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Archive for July, 2010


Chapter 5 of Recovering the Reformed Confession is the second part of Recovering a Reformed Identity.  Here Clark focuses on the need for Confessions of Faith that we might be in agreement about the meaning of Scripture.  The Reformed Church has been busy making Confessions of Faith since the 1500’s.  There is no lack of them.

Initially there were no exceptions permitted, which makes sense since that contemporary group wrote it.  I wouldn’t be taking exceptions to a document I helped create and approved.  In the denominations of which I have belonged as a minister exceptions are permitted.  We are concerned with the system of doctrine, though any exceptions that depart from the core beliefs would result in exclusion.

In other denominations, we have seen how ministers confess to adhering to the Westminster Confession of Faith yet really do not.  Those denominations have slid consistently to the left until there are barely recognizable as Christian, much less Reformed.  Clark sees the sideline denominations moving in this same direction with the absence of strict subscriptionism.  But the problem was not the absence of strict subscriptionism, but the absence of church discipline against those who departed from the core issues of the Confession regarding Scripture, the Trinity, justification and more.

System of Doctrine was first advocated by Charles Hodge to avoid the loose Irish view of “substance” and the unforgiving “strict confession” of the Scots & American Presbyterians.  Views that contradicted the Reformed faith were not permitted as exceptions.  He viewed that strict subscriptionism would lead to the same hypocrisy as substance subscriptionism did.

The full or strict subscription view is proposed by such men today as Joseph Pipa, Morton Smith and George W. Knight III.  They say that not all doctrines are of equal importance, yet act as if they are.  Since the Confession is a summary of Scripture, Pipa argues that if a minister finds that the Confession is out of step with the Scriptures, they should write exegetical papers explaining the difference and advocating the necessary changes.  In Pipa’s view, this takes place within the courts of the church, not publicly.  In other words, you don’t write a book or teach a class on it.

The “good faith” approach was approved by the PCA in 2003.  The candidate’s views are examined and they are required to take exceptions in which they differ from any part of the Confession or Catechisms.  The Presbytery decides whether or not to grant the exception.  Often, the minister may teach the exception as long as he notes it is not the position of the church.

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One of the books I picked up at the PCA General Assembly was The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens and the Bible by James Hoffmeier, currently a prof of OT and Biblical Archeology at Trinity.

His own history is interesting.  He grew up in Egypt, the son of missionaries.  When Egypt went to war with Israel, their visa was revoked and the left Egypt with only suitcases never to return (he did return as an adult, but they lost nearly all their possessions).  They spent 2 weeks in a refugee camp on Cyprus.  He has lived in other countries, as a legal immigrant.

On the basis of his background, I’m very interested in how he develops the material.  He notes the release of Christians on the Border by M. Daniel Carroll just as he was finishing this book.  While not a response to Carroll’s book, he does mention a few points of departure in their approach.

In terms of the Christian community there are 2 main camps- the Sanctuary camp, and the Law and Order Camp.  These are the camps you see in my (altogether too brief) interview on a local news station.  The female pastor (?) of a PC (USA) supported the PC (USA) boycott and was offering their church as a sanctuary.  She reported anecdotal evidence of racial profiling- which is odd since at the time SB 1070 had yet to become law.  It was not being enforced.  She didn’t seem able to distinguish between a law and unjust enforcement of the law.

What is interesting is that groups like the Sojourners fear the Religious Right.  Apparently they aren’t afraid to use the Bible in politics, just not when Conservatives try to use it.

“Typically those who want to apply biblical law to the western culture do so selectively, accepting laws they personally feel comfortable with and rejecting those that create unease.”

Often both sides use the Scriptures improperly.  Hoffmeier address hermeneutical issues in the first chapter.  He lays out 4 primary approaches to understanding and applying the Scriptures to this (or any) political issue.

Looking for the literal correlations between past and present.  It is very common among Conservatives, but was also practiced by the “Sanctuary” proponents as well.  This view fails to understand the original historical and cultural context, and does not make adequate epochal adjustments.

Applying the biblical demand for justice to the current laws.  This was used by Martin Luther King Jr..  He rightly called for the laws to be applied fairly to blacks as well as whites.  It requires just laws in the first place.  That seems to be one of the missing pieces in this puzzle.

Examine the legal material to develop the theological or ethical principle there to shape or critique modern laws.  Walter Kaiser takes this approach.

Establish a biblical worldview as a way to evaluate contemporary social and legal issues.  This approach, used by Christopher Wright, takes the theological, social and economic context of Scripture into consideration to “preserve the objective” while changing for the context of any culture or time.  This is the approach that the author will use.

When discussing this issue with other Christians who differ, it is important to understand how they are using the Bible in making their arguments.  This is just as important as their views.

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As I read the first chapter on how to Recover the Reformed Confession in Scott Clark’s book on the subject, I have a funny feeling.  I get the distinct impression he wants us to be a Reformed ghetto.  You know, the place where we sit around and discuss all our theological distinctives and pretend that we alone are really Christians.

Why do I think this?  Well, he again criticizes John Frame for thinking that we are part of Evangelicalism.  As a broad-based movement, I think we fit under the tent.  We are, after all, evangelical meaning we believe the good news should be made known.  We certainly have a more defined theology than most Evangelicals, but if all we do is push our distinctives we fail to see our connection to the rest of the Body of Christ with whom we disagree on some points.  Or are we all there is?  I’d hate to think we are THAT arrogant.

In discussing the reality that our theology is analogical- we only know God as He has revealed Himself to us- Clark sets his sights on Frame again.  Frame can defend himself, and has, regarding much of what Clark asserts about his theology.  I will agree with Frame that Clark seems to want us to use particular vocabulary that is not itself found in Scripture, nor in our Confessions.  One of his complaints about modern Reformed Theology is that we have redefined our theology rather than speaking it so people will understand it.  Easy to assert, but difficult to prove.  He really doesn’t try.

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Life here in Arizona has been busy, dodging all the boycotters.  In fact, I was nearly interviewed by New4 today regarding the PC (USA) boycott of Arizona.  Sadly, something more important came up.  I was going to plug the PCA churches in town as I drew the distinction between the 2 denominations.  Who knows, maybe another day.

The sermon, A Working Paradigm for Ministry was by Parker Tennet.   He served as the RUF pastor here at the UofA.  Sadly, for us, Parker has taken a call closer to home and is now in Memphis.   Some of you might be interested in some of the extras, like the Special Features on the DVD.  The installation vows, charges to myself and the congregation and the benediction should be included in the extras.  (we are working on trying to fix this link)

And for those of you interested in the words that may haunt me, we also have the Q & A from my candidating weekend.  That might actually be helpful for Search Committees.  A big thanks to our webmaster and technology guru for making this available.

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In the 3rd chapter of Recovering the Reformed Confession, R. Scott Clark tackles the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience.  In this chapter he addresses inroads of mysticism into Reformed practice.  It was here that I learned that I am part of the problem.  He lays much of the problem at the feet of … Jonathan Edwards.  As a result, people like Tim Keller, John Gerstner and R.C. Sproul (under whom I studied the Theology of Edwards’ Sermons in seminary) are unduly influenced by this quest and part of the problem.

But first, he mentions Reformed people seeking God’s moral will through listening for the “still small voice.”  It seems illegitimate to make a crisis out of a few people who might do this.  I’m more familiar (though not supportive) with people “listening” for God’s will in matter upon which Scripture does not speak: this person as a spouse? this job or that one?  I would disagree that this is a widespread problem in Reformed Communities.  There are no data to substantiate his view of the “crisis”.

“If someone asks, ‘What is God teaching you these days?’ one has the sense that the expected answer is not to be a summary of this week’s sermon or reflection on the significance of baptism or the Lord’s Supper, but an insight derived from a special experience or private experience.”

This troubles me.  First, because it unfairly represents the person who asks this question.  Second, it neglects one of the ordinary means of grace- personal reading of the Scripture (I also find prayer conspicuously absent from his discussion).  He bases his criticism on what “he feels”, subjectivism.  From my subjective experience, when I ask someone this question, I mean “what is God teaching you from His Word.  When someone asks me this, that is how I answer.  As we read God’s Word, the Spirit is at work.  Themes emerge from Scripture that we need to pay attention to.  This is not private revelation, but the illumination of the Scriptures (which we see in WCF I).

He then lets his personal agenda take control regarding the worship service.  Since the Scriptures contain 150 Psalms, there should not be a problem with a church that wants to sing to God (I’ve never been anywhere where there was not some introduction, Scripture or liturgical element to break up the songs).  Is there something wrong with Power Point in a context in which people don’t read music?  Must we cling to the form of hymn books and paper when the point is to actually sing?

Where are all these Reformed churches with dramatic presentations?  Where is the liturgical dance?  Have they happened?  Yes, these examples happen.  But I find no reason to think that they are now common place among Reformed Churches.

While I agree that the quest for an unmediated encounter with God is illegitimate, I’m not convinced how prevalent this is in our community.  But that is because of how differently we view revival.  He seems to  equate revival with revivalism.

I have been influenced by Iain Murray’s book Revival and Revivalism ( which Clark criticizes).   Murray argues that revivalism is grounded in Pelagianism and the use of illegitimate means for coerce a “decision” and the focus on the subjective experience.  Many people, like Murray, use “revival” to describe what Clark terms reformation.  Revivalism is a technical term for a movement which has been, and should continue to be, rejected by the Reformed community.  But Reformed Communities have witnessed, and affirmed, revivals.    Clark’s unfortunate use/change of terminology clouds the issue.  But he also takes issue with how a large segment of the Reformed Community, through Jonathan Edwards, has seemingly been bewitched into holding a type of mysticism.

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In the Introduction, the author notes that 75,000 books on parenting have been written in the last decade.  We are apparently obsessed with parenting, and we apparently haven’t discovered how to parent well.

In Gospel-Powered Parenting, William Farley brings something different to the table.  He isn’t focused on technique, he’s focused on the hearts of the parents and their goals.

“The common denominator between success and failure seems to be the spiritual depth and sincerity of the parents, especially the spiritual depth and sincerity of the father.”

This is interesting in light of an Atlantic  Monthly article a young lady on the plane was reading recently, “Are Fathers Necessary?”  Every study (which the article thinks erroneous, without real data) I’ve read indicates they are (check out Life Without Father by David Popenoe.  This is why the wise church focuses on dads and tries to involve men in ministry to children (time to man up, guys: you are important to the kingdom!).

Success here is essentially defined as children who own the faith of their parents are are involved church members after leaving the home.  How they were educated is far less important than their witnessing “experiential religion”, as the Puritans would say, in the home.  And especially by dad (hmm, maybe those passages in the Bible aren’t shaped by ‘patriarchism’ but reflect how God often works in light of the covenant).

Initially, his claim that the Job 1 responsibility of Christian parents is to see their kids come to faith (he is a Calvinist, so he recognizes parents as a means, not the cause, of their faith).  It seems like all that matters is that if we get our kids to say the prayer, we’re done.  That would be reductionistic, and that is not what he means.  If we are powered by the gospel, and they believe it, many of those issues will be addressed but not in an idolatrous fashion.  Our children will learn how to manage money, persevere in difficulty, delay gratification, do their best in school (depending on their own intellectual capacity) and be good citizens and workers.  The gospel will produce the character necessary for those things if we recognize it isn’t just “fire insurance”

He begins with the assumptions each parent has in that process.  They are often unseen, but drive our parenting.  He lays out his assumptions.

  1. Parenting is not easy.  We are sinners, and so are they.  There will be plenty of failure to go around.
  2. God is sovereign, but He uses means.  We are not to be passive, but active, in light of His commands.  But we are also to be trusting in light of His promises and providence.
  3. A good offense (is better than a good defense).  Often we try to protect our kids, fearing the world will corrupt them.  As a result, we often raise legalists or rebels.  We recognize the battleground is their hearts and make the gospel the main issue to shape their hearts.  Love for Christ is the only real way to avoid the corruption of the world.
  4. Understand the New Birth.  Our kids don’t need the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism of our day.  They need to be born again- given spiritual life.  This is borne out by its fruit, not merely a decision.
  5. God-centered Families.  Most people have child-centered families, and sports or performing arts often crowd out manifestations of lively faith.  The kids learn they are more important than God, and worship is essentially optional.

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The second chapter of R. Scott Clark’s book, Recovering the Reformed Confession, begins his more in-depth analysis of the crisis he laid out in the first chapter.  Here he tackles The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty.

This chapter begins oddly by offering a few examples of this quest in Reformed circles.  Those are KJV-only advocates (I’ve missed this movement in the Reformed community), arguing against women in the military (I’m not sure I see the connection here as he explains it), and the Biblical Counseling movement (since he seems to view counseling as a medical issue instead of a sanctification issue in many cases).  He just drops those, without anything to back up his claims.  There is no smoking gun that these are related to the Illegitimate Quest.  Full preterism and denying the free offer of the gospel are about the only ones that I see as connected to this quest.  And those 2 are problematic.

But he spends the chapter focusing on a literal 6-day creation, theonomy and covenant moralism.  His argument is that in the shifting sands of modernity (or would that be post-modernity) some look for a solid place to stand.  Their insecurity, he says, leads them to seek certainty in all the wrong places.  He sees the role of fundamentalism as important in this.

“In fact, it is not a belief that the Bible is true which makes on a fundamentalist; rather it is the belief that one’s interpretation is inerrant which qualifies one as a fundamentalist.”

An interesting definition or defining factor.  But is he certain they are wrong?

6 Day Creation

He begins with the “rise” of a literal 6-day creation as a boundary marker.  In recent years, this was an issue in the PCA as they tried to determine if ministers should subscribe as strictly to this part of the Confession as other parts of the confession, like justification.  He notes that the RCUS adopted this as their denominational position in 1999.  I have not even heard of the RCUS.  The  OPC and URC have all studied it as well.

They defend this position from Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith (4.1).  This is what is so interesting to me.  He tries to say that the meaning of the Confession is not clear.  Since they may have been arguing against Augustine’s instantaneous creation instead of modern science’s evolution, 6 days doesn’t mean 6 days- it might mean something else.  This is a doctrinal statement, not a literary genre that may use figurative speech.

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The first half of the Red Sox’ 2010 season was not what we expected.  Yes, that is quite the understatement.

Ace Lefty Lester

This was a team built on pitching and defense.  Many people, excluding me, raised concerns about their offense.  No one would have predicted the struggles they have experienced with pitching and defense, or the incredible success they have experienced with their offense.  Their offense, along with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have kept them in contention.

It didn’t look that way out of the gate.  The Red Sox had a miserable April.  The starting pitching was a mess and Dice-K was on the DL.  Ortiz looked like Babe Ruth, just before retirement.  Adrian Beltre was on his way to crippling the outfield.  Ellsbury would collide with Beltre and has only played 9 games thus far.  We aren’t sure when he’ll be back.  Unlike his many injured team mates, Ellsbury has not been around to support the team.  No one is sure what the means, but some of the players, like Youkilis, are frustrated with his absence.  Cameron also tore an abdominal muscle and spent time on the DL in April and into May.  He has yet to feel right.

Their injuries were a huge hit defensively.  Their replacements are nowhere near the caliber of defensive players that Jacoby and Cameron are.  At times it was just plain ugly out there, and some blown plays cost the Red Sox victories.

Big Papi returned

But the starting pitching and David Ortiz both came around, prompting the Red Sox to play MUCH better.  Lester and Buchholz have been having Cy Young caliber seasons since April.  But the injuries just kept mounting.  Platoon outfielder Hermida also collided with Beltre and has been out with fractured ribs.  Although Hermida has a horrible batting average, he drove in runs.  And looked horrid in left field.   Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald have gotten better out there, and filled in well at the plate.

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I’ve begun reading R. Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confession after someone recommended it to me.  I will confess that I am leery as I begin to open the pages.  While confessionally in agreement with the folks from Westminster West, I find I am not in agreement practically or theoretically.  In other words, we seem to differ on how to apply the theology we hold (mostly) in common.

But, I will attempt to give a fair reading to the book.  I hope I will not be unnecessarily critical.  I hope to remember what I wrote on a post-it note some years ago-

Discernment is recognizing both what is true and what is false.

Therefore, I will attempt to affirm that which is true as well as reject that which is false.  Or at least responding to that with which I disagree (since I am not the ultimate authority on what is true).

Clark begins with identifying the mainline, borderline and sideline denominations.  I am not sure why he calls some “sideline” but that’s not important now.  We are familiar with the mainline Reformed denominations (the PCUSA, RCA & UCC) which have largely squandered their theological heritage.  While there are surely some faithful congregations, as a whole they would appear to have become apostate as they begin denying essential orthodox doctrines.

He identifies the borderline denominations as the CRC and the EPC.  He (this was written in 2008, to be fair) identifies the CRC as moving toward the mainline and the EPC to be moving toward the sideline.  With a large number of former PCUSA churches entering the EPC since that time, I think they are shifting back to the mainline.  The recent approval of female pastors would be a case in point.

Clark right points out the confusion as to what “Reformed” actually means.  It now means nearly anything.  Some use it so narrowly as to identify their position on creation, law or music.  There is a great variety of practice among those churches taking the name Reformed.  There would also appear to be a great variety of theology among them.  I suspect he would disagree with me, but I think our theological system should be the same (therefore preferring the older term Particular Baptists to Reformed Baptists), but there is no need for uniformity of practice (which is what I am reading, fairly or unfairly, between the lines).

“It is the argument of this book that the Reformed confession is the only reasonable basis for a stable definition of the Reformed theology, piety and practice.”

I have no qualms with that.

He refers to Phillip Schaff’s (he of the 8 volume History of the Christian Church) inaugural address.  There he identifies rationalism and subjectivism as the 2 great diseases that threaten to kill the church, including the Reformed Heritage.

Rationalism results in the question to know all as God knows it.  They want to be right, to have absolute certainty  on matters about which Scripture is less than clear.  They do not distinguish between essential matters and matters for the well-being of the church.  All become equally important and you must toe the line.  This group would be the TRs (truly Reformed or thoroughly Reformed).  If you’ve had a bad experience with a Reformed person, it was probably one of these.

Subjectivism (or sectarianism) is the pursuit of the immediate experience of God apart from the appointed means of grace.  Where I suspect Clark and I may differ is the number of appointed means of grace.  But maybe I’m wrong.  Either way, these people place their emphasis on the emotional, the experiential.  They fail to see that Scripture guides our spiritual experience lest we have a counterfeit spiritual experience.

Clark notes how a growing number of younger people are beginning to embrace more traditional forms of worship.  The modernistic experiment of the boomers is insufficient for them.

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I moved to Arizona just about the time the Arizona Law was passed, much to the dismay of the media, Washington, Hollywood and some other people.  People can’t seem to distinguish between what a law states and what some immoral law enforcement might do   Regardless of what you think about this particular law, you have to admit we have a problem.

And part of the problem is Washington.  The President has apparently suggested to Sen. Kyl (Arizona) that any enforcement must wait until there is “comprehensive reform”.  Conservatives are typically in favor of reform.  The question, as usual, is the type of reform advocated.  We don’t need to repeat one of Reagan’s mistakes (yes, one of my favorite Presidents made mistakes).  Amnesty is a bad plan.

I’ve been thinking about this in my spare time.  Since no one in Washington seems to mention anything except amnesty or deporting everyone, here’s my take.

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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.

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… to yourself!

John Newton has become something of my own pastor these past few months as I’ve been reading The Letters of John Newton devotionally.  Every pastor needs a shepherd.  These days I’m finding I need John Newton.

Rev. William Howell was a very effective minister of an independent church who corresponded with Newton.  After many years of great effectiveness for the gospel, restoring a whole community, Howell struggled physically.  As a result, he was deeply depressed for quite some time.  Much of their correspondence was at this time.

What Newton lays out is the disconnect that can happen in the preacher’s (well, any Christian’s) heart.  We can preach one gospel to others, but a different one to ourselves.

“I am ready to take it for granted that you did not preach to your people such a scheme of the gospel as you seem to have proposed to yourself during your illness.  Did you ever try to persuade them that our Lord Jesus Christ could save little sinners and forgive little sins (if such there be), but that great sinners (like you), and scarlet sins (like yours), were beyond the limits of his power and mercy?”

In his depression, Howell began to believe that his sins were too big for Jesus.  How big is your Jesus?  Can he lift the burden of your sin from you, or does he need help?  Does your Jesus tell you that you need to help him by trying harder, doing better next time?  Then you’re listening to a quasi-Jesus, not the Jesus we find in Scripture.  He is big enough to remove the accursed load, to silence the law’s loud thunder and triumph over Satan, sin and death.

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I finally put my thoughts and impressions of the PCA General Assembly, comparing it with the ARP Synods I have attended.  I’ve been scanning reports from other denominational meetings.  While I may not be thoroughly pleased with the denominations I’ve worked with (why should I?) there are some that I would have a most difficult time.

The PC (USA) General Assembly has just gotten started.  And it was an interesting beginning to say the least.

The sermon and infant baptism focused on the future of the denomination – but not before the assemblage faced east, west, north and south while praying for the Holy Spirit to come and watching people in animal costumes march up the aisles and wander through the worship space.

Elder Fern Cloud of Dakota Presbytery led the call to worship at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly’s opening worship ceremony Sunday morning, which included interpretative dancing and four processions of flowing banners led by animals such as buffalo and eagle.

Reminiscent of the 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Vancouver, people dressed as skunks, rabbits and wolves paid homage to the area’s Native American heritage to the sound of a rhythmic drum beat and flute.

One hot issue for them (yet again) is the G.6, or The Fidelity and Chastity Standard for elected office in the denomination.  The female ruling elder who was elected moderator had this to say about the rule that required officers to either be faithfully married (heterosexual) or celibate if single:

“I have been a strong advocate of removing G-6.01016b (the fidelity and chastity standard for elected officers) from the Book of Order. I think it is a stain on the Gospel. I think it does not carry out the inclusivity that we need. And as a lawyer I think it’s pragmatically stupid because it means that we lose many faithful and committed people just because of their sexual orientation.”

A stain on the gospel?  Didn’t Jesus have something to say about adultery and porneia?  They stain the gospel, not fidelity and chastity.  This may finally be the year that the PC (USA), which has half the members it did when I was born, goes down the same road that the Episcopal Church (US) did.  They’ve been trying for years- it is important to be cutting edge you know.  With the floodgates open, the moral conservatives have largely departed.

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Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch was one of the hot books of 2008.  It has endorsements from such people as Lauren Winner, Richard Mouw, Tim Keller and James Emery White.  As such, it is not a book for a narrow group of people but is respected by a broad spectrum of Christian leaders.  As a result, I was looking forward to reading the book as I worked through Genesis.

I was not disappointed.  I expected an interesting, challenging read.  As far as specifics, I was not sure what to expect.  It did not go in some directions I had hoped, but took me in directions I probably needed to go.

One of the main things that Crouch does is look at the cultural import of Scripture.  This takes up much of the book.  He develops the way in which Scripture traces major developments in Scripture, and how culture affects the people in Scripture.  Scripture places us in a variety of cultures (ancient Canaan, Egypt, ancient Israel, Babylon, post-exilic Jerusalem and Galilee, etc.).

Crouch begins at the beginning- how the Scriptural account of creation is very different from the myths of other cultures.  There, we find the importance of structure for creativity.  Structure creates regularity without which no creativity can happen.  There must be some type of predictability for us to manipulate creation in order to display creativity.  Too much structure though stifles creativity.

“Culture is the realm of human freedom- its constraints and impossibilities are the boundaries within which we can create and innovate.”

He lays out some of the common questions regarding culture, and a few I hadn’t thought about before.

  1. What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is?
  2. What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be?
  3. What does this cultural artifact make possible?
  4. What does this cultural artifact make impossible (or at least very different)?
  5. What new forms of culture are created in response to this artifact?

Questions 3 & 4 address the horizons of the possible and impossible in a culture.  This was some of the new material that I had not really pondered before.

“Family is culture at its smallest- and its most powerful!”

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Having been in the ARP since 1998, this was my first General Assembly as a member of the PCA.  I had heard many things, but it was good to see things first hand.  That means the good and the bad.  Inevitably, my mind compares and contrasts everything to my experiences in the ARP.

Some of the differences come from the fact that the PCA is much larger than the ARP.  I was not used to holding up a half sheet of card stock to vote (unless the votes needed to be counted).  We would merely use voice unless the vote was close.  There were differences in terminology:  Memorials => overtures, delegates => commissioners.  No big deal there.  But the sheer size of the documents was so much greater.  There is, comparatively, so much more going on.

One of the additions was a review of all the minutes from all the Presbyteries.  We had to vote on some matters relating to them.  That was interesting.  I was also shocked at the length of the report from the Standing Judicial Commission.  I can count on one hand the number of issues that came up in a decade that went to the ARP Synod’s version.  There were pages of appeals and other judicial issues sent up.  It is a very different culture than the ARP.

I miss going to Bonclarken.  I knew my way around.  I knew were to have a good meal (especially a good Tex-Mex with my friends from Presbytery), and where to enjoy a beer and cigar.  Each year the PCA General Assembly moves.  This year it was Nashville.  I had never been to Nashville.  I did not know my hotel was 3 miles from the convention center until the night before I left.  There was a shuttle to and from the airport, but no mention of one to the convention center.  The hotel desk said there wasn’t one.  So, I had already walked the 3 miles once before I discovered the PCA had provided regular shuttles to my hotel.

I was surprised to find that all of the hotels and the convention center charged for internet access.  Now that we’re “hooked” they want $10/day to access the web.  I needed to get my sermon notes back to Tucson.  Thankfully there was a Panera nearby, and I enjoyed a chai latte and bagel while uploading my document and checking out some sports news.

I found the worship far more accessible and edifying than in the ARP.  Part of that is the fact I did not grow up ARP and our church didn’t use Bible Songs (a holdover from the days before the ARP permitted the use of hymns).  Often the worship is filled with songs I do not know.  Since we were in Nashville, we used numerous hymns by Indelible Grace and similar musicians.  I liked that and found it much easier to engage with the worship.  I did not feel like a fish out of water.

I found how the PCA does business to be similar in many ways.  For instance, both bodies have guys who seemingly speak to EVERY recommendation.  There is also an underlying aura of fear at work in both bodies.  The “slippery slope” and “big brother” seem to never leave some people’s horizons.  I was reminded often of the Swirling Eddies’ song “Knee Jerk“.  People in both denominations have been wounded from experiences with the mainline denomination.  Sadly, those wounds are infected and need to be healed.  Instead, the people nurse and rehearse, therefore look upon many items with unnecessary suspicion.  This is sad, because it doesn’t have to be this way.

Both assemblies are, obviously, filled with sinners.  How we go about our business is tainted by our sin.  And how we listen to the business is as well.  I suppose I should view this as a sanctifying process and seek to grow in patience and diminish in sarcasm.  The constant phrases “point of order” and “motion to recommit” wore me down (as did the lack of sleep).   That is just as much about me as it is about others.

The ARP often has a Pre-Synod Conference.  They bring in a speaker or two to address a pressing issue for the denomination or church at large.  The PCA has seminars in the morning.  It was good to be able to choose what topics I want to address.  They reflected the needs and/or goals of my ministry.  So, I went to:

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