excited and distracted by formal theology. I could be way off base here, but I could imagine them chasing after some poor unfortunate who uses the wrong terminology on the sacraments while an army of heretics smart enough to keep quiet about theology in public (or to mouth the right words, while redefining them all) crept up behind them. That's a particular danger if one is unwilling to accuse anybody of bad faith or equivocation.


It's not an either/or between FV and Tim Keller. For folks like me it's both. That's why I signed the Jeff Meyers' letter AND publicly opposed the Strategic Plan. You're painting with an awfully broad brush.

By the way, shall we expect to see you in Virginia Beach this year?

"Yes, I think the terms are interchangeable. At the very least Set A is almost completely identical with Set B. Of course Set Theory is a rational enterprise and postmoderns are irrational to the core, so I expect some of them to deny this."

Point. Set. Match.

I think there is some truth to what you say. Lord knows I've performed stupidly on that front plenty of times.


Thanks for the reply. I'm familiar with Moltmann and Volf. I'll check out the links you've provided.

I've always thought of emergent and missional as different, but perhaps I'm guilty of creating a distinction without a difference.

My reading of missional and emergent folks is less complicated than your own. I don't think they're motivated by Moltmann as much as vanity. They traffic in cool, and they protect their currency.

The missional movement is not a theological movement. From where I sit, their theological frameworks are just sleight of hand. Study committees are hopeless in this regard. Theological scrutiny is of no use.

This is a problem that is best dealt with as a father would deal with a son for lying or as a judge would deal with an unfaithful spouse. Is it necessary to establish the wife was under the influence of Erica Jong's novels prior to her infidelity in order to adjudicate her unfaithfulness? Is it necessary to draw parallels between the son's behavior and the unruly boy across town? Why not just leave the neighbors out of this and deal more staightforwardly with the boy who lives in your house?

In short, I'm afraid that bringing in people like Moltmann unnecessarily complicates the issue.

One brief correction if I may: The matters addressed in the FV Conversation were being discussed looooong before any of us had ever heard of N. T. Wright. The source of our theology is far more with Schilder, Van Til, Shepherd, and others of similar ilk. Sure, we all appreciate some things in Wright, but he's not the source of anything. Just about everybody appreciates some of what Wright has done, while really disliking other parts.

Also, though I'm not in the PCA, I can't say that I really see any kind of alliance between FV Conversationalists and the Keller crowd. We are committed to Biblical chronology, six-day creation, etc. We oppose women in pastoral offices. Etc.

Very interesting, but I too have one objection. You described the CREC as "formally" FV. I'm curious what that form is. Though I am no longer in the CREC I maintain relationships with many therein who are, fv and non-fv. If the CREC were formally FV, how could there be ordained men, indeed whole sessions of CREC churches that are self-consciously not FV? I have a hard enough time getting growling TR bloggers to see this, and a hard time getting pro-FV CREC guys to believe this. I wouldn't think I would have the same problem with you. The shortest retort to this error- formally speaking the CREC is a denomination what welcomes both paedo and credo- BAPTIST churches and elders. I've seen some Baptists do some surprising things. but I've never seen one be FV. If Baptists are welcome, it would seem that non-fv paedo-Baptists would, indeed are, also welcome.

i'm not sure all of this is what jesus had in mind when he said, "by this people will know that you're my disciples... if you love one another."

this is truly pathetic.

Fr Bill said: "I have long believed and now am firmly convinced that the infatuation among broadly evangelical American Protestants (including all sorts of Prebyterian types) with religious feminism is the ~chief~ error which our Lord calls His faithful to oppose in this era of church history."

This certainly seems the case to me also. I'm not sure about this comment though: "It is going to be tragically ironic when those who esteem Wright within the PCA prove successful in ordaining women as ruling and teaching elders"

I think the devil will sometimes settle for a compromise, such as Jehoshaphat and Ahab. I think the compromise is basically as effective as the full-blown thing though, women will be allowed to teach, lead men in small groups, run for president etc etc, but outward obedience will be feigned because women will not be allowed to have the mere title 'elder'. But as long as they get to violate the principles in practice I should imagine the devil is fairly pleased regardless of which titles are denied women.

Mr. Jordan,

I affirm the truth of what you say, and as much as I disagree with your theology, I thank you for saying it.

It would be similar between the missional and emergent type movements. After all, missional theology goes back to Newbigin, who does have some insightful things to say, as much I might strenuously disagree with his epistemology.

There is not so much an alliance between the FV and more emergent elements as there are strange affinities: sacerdotalism and paedocommunion among them, as well as a Dooyeweerdian cultural view. And, Mr. Jordan, you certainly must admit that it is the more progressive elements in Missouri presbytery that have come to Jeff's defense.

My brother and fellow signatory David Sarofolean is absolutely right --it is possible to oppose all error whereever it is found.

Tim Bayly and I have a rather informal truce (at least I view it this way) --I don't expect him to critique Doug Wilson and I expect he doesn't expect me to critique Tim Keller. If we in the PCA think Keller is the problem, then we are being blinded to a far more troubling reality of what is coming in the rising generations of leadership. Tim and Bryan Chapell are far closer to the PCA center than is the left --but I suppose that is a tautological statement.

As I see it the issue with the FV is the gospel of free grace. I have been in this issue a long time. I have read about all there is to be read, and I am convinced that what the FV means by sola fide is something far different than what I mean by sola fide, and I suspect what the reformers meant by sola fide.

I loved RJ Neuhaus on culture, agreed with him on many things, but the gospel wasn't one of them. I view the FV similarly.

This is much more moderate than what I wrote at first, and then erased.

"baptismal regeneration"? c'mon. you have clearly not taken the time to look into this and listen to what FV is saying, not what they are being *accused* of believing.

oh dear...i was skimming. upon reading more carefully i see that that was not an accusation (thank you), and this is a helpful, polite and productive conversation from which i will bow out now. (sheepish apology).


I assume you mean sacramentalism, not sacerdotalism. Unless you're suggesting sacerdotalism in the sense of personality/pastor worship.

But even this seems like a stretch.


If you'll look on you'll find the suggested reading list for candidates coming into Metro NY presbytery. You will notice that Peter Leithart and even Mark Horne figure in that list.

If there is precious little connection between the FV party and the Transformationalist party in the PCA, as you say, can you explain that to me, because I'm a bit puzzled by that fact.

I've also been thinking (and this is just speculative musing at this point) that part of the reason that both the Transfo's and the FVers both seem to have such an affinity for Rome is that Rome presents a powerful assertion about the role of the church in the culture, and has a both a place for the conservative cultural transformation (like Opus Dei) and the left-wing cultural transformation (like the Catholic Woker's Party and the liberation theology in Latin America.)

James Jordan: "Baallogos." Good one. Gotta give you your props on that.


I think it's important to take into account not only what a man will affirm, but what he will also deny. The initial creators of the Auburn Affirmation all affirmed traditional orthodoxy. They just didn't think that a man had to affirm traditional orthodoxy in order to be a Presbyterian minister.

Historically speaking, that position was actually worse than the liberal position because it gave them the ability to remain as they were and spread their views and accumulate power, all the while having the stamp of approval from the more orthodox.

Sorry, I meant Auburn Declaration. Auburn Avenue Theology, Auburn Declaration, Auburn Affirmation... I'm getting all my Auburns muddled up in my head.


You seem to take great delight in "exposing" the real/true underpinnings of "transfo's" and "FV's" and "missionals" and so forth.

If I'm a TR, may I read Chesterton? Postman... an "apostate" Catholic and an unrepentant Jew. What about Lewis? Many of his views would raise the hackles of an good "TR." Is he O.K. or not?

Is it really as simple as looking at someone's bookshelf and Good Reads entry in a given six month window?

I'll grant you that we all must be wise about what we read and why. But simply recommending Banner of Truth and Soli Deo Gloria titles as the sine qua non of Christian thinking - as good as many of them are - won't cut it for many of us who would call ourselves Reformed.

RCJr. -

To your point, the fact that the CREC includes baptist folk (without any animosity) is a good indicator of where a truly ecumenical spirit lies. For all the Gospel Coalition-type of shoulder-rubbing and Reformed Baptist/Reformed Presbyterian "alliances" - they're not the ones in ACTUAL fellowship with one another. We are.

Tim V,

I think you are making a distinction without a difference in many ways. Let me put it this way. I don't know of a single Emergent leader at any level who wouldn't say, "I'm Missional." There may be self-identified Missionals who wouldn't say, "I'm Emergent." But then they'd go on to say, "Instead, I'm a theological Liberal."

But what has developed is that those who define themselves as Emergent are denying the inerrancy of the scriptures, the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement, and justification by faith alone. Tim Keller labels those who have abandoned such views as "evangelicals." (This in Chpt 1 of "Generous Justice.")

I would argue that if words have any real meaning, a person who denies those things cannot in any sense be called an evangelical. They are a classical theological Liberals at best.

But then, one of the hallmarks of postmodernism (and postmodern theology) is that words don't have any real meaning. Thank you Jacques Derrida for developing that self-refuting theory.

Anyone who says, "I'm an evangelical and I'm Missional" doesn't really understand either position, for they are seen to be mutually contradictory sets of ideas when they are thoroughly understood and the implications of each are worked out to their logical conclusions. It's the equivalent of saying "I'm a seeker-sensitive five point Calvinist."

For instance, either Christ was providing salvation for the elect when he was dying on the cross, or he was identifying with the poor and powerless of the world and proclaiming God's preference for the poor and powerless. You cannot have it both ways. Unless, of course, you want to identify all of the poor and powerless of the world as "the elect." But then you've gone behind the scenes and changed the definition of that word without notice, too. And along the way you've become a Liberation Theologian who would make Gustavo Gutierrez proud.


We agree on the Emergents, but I think we should maintain the distinction between the two camps.

Put differently, I don't see men like Mark Driscoll and Ed Stetzer saying either "I'm emergent" or "Instead, I'm a theological liberal". Neither do I think either man is a secret harbinger of such commitments. I haven't read either man deny inerrancy, penal substitution or justification by faith alone.

They're both self-described missionals.

Having said that, I don't want to quibble over this. If you want it, you can have the last word.

No, I was referring to this language: "First, TRs typically judge 'the whole world crazy but me and thee, and sometimes I do wonder about thee,'" I have heard this ad nauseum, and it's simply not true. I find it offensive and simply wrong.

David Gray, the reason I have not left FV alone was because I was dealing with it at the same time Duncan was (not to mention, we worked TOGETHER on more than one occasion concerning this), and more than that, it was quite a bit closer to home, as it were (as in, it's in my Presbytery). As to the Douglas Wilson thing, I have explained that already on my blog, and since you have not shown the slightest sign of understanding what or why I said what I said, I don't feel particularly inclined to go down that route and explain further. I will only say this: someone can affirm a doctrine in one breath, and then deny it with their doctrine in another breath, even unintentionally. That never seems to be a possibility, though, with FV'ers. If they say they believe it, then the whole world jolly well better believe they believe it, no matter what else they say that contradicts the claim.


Of course one may and should read many things. As you might be aware, I'm the founder and president of the CS Lewis Society of the Black Hills, and obviously someone who has found a great deal in Lewis to appreciate. However, as anyone in my insignificant club can attest, I can be a vociferous critic of Lewis.

The difference is, as you yourself pointed out, one of tasting with a discerning palate vs. gobbling something down whole.

I'm told that Doug Wilson himself expressed alarm about the number of FV men who were swimming the Tiber. You probably know him better than I do. Ask him yourself if this is so.

I used to be a mechanic. I think in terms of interrelated systems. An engine is an interrelated mechanical system. There are some parameters you can change and not hurt anything. There are other parameters you can change to a degree and it's fine, but change them too much and you start a chain of long term damage that doesn't manifest itself for a long time... after it's too late.

Theological systems are interrelated systems of ideas. You can change some things without doing any real damage to the system. Others you can change to some degree, but not too much or you start a chain of long term damage that sometimes doesn't manifest itself for a long time... after it's too late.

Ideas have consequences. I don't think it's illegitimate to look for connections between ideas and actions, as both Lewis and Neil Postman said we ought to do. After we are done amusing ourselves to death, of course.

>>That's a particular danger if one is unwilling to accuse anybody of bad faith or equivocation.

Which is precisely what Reformed church officers are unwilling to do. As one well-known Reformed theologian once said to me in response to my telling him we were being lied to, "Tim, you're dealing with Christians, here--not unbelievers--and you should never accuse Christians of lying."

Later, it turned out those nice Christians had lied--just as I'd warned.

Didn't Someone once say: "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."

* * *

>>If you're concerned about Keller, then do something about it besides blog about it.

We've heard this before, and I've responded saying we've done much MUCH more than simply blogging about it. The fact that you don't know what we've done indicates that we were successful in our work.

As for your feeling that we've said something about the TRs that we need to edit, I can't figure out what you're talking about? Is it that part about them not getting an invitation to join the country club? If so, it was meant as a compliment, but I'll take it out if you like.

* * *

>>I think the compromise is basically as effective as the full-blown thing...

Dear Henry Bish,

Excellent comment (the whole thing) that I found helpful to my own thinking. Thank you.

* * *

>>Tim Bayly and I have a rather informal truce (at least I view it this way) --I don't expect him to critique Doug Wilson and I expect he doesn't expect me to critique Tim Keller.

Actually, Ken, I don't expect you to critique the Redeemer man because I'm waiting, rather, for you to get him to move over to the CRC or RCA--where he belongs. Seriously, I've never seen you as hesitant to deal with him, so if you are, it's news to me and I'm greatly disappointed. As for me criticizing Doug Wilson, he criticizes me so why shouldn't I criticize him? Isn't that love--the faithful wounds of friends and brothers?

As for the two of us having an informal truce, speaking only for myself, I've never felt the need for one. Which is to say I trust you.

With affection for all,


Of course the love and respect are mutual, good brother, but we did have a heated and testy exchange on my views about Doug Wilson in the past. Some things Doug says I greatly agree with, but so often what he gives with one hand, doctrinally speaking, he takes away with the other.

I view the FV men, their faulty view of justification, and their sacerdotal (personality-driven) and sacramental tendencies as dangerous --probably the most dangerous things we face. They are being protected by good men who, like Erdman and Speer in the twenties and thirties, don't quite seem to grasp all that is at stake, and just don't want nasty conservatives to win. Thus has it always been.

That said, I stand against egalitarianism and the feminization of the church in all its forms. It is a serious error --most serious because it is symptomatic of rebellion against Biblical authority. I know that Tim Keller has become the locus of this debate, but I'm telling you that he is actually far more "moderate" than a lot of what is out there in the PCA. I guess I see another side to him than is seen by both the TR's and the good Bayly brothers.

To me, to say the FV hasn't been mainstreamed and isn't dangerous is what is so irksome. The FV is heresy; egalitarianism is serious error. Both are bad. The first is like a chest wound and the other is like gangrene. I'd rather be without both, thank-you very much!


Agreed. There is only one good Auburn, and that is the one that won the national championship last year. War Eagle!

Okay, I agree totally that what is lacking so often is affirmations and denials, Turretin or Athanasian-Creed style. It is that which allows men to speak out of both sides of their mouths, or, as one so aptly put it, hold to the truth with crossed fingers.

Our creeds are only as good as the men who are sworn to uphold them, and this is why I don't hold out much hope for the human institution known as the church. It will always be attacked from both the right and the left. The Pharisee is as dangerous to it as the publican. The elder brother is as far from home as the prodigal.

Legalism and antinomianism are twin symptoms of the same spiritual rot and are both to be opposed with might and mien by men willing to be men (now I'm singing out of the Bayly hymnal), and not with the temporizing, wimpish, self-absorbed fear that someone, somewhere might have his feelings hurt because, after all, he's a good man...

>>I will only say this: someone can affirm a doctrine in one breath, and then deny it with their doctrine in another breath, even unintentionally.

I think this speaks for itself. And I dare say when someone decides to apply this to you Pastor Keister you won't consider them to be "loving."

Dear Lane,

If it offends you we'll gladly change it to something that expresses our intentions less offensively, and we hope, more accurately than that chestnut.

But the point we're trying to make is that TRs seem to bore in with singular intensity on certain matters while the rest of the world gets ignored--and anyone who doesn't share their intensity in those areas is viewed as unfaithful to the Reformation. I'd liken it to a man so intensely focused on fixing cracks in his foundation that he never notices that his attic is on fire.

Maybe there's a way to edit the post to express this. We'll look into it.



>>egalitarianism is serious error...

No. It is heresy, and until our pastors and elders face up to that one essential fact, the wolves are free to devour.

As for the forms of feminism in the PCA, must I remind you that I served on GA's Ad Interim Study Committee on Women in the Military where I saw the utter betrayal of God's Word up close and personal.

Tim Keller is of a fabric with other forms of the principial and practical egalitarianism we have within the PCA.

Concerning things getting testy between the two of us over Doug Wilson, now that you remind me, I faintly remember it. But really, it had slipped my mind.

Much affection,


Well they will be "Champions" as long as they stay one step ahead of the NCAA...;)


FWIW, I agree that Keller doesn't seem to have gone as far (publicly) as his disciples. But neither does he seem to be very effectively reigning in his disciples. Just because a man doesn't take his own ideas to their logical conclusion doesn't mean he doesn't bear any responsibility when those who come after him and look to him for inspiration do take his ideas to their logical conclusion.

To put it in another realm, I've heard, for instance, that Tillich was shocked when he asked the "death of God" crowd in the 1960's where they'd gotten their bizarre ideas and they said, with puzzled looks on their faces, "From you, of course."

Dear Brother,

I must respectfully disagree with the notion that the harm from federal vision has lessened or is not great.

While many of the other items mentioned are of concern, they are not mutually exclusive- doctrinal harm is ever at the door, in all its forms and must, by God's grace, be protected against.

In all it's forms, including the serious error and strident faction we call by this term.


Tim V,

Thanks. I'll take the last word. I have a big mouth, after all. Just ask Matt Beatty.

Please see my article "Muddled Missionals and the Means of Grace"

"I'm telling you that [Keller] is actually far more "moderate" than a lot of what is out there in the PCA."

If this is true, maybe the PCA's best course is a complete J&R into the RCA. Not just Keller or his presbytery. The whole thing.

Likewise, if Pierce is right, perhaps those with stronger convictions ought to find higher ground. Possibly even Pierce himself?

Okay, ISll freely grant that full-blown egalitarianism is heresy and cruel to boot. Will you grant that some fv teaching is equally heretical?

Well, the Baylys seem to have demonstrated which of the alignments in the PCA they neither agree with nor are members of. What I wonder is: just what do they believe themselves?

Good post, and many thanks for running it. I hope to say something more on my blog about all this, but in the meantime, let me add just one thing in response to some of the comments. You cannot identify heresy by the same means that would enable you to identify an individual dog as a mammal -- however attractive such certainties might be to you.

Doug, pray tell then which courts have ruled egalitarianism heretical? It seems to me in our current fractured ecclesial day when men have sympathetic juries to which they can turn or affiliations to which they can run that it is quite legitimate to state what one individually regards to be heresy with high dudgeon and aplomb


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