In the early-to-mid 2010s, the Presbyterian Church (USA) found itself facing an unprecedented (although not unpredictable) crisis: In the aftermath of the 2010 vote to ordain practicing homosexuals to the offices of teaching elder (Presbyterianese for minister), ruling elder, and deacon, and reinforced by the 2014 vote to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, hundreds of Evangelical congregations, representing hundreds of thousands of members, sought dismissal and/or disaffiliation from the denomination, so as to affiliate with an Evangelical Presbyterian denomination—especially the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians—while many thousands more Evangelicals quietly left their PC(USA) church homes for Evangelical churches—some Presbyterian and some not.
In the midst of this crisis, then-Moderator Heath Rada issued a “Call to the Church”, reporting that, in meeting with many congregations and Presbyterians in his functional role as goodwill ambassador for the denomination, he had met with a great deal of dissatisfaction with, and fundamental loss of trust in, the PC(USA) government. Then the PC(USA) bureaucracy responded in the most predictable way possible: It polled its membership (with the results published in a twenty-page report entitled, “When We Gather at the Table”), established three committees—“The Way Forward Commission”, the “All Agency Review Committee”, and the “2020 Vision Team”—and began a series of “Big Tent” conferences aimed at promoting unity among PC(USA) Presbyterians. Similarly, another group of PC(USA) leaders began a series of “NEXT Church” conferences to talk about the “exciting” opportunities about what God has in store next for the PC(USA).
Meanwhile, Evangelical Presbyterians have continued departing the denomination in droves, and the flagship publication of Evangelical Presbyterians, The Layman Online (formerly The Presbyterian Layman), has discontinued coverage of the PC(USA), while its governing board, the Presbyterian Lay Committee, has reorganized itself as Reformation Press, in order to function as a non-denominational ministry. Thus, for the first time in Presbyterian history, there is no Evangelical presence in the PC(USA) strong enough to thwart the Theologically Liberal leadership of the denomination from making genuine progress toward fulfilling the goals of its humanistic agenda. Thus, the hopes of the PC(USA) leadership in the denomination’s Louisville, Kentucky, offices for The Way Forward Commission, the All Agency Review Committee, and The 2020 Vision Team are especially high.
And yet, there are still PC(USA) leaders who are dismally disappointed that The Way Forward Commission’s Final Report to the 2018 PC(USA) General Assembly is preoccupied with reorganizing the way the denomination’s offices in Louisville—the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board—relate to one another and do business. Raymond Roberts, a Virginia pastor who co-chairs the PC(USA) Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, expressed his frustration that The Way Forward Commission’s Final Report “lacks theological substance, … does not address (the PC(USA)’s) most significant crisis,” and puts forward “two recommendations that depart from core Presbyterian principles.” With surprising insight and candor for a Theological Liberal, he wrote:
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has lacked a compelling shared vision for decades. The drift that has resulted from this lack of vision is much more responsible for the recent loss of members than any General Assembly decision concerning sexual orientation. …
Making disciples of Jesus Christ is a core church function and for decades it has been obvious we are no longer good at it. Statistics don’t lie. The repeal of blue laws contributed to waning in Sabbath observance. Colleges that were formed, in part, to give congregational leaders and professionals a critical understanding of the Bible and the faith lost their denominational distinctiveness. Campus ministries disappeared. Church camps closed. Yet, somehow, in the midst of this visible, much-discussed decline, our denomination never ask(ed) how we ought to reform our approach to this core function in a changing world.
PC(USA) Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, on the other hand, applauds The Way Forward Commission’s work. He believes “that the most significant problem that (the PC(USA) is) facing at the national church level today is the belief that the corporate model of leading the church is the best leadership model. However, this model has proven to be an impediment to the transformation of our denomination for many years.” He blames this type of thinking for “membership loss, internal conflict, struggling mid councils, and a host of other negative outcomes.” He believes that changing the governmental structure in the manner recommended by The Way Forward Commission’s Final Report is instrumental in enabling the PC(USA) to “return to ‘being’ the church that Jesus intended us to be. A church focused on liberating those trapped by the winds of despair, while giving hope to those who need to hear a Word from the Lord.” Ironically, Nelson wrote, “change without transformation could simply be understood as ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.’” Reading through The Way Forward Commission’s Final Report, it is difficult to see how these recommendations are not thus aptly described.
In response to reactions, such as Roberts’, to The Way Forward Commission’s Final Report, the Commission’s Moderator and the Moderator of The All Agency Review Committee wrote in a joint press release, “Our mandate (from the 2016 General Assembly) was limited to dealing with the dysfunctions in the form and structure of (the PC(USA)). We were never asked to explore or discuss vision or theology for the church. This work has been entrusted to our colleagues on the 2020 Vision Team.”
However, when one turns from the Titanic deck chair rearranging activities of The Way Forward Commission to The 2020 Vision Team’s Interim Report to the 2018 General Assembly, one encounters the Pollyannish PC(USA) Liberal thought silo, surrounded by thick, impenetrable walls. There is no theological reflection to be found here. There is nothing transformative to be found here. The Interim Report is full of Theological Liberal platitudes that fail utterly to grapple with the depth of human depravity before God, to show any genuine appreciation for the tremendous cost borne by Jesus Christ on the Cross in bearing the penalty for that depravity on behalf of sinners like you and me, to show any appreciation at all for the grave insult Religious Pluralism shows Him by allowing for fallen men and women to come to salvation from sin and death in ways independent of faith in His substitutionary atoning work on the Cross. There is no appreciation for the fact that the PC(USA) has no compelling reason to give anyone outside the pale of the Church why he or she should become a Christian, much less a Presbyterian. And there is no appreciation for the fact, as Roberts lamented, that the PC(USA) has patently lost the capacity to train disciples of Jesus Christ.
The 2020 Vision Team’s Interim Report identifies an “urgent need to address issues such as racism, poverty, income inequality, climate change, domestic violence, and human rights.” Most of these are, indeed, serious sins that afflict the human race, regardless of the fact that all of them are also causes near and dear to the heart of liberals—religious and secular alike. And to the extent that they are sins, they are violations of the Second Great Commandment, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19.18, Mt. 22.39, Mk. 12.31), and need to be repented of. But the First and Greatest Commandment is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Dt. 6.4-5, Mt. 22.37-38, Mk. 12.29-30) To be sure, fulfilling the Second Great Commandment is indispensable to fulfilling the First. After all, as the Apostle John wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (I Jn. 4.20) However, one gets the distinct impression, listening to Theological Liberals talking about sin, that they believe that one demonstrates love for God with one’s whole heart, soul, mind, and strength solely by demonstrating love for one’s neighbor, as if fulfillment of the Second Great Commandment (in all the ways approved by religious and secular liberal consensus) was all that was necessary to fulfill the First.
To be sure, Theological Liberals object to this characterization, which is at the heart of Evangelical criticism of Theological Liberalism. But it is often noted that Evangelicals and Theological Liberals live and talk in their own thought silos, while being critical of the other, and yet not really engaging the other. They attend different churches, are often polarized by political affiliation, read books and articles exclusively written by authors with whom they agree, listen to sermons delivered by pastors of the same school of thought as themselves, really make no attempt to understand the other’s point of view, and thus do not really listen to the criticism of the other. This is truly tragic, for it means that they are close-minded—and close-hearted—to one another, and fail to love one another, as required by Christ (Jn. 15.12).
I am an Evangelical Presbyterian layman who has been a member of two different PC(USA) congregations (both of which are now in the EPC) and am now a member of a congregation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America. I have observed interactions between Evangelical and Liberal Presbyterians most of my adult life, and I have made an attempt to understand Liberal Presbyterian thought. My criticism of Theological Liberal thought as follows is not intended to be mean-spirited, but is intended to help Liberal Presbyterians to see serious areas of weakness in Theological Liberal thought, especially as it relates to the current crisis in the PC(USA), and to present solutions to turn the denomination around—all from an Evangelical Presbyterian perspective—so that perhaps one day there can be genuine reconciliation.
Liberalism Versus Christianity
Theological Liberals will doubtless chafe at yet another argument pitting Theological Liberalism against Christianity. They will argue that they have successfully blended the two and personally see no inherent conflict between them. And yet the hegemonic influence of Theological Liberalism in the PC(USA) has so alienated Evangelical Presbyterians that they have departed in great numbers—some to increase the membership of Evangelical Presbyterian denominations (such as the PCA, the EPC, and the ECO), while others have departed to further swell the burgeoning worship attendance of non-denominational megachurches (which often do not have formal membership). Conversely, there has been precious little growth to offset these departures, and the majority of new members coming into the PC(USA) (apart from those transferring from other formerly Mainline Protestant denominations) are disaffected Evangelicals. The number of new conversions each year of those who have never had prior church affiliation is likely smaller than the number of PC(USA) presbyteries—and most of those are probably going into Evangelical remnant congregations. Liberal Presbyterianism is simply failing to produce a compelling reason for people outside the Christian Church to become Presbyterians.
Prior to the 1960s, there was social pressure in the United States to be thought of as Christian and to attend (at least occasionally) Christian worship services. At the same time, Christianity was coming under increasing attack in the academy—both in secular universities and also in Mainline Protestant seminaries. Consequently, there was a sizeable population of those who wanted to be thought of as Christian but could not bring themselves to believe in basic Christian doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth, the Substitutionary Atonement, the Bodily Resurrection of Christ from the dead, and especially the Inerrancy and Sufficiency of Scripture. The Mainline Protestant Churches—including the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (which merged in 1983 to form the PC(USA))—offered a comfortable church home to such as these.
However, beginning in the 1960s, it became increasingly socially acceptable not to be thought of as Christian, and today it is becoming increasingly socially unacceptable in some parts of the country to be affiliated with organized religion—especially traditional Christianity. At the same time, traditional gender roles have come under increasing attack, traditional marriage is falling apart with liberalized divorce laws, technology is enabling the spread of pornography to every home in America, and courts have increasingly upheld marriage redefinition and gender reidentification—all of which have contributed to a culture that is profoundly absorbed with the deified SELF. These trends are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, the formerly Mainline Protestant denominations—including the PC(USA)—have continued to abase themselves, by accommodating these more recent societal changes, just as they had the changes in the early & mid-Twentieth Century, hoping to stave off membership decline, especially in the younger generations. But that desired outcome has not happened since the mid-1960s. They have only succeeded in alienating those in their respective memberships most in tune with Biblical truth—those who have not (significantly) compromised on fundamental Christian doctrine. Their message to the younger generation is: “See? We have done everything in our power to accommodate our message to what you already believe regarding sexual orientation and gender identification. Our track record might not be spotless, but it very clearly shows definite progress toward this goal. We see that younger Christians are especially attracted to churches that emphasize service over theology—and that’s what we do! Please don’t leave us!” In the words of National Review columnist David French,
There is a persistent belief among church-goers that a person should be able to get all the benefits of Christian community without any of the doctrines that make religion unpalatable to modern moral fashion. That’s in essence the mission statement of Mainline Protestantism.
And it simply doesn’t work. The Christian community and Christian service that people love are ultimately inseparable from the entirety of the Christian faith that spawned them. Carve out the doctrines that conflict with modern morals and you gut the faith. When you gut the faith, you ultimately gut the church.
It makes sense then that mainline denominations aren’t thriving. They’re dying. Without the eternal truths of the Christian faith, the church becomes just another social club. Why sacrifice your time and money for the same wisdom you can hear at your leisure on NPR?
Here’s the interesting thing: Some of the casual Christians who’ve fled the unsatisfying Mainline are joining more traditionalist churches and schools without changing their beliefs. They don’t become more theologically orthodox, they just crave the benefits of the more orthodox communities. Once in their new religious home, they exert the same kind of pressure for cultural conformity that helped kill the churches they fled. It’s the religious analog of the well-known phenomenon of blue-state Americans leaving their high-tax, heavily-regulated states for red America and promptly working to make it more like the place they left.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ … gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2.13-14) Theological Liberalism latches onto the “zealous for good works” part of this verse but expends very little effort into understanding what “for his own possession” Biblically means, essentially taking it for granted that everyone who seems “zealous for good works,” irrespective of explicit faith in the atoning death and life-giving Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is thereby part of “his own possession.”
Are we, then, “a people for his own possession” if our interpretation of His Word is lightly influenced by that Word and yet heavily influenced by personal prejudices and worldly philosophies? Consider how Liberal Presbyterians described their own approach to hermeneutics nearly forty years ago, and which description still accurately characterizes the Liberal Presbyterian hermeneutic today:
Disagreement over social issues rent the United Presbyterian Church. Strife over American involvement in the Vietnam War, escalation of the struggle for civil rights of minorities, and heightened awareness of unequal opportunities for women preoccupied the attention of many Christians. Many concluded that none of the previous theological systems adequately addressed these problems. Theology became issue oriented, and a diversity of approaches rather than a confessional consensus prevailed. Liberation theology…employed the social sciences to expose the political concerns of those groups whose interpretation of the Bible was viewed as a justification of human oppression. Others gave a higher priority to the need for clarity of philosophical concepts and consistency with scientific criteria (Process Theology was named as an example of this) than to continuity with confessional traditions. …
The social sciences such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology provide crucial insights for a thorough understanding of Scripture.1
Believing that the Bible in and of itself does not contain the solutions to perceived social problems, Liberal Presbyterians have turned to the wisdom of the world in the form of secular philosophy, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. And then, to baptize the solutions they have thus developed in a Christian cloak, they mine the Scripture for perceived support of these solutions, rejecting any passages that do not conform to them, especially any passages perceived as contributing to the “justification of human oppression.”
But secular philosophies and social sciences were not developed from a Christian worldview; they have neither a Christian understanding of the nature of sin nor an acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God over both the social ills that prevail in this fallen world and also the redemption of—not just the remedy for—these same social ills. Indeed, the worldview of these philosophies and social sciences is fundamentally anthropocentric. They do not point to God and His Kingdom, but to man and his. And in adopting them as an authority to interpret, correct, and rebuke the Scriptures, Liberal Presbyterianism has itself become profoundly anthropocentric. Thus, worldly wisdom becomes the Procrustean bed on which Liberal Presbyterianism would make God to lie down—and non-Liberal Presbyterians, too, for that matter.
A perfect example of the use to which Liberal Presbyterians have put their Procrustean bed can be seen in the debacle that ensued in the Spring of 2017, when the Abraham Kuyper Center at Princeton Theological Seminary announced that it was awarding its annual Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life to Rev. Dr. Timothy Keller, then-pastor of the PCA-affiliated Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, who is also a prolific author and popular speaker. The Kuyper Prize, which is accompanied by a $10,000 honorarium, is ostensibly intended to honor those who contribute to the “Neo-Calvinist vision of religious engagement,” which Keller exemplifies. As Mark Tooley, President of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, wrote,
Unfailingly thoughtful and cerebral, frequently appearing in secular media as a religious and cultural commentator, Keller is one of the most influential pastors and Christian thinkers in America today. He is a guru of the rebirth of urban evangelical Protestant Christianity. His theology like his denomination’s is orthodox and Reformed. Keller typically avoids culture war issues and hot button debates. He affirms traditional Christian sexual ethics and marriage teaching but rarely speaks about it. His churches are full of New Yorkers who are socially liberal but drawn to his intellectually vibrant presentation of Christianity.
This announcement had scarcely been made, when PTS students and alumni vociferously protested it, not because Keller was not a Neo-Calvinist who actively engaged culture and society Biblically and theologically, but because he was the most prominent clergyman of a Presbyterian denomination that “does not ordain women or LGBTQ+ individuals”—a cause central not to Reformed Christianity but to Religious and Secular Liberalism. As one PTS alumna wrote in her blog, “An institution designed to train men and women for ministry shouldn’t be awarding fancy prizes to someone who believes half the student body (or is it more than half?) has no business leading churches. It’s offensive and, as I have taught my four and five year olds to express, it hurts my feelings.” Another excoriated Keller in her Christian Century column for being “one of the loudest, most read, and most adhered-to proponents of male headship in the home. I am literally shaking with grief as I write this. I have spent years with women who have tried to de-program themselves after growing up in this baptized abuse. … I hoped that my denomination would stand up for women, loud and clear. Instead we are honoring and celebrating a man who has championed toxic theology for decades.”
In response to “many (who) regard awarding the Kuyper Prize as an affirmation of Reverend Keller’s belief that women and LGBTQ+ persons should not be ordained, (which) conflicts with the stance of the Presbyterian Church (USA),” PTS President Craig Barnes wrote, “In order to communicate that the invitation to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the Presbyterian Church in America’s views about ordination, (the Chair of the Kuyper Committee, the Chair of the PTS Board of Trustees, Rev. Keller, and I) have agreed not to award the Kuyper Prize this year.”
Tim Keller was in essence denied the Kuyper Prize (although he did “graciously agree to keep the commitment” to speak at the Kuyper Center’s 2017 conference) because Craig Barnes and other PTS leaders felt the need to aggressively restate PTS’s and the PC(USA)’s absolute and unswerving commitment to Liberalism’s tenets of inclusion of women and impenitent sexually immoral persons in ecclesiastical leadership, over against those, such as Keller and the PCA, who would exclude them on Biblical grounds (Lev. 18.22, Rom. 1.24-27, I Cor. 6.9-11, I Tim. 1.8-11, 2.12-3.16). In the aftermath of Liberal Presbyterianism’s momentous victories over Evangelical Presbyterianism in the PC(USA)’s 2010 and 2014 General Assemblies, and the subsequent disillusionment of Evangelical Presbyterians with the PC(USA), Barnes, the PTS Board of Trustees, and the Kuyper Committee had the unique opportunity—a Kairos moment, if you will—to extend an olive branch to Evangelical Presbyterians, to show us that we would be welcomed and affirmed in the PC(USA), despite the deep differences between us. Instead, they poured salt in an open wound.
Conformity to the World’s Ways of Thinking
What is egregiously absent from the Liberal Presbyterian hermeneutic is the Biblical warning against adopting the unbelieving world’s ways of thinking. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing, you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12.2) “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. … For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (I Cor. 1.20-21,25) “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Jas. 4.4) “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (I Jn. 2.15-17)
The first and most apparent danger of adopting the world’s ways of thinking, as Liberal Presbyterianism has done, is that it is rendered incapable of genuine Biblical reflection, incapable of receiving the whole of Scripture as the infallible Word of God, and thus incapable of heeding the Lord’s rebuke when it has wandered from His wisdom and His ways. Instead, Theological Liberals unquestioningly accept the inherent value of the world’s opinion, adopting it as their own, and viewing the Scripture—and those who look at the world through the lens of Scripture—through the lens of the world. Evangelicals seem muddled and backward to them, refusing to adapt themselves to the ways of the world—which Theological Liberals believe to be the way of the future and the way in which progress is measured. The future is coming, whether we want it to or not, they say, and those who refuse to adapt themselves to it, as Theological Liberalism has done, will quite simply not be in a position to speak meaningfully or relevantly to the world of the future. Thus, the opinions and beliefs of Evangelicals—and of Evangelical Presbyterians—are of no consequence to them.
And yet Mainline Protestant denominations like the PC(USA) are dying, and Theological Liberals are at great pains to explain why. If only we had a retooled vision, they tell themselves, we would grow. If only Evangelical Presbyterians stopped resisting the positive changes we have wrought for greater justice and inclusion, they could channel their passion for evangelism and mission in ways that could make the PC(USA) truly great. But it is not for a retooled vision statement that the people of God languish (Prov. 29.18), and Evangelicals’ fervor for evangelism and missions comes from a conviction that what the Bible says is true: men and women who die without trusting in the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ alone will be judged by an omniscient, holy, righteous, and just God for all the sins they committed in life and will be sentenced by Him to an eternity of torment and pain (Mt. 13.40-43,49-50, 25.41-46, Rom. 6.23, Rev. 20.11-15, 21.8, 22.15). Such is the fate we all deserve, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3.23), and the only hope for escape from this “second death” (Rev. 20.14) that anyone can possibly have is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 3.24-28, Gal. 2.16, Eph. 2.8-9). “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4.12) The PC(USA) is languishing precisely because it has turned away from this compelling vision, from this prophetic and provocative Gospel message and endorsed competing visions and gospels that can make no eternal difference for anyone.
“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19.10), but Liberal Presbyterianism regards the ways of non-Christian religions as equally valid paths to God as Christianity, as if the lost were not lost, because they adhered to a different religion. Moreover, Liberal Presbyterianism regards Hell and the Biblical doctrine of eternal punishment as outdated concepts, not to be taken seriously, despite the fact that the Lord Jesus Himself emphatically taught them. And so, the lost stay lost and are not brought before the Lord, in order that He might save them from their sins. “Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.” (Is. 45.20-21)
A Call to Repentance
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? —Micah 6.8
This is the favorite verse of most Theological Liberals and one of the few passages of Scripture they commit to memory. But they constrain its requirements and think them fulfilled by a humanist metanarrative that they have written over the top of Scripture. Thus, it is “justice” to include women, homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals in ordained office in the Church of Jesus Christ and to vociferously malign those who would exclude them on Biblical grounds. It is “kindness” to lobby the President and Congress of the United States to change their policies on immigration, climate change, gun control, and homosexuals and transsexuals serving in the US armed forces, and to side with aggrieved homosexual couples wanting to get “married” in court cases against Christian florists, cake bakers, and photographers who decline to offer their services to accommodate their “wedding”, but not to warn non-Christians against the wrath that awaits them if they do not repent of their sins and put their trust in the atoning death and life-giving Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the only hope of salvation from sin and death. And it is to “walk humbly with your God” if one endeavors to love one’s neighbors by doing good works that do nothing more than make their lot in this life a little more comfortable, but do nothing to warn one’s neighbors against idolatry—or worse, to encourage it, or to imagine that God accepts the worship of other gods as if it were offered to Him. And so, Micah 6.8 is subverted to the service of the humanist metanarrative undergirding Theological Liberalism.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and (mammon). —Matthew 6.24, Luke 16.13
The wisdom of this world is fundamentally at odds with God (I Cor. 1.18-25), and it has coalesced in the philosophy of humanism. In humanism, man2 is the measure: He defines his identity on his own terms. He believes in the essential goodness of the human spirit—especially his own. He believes that greater education is the key to overcoming fear and the social problems that plague this world. He is the hero who breaks down oppression, bringing equality and justice to all.
Yet humanist man, for all his bravado, is profoundly blind to his own faults and shortcomings: He fails to recognize the inherent corruption in the human soul—especially his own.3 He fails to recognize that he has set himself up as an idol in the place of God. If he is religious, he fails to recognize that he has subverted God to his own humanist causes, that he has usurped His authority.4 He aspires to be the liberator of the oppressed, but in his blindness and his rush to judgment, he is not above using the power of the state to oppress those who oppose his ideas of progress.
And so, Theological Liberalism would fain to hold Christianity and humanist philosophy together in tandem, to bow their knees to both masters. But which master do they love and extol, and which master do they hate and malign? “No one can serve two masters,” not even Theological Liberals. So, is it more important to be a Christian and serve and worship Christ the eternal Son of God as Master? Or is it more important to be a Liberal and hold Christ as an example of how to live, after having made Him to lie down on the Procrustean bed of almighty humanism and cutting off the doctrines He taught “that make (Christianity) unpalatable to modern moral fashion,” essentially making Him into a humanist mascot to be used, instead of the Master to be worshiped and obeyed?
O foolish Liberal Presbyterians! No amount of rearranging the denominational offices in Louisville—or in the synods, presbyteries, or sessions of the PC(USA), for that matter—nor any amount of work to come up with a new vision statement to encourage PC(USA) laity and clergy to greater efforts of social work, will avail to remedy the most significant problem facing your denomination today! You are estranged from God; you are not walking humbly with Him! You have become enamored with this present evil age and have adopted its attitudes, prejudices, and philosophies as your own. You would lead the world to solve its problems of racism, poverty, and domestic violence, but you are insensitive to the alienation, marginalization, and disrespect you have shown to Evangelicals in your midst—your notions of “inclusivity” leave much to be desired! For the sake of your own souls, I beg you to remove the plank from your own collective eye before you presume to remove the speck from your brother’s.
By the mercies of God, I implore you to repent of and repudiate the use of secular philosophies and ideologies to undergird your hermeneutical methods! They have not led you to a deeper understanding of God and the Christian faith, but quite the reverse. God does not correct His Church by speaking to her from the world, but by the words He has spoken through His prophets and apostles. By presuming to listen to God by filling your ears with the “crucial insights” of secular philosophies and social sciences “for a thorough understanding of Scripture,” you have drowned out the voice of the Spirit of God, conflating Him with the spirit of this present evil age.
Oh why do you curry the favor of the world, seeing that it does not love you in return? Men and women are not coming to you from the world as a result of your worldly preaching; you are not giving them a compelling reason to leave their secular lifestyles and be joined to you. The world finds you useful, in that it has an example to which to point, so as to ask Evangelicals why they could not be more like you, but they love you no more than they love them. I urge you to turn away from the idea that God is somehow pleased that you are compromising historic Christian teaching on the Atonement, the Resurrection, marriage, and human sexuality, and instead devote yourselves to the earnest study of His Word, repudiating the world’s influence, trusting in everything His Word says, using the hermeneutic principles of §6.001-§6.010 of your Book of Confessions, and neither the principles of §9.27-§9.30, §9.41-§9.42 of the same, nor those of “Biblical Authority and Interpretation: A Resource Document Received by the 194th General Assembly (1982) of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America”.
Do not be bitter toward Evangelicals who have broken fellowship with you, but consider their Spirit-led decision as a warning to you that you have strayed far from God, and that you need to repent of your worldliness. Do not be quick to judge pastors who lead congregations that seek the Spirit’s will whether to remain in the pale of the PC(USA) or to seek dismissal to the EPC or the ECO. Rather, ask yourselves how you have offended those congregations and what the Lord, quite apart from worldly wisdom, would have you do to reconcile yourselves to them.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is dying. Contrary to the vain and empty words of its Stated Clerk, it is not reforming. Reformation begins with reclamation of the Gospel of Salvation from sin and death by the grace of God alone through faith alone in the atoning death and life-giving Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, and proceeds with a reordering of the life of the Church according to its doctrines. This is how the Protestant Reformation began in the 16th Century, and this has patently not been happening in the life of the PC(USA) so far in the 21st Century.
Yet reformation cannot begin by the will of man, but only by the will of God. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (Prov. 21.1) “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” (Rom. 9.18) “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (Ps. 127.1) I concur with Paul, who wrote, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Rom. 9.2-3) If you are an Evangelical reading this, would you please join with me in praying that the Lord would redeem and reform the PC(USA) to once again become a Bible-believing and Bible-preaching Church in which unbelievers repent of their sins and are converted unto Jesus Christ? “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (Jas. 5.16)
I anticipate anger, resentment, and denial from hardened hearts for what I have written here (assuming that it is actually read and not ignored by its intended audience). But I pray that the Lord would have mercy on the hearts of the leaders of the PC(USA), that they should repent of their worldliness and recover the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which they have lost through neglect. I pray that He would ignite a fire that would cleanse and refine the PC(USA), so that she should faithfully preach repentance and forgiveness in the name of Jesus once again, as she once did of old, but does no longer.
1 “Biblical Authority and Interpretation: A Resource Document Received by the 194th General Assembly (1982) of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America”, in Presbyterian Understanding and Use of Holy Scripture and Biblical Authority and Interpretation (Louisville: Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), 1999), pp. 28-29.
2 That is, mankind. By no means do I mean to imply that women are somehow excluded from this definition.
3 It is said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” However, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Gen. 8.21) And again, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17.9) Power does not corrupt the human soul; it only magnifies the corruption already inherent there, giving it greater capacity to do evil.
4 An example of this can be found in Douglas Ottati’s book, Theology for Liberal Presbyterians and Other Endangered Species (Louisville: Geneva Press, 2006), where he asks in the Introduction (p. x), “What do we mean today by traditional words such as creation, sin, grace, and salvation?” rather than what God, from His omniscient and eternal perspective, means by them in His Word.