No, it isn’t about the immigration issue. It was Dual Citizens‘ subtitle that interested me: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet. I eagerly anticipated the day when I could get a copy and begin reading. That day come recently and I read much of it on the way back from General Assembly.
Let’s say the anticipation far exceeded the reality. Jason Stellman is a former missionary who was associated with Calvary Chapel. He has since discovered Reformed Theology, attended Westminster West and is now a PCA pastor in the Pacific NW.
The forward was written by Michael Horton. The book reminds me of Horton’s earlier work. Years ago I used to love Horton’s books. Not so much anymore. The problem is not that I have shifted theologically. I found him to be reactionary and prone to over-correction. That is how this book reads.
At times you can’t really be sure who he is reacting against. Evangelicalism is too broad to say “evangelicalism”. At times I wonder if it is his Calvary Chapel background, but sometimes it is the church growth movement and Rick Warren. But the end result is a book that was more critical than instructional. When he is instructive, the book is better.
I was hoping he would develop the reality of the already/not yet regarding worship and life. He doesn’t really spend much time developing the idea of the already/not yet and how both under & over-realized eschatology plagues the church by distorting our expectations and practices. That could have been a great book.
Stellman develops a 2 kingdom view that is all the rage regarding culture these days. But even in this I am somewhat confused. At times the two kingdoms appear to be cult and culture. At times they are heavenly and earthly. Are they meant to be synonymous? If so, it is close to gnosticism. He draws such a sharp distinction between them that you could say “what hath heaven to do with earth?”
“Being pilgrims in exile, we, like the patriarchs and the captives in Babylon, are religiously set apart from, but culturally assimilated to, the unbelieving world around us.”
That is an agreeable statement to a point, but he never really seems to expand on it much further. He leaves too much assumed, which is odd for a book that assumes most evangelicals are clueless and need instruction. Boice’s Two Cities, Two Loves, development of Augustine’s ideas is much more helpful. Though parallel, the City of God and the City of Man compete for our allegiance.
The Westminster West influence is there in spades. He criticizes John Frame for the typical Reformation argument against the secular/sacred distinction. He sounds more like the Church of Rome that the Reformers protested. Frame, on the other hand, is arguing that we live out our faith in the world God has created. Worship is about more than showing up on Sunday morning to hear the Word and receive the sacraments. It is also about obeying the Word through the week. But Stellman separates them so that our cult is distinct from the world and our culture is (seemingly) the same as the world. He suffers from reductionism in many places.
This has lead to what I took as a very critical stance on the majority of the Puritans and their experiential Christianity (Calvinism). This is why I say over-correction. The Puritans, unlike many evangelicals today, joined theology and piety. Their piety was not something that replaced the public worship but supplemented it. They wanted their emotions prompted by and directed by truth. If I were to choose between Edwards and Stellman, it would be no contest. And some of his comments led me to think he found no place for religious affections, only truth.
He seems to be very dependent on Meredith Kline (good), Stanley Hauerwas Peter Kreeft and Chesterton. I’m not sure why he draws on 2 Roman Catholics so much, but this is part of why I felt like I was reading a Catholic book on culture (which can oddly sound like a Fundamentalist book on culture).
One big issue is assurance. He cites the typical 3-fold method often found in the Puritans. For those who don’t know, it is this:
- Trusting in the promises of the gospel.
- The fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
- The witness of the Spirit.
He cites Calvin and the Puritans for separating Word and Spirit with the third method of assurance. Both Calvin and the Puritans were fairly clear, the Spirit speaks through the Word. They were not mystics. While moderns might think the Spirit speaks to us directly, the Puritans see this as the Spirit testifying through the Word. But he goes farther.
“One of the ramifications of this definition is that the assurance produced by the witness of the Spirit is of the very essence of saving faith. It is not merely of the “bene-essence” or well-being, of faith, as many of the Puritans insisted, reserved for those of God’s favorites who have tarried long and struggled hard to attain it.”
Problem is that those Puritans wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith which is the doctrinal statement of the PCA. From chapter XXVIII:
III. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith but that a true believer may wait long and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure; that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance: so far is it from inclining men to looseness.
IV. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it; by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience, and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation; by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived, and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.
The idea is not that you much work long and hard to receive assurance. The idea is that you can still be saved even if you lack assurance due as you struggle with your sin and misery. I hope I am misunderstanding him. If not, I hope he took this as an exception to the standards.
All this being said, I do not recommend this book. I find it will cause as many problems as it seeks to solve. We don’t need more books like that. We need clear, winsome books that build on our Reformed Heritage rather than undermine large parts of it.
Update: In June 2012, Jason informed his Presbytery that he no longer holds to sola scriptura and sola fide. He admits that he is no longer qualified to serve in the PCA. Strange things happen.