GRN To Former Moderators: You Are Not Building Trust

The first is that a preemptive disparaging of opponent’s concerns is not likely to achieve the letters’ stated goal of unity in the PCA. When Christian leaders ask, “Are we being biblically faithful?” an answer that derides the nature and motive of their concerns is not likely to bring peace. The men “sounding alarms” include ministers of long service and high repute who have a demonstrated track record of gospel fruitfulness. To disparage their motives and character prior to our gathering (a tactic known as “gaslighting”) does not foster brotherhood but incites a climate of increased conflict. Read more»

Rick Phillips, “A Response to the PCA ‘Moderators’ Letter’
May We Ask a Question?” Gospel Reformation Network (June 17, 2021)


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  1. I am very grateful for the faithfulness of our brothers in the GRN. They need our prayers. Thank you for posting this, Dr. Clark.

    Roxanne Devine

  2. From the letter by the former moderators: “We do not know of a single pastor or ruling elder in the PCA who could be described as theologically liberal.”

    Almost those exact words were said to me, quite angrily, by a professor at Calvin Seminary during a faculty meeting three decades ago when, as one of the editors of the student newspaper, I was being raked over the coals by the professors. At that point I had only just recently left the large and well-known mainline Congregational church in Grand Rapids in which I had been a member since childhood, largely over the new pastor’s open advocacy of abortion, and was debating whether to join the Christian Reformed congregation I was attending and serving as student in field education work, or whether to join the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.

    The financial incentives to join the CRC were very large. Joining the 4Cs would, I knew, mean that I would have absolutely no financial assistance of any sort in going to seminary, and would probably serve tiny churches that would struggle to pay any salary. The 4C pastor assigned to supervise my seminary training was in his late 60s at the time, had not himself gone to seminary (he had gone to RBC and was a former Christian Reformed evangelist), and was very clear with me that I needed to understand what I was getting into, and that I would probably be a tentmaker with no salary at all.

    That angry assertion by the seminary faculty that there were no liberals in the Christian Reformed Church, when I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that was not true, made my choice an obvious one between financial security and biblical faithfulness. That decision was easy, as it should be for anyone who cares about Scripture. I knew liberalism from many years of firsthand experience and no financial incentives were enough to interest me in revisiting that ecclesiastical experience.

    I recognize many of the problems in the PCA are not liberalism. There are people in the PCA whose main problem is that they are not Reformed, but rather broad evangelicals. I recognize there are people in the PCA whose exceptions to the confessions should not be allowed, but who have done the right thing, disclosed their exceptions, and had them approved by the proper process. In many cases, those people belong in the EPC or the ECO and would do fine there, but are not liberals.

    However, to say there are no liberals in the PCA is to redefine the term.

    Thirty years ago I was told that unless someone was in full agreement with Adolf von Harnack, and classic liberalism of the 1800s, that such a person was not a liberal.

    I hope the PCA — including at least one of the moderators who signed that letter, and who I respect, and who I was surprised signed it — remembers the recent history of the Christian Reformed Church and how it got where it is today.

    I’ve seen this movie before and it ends with tears.

  3. I’m having a hard time figuring out what the purpose of a second letter was. It seems to say that not only do we have numbers on our side, we have authority in the form of former moderators. Without these letters, the upcoming GA would have had some real challenges. Now, it seems to have been transformed to a watershed where many may decide now is the time to take action regarding remaining in the PCA. These letters have added insult to injury.

    • The goal of the letter(s) was to build distrust: to isolate the conservative men and alienate them by saying, “None of the problems you describe are real.”

  4. Hi Bryce: Why would they need to play three-dimensional chess? The NP has all the votes they need to carry out their agenda. Life without the confessionalists would be so much simpler for them. Could those who would exit really make that much of a financial dent? If it would, why do the NP guys go out of their way to openly antagonize them? I don’t understand the strategy.

    • Maybe they don’t have enough the votes with more REs attending this year. Maybe they just want power and to force confessionalists along with their current. The goal of power is power.

    • Bryce: How do you know more REs will be attending this year? In the past several years every overture to make it easier for REs to attend has been voted down by the majority TE contingent.

    • Bryce: How do you know more REs will be attending this year? In the past several years every overture to make it easier for REs to attend has been voted down by the majority TE contingent

      What RSC said.

      You mentioned 3D chess. I think it’s only 2D, but the confessional side seems to lack awareness that they’re in a chess match at all. We’re gentle as doves but not wise as serpents.

  5. From the twitter feed of James Kessler, founder of the secret National Partnership:

    “The only credible theodicy for Auschwitz is one that makes God an inmate of the place, one that acknowledges he too hung on the gallows.” (Mar 2d)

    “When your Bible says God “remembered,” it is a divine action. God does not think of something without acting, like we do. For God to think is to act. To remember us is to forgive us, to re-enter pain. To remember us is to suffer for us. Every time God remembers it is self-giving.” (Feb 25th.)

    The first is a retweet of something Kenneth Surin said (apparently itself an allusion to Jurgen Moltmann’s work), and received Kessler’s comment “My goodness! That’ll do, all week.” The second appears to be of his own composition.

    Both deny completely the doctrine of divine impassibility, contra WCF II.1, and seem to transfer Christ’s sufferings in his crucifixion either to the Trinity as a whole or to the Father in particular, as well as seeing them in the common operations of God towards believers in everyday life, and not only in the work of Christ’s suffering at the time of his first advent. At least that is what the talk of God re-entering pain and suffering for us when he remembers us seems to imply to me.

    But, hey, we have no need to worry about people having liberal tendencies in the PCA.

    • I’m not a theologian, not have I played one on TV, but the first sentence on the second quote sounds right.

      What I mean is that it’s impossible, given the perfections of God, that his “remembering” could be a cognitive-type activity that would bring something to mind that want there before. But, I can’t think, off hand, of any passage where God remembers that isn’t tied to covenant promises. It’s explicit in the giving of the sacrament of the covenant with Noah, for example. When God sees, it’s the same thing, it’s not that he suddenly became aware of the situation of Israel in Egypt, but now was the time to act.

      This is my problem with the second quote. It changes the covenantal relationship into something…. transactional and experiential.

      Also the first quote raises the question, “credible to whom?”

    • “The first sentence on the second quote sounds right. What I mean is that it’s impossible, given the perfections of God, that his “remembering” could be a cognitive-type activity that would bring something to mind that want there before.”

      I concur; my concern was with the later part of the statement which talks about God suffering and re-entering pain, in which case we have not merely a denial of impassibility but an active assertion of divine suffering.

      God’s “remembrances” as an element of covenant faithfulness is a good observation on your part. As for your question viz. the first quote, the answer would seem to be ‘sinful men, who in their arrogance imagine God is required to justify his ways to them.’

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