Why This Doesn't End Well for the PCA

Black Lives Matter
the PCA and the Future

Michelle Higgins,
Director of Worship and Outreach, South City Church (PCA), St.Louis

Yesterday I concluded my Blog about Michelle Higgins' talk at the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Urbana Missions Conference with, "This does not end well for the PCA."

A friend asked on Facebook, "Can you elaborate what you mean when you say this will not end well for the PCA? That statement can be taken a number of ways, and I'm curious to know what you mean."

Since I have resolved not to enter into political or religious controversy on Facebook or Twitter, I am writing this follow-up to try to answer the question.

I grew up and was ordained to the ministry in the Presbyterian Church, U.S. My pastor from junior high to college graduation (1969), who was, perhaps, the most key leader among the founders of the Presbyterian Church in America, often included a petition for  "victory in Vietnam" in his pulpit prayers. I remember listening from the backseat of a car to a conversation between him and another minister in which he commented, "Generally if a man's politics are conservative, his theology will be conservative." Then, after I graduated from seminary (1972), I attended the meeting of the Synod of Florida at which Dr. Albert Win lectured on a proposed new confession of faith, a female administered the Lord's Supper, and the body debated whether to endorse Caesar Chavez's efforts to organize farm workers in Florida and whether to petition the President to pardon draft resisters who had fled to Canada. 

These anecdotes illustrate the political/social divide within the PCUS that contributed to the founding of the PCA. These were not the most important issues. Biblical inerrancy and authority, the Deity of Christ, the message of the Gospel, and the primacy of evangelism and missions were far more important issues. But at the same time there was underlying, a sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken, conflict between conservative and liberal political/social views. 

Can those who hold conflicting political/social views walk together? Can the later Francis Schaeffer walk with Jim Wallis? In my opinion only tenuously and temporarily. Why? Because of the tendency to see political/social views as Biblical or Gospel issues. If some see gun rights, a strong military, law and order, advancement by merit, skepticism about or opposition to the welfare state, and free market capitalism as issues of Biblical authority while others see racial justice, white hegemony, economic inequality, peace, and government's responsibility to redress economic and social problems as Gospel issues, you have a fundamental conflict that makes it hard to live together. If you take the first view you are almost certainly a Republican, and if you take the second you are almost surely a Democrat. Now a Republican might take something from the Democrat list, and a Democrat from the Republican list, while remaining in their respective parties. As with political parties so with the church. Some in the church are able to include a progressive value among their generally conservative values, and some are able to include a conservative value among their generally progressive values. But that does not remove the fundamental tension between liberal/progressive and conservative views and values.

The one social/political issue that has united the majority of political/social conservatives with the minority of progressives in the PCA is opposition to abortion. However, Michelle Higgins said at Urbana said that evangelicals are "are too busy withholding mercy from the living so that we might display a big spectacle of how much we want mercy to be shown to the unborn" and that abortion protests by evangelicals is ”activism that makes you comfortable." This suggests that there is at least a developing tension if not a divide over abortion. Ms. Higgins is also committed to Black Lives Matter. To get some idea of other tensions that may develop note this statement from the homepage of their website: "Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum."

Yesterday I wrote, "This is political progressivism, liberation theology, and social gospel. Historic theological orthodoxy cannot long cohabit with this liberal version of orthopraxis. One or the other will have to move out." 

Here is what I mean. In general when political and social issues get balled up with Biblical authority and the Gospel, orthopraxis (right practice defined in terms of social/political issues rather than personal conformity to Biblical morality) will be elevated to equality with orthodoxy (right doctrine.) This happens with conservatives as well as the liberals. There are those who believe that, if do not believe Jesus taught you must arm yourself, or if you believe that women may run businesses and hold political office, you deny Biblical truth. I do not believe in the conservative social gospel any more than I believe in the liberal one.

But the reality is that the social gospel is mostly identified with political/social progressivism. The social gospel at first is viewed as an expression of the Biblical gospel. Michelle Higgins and her father Mike believe they are living out the Gospel by practicing civil disobedience and getting arrested. The Gospel is that Jesus saves you from the condemnation and control of sin, but also that Jesus means to save society from sins such economic inequality and Western domination. Salvation has as much to do with domestic and foreign policy as it does with personal morality. The social gospel starts out as the camel with his nose under the tent and eventually takes over the tent. Orthopraxis begins as secondary to orthodoxy, becomes equal with orthodoxy, and eventually changes orthodoxy. Progressive orthopraxis and historic orthodoxy don't stay married. One will get a divorce. 

Last summer at the PCA General Assembly Drs. Duncan and Lucas, I am certain, believed in their Resolution as true and right. But one of the effects of their resolution is that the genie of the social gospel is out of the bottle, and it's not going back.


  1. Bill,

    I share your concerns. Thanks for speaking out about this. I suppose you know about this gathering...


    Additionally, they have published some open letters to the PCA about racial reconciliation here...


  2. Thanks, Dave. Those letter are quite disturbing, aren't they? The first one in particular illustrates what I write about Lig's and Sean's opening the bottle and letting the genie escape. Their statement was too moderate for the writer, more a symptom of the problem than a solution to the problem. This 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. In some ways it is more dangerous in the church. In society liberalism say all enlightened, right-minded, and good people see things as we do. In the church it becomes all Biblically enlightened, Biblically right-minded, and Biblically good-hearted and 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 while being united by our faith. No, these are matters of Biblical and Gospel righteousness. It is impossible that the PCA will embrace what these authors think must be embraced and remain a theologically conservative, much less a confessionally Calvinistic church.

  3. Bill,

    I agree about those letters especially the first - very troubling. Equally troubling is the failure to see the church as the Kingdom of Christ (WCF 25.2) with the Word of God setting the agenda for what we say and do.

    For these folks the agenda seems to be:

    1) Whites confess and repent of your racism and white privilege.
    2) Whites step aside and let minorities run the show.

    This might be a bit simplistic but I don't think it is.

    I'm kind of bothered that the only distinction that matters is skin color. A person like me who grew up in the north, raised Catholic (my grandfather was Romanian Orthodox), who was converted in college is as much or more of an outsider in the PCA than our black brethren who were raised in evangelical churches. Yet I am treated as if I was a part of the PC-US.

    I'm also bothered that this discussion of "sin" does not include a call for church discipline. After all, that is one of the marks of the true church. Overtures on racial reconciliation need to include condemnation of specific sins and calls for the courts of the church to act to deal with such sin wherever it is found. Unfortunately they prefer to go around the lower courts and simply make an emotional appeal to the General Assembly hoping that a top down edict will change things (we both know that it won't).

    Many of these letters include statements like "we need each other." I'm left saying, Really? To me that's code for "We really want you to see it our way." I don't think these folks want to hear from confessional folks: There is no attempt to have a two-way dialog or a desire to talk and meet in the middle. They are engaging in a monologue calling everyone to fall in line as they lead us to their version of "The Promised Land."

    If they prevail there might be a good many folks looking to other NAPARC denominations to be their church home.

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  5. The SBC managed to reverse liberalism primarily because the laity became intransigent and the professors got fired. As a layman I will not put up with the product of elitist seminaries much longer. I would rather forego paedobaptism for which there's no clear Biblical support either way than a plain reading of Genesis. Many laymen wlike me would rather become southern Baptists than continue bowing to Tim Keller and his questioning "has God said?".


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