Posts Tagged ‘Covenant Theological Seminary’

As I try to prepare my thought on the Preamble of the PCA’s Ad Interim Committee Report on Human Sexuality, I want to keep in mind the Forward of The Gospel & Sexual Orientation produced by the RPCNA. They point to the on-going reality of controversy within the church. If you think there will be no controversy you don’t understand the purpose for most of the letters of the New Testament. They addressed controversies, not ivory tower thoughts.  They also remind us that when a local church couldn’t sort out a controversy they asked the Church for help.

When the specific controversy over Revoice arose I saw the need for a study committee. There were new pastoral concerns arising. I didn’t think our theology changed, but we were being asked to answer new questions from our theology. I saw the need for greater minds and hearts than mine to answer some of these questions. My interactions on line indicated we were having a failure to communicate. We needed help in sorting these issues out in a better way.

Sadly some saw a “study committee” as compromise in itself, a signal that the ‘progressives’ have won. It was viewed by some as the end of the PCA as a Confessional and Conservative body. Let’s just say I disagreed. I saw it as positive, though if the committee was poorly constructed then all bets would be off.

The Committee was composed of 4 teaching elders and 3 ruling elders. They aren’t all from the southeast, but none were from the west. The farthest west was Jim Pocta from North Texas. The members included Bryan Chapell, the former president of Covenant Seminary, who chaired the committe, and Derek Halvorson who is the president of Covenant College. It also includes pastor, professor and author Kevin DeYoung, as well as retired pastor, author and sometimes professor Tim Keller. The other members were Jim Weidenaar and Kyle Keating.

The Overture to form the Committee laid out the following work:

1.a; 2 annotated bibliography;

1.b.1 nature of temptation, sin, repentance, and the difference between Roman Catholic and Reformed views of concupiscence as regards same-sex attraction;

1.b.2 propriety of using terms like “gay Christian”when referring to a believer struggling with same-sex attraction;

1.b.3 status of “orientation”as a valid anthropological category;

1.b.4 practice of “spiritual friendship”among same-sex attracted Christians;

1.c analysis of WLC138 &139 regarding same-sex attraction, with careful attention given to the compatibility of the 7th commandment and same-sex attraction and the pursuit of celibacy by those attracted to the same sex;

1.d exegesis of the terms “malakoi”and “arsenokoitai”(1 Cor. 6:9);

1.e suggested ways to articulate and defend a Biblical understanding of homosexuality, same-sex attraction, and transgenderism in the context of a culture that denies that understanding.

The Committee met 8 times. The report has 6 sections.


Twelve Statements(1.b, 1.c, 1.d)………………………………………………………………………………………………….6

Confessional Foundations Regarding the Nature of Temptation, Sin,&Repentance (1.b.1)…………………14

Biblical Perspectives for Pastoral Care -Discipleship, Identity,&Terminology (1.b.2-4, 1.c)……………..24

Apologetic Approaches for Speaking to the World(1.e)………………………………………………………………….34

Select Annotated Bibliography(1.a and 2)…………………………………………………………………………………….45


Attachment A -Assignment from the 47th GA……………………………………………………………………………..55

Attachment B-AIC Member Bios……………………………………………………………………………………………….58

Their express desire is that their work would be “unifying, edifying and Biblically useful for our denomination.”

“What we have here…”

In the Preamble they lay out the scope of their work. They were not to address the totality of human sexuality but the specific concerns raised by Overture 42 from Chicago Metro Presbytery. They reiterate the material related above, and affirm that the list of topics assigned to them is lengthy. They produced the 12 Statements to be of concise enough nature to be useful for “distribution and common use in the church.” For those wanting to dig deeper they have the appendices.

In terms of the bibliography, they want to present  materials that “aid the church by presenting some of the most useful materials for different constituencies and different purposes. We cannot affirm our agreement with every word or thought in such a wide variety of materials…”. It will be important to note that this is not meant to be an endorsement of the books listed there.

Now we get to the heart of the Preamble, for me anyway.

Amidst all these statements and essays we discern two overarching concerns—concerns which may be expressed as two important tasks for the Church in our time and two competing sets of fears.

The two fears they identify are: the fear of compromise (tied to the apologetic task), and the fear of cruelty toward those who experience such temptations (tied to the pastoral task). They want to be both clear and compassionate. They want to speak the truth in love, recognizing that in this controversy some focus on truth and others on love (but that each seems to think they are focusing on both). In our discussions, each of us tends to be more gripped by one of those fears and ends us arguing with people who are more gripped by the other fear. Sadly, we lack the self-awareness or wisdom to put our cards on the table in these discussions. As a result, we often end up talking past each other (also by failing to define our terms).

They point us to wisdom from Sinclair Ferguson and his excellent work The Whole Christ, which argues that “the two main ways the gospel is compromised are through legalism on the one hand and antinomianism on the other.” We tend to think one is cured by a dose of the others. The only cure  is “the gospel antidote of our grace-union with Christ.” (Ferguson) We must give the church the Whole Christ for both justification and sanctification. Jesus is full of grace and truth, and so should our words about human sexuality be.

We will see these two concerns represented in the Statements. Each statement begins with an affirmation to affirm commitment to historical understanding of biblical doctrine. Each then continues to  allay the pastoral concerns at work. In other words they are seeking to capture “grace and truth” in each of the 12 Statements. They aren’t pitting one against the other. Nor are they seeking a middle way (wait, isn’t Keller on this Committee??). They rightly want to “show the path of theologically rich pastoring. The truths help the pastor avoid the opposite errors of either speaking the truth without love or trying to love someone without speaking the truth.

In the past, some elders and I have had differences of opinion on this matter. I don’t think we actually disagreed theologically. We differed in our fears and therefore emphasis. By virtue of this we were differing in our imaginary audiences. They were focused on what needs to be said to the uncoverted, while I had the converted struggler in mind. I am guessing at this since in the heat of the moment our presuppositions weren’t always laid on the table.

As our officers began to work through this report recently, I asked each of the men to identify their fears in this conversation. I was a bit surprised by the answers. Almost all of them were more afraid of compromise than lack of compassion. As Session and churches wrestle with these truths and the controversy, this is a good place to start. What you fear indicates what you are defending, and therefore how you are arguing. If you don’t bring those to the surface, you will likely repeatedly sin against one another and frustrate one another. My hope is that we will listen to each other, understand each other and be unified and edified through this process so we can effectively minister to the people God brings among us. That means we’ll be calling the unconverted to repentance and faith, and helping the converted struggler to grow in faith and mortify sin.

The Committee was wise to put this up front. They displayed the pastoral wisdom necessary to achieve their stated goals. I find this to be a far healthier approach than that taken by the Nashville Statement, which seemed preoccupied with the fear of compromise. It was that lack of pastoral nuance and qualifications that led me to vote “no” to affirming the Nashville Statement. I have hopes that this will be a far more helpful statement.

Providentially, Covid-19 has delayed our debate at General Assembly. I’m hopeful that this will be helpful in us being able to spend more time understanding the document, discussing it among Sessions, congregations and Presbyteries. It may, therefore, have more meaningful impact than other statements may have had in the past. May we be an increasingly theologically sound and pastorally wise & kind denomination.

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I was at lunch recently when someone asked if I’d blog on the overtures (requests for action) at the upcoming PCA General Assembly. He was curious as to what I thought of them. So, I’m taking a shot.

I’m not part of the National Partnership. I’m not part of the group that is critical of the National Partnership. I’m not a Conservative Cultural Warrior. I’m an Average Joe and part of the so-called “squishy middle” mostly because my middle is a bit squishy these days. I’m theologically conservative and confessional. I’ve also mellowed over the years and try to use discernment about what hills to die on, or kill others on. I’m hoping that’s maturity. Some would disagree. But I’m not important, and not a genius.

TImage may contain: one or more people and crowdhis year there are 48 (yes, 48!) overtures. I’m not sure if this is a record but it seems overwhelming at first sight. Good news, though. One of the more controversial ones has been withdrawn. I’ve already blogged on that one so I’m not touching it here.

While there are 47 remaining, most of them revolve around a few issues. As a result, I’m going to handle them under those issues.

Ruling Elder Participation

2 Overtures are attempting to increase participation by Ruling Elders (RE) at General Assembly. As a denomination we hold to the parity of elders though we distinguish between Teaching Elders (TE) and REs. The E or elder part is what matters. We want both engaged in the life of the denomination, and not just the local church.

Our Book of Church Order (BCO) does call for equal representation on GA committees (14-1.9). Overture 1 asks to amend 14-2 to increase the number of REs allowed to represent churches at General Assembly.

I will vote NO on this. The issue, generally, is not enough men allowed to attend but not enough REs able to attend. Men work and have families. Taking vacation time to go to GA is an obstacle for many men. In two decades of ministry I’ve only had an RE do that once. Early in my ministry, a retired Naval officer regularly attended Synod (the ARP version of GA). As an TE, I’m expected to go. For REs it is a huge sacrifice to go.

What this would permit is larger churches to be overly represented at GA. Since churches are supposed to help defray the costs of attending, the larger the church the more men they can afford to send. This means that such churches, which generally send more TEs, can also send more REs.

This may increase participation by churches geographically near that year’s GA, but the same issues of vacation and cost apply.

We seem to have confused parity with participation. In other words, we think that unequal participation means we don’t actually have parity. We risk making an idol of RE participation as we focus on endless ways to increase it.

A (possibly) better solution is represented by Overture 27. It requests we study remote voting for General Assembly. It cites the costs to attend which place a burden on smaller churches, and the lack of RE participation.

The technology exists to view remotely. We already stream the proceedings. Perhaps there is a way to vote remotely while we vote electronically at GA.

This will help TEs who are in smaller churches, and churches with multiple TEs for them to watch and vote. REs who work should not be doing this while working. It may get some men who are retired engaged. I suppose this is worth looking at, and I might vote YES. Would we charge those men the full registration fee?

Covenant Theological Seminary

Overture 2 seeks to develop a plan to make Covenant independent. It recognizes that it can’t happen immediately. It seems to imply that CTS wants to be independent. Rather I hear elders complaining about CTS and its perceived liberal views. Some want to be done with them and this overture will appeal to them.

I have not such desire for us to be free of CTS. If they wanted to be be free of us, I’d consider this. But they don’t, so I’ll be voting NO on this.

Corporate Prayer at GA

Last year some were offended by some of the language/topics in the corporate prayer and worship at GA, particularly at a separate time of prayer prior to and for GA. Corporate confessions of sin will inevitably include some sins that a particular person is not guilty of, but a community is. I have no problem confessing our sins and the sins of our fathers, as we see in Nehemiah. I‘ll vote NO to this.

Issues Related to Sexuality

Overture 4 is the first of a large number of overtures (11) touching on sexuality. This and Overture 22 want the PCA to adopt the Nashville Statement that was produced by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

I’ve read thru the statement a few times. It is generally acceptable. However, I share the concerns expressed by Todd Pruitt. This statement was produced by a parachurch organization, not as the result of a denominational study committee or cooperation between like-minded denominations (similar to an ecumenical council). CBMW also has the baggage of affirming the Eternal Submission of the Son, which many (including me) view as a heterodox view of the Trinity. I’ll vote NO if these two reach the floor.

Overture 11 is the return of an overture from 2018. Last year they wanted us to adopt the RPCNA’s Contemporary Perspectives on Sexual Orientation: A Theological and Pastoral Analysis. This year they want us to “commend and distribute it”. You may notice that the link above is from the PCA Historical Center. This document has a good reputation. I’ve been wanting to read it. But the Overture locates it in their minutes for distribution. There are practical problems at work here, not theological ones. Because it is readily available, including on a PCA website, I will likely vote NO.

Overture 28 is a series of affirmations and denials regarding homosexuality. Some of these call out for clarification or nuance. For example, the denial that “unnatural sexual orientations are fixed, permanent, and unchangeable.” Some people experience orientation change and some do not. Does this mean we say those who don’t aren’t truly converted? This creates pastoral problems. I will likely vote NO as a result.

Three overtures request study committees to address these questions and provide pastoral wisdom. I think we should study this and identify the areas we all agree upon, as well as those we can disagree on as well as those we should not disagree. We should also help churches sort thru the best ways to pursue evangelism and discipleship of those who struggle with SSA or gender identity issues. Surely the RPCNA document would be part of the material studied. I would vote YES on forming a study committee to help us better understand the implications of not only sexuality but also the gospel for ministry to people in these areas. We do need to identify the boundaries more clearly and define terms more clearly (and use them more consistently). The online discussions among elders have demonstrated how necessary this is. The fact that the Central Carolina and North Florida reports disagreed on the question of whether to be tempted is to sin indicates we need to study this.

Some want us to re-affirm previous statements on homosexuality. I have no problem with that. But I do think we need to spend time thinking about how to apply this theology to the very different social context we live in now. I think this is not enough. As a result, I will likely vote NO unless someone changes my mind.

Domestic and Sexual Abuse

Many of our members have been victims of domestic and sexual abuse. These are not simply problems out there in the world. We see scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Church, New Tribes Missions,Sovereign Grace Ministries, independent churches like Willow Creek and more. These are issues we cannot ignore.

There are 9 overtures that call for the formation of study committees. I’m sure that these will be pared down to one. I will vote Yes that we form a committee to examine these issues and how to prepare our churches to prevent, recognize and address these issues affecting “the least of these”.

Dissolving Pastoral Relations

Overture 5 seeks to amend BCO 23-1 to clarify the various pastoral relationships and how they are to be dissolved. I generally agree.

I’m conflicted, however, because I am no fan of the Assistant Pastor (not Assistant to the Pastor) designation. This change would clarify that the congregation is not required to accept or request the dissolution of the pastoral relationship. We speak of parity of elders and yet we treat Assistant Pastors as 2nd class pastors or elders. They are called differently, fired differently and are not on the Session of the church they serve. They can be invited to Session meetings (or not), and given voice but no vote. I have serious issues with this “class” of REs.

Since it is currently a designation, I will probably vote YES. I also probably need to start working on eliminating the Assistant Pastor distinctions, or make them temporary and less radical.

Eliminating Memorials

Memorials are notifications of the death of elders which often include their influence and activities for the kingdom and denomination.

Overture 6 seeks to eliminate them. The issue is that they cannot be edited, approved or denied. They need to be heard. Last year there was some controversy. One of the PCA founding fathers passed away, and his teaching on a subject was controversial and many (like me) think foundational to a heterodox view that is contrary to the gospel.

I’m not as concerned about the fact that Calvin was buried in an unmarked grave. We aren’t talking about graves here, but honoring others. The problem comes when a man was controversial.

I lean toward voting YES.

Non-Ordained Members of Committees and Boards

This is the return of an overture from last year. Two similar overtures reflecting the overture from last year.

This is a controversial issue. I hear about how elders are charged with the oversight of the church. Yes, they are.

However, in our congregations committees are not comprised only of elders. They contain unordained men, and women as well. No one freaks out (at least I haven’t heard of anyone). People understand there can’t be enough elders in a local congregation, or that we’d kill the ones we have by overworking them. People understand that committees report and recommend. They are not to act unilaterally but are under the authority of a particular church court.

When it comes to presbytery and GA, people suddenly become adamant that only elders serve on committees and boards. These overtures provide for a minority of seats granted to unordained members. They are still committees and boards and are under authority.

If we ask elders to serve on local congregation committees, presbytery committees and GA committees we will likely overwork them. The REs in my congregation are very busy with work, family and church responsibilities. To serve on a GA committee would include travel to meetings, and how are they going to do that while they work, especially since we want them to show up to GA too?

Some boards and committees could benefit from members with particular expertise. There are times when REs (and more so TEs) lack the expertise necessary.

Like last year, I will vote YES.


As our nation continues to polarize on the issue of abortion and the boundaries being pushed to birth (and beyond) in some states, there are 2 overtures regarding abortion and the sanctity of life. One requests reaffirmation of past statements. The other requests strengthening our statements. I would vote for either. It is important that Overture 48 includes not only the heinousness and guilt of the sin but also the sufficiency of grace.


Overture 9 wants to update the rules for filing cases. I’m not sure what they have against faxes and email, but rejecting the use of modern technology seems to be a big mistake. Okay, faxes are outdated. Why are we prejudiced against email? I’ll vote NO.

Overture 12 addresses floor nominations. Floor nominations would be accepted only if there were no nominations properly filed ahead of time. I have no clue or strong opinion.

Overture 17 seeks to allow video testimony of witnesses. At times they are far away. Video testimony, like using Zoom, allows people to see their accusers and cross-examine them. I’ll vote YES.

Overtures 15 and 18 seek to change the Rules of Assembly to end contradicting actions by overtures. They look identical at first glance. I’ll probably vote YES, but I could be persuaded otherwise.

Overture 23 is another request for the PCA to withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals. There seems to be little theological and political alignment (they have embraced social issues in a way that sounds more SJW than simply biblical justice) with the NAE. We have little to no influence on the NAE and I will vote for us to leave.

Overture 33 wants to add a question affirming the Trinity to the membership questions in BCO 57-5. I’m torn. I agree that one should affirm the Trinity to be a member of a PCA church. While I was in the ARP they had a question affirming the Scriptures as the written Word of God, the only perfect rule of faith and practice; and another affirming the doctrines and principles of the denomination, as far as you understand them, as agreeable to and founded on the Word of God.

We should be clear about our doctrinal boundaries as a denomination when it comes to church membership. We should be clear that we recognize the Scriptures as authoritative. I’m not sure we need to specify the Trinity while ignoring what supports it- a doctrine of Scripture. I lean toward voting NO as a result. I’d prefer questions addressing our doctrinal system rather than a specific doctrine.

At this point my brain is starting to hurt.

Overture 40 wants sessions to acknowledge and support women leaders without delay or divisiveness. Our study committee concerning women and ministry in the local church was controversial for some. This overture is not about ordination but encouraging women to use their gifts. It wants us to remember that focusing on what they can’t do (or spending much time debating that) often means women feel like 2nd class citizens in the Church. During that GA I interacted with some women I know who were there, and it was painful for them to have things lorded over them (that’s how they feel fellas). This is to provide some counterbalance. It is unfortunate we need to do this, but I think we do. I’ll probably vote yes.

Overture 41 is a swing in a different direction. They want the Committee on Mission to the World to only permit ordained elders to serve in the roles of team leaders, regional directors and International Diriector. This is in response to CMTW guidelines which include a section on valuing women in MTW. They think these guidelines hinder women by creating a crisis of conscience. I don’t understand this at all. If you have a crisis of conscience, don’t serve in a particular role. I don’t know enough about this to have a very solid opinion on the matter. People seem to have very different ideas about the meaning of ecclesiastical authority. Some are very broad, and others narrow.

Update on 41: I’ve heard from someone who struggled with his conscience as a man under the authority of a woman in a position of authority over him as he served as a missionary. There is no problem with a man in the office being under the authority of a woman regarding accounting or other positions. The issues come into play on the field as missionaries and evangelists are under the authority of a female regional director. Would we want a pastor under the authority of a female bishop? Perhaps that is what this looks or functions like and needs to be reexamined by MTW. This is a difficult one for me to sort out. We have to try to put ourselves in the shoes of the men and women involved.

And so it goes. Now we see what happens.

Keep in mind when you hear the results in a few weeks. Voting against the overture regarding the membership questions doesn’t mean you disagree with the doctrine. Too often I hear those comments: we aren’t committed to x, y or z as a denomination when the issue is not the doctrine or conviction itself, but the mechanics or implications of an overture. Don’t over-react if an overture you love (or hate) fails (or passes).



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Since I was preparing to fly out to Tucson to be examined for transfer to the Southwest Presbytery of the PCA, I was not at the called Synod meeting regarding Erskine.  I still have many close friends in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  I still want the ARP to prosper.  But, I am not up on all the “in”s and “out”s of this matter.  (Dr. William Vandoodewaard -how’s that for a good Dutch name- has a short summary of the actions and responses to date.)

I have sat in many a Synod meeting prior to this discussing matters pertaining to Erskine.  I know many have a great desire to see Erskine reflect the commitments of the ARP as a Reformed and Evangelical denomination.

Perhaps a bit of history is in order.  In the 50’s and 60’s many in the ARP had fallen under the spell of neo-orthodoxy.  The seminary had been compromised.  But men from seminaries like Reformed, Westminster and Covenant were entering the denomination.  In the 70’s the problem came to a head in the battle over Scripture.  The historical Reformed view of Scripture was affirmed, and the neo-orthodox view was rejected.

But a denominational statement does not instantly change the minds of men.  Some held to their views, and some of those men remain in the denomination today.  There were no witch hunts.  Most of those who held a more neo-orthodox view of Scripture and theology have retired or are close to retiring.  It would appear that Erskine seems to represent this fading minority more than the traditional majority.  Like most evangelical colleges, they use “academic freedom” to embrace ideas unbiblical ideas.  Institutions tend to drift left over time.  That is, unless they have a group of people who call them back to orthodoxy.  (Erskine professor Bill Evans has a great article on how misrepresentations of inerrancy have run rampant to stir up fear.)

This is a rare thing.  The ARP and the SBC are the only two groups I know of who have moved left and then moved back to the right.  It is never done without kicking and screaming.  I visited Southern Baptist Theological Seminary shortly after Al Mohler became the President.  I was considering a Ph.D.  at the time.  The students were angry, fearing that SBTS would be destroyed.  The old, established faculty seemed to resent him.

Erskine is going through the same fear, the same concern.  The status quo is being challenged.  People feel alienated, as though their understanding of the faith is being questioned.  In some cases that is true.  But Erskine is not an independent institution.  It is part of the ARP and under its authority.  It continues to receive funds from the ARP.  It is being loved by the ARP, and they are trying to love it well.  But since kinder, gentler means have gone unsuccessful, these more drastic measures are a kind of tough love.  In this day and age such love is not welcomed but resisted.  After all, isn’t this part of our fallen human nature?

If you have time, pray for Erskine and the ARP.  They need a new President (and Philip Ryken would have been a great choice if he hadn’t already gone to Wheaton).  It will take a strong man, a principled yet gracious man to make the changes that are necessary to make Erskine representative of the views of the ARP.  Sadly this problem distracts the ARP from considering the cause of the gospel and the health of its congregations.  But, by the grace of God, Erskine may once again strengthen the ARP and help them fulfill the great commission.

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