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On Why We Like (the PCA) Our Denomination

September 1, 2010

This month, Matt and Shaun wax eloquent on the fact that denominations might just be alright. .

And this month’s links are:

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. Drew Barnes permalink
    September 13, 2010 12:39 am

    As long as you compare my affinities to the pharisees, any dialogue between us on these issues is imperiled.

  2. Eric Burns permalink
    September 13, 2010 1:20 am

    “Missional Tax collectors and Confessionalist Pharisees” ???

    In describing the broadness of the PCA and how this is a good thing, you claim on your podcast that there is nothing wrong with any of the three camps within the PCA (doctrinalist, pietist and culturalist). However, you state the doctrinalist is like the Pharisee and the Tax collector (the humble, Lord have mercy on me)as being the missioanl minded one. Wow!

    I agree that the many different parts of the body are healthy, but this kind of light that you cast so called doctrinalist/confessionalist in is one reason why many in Reformed circles raise a skeptical eyebrow towards missional/transformationalist types. My perception is the “one sidedness” is that the orthodox confessionalist are being marginalized while at the same time given lip service that they have a important part to play here. Based on your remarks and many like it I have heard through the years by others in the PCA I’m thinking this marginalizing by the majority in the PCA makes their so called “broadness” insincere. Statements like yours and the general idea/attitude it represents is one reason many of us are not buying Keller’s paper.

    You are right we all tend to talk past one another perhaps you could clarify or help me understand your statement better. Grace & Peace


  3. ordinarymeans permalink*
    September 13, 2010 2:36 am

    Eric and Drew,

    In truth, I’m in your camp. I want to make sure the kind of marginalization you describe doesn’t happen. I’m getting increasingly frustrated by the top down restructuring of methodology that is going on. Nevertheless, I think Keller’s breakdown is a reasonable analysis and describes what has generally made the PCA a pleasant place to minister the Word. My only critique would be that more folks, myself included, are probably generalists than these definitions permit.


    Matt, you want to chime in on this one?

    • Matthew Bohling permalink
      September 13, 2010 11:11 pm

      Keller’s point (and I think ours if I remember what we said) is that we need each other. So marginalization is certainly not my goal. But when we identify with a particular one of the 3 camps and demonize the others, that is a problem. We used the language we did because we see pride on all sides quite frankly. Both of us are generalists in our perspective though we are near enough to folks on all sides to see that Keller’s (and really it’s Marsden’s!) analysis is good. If someone who primarily sides in one camp can’t see the goodness and wisdom found in other camps, there’s a blindness there which I think is good to uproot.

      On a structural level I think the reason the PCA “seems” polarized (it always has been and always will be for the reasons Keller outlines) is because as the culture shifts and thus our thoughts about how to go about the mission must also shift the denomination is shifting more slowly than (in my opinion) than it needs to. I have one friend who read the Strategic Plan and basically said, “that’s all the guts they’ve got”. The polarization is coming because people like me in the pagan West see how anachronistic some of the petty things that currently polarize people actually are in light of the mission.

  4. Eric Burns permalink
    September 14, 2010 2:19 pm

    I am not questioning the descriptive helpfulness of Keller’s paper. I am questioning the usage of it and the light many in the majority (peitist & culturalist) cast things in……“Missional Tax collectors and Confessionalist Pharisees” That is what I don’t buy and I believe that is often how this type of stuff is used.

    I don’t really like the categories either. However to go along with the basic premise and in keeping with discussion points, if I had to pick one I would put myself into the confessionalist camp.

    I agree whole heartily with your statement………”If someone who primarily sides in one camp can’t see the goodness and wisdom found in other camps, there’s a blindness there which I think is good to uproot.”

    Amen! While I lean in that confessionalist direction I would say we (confessionalist included) would have to call that blindness what it is….sin.

    However, with all due respect, you guys like the paper,edify it,say the categories are helpful and then refuse to participate setting yourself up as taking the high road….”Oh we are generalist.” Really? Really? While someone who has a leaning in one direction of the three proposed camps Keller gives is to dogmatic or something. Almost seems like that is how you have positioned it here.

    My look at history tells me that in general generalist/moderates tend to go the path of least resistance. I can see the wisdom in all three, we agree on that, but let me get you off the fence. If you had to pick one what would it be?

    All that said my original concern still stands valid. We should not demonize the other 3 camps. The framework many in the majority (pietists & culturalists) seem to be marginalizing the confessionalist camps into is……………

    Missional = Humble Tax collector while Confessionalist = Pharisee

    • ordinarymeans permalink*
      September 14, 2010 2:49 pm

      If we gave the impression that missionals are the humble tax collectors, forgive us. In some ways, they have the power right now and are acting the most like the Pharisees. (Get out of here, doctrinalists, we are in charge now!) I believe what we said was something like, “Doctrinalists can tend to be the Pharisees.” Which is true. If we are focused on doctrine to the exclusion of serving people (minister means “servant” after all), we are the Pharisees. I believe this has been the sin of the Reformed world for quite some time.

      Let me put it this way, Matt and I have strong tendencies toward the doctrinalist camp. Rather than coming out in favor of the doctrinalists, we want to keep balance on the podcast, and balance in our own lives.

      As for wanting to know personally where I fall, I love the Puritans for both their doctrine and piety. I’m weak on the missional side, even though I’ve been a “successful” (by the world’s standards) church planter. Come on, I’m an ordinary means guy. It’s hard to walk the old/new school line.


  5. Eric Burns permalink
    September 15, 2010 2:29 am

    Thanks for the conversation guys! I have enjoyed listening to your podcast for the last 2 years and look forward to more.


  6. Matthew Bohling permalink
    September 16, 2010 2:51 pm

    Let me add one more comment. Eric said, “My look at history tells me that in general generalist/moderates tend to go the path of least resistance. I can see the wisdom in all three, we agree on that, but let me get you off the fence. If you had to pick one what would it be?” No one who knows me would say that I’m a moderate. I think that’s a false breakdown. If the PCA needs all 3 camps, so do I in the way I think about ministry (and life!). Thus, I need to read Sinclair Ferguson, John Piper, and Tim Keller so that I don’t get out of whack. I think my great problem is that I lose one of them and thus miss the beauty of all three. Let me illustrate … if I pursue passion for a particular doctrine (I love providence for example) but don’t call my people by grace, with gratitude for Christ, to delight in God and love God passionately (piety) as a result of what they’ve learned about Him, I’ve failed. Likewise, if I don’t lead people to share what they’ve learned about God and His character, then I’ve missed the point of having good doctrine and right emotions and devotion to God; viz. that others would come to know God through the proclamation of the gospel.

  7. Eric Burns permalink
    September 18, 2010 12:39 am

    Matthew, I agree with the balance you speak of. Since I don’t know you like your mother does I will accept that you are not a moderate.

    Just to clarify, when I say… “If you had to pick one”, I meant what camp is your leaning towards in relation to Keller’s paper. I did not mean that your, my or anyone’s leaning negates the value or importance of the other camps in the PCA. I’m just keeping it within the framework your podcast and the Keller paper set. Assuming there are basically 3 camps in the PCA and that we should value all three, which one in all honesty would I most likely be put in? Reading Keller’s article gets one thinking, which one is most valued now in the PCA at large and which one is least valued right now? Where do we most need balance? There is much to Praise the Lord about in regards to the PCA. Yet we all have much to work on and areas to grow in. I don’t see the bigger problem in the PCA being that we are just too darn theologically nit picky, too confessionally minded or just super focused on doctrine. Can that be a big problem and sin? Yep. Does it exist in the PCA? Yep. Is that the bigger problem at hand in the PCA? Nope. The re-balancing in the PCA right now needs to be towards the “gut check” Jason Stellman talks about in this post.

    I guess if you get a forth (generalist), then I could pick a fifth?

    Heck , I have always thought the PCA should have 12, just like the 12 twelve tribes of Israel. (that’s a joke)

    OK , I promise that is my last post on the topic. Please give me your feed back and insight. Again thanks and keep proclaiming the Gospel and keep touting the Ordinary Means of Grace.



  8. Aaron permalink
    September 19, 2010 5:30 pm

    Does anyone have a link to Dr. Hart’s article that was referred to in the podcast?

  9. Drew Barnes permalink
    October 7, 2010 2:45 am


    Thank you for the clarification.

    I am not in the PCA.

    One of the reasons I am not in the PCA is the Strategic Plan. Let me explain.

    For about 1 and 1/2 years I was part of a wonderful OPC plant. A very ordinary means work that really emphasized equipping the saints.

    At the end of 2009 I lost my job. Because of the kind of work that I do I knew we would have to move.

    When I started looking at the places where I would have to relocate, I looked at the church landscape in each place early on. One of the places that I was looking at had a very large PCA presence with one OPC in the area (we ended up there). At the time I thought that would be OK. We could find a church home in the PCA.

    Then the Strategic Plan was released. It had the item about leaving NAPARC. I was really hurt by this, as I felt that perhaps a confessionalist like myself would be unwelcome in the PCA. This was reinforced by Bryan Chappell’s Youtube presentation of the plan.

    By the grace of God, an OPC plant is starting here. While we are waiting for it to start meeting for worship, my wife and I drive 40 mins one way to the only other OP church. Though difficult at times, it is always worth the drive. I am actually grateful for the Strategic Plan as it helped steer me toward my OP brothers and sisters here.

    I have no illusions that the OPC is the Only Perfect Church. I am well aware of its flaws and some of the struggles throughout its history. It is also a small denomination (micro-denomination?) which can seem mighty crowded sometimes and like a constant family reunion at other times. But being used to being small, there is less of a tendency to panic if certain statistics are down some years. I take some comfort in that.

    Understand that what I say here about the Strategic Plan is no reflection on the local PCA churches in this area. It is my understanding that some of them are quite wonderful congregations that emphasize the ordinary means. But I am not sure how I would have felt every year in the months leading up to the GA.

    I do hope this clarifies why I took such offense at last month’s podcast.
    I am happy that you love your denomination, but I feel a little unwelcome in it.

    In Christ,

    Drew Barnes

  10. ordinarymeans permalink*
    October 7, 2010 1:11 pm


    Thank you for sharing that. The NAPARC line was unfortunate to say the least. While it was taken out before passing the final document (which in my opinion says very little), the fact it was there at all is distressing.



  1. Ordinary Means : Calvin Presbyterian Church PCA

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