Monday, January 11, 2016

The PCA Has Got to Get Its Mind Right on Race

No Place for Cool Hand Luke







      

Boss Paul: You got your mind right, Luke? 

Luke: Yeah. I got it right. I got it right, boss.



It is a great burden be righteous and among the unrighteous. If you are righteous, and they are unrighteous, you've got to get their minds right.

This is acutely so if you are a righteous Christian, and you and unrighteous Christians are living together in the church. You must convince them they are wrong; you must get them to repent; you must straighten out their thinking; you must get them and keep them on the path of righteousness.

Let's say you and I believe that homosexual practice is morally evil, that homosexual practice is subject to ecclesiastical discipline, and that no two Christian persons may with God's or the church's approval be joined together in a homosexual marital relationship. 

After that we have differences. You believe that that homosexual practice should be criminalized and that the legal system should arrest, prosecute, and punish those who are guilty of homosexual practice. You believe the society should discriminate against avowed homosexuals. You believe society should not allow civil partnerships nor homosexual marriage. On the other hand I am against using criminal sanctions, against civil discrimination, could live with civil partnerships, and, while I see great complications if civil marriages are allowed, am not so opposed to them as you. 

So far we are OK as fellow believers. We have different political views. You are a social conservative, and I am a libertarian. We might even both be members of the same political party! What is important is that we can both be members in good standing of the same church and can eat the bread of our Lord's sacrificed body and drink the cup of his shed blood.

But let's suppose we both are convinced that our positions are righteous and the other's unrighteous. Our differences, as we see them, are Biblical, theological, and moral. What now? Well, we need the church to declare our view as righteous and call the other to repentance. 

Last week I commented twice about the talk of Michelle Higgins at the Urbana Missions Conference sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship: This Does Not End Well for the PCA and Why This Does Not End Well for the PCA

Let me be clear. If Ms. Higgins wants within our political system to support declaring Robert E. Lee a traitor, paying reparations to African Americans, boycotting Walmart, requiring preferential treatment of all minority groups by the government, redistributing the wealth, putting Martin Luther King on Mt. Rushmore, and disenfranchising white Mississippians, we are political opponents. I would declare that Robert E. Lee is one of my heroes. I oppose reparations, boycotts, preferential treatment, and redistribution. I not only would not put Martin Luther King on Mt. Rushmore but might sandblast off some on there now. I am opposed to disenfranchising of any Mississippians. 

But the nature of our differences cannot be confined to politics - for her. She believes the side she takes is the side of righteousness and that my failure to agree with and support her is unrighteous. So in the end, if we were still in the same denomination (I was a Presbyterian from birth till 2013, a Presbyterian minister from 1972 till 2013, and a PCA minister from 1973-2013) she and those who agree with her would be wanting me to get my mind right - for the sake of Christ, the church's witness, righteous treatment of the poor and disenfranchised, and the good of my own soul. 

I say that on the basis of her own speeches and writing. I say, too, on the basis of what others have written. Consider letters published by PCA Pastors at the  Gospel Reconciliation and Justice Network

E.C. Bell thinks the Duncan-Lucas Resolution was much too moderate:
There is no question that the personal resolution proposed at the Chattanooga GA raises an issue that needs to be addressed, but does the resolution mark a change in the PCA either culturally or theologically?... It could be argued the resolution is a continuation of the conservative culture and theology that has defined much of the Presbyterian history in America... The Presbyterian Church, ... has enjoyed a great deal of prestige for most of this nation’s history. We have not been immune to the siren song of temporal status and wealth and we have made the ethical compromises necessary to maintain it. It is not easy to give up old idols. Today we may feel compelled to ask forgiveness for the sinful results of that idolatry, but still be disinclined to abandon those idols altogether. The timing and limited scope of the personal resolution... seem to fit naturally in our cultural and theological tradition: a long standing commitment to the idols of cultural and institutional stability, even if that means the delay of justice for the oppressed. This commitment has rendered us all but incapable of recognizing any current cultural and social injustices that we are participating in and benefiting from. If we continue in our historic pattern, which has been marked by unbending commitment to a cultural ‘conservatism’ and follow an underdeveloped doctrine of sanctification, we are condemning ourselves to a future of belated apologies and ongoing kingdom impotency. 
We cannot expect long held cultural and theological sins and errors to be instantly acknowledged. Nor can we underestimate the difficulty those enslaved to sins have in repenting... What is regrettable is that we have had no culture of pastoral engagement seeking to address these issues; no patient but purposeful plan to be used by the Holy Spirit to rescue our brothers in Christ from the bondage to this sin. .... We have even redefined racism so that it does not include segregation...We seem content to confront and discipline a particular set of sins in our churches...but not an officer of the church...Have we left such people in positions of power because we doubted the power of the Spirit to apply the work of Christ to bring about change in their lives? If the willingness to adopt a position of ‘moderation’ (refusing to address directly the old racists’ need to repent) exists because the battle caused by calling sin “sin” might have harmed the institutions, this has profound implications for the spiritual care of our people. (See more of Bell below.)
Barry Henning thinks the problem is western society including the Reformed church from the time of the Reformation:
One of the major contributing factors that has provided us with the theological rationale to function as a church without genuine reconciliation has been a redefinition of the kingdom of God to fit a majority culture and individualistic culture point of view. We have too often conflated the “good news of the kingdom of God” with only personal salvation and justification. That has led us reading passages about the kingdom for the poor and kingdom justice as simply and only a reference to an attitude of the heart of the individual sinner seeking personal salvation and a standing of forensic righteousness in Christ. We have actually exchanged the amazing announcement of the kingdom of God and the anointing of the Messiah to bring his actual (not only forensic) justice/righteousness to the nations of the earth (Isaiah 42) and to announce good news to the poor and to set the captives free (Isaiah 61, Luke 4) as the means for seeing his kingdom come into this world, to a gospel of only personal, individualized salvation. This redefinition and individualizing allows us to be complicit in the cultural sins of racism and oppression and economic greed on both a personal and structural level...Very closely tied to this is the history of the white, western church as part of the dominant culture. Because the history of white, western Christianity became entangled with the majority culture power structures, including during the Reformation and later in the founding of the United States, we have increasingly stumbled over the nature of the kingdom of God. We have accepted all along the “natural ethnic division of the church” as a practical reality. Dutch Reformed, German Lutheran, French Catholics, Scots Presbyterian, English Episcopalian. The lure of cultural power within those nation groups helped rationalize this reality. Perhaps the highest expression of an ethnocentric, dominant culture church in the Protestant tradition that we still extol today as the model we all aspire to, was the work embodied in the life of Abraham Kuyper. That model has led us too often with a working definition of the nature of the kingdom of God in its greatest expression, as primarily focused on shaping world views...(See more of Henning below.)
It is too weak to call this the Social Gospel. The old Social Gospel was tame and conservative stuff compared to this. This is Reformed theology (not there there is anything historically Reformed about the theology but that the writers are PCA ministers) drinking at the well of Liberation Theology. It's leftist politics baptized with the Bible. 

Therein is the problem.

This, of course, is the way it is with cultural and political liberalism. It cannot relent till conservatism admits how wrong it is, does penance, gets reeducated, and begins to practice righteous liberalism. But this is more, and it is more dangerous, for the reason that it resides in the church. In society liberalism will say, "All enlightened, right-minded, and good people see things as we do." In the church it is, "All Biblically enlightened, Biblically right-minded, Biblically good-hearted, and Biblically righteous people see things as we do." You can't say, "We have a difference about political and social matters, and we can charitably disagree about these matters as Christians while being united by our faith." No, these are matters of Biblical and Gospel righteousness. Those who disagree must get their minds right - whatever it takes.

Last week a PCA minister posted the first of my two Blogs of last week on a PCA Facebook discussion page and invited comments. You can sense of level of tolerance for those whose minds aren't right:
His evidence is anecdotal (I once sat in an office with a black minister), he slams half of last year's General Assembly, he accuses good men of being persecutors of the faithful for trying to bring Morton Smith to repentance, and he selectively quotes from the most uncharitable sources. Further, he doesn't give any biblical rationale why what he's saying should be accepted. It's an anonymous hit piece from an anonymous blogger, a private spirit...
Mr. Curmudgeon is associating (even identifying?) right wing republican political conservatism with orthodox Christianity. "Progressive" is a dirty word to him. What's interesting is that his association is itself a mild form of heresy in that he is suppressing and limiting a critical yet long neglected application of the true gospel.
 His gross misapplication of the term "social gospel" to modern evangelical concerns for social justice betrays him. 60-70 years ago (in his day), the social gospel was a SUBSTITUTION of the true gospel. Today, the social gospel is seen by "progressive" evangelicals as a RAMIFICATION and long neglected APPLICATION of the true gospel. Two completely different concepts that he fails to grasp.
Curmudgeons aren't usually lovers. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. No caveats. Peter calls us to be completely devoted to one another in love. You cannot be a curmudgeon in Jesus name, but you can repent of the bad tempered, surliness and lack of love for your brother in Jesus name and for his sake. This will have a social effect for the kingdom that is both now and not yet.

Did anybody notice the photo leading the article and appearing in this post? It appears to be a still frame from a video. From all the thousands of still frames to choose from, someone choose this particular frame. I've got to believe that, considering the tone and content of the article, that it wasn't by accident. All of you who are white: without knowing her identity, what was your very, very initial split second reaction when you first glanced at it? I don't know about you, but my sinful, white culturalized heart said: "Angry black woman. Black rage. Look at her shaking her fist." I think the chooser of that still frame insidiously meant to evoke that reaction from from the dark side of me and other white people like me. Both the chooser of this frame and my split second reaction shows the ingrained, insidious and subconscious nature of racism.
Wait now. I watched the video and read the blog. But for the original poster to post a link from a former PCA pastor critique of our race initiative seemed to be a bait to incite a reaction. Just didn't seem helpful to the situation. Was he not aware conservatives would react to wealth redistribution?
It is impossible that the PCA will embrace what these authors think must be embraced and remain a theologically conservative, much less a confessionally Reformed, church. I will agree there is a Gospel issue at stake. Adopt the views of the Gospel Reconciliation and Justice Network, and you will in less than a generation lose the Gospel.

Bell: E.C. Bell grew up in the PCA and is a graduate of both Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary. He has assisted in the planƟng of PCA churches in Northern California, Colorado, and Oregon. He currently serves as the pastor of Chehalem Valley Presbyterian Church in Newberg Oregon. The Moderate Approach There is no quesƟon that the personal resoluƟon proposed at the ChaƩanooga GA raises an issue that needs to be addressed, but does the resoluƟon mark a change in the PCA either culturally or theologically? I would suggest that there are reasons to suspect the answer is, “no.” It could be argued the resoluƟon is a conƟnuaƟon of the conservaƟve culture and theology that has defined much of the Presbyterian history in America. It is seen in Dabney’s culturally driven exegesis and Northern Presbyterian’s unwillingness to acknowledge the plight and injusƟces plaguing immigrant workers in northern factories and mines. It is seen in the acƟon of Edward V. Ramage, Moderator of the synod of the Alabama Presbyterian Church in the United States, when he signed the infamous “Call for Unity” in April of 1963. Dr. King’s powerful response in his “LeƩer from a Birmingham Jail” revealed the injusƟce of Ramage’s and the other pastors’ request. The nature of power is to seek to maintain the status quo. The Presbyterian Church, in her various forms, has enjoyed a great deal of presƟge for most of this naƟon’s history. We have not been immune to the siren song of temporal status and wealth and we have made the ethical compromises necessary to maintain it. It is not easy to give up old idols. Today we may feel compelled to ask forgiveness for the sinful results of that idolatry, but sƟll be disinclined to abandon those idols altogether. The Ɵming and limited scope of the personal resoluƟon, some forty years aŌer the founding of the PCA, seem to fit naturally in our cultural and theological tradiƟon: a long standing commitment to the idols of cultural and insƟtuƟonal stability, even if that means the delay of jusƟce for the oppressed. This commitment has rendered us all but incapable of recognizing any current cultural and social injusƟces that we are parƟcipaƟng in and benefiƟng from. If we conƟnue in our historic paƩern, which has been marked by unbending commitment to a cultural ‘conservaƟsm’ and follow an underdeveloped doctrine of sancƟficaƟon, we are condemning ourselves to a future of belated apologies and ongoing kingdom impotency. The opportunity presented by the proposed resoluƟon is not simply the much needed confession of parƟcular sins of omission or commission but the opportunity to ask the deeper, far more difficult quesƟons, “Why did it take so long?” and “What kind of changes do we need to make to break the paƩern?”


The pracƟcal unwillingness to address racism on an insƟtuƟonal level betrays an unwillingness to address the issue on an individual level. I believe this serves to highlight the weakness in the PCA’s pracƟcal view and expectaƟon of sancƟficaƟon. There is no doubt that sancƟficaƟon will be incomplete this side of glory. It is also important to note that pastorally the work of the Spirit in sancƟficaƟon is oŌen slow and gracious. It has been wisely noted that if the Holy Spirit were suddenly to reveal all of our sin at once it would be overwhelming. We cannot expect long held cultural and theological sins and errors to be instantly acknowledged. Nor can we underesƟmate the difficulty those enslaved to sins have in repenƟng; parƟcularly if they see the sin as a foundaƟonal part of their heritage. What is regreƩable is that we have had no culture of pastoral engagement seeking to address these issues; no paƟent but purposeful plan to be used by the Holy Spirit to rescue our brothers in Christ from the bondage to this sin. Instead there has been resistance to addressing segregaƟonist TE’s or RE’s. We have even redefined racism so that it does not include segregaƟon. In 2014 Greenville Seminary argued in response to criƟcism of its establishing a chair for a segregaƟonist faculty member, that segregaƟonist views are not racist. RedefiniƟon of a sin so that it is no longer a sin is a tragic surrender and troubling denial of the power of the gospel. We seem content to confront and discipline a parƟcular set of sins in our churches that are oŌen sexual in nature (adultery, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity), but not an officer of the church who thinks slavery and segregaƟon are biblically defensible posiƟons and should be the law of the land. Have we leŌ such people in posiƟons of power because we doubted the power of the Spirit to apply the work of Christ to bring about change in their lives? If the willingness to adopt a posiƟon of ‘moderaƟon’ (refusing to address directly the old racists’ need to repent) exists because the baƩle caused by calling sin “sin” might have harmed the insƟtuƟons, this has profound implicaƟons for the spiritual care of our people. Tragically the indifference could also be seen as profoundly judgmental and arrogant. Have we in effec


Henning: Barry Henning is founding pastor of New City Fellowship of St Louis, MO where the church has been living and working out issues of reconciliaƟon and jusƟce since 1992 in the urban areas of North St. Louis and University City. New City St Louis is a diverse congregaƟon represenƟng roughly 20 different naƟons and has extensive ministries in Job Training, Immigrant Housing, Tutoring, Medical Care, Home Repair, University Student Kingdom Discipleship, Legal Services, a diverse ChrisƟan School, and AdopƟon and Foster Care. New City has jointly formed an internaƟonal mission agency called Kingdom RestoraƟon Society with acƟve church/board parƟcipaƟon from Kenya, The DemocraƟc Republic of Congo, Togo and Burma. We also work with churches in Pakistan, India, Honduras, Zimbabwe and London, England. Barry and his wife Ann live in an inner-city community in St. Louis and have 4 married children and 20 grandchildren.


One of the major contribuƟng factors that has provided us with the theological raƟonale to funcƟon as a church without genuine reconciliaƟon has been a redefiniƟon of the kingdom of God to fit a majority culture and individualisƟc culture point of view. We have too oŌen conflated the “good news of the kingdom of God” with only personal salvaƟon and jusƟficaƟon. That has leŌ us reading passages about the kingdom for the poor and kingdom jusƟce as simply and only a reference to an aƫtude of the heart of the individual sinner seeking personal salvaƟon and a standing of forensic righteousness in Christ. We have actually exchanged the amazing announcement of the kingdom of God and the anoinƟng of the Messiah to bring his actual (not only forensic) jusƟce/righteousness to the naƟons of the earth (Isaiah 42) and to announce good news to the poor and to set the capƟves free (Isaiah 61, Luke 4) as the means for seeing his kingdom come into this world, to a gospel of only personal, individualized salvaƟon. This redefiniƟon and individualizing allows us to be complicit in the cultural sins of racism and oppression and economic greed on both a personal and structural level, while sƟll leaving us convinced we can effecƟvely disciple the culture into the kingdom through an intellectual exercise in personal discipleship and Bible study without actually enacƟng the lifestyle of Jesus and the Apostles. Very closely Ɵed to this is the history of the white, western church as part of the dominant culture. Because the history of white, western ChrisƟanity became entangled with the majority culture power structures, including during the ReformaƟon and later in the founding of the United States, we have increasingly stumbled over the nature of the kingdom of God. We have accepted all along the “natural ethnic division of the church” as a pracƟcal reality. Dutch Reformed, German Lutheran, French Catholics, Scots Presbyterian, English Episcopalian. The lure of cultural power within those naƟon groups helped raƟonalize this reality. Perhaps the highest expression of an ethnocentric, dominant culture church in the Protestant tradiƟon that we sƟll extol today as the model we all aspire to, was the work embodied in the life of Abraham Kuyper. That model has leŌ us too oŌen with a working definiƟon of the nature of the kingdom of God in its greatest expression, as primarily focused on shaping world views through the systems and structures of the culture - including the arts, science, poliƟcs, economic structures and educaƟonal insƟtuƟons. While all these things are certainly meant to be redeemed, the unchangeable fact that God has called the weak and lowly and the despised things of this world to be the source of confounding the wise and strong is lost on us. The ministries of Jesus and the apostles and many church leaders around the world today, and even in the immigrant church in the U.S., would find it hard to fit in the structures and aspiraƟons of our denominaƟon. As the Scriptures are read from the perspecƟve of the poor and oppressed and excluded minoriƟes,

One of the major contribuƟng factors that has provided us with the theological raƟonale to funcƟon as a church without genuine reconciliaƟon has been a redefiniƟon of the kingdom of God to fit a majority culture and individualisƟc culture point of view. We have too oŌen conflated the “good news of the kingdom of God” with only personal salvaƟon and jusƟficaƟon. That has leŌ us reading passages about the kingdom for the poor and kingdom jusƟce as simply and only a reference to an aƫtude of the heart of the individual sinner seeking personal salvaƟon and a standing of forensic righteousness in Christ. We have actually exchanged the amazing announcement of the kingdom of God and the anoinƟng of the Messiah to bring his actual (not only forensic) jusƟce/righteousness to the naƟons of the earth (Isaiah 42) and to announce good news to the poor and to set the capƟves free (Isaiah 61, Luke 4) as the means for seeing his kingdom come into this world, to a gospel of only personal, individualized salvaƟon. This redefiniƟon and individualizing allows us to be complicit in the cultural sins of racism and oppression and economic greed on both a personal and structural level, while sƟll leaving us convinced we can effecƟvely disciple the culture into the kingdom through an intellectual exercise in personal discipleship and Bible study without actually enacƟng the lifestyle of Jesus and the Apostles. Very closely Ɵed to this is the history of the white, western church as part of the dominant culture. Because the history of white, western ChrisƟanity became entangled with the majority culture power structures, including during the ReformaƟon and later in the founding of the United States, we have increasingly stumbled over the nature of the kingdom of God. We have accepted all along the “natural ethnic division of the church” as a pracƟcal reality. Dutch Reformed, German Lutheran, French Catholics, Scots Presbyterian, English Episcopalian. The lure of cultural power within those naƟon groups helped raƟonalize this reality. Perhaps the highest expression of an ethnocentric, dominant culture church in the Protestant tradiƟon that we sƟll extol today as the model we all aspire to, was the work embodied in the life of Abraham Kuyper. That model has leŌ us too oŌen with a working definiƟon of the nature of the kingdom of God in its greatest expression, as primarily focused on shaping world views through the systems and structures of the culture - including the arts, science, poliƟcs, economic structures and educaƟonal insƟtuƟons. While all these things are certainly meant to be redeemed, the unchangeable fact that God has called the weak and lowly and the despised things of this world to be the source of confounding the wise and strong is lost on us.

The paradigm of our culture and of a great many of our churches is one of educaƟonal and financial power, personal efficiency, task accomplishment and someƟmes a rather naive idea that we are the change agents for the whole world. This isn’t all of us all the Ɵme; but it is a part of most of us a good deal of the Ɵme. We can hardly talk about starƟng a project without turning to quesƟons of “naƟonal model” and “global impact” within a few sentences. The model and the teaching of Jesus, the apostles and the early church is that the kingdom moves forward in humble circumstances. It’s not just individually that God’s power is made known in weakness, it’s also corporately. The one church that is the most piƟful in John’s leƩer-message from Jesus is Laodicea. It is the one with the most cultural power, and the biggest blinders. The theme of God choosing to lead his people in humility runs all the way through the history of Israel (Deut 17:14ff, 20:1ff and virtually every O.T. godly leader you read about) and into the fullness of the expression of the kingdom in the life of Christ (Phil 2 and too many passages to list), the apostles (see esp. 1 Cor 4:1ff and 4:16), and the church (I Cor 1:26ff). The fundamental reasons for God direcƟng his people into these humble, dependent condiƟons are centered on the issue of the Israel being a people “for the poor” and then, when the full expression of the kingdom comes in Christ, the church pursuing a kingdom that is focused for the benefit of the poor and oppressed.  When we come to the poor and minoriƟes who are not part of the dominant culture, from posiƟons of cultural power, we naturally tend towards paternalism. Which is one of the other reasons we have the need to imitate Christ and the Apostles by embracing humble circumstances: it is the boasƟng in human power (of any kind) that actually feeds division (1 Cor 1:10ff). If we do not see this as a theologically revealed paradigm for the church and something which we must pracƟcally embrace as Israel was called to and Jesus and the apostles lived out, and most of the church around the world lives with, I don’t know that we will ever experience large scale reconciliaƟon because our paternalism will always be a barrier.  The implicaƟons, of course, are preƩy revoluƟonary (cataclysmic to our current systems). Our colleges, seminaries, church buildings, pastor’s salaries, missionary support levels, church planƟng strategies and world mission endeavors would all change and include more of a deliberate move towards the poor, instead of seeking to bring the poor up to our standards and comfort level. Again, some things are happening here. But it is not what is driving the thinking of the church structurally as a whole. Currently we are viewed by too many in and outside of the United States as a willing conspirator with the western cultural abuses of wealth, power and paternalism. The church in this humble, reconciled posiƟon would be a genuinely propheƟc voice against those cultural abuses and a voice from the reconciled naƟons for God’s glory in his jusƟce and compassion through the kingdom of Jesus our Messiah and Lord. With these changes the poor would be valued and genuinely embraced, deep reconciliaƟon would be fostered and there would be a real sense of the kingdom of God being lived out in the body of Christ that would be our small part in the greatest apologeƟc any culture can witness for God sending Jesus as the Messiah for the world.



3 comments:

  1. All this leaves me a little breathless. My only response, as simple and immature as it may be, is thank goodness salvation is by grace.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wanted to thank you for these last three posts. I'm worried about how this shakes out.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Curmudgeon;
    Thank you for this series of articles. Can hardly believe the radical path the PCA has taken since graduating from Covenant in '94.

    ReplyDelete

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