I remember when I joined the PCA, my pastor told me an anecdote. He said when his church was first being built in northwest Arkansas, he phoned a local Baptist pastor to ask some advice on a matter. The Baptist pastor cut him off: “Presbyterian, huh? You’ll be liberal in 20 years!” And he abruptly hung up on my pastor.
Debate was rather heated in the PCA General Assembly this year over a motion to include a statement to the effect of saying that the Muslims and the Christians worship the same God. It is usually felt by people who believe this that such a statement can be an effective bridge for evangelism to Muslims. They will also usually state the obvious, that the Arabic word for God is Allah, and so Arabic translations have the word “Allah” in the Bible. Therefore they have the same God that we do.
There are a number of serious problems with this line of reasoning. Firstly, the implication of such a statement is that the Trinity is not central to the Christian idea of God, but is an optional add-on. Folks, are we really willing to say that about the Trinity? That it is optional? I would think Athanasius would be rolling in his grave at the suggestion.
Having glanced at the Report that gave rise to this “debate,” the larger issue is admittedly way more complex that can be represented here. It relates to a larger missiological debate over “Insider Movements”—something like the belief that one can have a relationship with Jesus while remaining culturally something else, say, Muslim.
Whatever the larger issues may be, I can’t see how such a movement will not eventually have to deal with Christian doctrine, and thus issues like Mr. Keister has related will be inevitable.
But is it not a bit startling that some PCA theologians are apparently willing to go so far as to suggest “Muslims and the Christians worship the same God”? If this is accurate, I would be shocked.
But I would not be too shocked. More than one event has happened in the past couple years that has made me wonder whether that Baptist pastor was actually right. These things range from certain doctrinal issues taken by elders, to more personal anecdotes of unbecoming behavior.
On the latter end, I was recently informed of a group of elders’ wives and other women in a PCA church who were enjoying a read through 50 Shades of Grey. For those not in the know, this is porn. When someone questioned whether they should be reading and discussing such stuff, the person was met with defensive derision. Really? Well, perhaps it’s OK, because the lead fornicator is named “Christian.”
On the other point, not too long ago I was surprised to learn that modern PCA elder has adopted the position that all infants dying in infancy go to heaven. While this is certainly a subject open for debate, it is decidedly not the express view of the Westminster Confession.
I was asked to teach a Sunday school class in a PCA church a while back. It was to be based on a chapter from a book by PCA elder Craig Brown. The book is The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism, and the chapter that fell to me was “Babies,” meaning “What happens to babies who die in infancy.”
The chapter is informative, but not once does it even mention the Confession or deal with the problem and implications of “elect infants.” Instead, it uses arguments from authority (Sproul said, Spurgeon said. . .) and emotion (I can’t imagine a God who would. . .). Scripture is quoted frequently, granted, but the full context of the doctrine of election is not discussed. Instead, the author defaults to Baptist thinking on the issue, and ends up quoting John MacArthur in order to affirm the theory of an age of accountability.
It does not bother me that someone is taking a side on the theological issue, but that they are (or were) a PCA ruling elder, can quote influential theologians like R.C. Sproul approvingly on the matter, be published by Ligonier, be aimed at laymen and taught in PCA churches, and yet not once is the doctrinal standard of the PCA discussed.
This becomes even more troublesome to me when you consider that it was the issue of infant salvation on which the PCUSA began its slide into liberalism. In 1903, that body actually changed its version of the WCF to read, “We believe that all dying in infancy are included in the election of grace, and are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit.” This was the first (or certainly among the first) injections of modern humanistic thinking into the Church’s doctrine, and the rest is history. Now it seems the same forces are at work in the PCA.
And consider also the continuing discussion over women deacons. And what after that? The example of so many churches that have “gone liberal” charts a clear path. Women elders, then women teaching elders, then non-practicing homosexuals, then practicing homosexuals, then John Shelby Spong.
Now, I admit, these are just a few incidents and concerns which could all be called isolated, unrepresentative, and explained away in various ways. But I wonder why I am witnessing friends and acquaintances who belong (or once belonged) to the PCA shake their heads and say, “What’s happening to the PCA?” with increasing frequency these days. And the more I hear stories like these, the more I want to join them.
Is the PCA on a similar path as the PCUSA? According to our Baptist prophet, we’ve got about five years to figure it out.