“Empathigination” And The PCA

The annual-assembling PCA, turning 50 and preparing to celebrate (or conflagrate?) in Memphis this June, is big, broad, and still orthodox in an evangelical sort of way. If this born-in-Birmingham denomination were a house, a cable TV remodeling show host might say she has good bones and a serviceable foundation. She grew like Topsy for a while, and some of the additions and improvements turned out a little weird—the proportions and paint scheme are messy. But messy is good, right? Still, some wonder if everything was really done to code, if some of the previous subcontractors weren’t a little shady.

Well, in the name of unity and progress, presbyters are often exhorted to empathy and imagination…maybe we should coin a new term: empathigination. Empathy is good. Putting oneself in the trendy, white-soled brown leather casual shoes of another can be helpful. For the last couple of decades, it seems empathigination in the PCA is primarily enjoined upon the cons (the conservatives and confessionalists).
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Brad Isbell | “PCA Sturm und Drang on the horizon?” | February 14, 2023


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  1. I don’t quite know what to think about the PCA. I am an elder in a conservative church with a conservative Presbytery, so all is well here. But I am perplexed at the failure of the Overtures this year and the previous one that tried to clarify our position on the qualifications for elder.

    The one the previous year was “too broad,” and the one this year is “too narrow.” My entire career was in the secular world, where this sort of contradition would lead me immediately into the search for ulterior motives and hidden agendas. I hesitate to apply the actions and deviousness of the non-Christians that I worked with my entire career to my brothers in Christ. But I am perplexed.

    • Hi Tom: What makes you think the devious ulterior motives and hidden agendas are the exclusive province of the secular world? There are abundant tares among the wheat in the earthly Church.

      • Bob,

        I think this is a serious issue. I’ve worked in both secular and religious settings and there’s probably been more drama and weirdness in the latter than in the former. If so, it may be for a variety of reasons. People may be more personally invested in the religious enterprise than in the secular. It could be that Christian organizations are typically non-profit and lower paying. People are there for the cause more than the cash. There are spiritual issues too that arise in a religious/Christian enterprise that don’t arise in a secular workplace, at least not in the same way.

    • Read up on Machen. Old Princeton was essentially high jacked by the Federal Council of Churches in 1908 to push the Social Gospel/the Progressive movement as summarized in their The Social Creed of the Churches. If I’m following the history right, the Higher Critics were influential in all this. I’m sure there are various parallels with what you are experiencing on the denominational side. There’s surely some concentrated influencing and organization behind the scenes in these kind of power struggles.

      This is interesting:
      “ John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and the Interchurch World Movement of 1919–1920: A Different Angle on the Ecumenical Movement 1982
      Abstract: There is a certain irony in the title of Eldon G. Ernst’s Moment of Truth for Protestant America, the standard interpretation of the Interchurch World Movement (IWM) of 1919–1920, because this broad and generally perceptive study of the IWM is based primarily upon an elaborate falsification of the historical record. That falsification was perpetrated in a document entitled “History of the Interchurch World Movement” prepared under the direction of Raymond B. Fosdick. Fosdick, who was the lawyer and long-term adviser of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., had the document compiled precisely to conceal the real role Rockefeller played in the organization. Research in Rockefeller’s papers reveals the truth about his role and thereby illumines a significant aspect of the ecumenical movement and its relationship to wider historical trends. This overlooked aspect from the background of the liberal side of the fundamentalist controversy is particularly pertinent today as tensions mount between those who identify themselves as “liberals” and those who claim to lead a “moral majority” of resurgent conservatism. Perhaps Washington Gladden, the old social gospel advocate, was not entirely wrong when he referred to a Rockefeller contribution as “tainted money,” however idealistic Rockefeller’s motives may have been.”

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