Much has been said on the internet about the PCA GA, as usual. I have found misrepresentations, distortions and knee jerk reactions galore. I hope to avoid all that. I hope to be as objective as I can.
For me the General Assembly began around 5 pm on Tuesday afternoon. My friend Eddie and I attended the Ligonier Panel on Christology. The panel featured R.C. Sproul (obviously), Ligon Duncan, Robert Godfrey, Sinclair Ferguson and Richard Pratt. They each brought a different emphasis in how they viewed Christology under attack in the church and world. I was exhausted from not enough sleep the night before, so I can’t recall all that was said. Ferguson talked quite a bit about the influence of Schleiermacher on the church of Scotland. Many of the same things can be said about the church in the States. Pratt talked about issues of Christology on the mission field. People need to know who this Christ really is, and how He saves. Apart from solid Christology there really is no gospel message. It was good to see Sproul in public. He seemed sharp and on track. This was a moderated discussion. I’d recommend you watch it.
As I noted, I was exhausted. There were many good things about the opening worship service, but I thought the sermon went on too long. And there was a second, shorter sermon before the Lord’s Table. The focus for the 3 services would come from Revelation 21-22, all things new. The first message was about the new creation we will one day inhabit.
We then began business with the election of the Moderator. Two men were presented to us as nominees. Most of us knew neither of them. This is one of my great frustrations with General Assembly- being asked to vote for people I do not know. The choice of a Moderator is very important. A good moderator keeps the business flowing. A not so good one gets the assembly bogged down in procedural matters which actually interfere with the business. Let’s just say we didn’t choose wisely. I am sure he is a great guy, but this is an honor but not honorary. It is a great responsibility. Perhaps we need to do a better job preparing nominees for the task of leading General Assembly.
The next morning I went to 2 seminars. Okay, 1 and 1/2. I was a bit late for the seminar on repentance. Ed Eubanks was helping us think through how the Bible uses repentance in distinction to how we use the term. There was a fair amount of give and take in a constructive manner as some of his thoughts were challenged. I think the bottom line is that we need to have a fuller understanding of the various ways in which Scripture urges us to respond when we as Christians sin. Sometimes our theological and homoletical shorthand is neither sufficient nor clear.
Then I want to a seminar about marijuana. Since the state in which I live and minister has recently legalized medical marijuana I though this would be a great opportunity to think about some of the challenges we may face. Dr. Thurstone is one of fewer than 3 dozen psychiatrists certified in child, adolescent and addictions psychiatry. He has an active practice as well as teaching at the University of Colorado. He brought us the latest research information available as well as a framework to understand the marijuana lobby: big tobacco. I also considered how this is true for “big beer.” (yet another reason to drink craft beer- there are no TV adds telling kids it is always fun and helps you get beautiful women)
The cycle is: distort => market (to create new & young users) => profits (used to) => lobby (using) => distortions of the truth etc.
Some things I learned:
- In Colorado, use among teens is nearly double the U.S. average and went up after legalization.
- 1 in 6 teens develop an addiction to it. Newer strains have more TCH which increases the addiction rate.
- Usage by adolescents (25 and under based on brain development) results in IQ decline. This is because it bonds to the brain receptors responsible for development.
- It can be stored in fat for up to a month.
- Users are twice as likely to experience psychosis.
- There is a 2-3 fold increase in risk for other drug use.
You can find out more from Smart Approaches to Marijuana on Facebook.
Later that morning we heard from Fraternal Delegates and a piece of new business about tied to the situation involving Sovereign Grace Ministries. The Overture wanted us to take the problem of child sexual abuse more seriously and to protect the children by following the reporting laws instead of treating it as “only” a sin instead of also a crime.
Eddie and I went to lunch at Sticky Fingers, enjoying some great BBQ in the restored downtown of Greenville. It was very pretty, and there were numerous restaurants that all looked to be busy. Parking was at a premium, which was not helped by the city putting up cones to reduce the available parking even further.
After lunch I made a mistake. Another fraternal delegate was found and I noticed the informational reports were coming up. I read the reports, so I didn’t need to hear them. But I forgot to notice the Review of Presbytery Records Committee Report. So we went to the exhibit hall and caught up with people new knew as well as products we might find helpful.
Then we were summoned because there was a critical vote going on- one I had anticipated. I was concerned about a matter of business from the Pacific Northwest Presbytery. Last year it was referred back to the Committee because of faulty assumptions. We assumed they TE was prohibited from teaching paedocommunion. But they had not only granted him an exception (which is standard) but also permitted him to teach is view (not permissible). I guess the court noticed the problem this year and rectified it in my absence. When I returned they were discussing a similar problem in Central Florida. The problem was with the exception. They wanted the TE to provide more rationale for taking the exception for paedocommunion. Some saw inconsistency. I didn’t. But I am tired of talking about paedocommunion.
We broke around 4 for our second worship service. Again, very good. Brian Habig preached a very good sermon. He has a very humble, winsome way about him. He addressed the new community, and challenged us in that area.
With no business that evening, there was no shuttle so Eddie dropped me off at my cut rate hotel. I strolled down the road to a sports bar I noticed that had wings. I ended up have a few too many wings, which didn’t impress me very much. And then went back to my hotel room to watch the Bruins’ game.
Thursday morning I went to the seminar with Ligon Duncan and Al Mohler about Defending and Commending the Total Truthfulness of Scripture. Despite things like this, I’ve heard people say the PCA no longer holds to inerrancy. I don’t understand how someone can think that. Disagreeing with your interpretation of a passage is not the same as forsaking inerrancy. Duncan and Mohler talked about their similar roads to grasping inerrancy. Amazing how many books they have read on the subject, for expounding it and attacking it. They think that Warfield did an excellent job anticipating the arguments that would come and still heartily recommend him on the subject. They see the new challenge as the “moral” argument presented by people like Peter Enns and a professor at Messiah College. They argue that God could never command such things as the destruction of the Canaanites. Of course they lose Jesus in the process, at least the Jesus of Revelation.
We returned to our work behind schedule, and it was only going to get worse. The Study Committee on the Insider Movement began their presentation around 11:15 (90 minutes late), but was stopped to handle the Nominating Committee’s business. More voting on guys I don’t know. So I left a few minutes early for my lunch appointment with Chaplain Hess.
We had lunch at the Blue Ridge Brewing Company. I had a great fried pork chop. And some Boltcutter IPA. All good stuff. Even better conversation catching up on our families and ministries.
I returned to find we were still dealing with the nominations. They were in a procedural swamp about who to vote on first (when it mattered)- TEs, REs or flip a coin to see. I’m surprised I didn’t feel a migraine coming on. Eventually we decided to vote for TEs first and this set the stage for the big nominations battle. The Standing Judicial Committee had the choice of “old guard” and often resented Dominic Aquila running against the mutton-chopped “Pastor who ate New Orleans.” No way I was voting for Ray, I know too much. Amazingly the eccentric one won the spot on this very important committee. This may turn out to be one of the biggest problems with the decisions of the GA.
So we returned to the rather lengthy second report from the Committee on Insider Movements. They are the problematic mission movements that think we should avoid offensive terms like “Son of God” in translating the Bible for Muslims, and that one can be a Christian inwardly while appearing to remain Muslim outwardly to avoid persecution. I’m not sure what they do with Romans 10 and Revelation 2-3, but I see this as compromise- the sort which is condemned by Jesus throughout Revelation.
The problem was in the minority report. The author, Nabeel Jabbour, agreed with the majority report, but wanted to add some additional information. This was presented as more practical in light of the more theological and abstract majority report. It also “contends that there is a strong biblical basis for some aspect of insider ministries.” I guess we are talking 1 Corinthians 9. But this, in my opinion, went too far.
The biggest problem was in Attachment 4: Allah and Isa. For context, he is an Arab Christian. He asks “Are Allah of the Arab Christians and Yahweh the same God? Yes…” He qualifies it. But since “Allah” is Arabic for God and they are Christians of course we talking about the same God.
In the next paragraph however:
Are Allah of Muslims and Yahweh the same God? Yes, when the veil is lifted from their eyes and Muslims see Him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Fine-tuning to see Yahweh as He truly is takes place through Christ.
Later he says there are similarities between our God and theirs. But his qualification above is illogical. The God of Islam is not the God of Christianity. When the veil is lifted they forsake the God of Islam for Jesus. Some thought this qualification helped rather than hindered. I disagreed and wanted the whole think stricken.
Although the author stated he could not serve on the Committee any longer, we inexplicably voted to return the minority report to the Committee. We blew it, but not a bad as we could have. I don’t think we were entertaining IM, as some suppose, but arguing on how to interpret that one paragraph. There is a difference.
So we began more reports, about 2 1/2 hours after we anticipated getting to them. During the dinner break I grabbed dinner with an old friend who now lives in Flat Rock, NC. My family, and 2 others, were staying with his during the week. Among the 9 children only 2 were boys. So he needed man time. Had I known he liked Asian buffets I would have forsaken the rather mediocre seafood we ended up having. Don’t do seafood in Greenville, please.
We reconvened for our final worship service after dinner. The focus was on the new man this time- how we are changed by God.
And then we resumed our business hoping to wrap things up so we didn’t have to return, in diminished numbers, in the morning. Suddenly we moved like we were in an HOV lane. We ripped through the Overtures without much discussion. It was amazing. I was back at the hotel in time to see the Spurs falter against the Heat.
I survived PCA GA 2013. It was not as negative as some have portrayed it. I’m glad I waited because I wasn’t sure how to portray it to my congregation. I’m not even sure they will get most of it. I’m not sure I did.