There has been considerable buzz about PCA teaching elder and leader Jason Stellman resigning from the PCA in view of his impending defection to Rome. Douglas Wilson weighed in, and for good reason: Stellman had just recently brought charges against Wilson’s friend and colleague Peter Leithart over Federal Vision-related issues that allegedly smacked of Roman Catholic theology.
Leithart was found not guilty. Now Stellman, himself perhaps guilty of some of the very charges he brought against a brother (falsely), is now leaving, probably for Rome.
AV readers may remember Stellman as the author of Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Two Kingdoms—a strident defense of the more radical version of the two kingdoms doctrine. A Foreword was provided for that book by the two kingdoms’ own Michael Horton, of whom I believe Stellman was once a student (I could be corrected here).
AV’s Eric Rauch in 2009 wrote a very good critique of Stellman’s book, which rather than Dual Citizens, could better have been titled simply Dualism. Here are some of Rauch’s still-relevant comments:
About halfway through his new book, Dual Citizens, Jason Stellman makes the following observation: “Perhaps you’ve been haunted by the inexplicable feeling that your very environment, the only environment you have ever known (namely, time) is foreign. Could time, the very stuff of life and building block of society that greets us every morning with the buzzing of the alarm clock, then pushes us through each day, actually be an enemy? As bizarre as it sounds, I suggest that it is, and as the Preacher argues in the book of Ecclesiastes, this enemy adversely affects all of our toil under the sun. In a word, time renders all of man’s earthly pursuits utterly pointless” (emphasis in original). One would be forgiven for asking, as I did, “Why didn’t he put this paragraph on the first page? Why did Stellman wait until page 104 to tell me that all earthly pursuits—and this would include reading his book—are utterly pointless?” Unfortunately, this question is never answered. In fact, this is a recurring theme in Dual Citizens—it raises more questions than it answers. . . .
Ironically, Part 2 of Dual Citizens takes a completely different approach to the “world,” than does Part 1. Stellman’s false dichotomy between the scared and the secular world is exactly what has modern Christians so completely confused about what being a Christian means. While Part 1 comes across as a holy condemnation of being “worldly,” Part 2 acts as the corrective, focusing attention back on the world and how Christians should “now live.” I found myself tearing my hair out as I read Part 1, mentally screaming “Why don’t you get it?;” but as I read Part 2 I began to realize that Stellman does get it. The problem is his eschatology. As an amillennialist, Stellman finds himself trapped in a world of frustration and “pointlessness,” yet can’t quite square this with a Bible that seems to place great emphasis on what we do with our time here on Earth.
Now, Westminster Seminary Professor Carl Trueman has given his insights on Stellman’s resignation as well. But while Dr. Trueman has interesting points to make, his general criticism involves a swipe at theonomy and betrays what I consider merely to be one degree of dualism trying to distance itself from another.
My point: two kingdoms doctrine is a strong dualism based in amillennial theology. Rome is strong expression of this dualism. But Reformed professors share in that theology, and even in criticizing stronger expressions of it, they must partake of it themselves.
For some of us, however, his conversion is not so surprising.
Jason Stellman was a man with a high ecclesiology; and high ecclesiology is important. . . . [M]any of us look on aghast at the rising influence of powerful conservative evangelical parachurch groups. . . . [W]e fear the rise of essentially non-ecclesiastical bodies which wield huge quasi-ecclesiastical power and influence. . . .
If high ecclesiology is important, then one might also say that Two Kingdoms theology too has some importance: it is a healthy means of avoiding the excesses of Christian America, Theonomy, and the various social gospels – left and right – out there. Moreover, it guards against the kind of elitist view of the Christian mind and calling that generates pastors of the performing arts but really offers nothing special to street sweepers and toilet cleaners.
Trueman then goes on to argue that the two kingdoms teaching can itself become a liability to the church. Why? In short, because Paul preached about the Gospel way more often than he did about other matters, including society, and so we should, too. “Indeed, his primary focus was always on the gospel and – crucially – he never conflated the gospel with the doctrine of the church or with opinions about the Christians relationship to secular society.”
Trueman continues, “Talk of ecclesiology and Two Kingdoms has its place. But if Paul’s emphases are to be respected, both are to be kept strictly subordinate, structurally and emphatically, to the gospel, the good news of what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ.”
But there are two major problems with Dr. Trueman’s criticsm. First, it assumes that our place in redemptive history is exactly the same as Paul’s and therefore requires the exact same type of evangelistic preaching and teaching. It is not (hint: at the very least, AD 70 represented monumental changes). Secondly, it assumes that preaching “the gospel” by definition excludes the effort of making disciples of all nations and teaching them everything Christ commanded—i.e. God’s laws. In short, Trueman’s position is advancing the “soul only” “gospel” that the R2K doctrine has been designed to defend.
(It also ignores the fact that there is more to God’s Word than Paul’s mission, but that must be left for another day.)
While Trueman, therefore, rightly sees that the 2K doctrine can be radicalized and “conflated” with “the gospel”, he holds it of necessity as part of his own definition of “the gospel.” In reality, he is only a small degree away from Stellman on this touchy point. Because of the way both separate “gospel” from any outward fruit the gospel must have, both end up radically separating gospel and society, and gospel and state, and in this installment, gospel and church as well.
In doing so, both leave the areas of civil society to pagans and pagan theories. Where the church refuses to do its job, the state picks up. Through fear of “Christian America” and the application of God’s law in society, we get pagan American and the creeping tyranny of man’s godless legalism. And the amillenialist accepts this arrangement as confirmation that his view is correct. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In ecclesiology, a similar thing happens. We all agree that the making of disciples (through the gospel) must create some outward expression. There must be some form of visible church—and thus visible gospel as well (though the two are not to be considered identical). But when the gospel is forbidden to reach every area of life, the Christian life is then reduced to personal ethics, quiet time, and Sunday morning.
When we’re told that we’re only pilgrims, still, and that our ultimate reward is exclusively in heaven, the existence of a visible church becomes purely symbolic in this world. This means every outward form and expression of the church.
Now put these two things together and, excuse me if the Roman Catholic Church is just simply the more overt expression of this. Granted, there are certainly doctrinal differences between Catholic and Reformed, but the ecclesiology-eschatology complex is basically the same in purpose: the church and the church alone represents the kingdom of God in the earth, and exists for the saving of souls for heaven. But her visible physical expression in this earth is only symbolic of sojourning here and of what will come in heaven.
It just so happens that Rome has a whole lot more visible physical symbols to tinker with. Big deal. For people who really embrace the amillennial, soul-only gospel, symbolic visible church, the temptation to indulge in embellished symbolism will always be there.
Even many Reformed guys are going back to Geneva gowns and more frequent communion. This is an attempt to add greater importance to the outward physical symbols of the church (and her officers). Well, Rome adds candles, bows, and incense.
I think it would be quite fitting to add incense with the two kingdoms doctrine. All it would lack are some mirrors to go with the smoke. It may eventually trick everyone.
In short, both Stellman and Trueman are expressing dualistic versions of the gospel, just in slightly different ways.
It is no irony that amillennialism and the basic concept of starkly separated (on paper anyway) kingdom-powers were areas that the Reformers adopted from Rome, with only minor adaptations of the latter. They are essentially un-reformed doctrines. They should have been reformed further—thoroughly, biblically. (Ironically, R2K proponent and Westminster West professor R. Scott Clark once called this claim an “anabaptist” argument, because anabpatists were perceived in general as those who wanted to go further in reforms that Calvin, Luther, etc. But Scott’s claim would then apply to any further reform beyond Calvin and Luther, including the American revisions to the Westminster Confession which Scott defends. Scott has since deleted his entire blog.)
Trueman himself concludes, “When we identify the church with the gospel, it would seem to me that Rome is the natural outcome, since, for Rome, the church is, in effect, the gospel.”
But amillennialism is also a natural outcome of Rome, from which it sprang. This necessitates the church having no direct influence in law or society, and not attempting to teach or exmplify godly government, business, etc. to society. And that is something the Reformed world has never shaken. It rarely has ever considered, and even more rarely tried.
Oh, and what about that something “special” for the street sweeper and toilet cleaner? Why would an amillennial, soul-only salvation preacher single anyone out? The gospel comes to all alike, granted, but as far as stations in life go, it stops there. There is nothing special for anyone as opposed to another (unless you are considering the perspective of the non-elect versus the elect).
But what about when that lowly janitor is exploited? When the money he’s saved, little by little, over fifty years is literally eroded away by inflation, or totally lost because we was virtually forced to accept worthless company stock options as investment for his retirement plan—and then the company went belly-up?
Or conversely, what about when that lowly worker joins a union that uses thuggery and violent tactics to ensure itself above-market wages, thus increasing prices for everyone else and inducing fear and violence in society? And then votes liberal, bringing in political candidates that advance further evil and dependency on state violence into society?
What can the amillennial, soul-only preacher offer him then? Silence. That preacher must sit silent because the church can have nothing to say to the state, cannot influence legislation, for that would be “conflating” gospel with “pet issues”. It can tell the exploited, at best, this life doesn’t matter: your only reward is in heaven.
But theonomy—that “excess”, according to Trueman—offers justice, restitution, freedom, and the dignity of learning personal responsibility before God and man. The Bible teaches monetary theory, just weights and measures, and just compensations, free markets, and restitution by convicted thieves. Surely these things are something special.
Surely, compared to the belief system which must turn a blind eye to these civil and social matters of justice, these are very special indeed—infinitely so.
So choose this day something special, or else find yourself choosing which dualism you wish to insulate yourself from the world.