Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reply to Mr. Acton

Mr Acton said: With all due respect Dr. Shaw, the PCA is not a union of congregationalists. The higher courts gain their jus dinivus from the principle of appeal. Our connection above the presbytery level is such as is needful to maintain peace and purity. There is no principle or example of coordinated ministry above the presbytery level. Antioch appealed to the Jerusalem council to handle a doctrinal controversy, it did not coordinate with J'salem in her missionary endeavors. It does not affect the point whether the churches in question were simply congregations or classical presbyteries. Coordinated ministry is nice but not necessary to make one truly Presbyterian.

I don't disagree with anything you've said, except to point out that many churches in the PCA do indeed function as congregational churches. They involve themselves marginally in presbytery and marginally in GA, but for the most part function as if they had no connection to their sister congregations.

PCA Strategic Plan Post 13a

Follow-up given a question from Andrew. Do I think the funding plan is ideal? No. But it does seem that some alternative to the current system must be put into place, or something must be done to make the current system workable. Charging TEs $400 registration fee in order to attend GA is outrageous, but it is done in order to cover the budget shortfall of the Admin Committee. I am a member of both the Society of Biblical Literature and the Evangelical Theological Society. Neither of their annual national conventions charges a registration fee that is anywhere close to what the PCA GA charges. Both of those annual meetings are larger than the PCA GA, and much more difficult from an administrative perspective, since both have hundreds of sessions meeting concurrently.

So how do we fund the Admin Committee of the PCA? Andrew proposes that the AC be funded by the other committees and agencies of the PCA. That's a possibility. But those other committees also have trouble getting their necessary funding.

I think the fundamental problem is the ethos of the PCA. It is a congregational assemblage posing as a presbyterian church. Thus, the individual churches feel no responsibility to fund the higher courts of the church (either presbytery or GA). In my presbytery, for example, there are a significant number of churches that give nothing at all to the work of the presbytery (and I'm sure they give nothing at all to the work of the GA), yet their TEs and REs have a right to vote along with everyone else, often for things that work to their own advantage.

Two changes have to occur in the PCA (maybe more, but I can think of two key things right now). The first is, that TEs, REs, sessions and congregations need to begin thinking of themselves as part of a connectional body, not as Lone Rangers. Unfortunately, many TEs are not well-trained in the biblical case for presbyterianism; they come out of congregational or parachurch backgrounds; and so they do not teach their sessions and congregations to think of the church in a presbyterian manner.

The second change that has to take place is the development of a culture of accountability and humility in the PCA bureaucracy. I am not saying that on an individual level the people who work for the PCA administration are not humble. I am saying that many in the PCA perceive the administration as having a "we know what to do, you don't, so listen to us" attitude, as well as acting in a way that seems to be accountable only to the really large churches in the denomination, with little or no consideration for the smaller churches. Such a perceptions leads to mistrust of the administration, and an administration that is not trusted will not be funded by a voluntary funding base.

These changes cannot take place overnight, but we can begin working on them immediately. But we must commit to working on them. That is the reason I support Overture 24. If adopted, and put into practice, it will accomplish not only adequate funding for the PCA AC, but for a lot more.

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 13

The Funding Plan

Read the Funding Plan Model at: http://www.pcaac.org/2010StrategicPlanDocuments/Funding%20Plan%20Model.pdf

Read the Executive Summary at: http://www.pcaac.org/2010StrategicPlanDocuments/Executive%20Summary%20of%20AC%20Funding%20Plan.pdf

I don’t really have any objections to the funding plan. As the plan notes, only 45% of the churches give anything to the Administrative Committee, and only 16% give the full Partnership Share. The plan as stated would require an annual registration fee for churches and for teaching elders. The fee for TEs would be $100 per annum, while that for churches would be 1/3 of 1% of the church budget (though it must be admitted that this is not explicitly stated in the Plan). What the Plan says is:

The groupings of ranges above were done by setting a mean (average) for each Tithes and Offerings Range and multiplying by 0.334% (or 1/3 of 1%). Ranges were also set in consideration of some existing realities within the PCA such as number of churches in a particular range and consideration of what the ranges could reasonably and fairly bear. Per capita was abandoned for this chart, as it created some considerable unfairness relative to size of church budget vs. number of members.

Once the plan is implemented, the following would take place:

Those not paying in a timely manner would receive second notices and encouragement to pay.

Any churches not paying before General Assembly would be ineligible for sending ruling elder commissioners.

Any teaching elders not paying before General Assembly would be ineligible for voting at General Assembly.

Any churches, teaching elders, or presbyteries not paying by the end of the year would be listed and reported to the Administrative Committee and subsequently to the General Assembly.

After two years of delinquency in payment, a report would be given to the AC and then to the General Assembly for consideration of appropriate action.

According to the chart provided, this would mean that 448 churches in the PCA would pay an annual registration fee of between $1,200 and $25,000 per year (Categories A-M in the chart on page 2. The other 1,283 churches in the PCA (categories N-R) would pay between $100 and $800 per year.

That would be fine if it works. But given the history of non-giving, is there any reasonable expectation that it will work? Further, this provides for the funding only of the Administrative Committee. It does not provide for the funding of the other committees and agencies, and those committees and agencies have also suffered chronic budgetary shortfalls under the current system. Is there a plan to provide for those as well? Notice also that while churches and TEs that do not pay may not vote at GA, it is already the case that many churches are not represented at GA because of the costs. So will this plan change things? In addition, notice that there is no mention of eliminating churches for non-payment, only “consideration of appropriate action.” The PCA leadership does not want to lose churches and members. But that would be the reasonable action for chronic non-payment of the fees. So we are back to a voluntary system not too dissimilar from that which has been ineffectively in place for the last 38 years.

I’m not hopeful about the results even if this plan is adopted. In any case, Dr. Taylor’s final statement in the Executive Summary is certainly true, “The ethos of the PCA will need to change.”

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 12

The body of the Strategic Plan is followed by three charts: Safe Places; More Seats; In God’s global mission. I will not address these in detail. Instead, I will make some comments on themes and specific items.

Notice, first of all, how central the CMC is in everything. You may rightfully ask what the CMC is. It is “comprised of the coordinators and presidents of PCA agencies and committees, and the past six moderators of the General Assembly” (quoted from http://byfaithonline.com/page/pca-news/administrative-committee-approves-strategic-plan). This already sounds more episcopal than presbyterian, a problem that others also have commented on.

Under Theme 1: Safe Places consider the following: establish “prime time” forums at GA. So what happens to GA, if the pre-Assembly and early morning times are already taken up by seminars on various topics. I realize that the PCA has been moving toward making the actual actions of GA less and less significant over the years (to the extent that two years ago [I did not attend in 2009] the entire business of the GA was done in about 8 hours. This, of course, did not include the endless self-congratulatory “informational” presentations of the committees and agencies, but was limited to the items that were actually discussed and voted on. That is GA’s dirty little secret: most of the week is devoted to non-essentials and vacation time..

Under Theme 2: More Seats consider the following: “establish standards for voluntary certification of men and women for specific non-ordained vocational ministries.” What is “non-ordained vocational ministry”? The PCA, in her constitutional documents, recognizes vocational ministry to be limited to the offices of elder and deacon. There has been, and continues to be, debate over whether the office of elder is a single office or two offices (hence the two-office vs. three-office debate). But we recognize, and I don’t see any biblical defense for such a thing as certified non-ordained vocational ministry. As a result, whether the authors of this intended it or not, it begins to look like the camel’s nose under the edge of the tent for ordination of women to church offices (deacon and elder). Or it might look like the camel’s nose under the edge of the tent for the discarding of the doctrine of ordination altogether, as some evangelical churches have already done.

Also under Theme 2: consider “alternative ordination credentialing of men for constituencies.” I’m not necessarily opposed to considering such, but the strong negative here is that historically this approach has produced a two-tiered ministry, and those who have pursued the “alternative credentialing” have always found themselves on the bottom of the pile. What this produces is not an end to disadvantaged constituencies, but an institutional perpetuation of them.

Also under Theme 2: consider “Formalize CEP Women’s Ministries organization for women in vocational ministries.” What are “women in vocational ministries”? Are they women who work in the church office? Are they women who work with the deacons? Are they women who work with adoption agencies and centers that provide alternatives to abortion? We have a major problem with definitions here, and one suspects that the CMC is hoping we won’t notice it.

I won’t even go into Theme 3. It is all so drearily like a corporate organization chart, and about as spiritual as a doorknob. I know the men who produced this thing mean well. I know they put a lot of hard work into it. But it is as dry as dust.

For others comments on the Strategic Plan, see the following:

http://theaquilareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2038:thoughts-on-the-pca-strategic-plan-is-it-presbyterian&catid=79:commentary&Itemid=137

And this: http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2010/04/28/thoughts-on-the-pcas-proposed-strategic-plan/

And this: http://www.rongleason.blogspot.com/

Thursday, May 27, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 11

Again, I have put my comments in brackets.

VI. Questions to Address in Making Strategic Plans for the PCA

The questions below identify issues that should be addressed by a Strategic Plan for the PCA in light of the preceding analysis. Most questions were suggested by the 2008 Cooperative Ministries Committee after reviewing the analysis. Additional questions were added by 2008 General Assembly commissioners who attended its Strategic Planning Seminar and also reviewed the preceding analysis. The questions are not arranged in any priority order.

1. How to Provide Safe Places to Talk about New Ideas to Advance the PCA’s Faithfulness to Biblical Belief, Ministry and Mission [Such places are already available. There is the official place-presbytery; and there are unofficial gatherings and meetings. There are also the seminars at GA (mentioned by someone else in a critique). Some might say that presbytery is not safe, but that is simply untrue. It is more the case that many do not seem to want to use presbytery in this fashion. As far as I know, but that might just be limited knowledge, no one has ever been brought up on charges for something they have said in presbytery, unless it simply added to charges that were already being investigated.]

2. How to Provide “More Seats at the Table” (especially younger leaders, women, and ethnic leaders) for PCA Ministry Direction and Development [What does this mean? Frankly, it sounds to me like the kind of thing the UPCUSA (the old “Northern” Presbyterian church before the 1983 merger of the UPCUSA and the PCUS (the old “Southern” Presbyterian Church) produced the PC(USA). It resulted in such things as “youth elders” being elected to sessions. The church is a kingdom, not a democracy, and the role of elders is a spiritual, pastoring, role, not an “elected representative” role. It would certainly help most churches if the both the TEs and the REs were more consistent about pastoring their flocks, but the situation will not be improved by trying to create a kind of democracy in the church with representatives selected from various constituent groups.]

3. How to Identify and Support Agencies/Institutions Most Critical to Our Calling

4. How to Do Mission Corporately and Globally (this includes learning from the Global Church, as well unifying ourselves to minister to and with the Global church)

5. How to Understand, Appreciate and Utilize Our Differences/Gifts

6. How to Work and Worship with Gospel Co-laborers outside the PCA (i.e., working out what Reformed Catholicity means; esp. defining “field” and “fences” of cooperation) in Order to Fulfill the Highest Kingdom Purposes

7. How to Ensure a Common Commitment among PCA Leaders Regarding Theological Approaches to Ministry and Mission [Without trying to be “snarky,” it might help if the denomination’s seminary were more diligent in teaching its students how presbyterianism works. Graduates of that institution consistently do poorly in their examinations on such topics.]

8. How to Inspire Involvement in Corporate Church Structures and Efforts (i.e., Acting in Consistency with Our Connectional Theology) [I agree. This is an important issue. Again, many of the founding PCA churches came from a context in which there was distrust of the denomination bred into the local churches. In my estimation, this problem was never adequately dealt with in the early years of the denomination, so churches coming in came in to a denomination in which distrust of structures was more the case than not. The PCA at its founding was prfoundly congregational in its functioning, and that has never really changed. A further problem is that many pastors who have come into the PCA in the last forty years have come from either congregational or parachurch backgrounds, and never learned presbyterianism.]

9. How to Encourage Mutual Love and Respect among Committees and Agencies [Openness, honesty, and transparency never hurt. It is also the case that many see the attitudes of those laboring in the committees and agencies as having a “we know what we’re doing, we’re the professionals, you’re not” attitude. Probably some self-examination and repentance on both sides would go a long way toward fixing this issue.]

10. How to Inspire and Engage Churches and Presbyteries in a Global Strategy

11. How to Prepare Ordained Leadership for Immigrant and Ethnic Communities not Traditionally PCA

12. How to Provide Unity within Variety regarding Worship Principles [Maybe putting to work the theology we claim to hold to?]

Friday, May 14, 2010

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: Michael Horton, Christless Christianity

This book provoked a horrendously long and embarrassingly silly response from John Frame (read at http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/2009Horton.htm). One does not need to agree with all of Horton's views in order to agree with his thesis that American evangelicalism is in dire straits. Though he begins by dealing with such people as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer, they are only the starting point for Horton's jeremiad. In Horton's view, and I agree, much of American evangelicalism is thinly veiled "feel good" works righteousness posing as the gospel.

I recommend the book, not so much for its critique of the state of our churches, but for its critique of the state of our own hearts. One did not need to agree with all of Luther's The Babylonian Captivity of the Church to see that one's own heart was often captive to Babylon. Likewise, you don't need to agree with all of Horton in order for his work to ask probing questions of your own heart, and set you to asking yourself how much the American "feel-good gospel" has tainted your own faith.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 10

As with Post 9, I have placed my comments in brackets at the appropriate point.

IV. IDENTIFYING OUR OPPORTUNITIES IN THE CULTURE

The external challenges listed earlier in this plan should not blind us to the opportunities for Gospel progress that are also present. Because all people are made in the image of God the aspects of their culture that oppose the Gospel inevitably disclose aspects of human need. Thus, the fractures of a culture are openings for the Gospel, revealing where hearts are hurting, longing, empty and open. Below are some indications of Gospel opportunities in our culture: [In short, people have spiritual longings.]

1. Pervasive Spiritual Longing Evident in Explosion of Alternative Spiritualities

2. Relational Longing (due to loss of community, family and fathering)

3. Longing for Something “Certain” Evident in Rise in North American Catholicism,

Islam and Ancient/Future Worship

4. Longing for Racial Reconciliation

5. Cultural Regard for Piety that is Humble and Non-judgmental (e.g. Mother Teresa)

6. Appreciation for Biblical Preaching among “Churched” and “Once-churched”

7. Lack of “Grace Understanding” in Christian Media and Most Pulpits

8. Rapid Spread of Global Christianity (often through Pentecostal prosperity gospel,

with which there is growing disenchantment)

9. Disappointments in Post-modernism

10. Loss of Confidence in Economy, Experts and Government

11. Lack of Institutional or Denominational Loyalty (especially among young)

12. Fear of Terrorism and War

[All of these are true, but then, they have almost always been true. Even the first century was a “postmodern” age. There are also two sides to all these coins. In some sense, these things might draw people to the gospel, but the gospel remains an offense. In short, I’m not sure what this list tells us that we didn’t already know.]

V. IDENTIFYING OUR RESOURCES/STRENGTHS

The internal challenges listed earlier in this plan should not blind us to the resources and strengths we possess for Gospel progress. God does not leave us helpless in the face of challenges or without resources to pursue Gospel opportunities. The PCA has been richly blessed with means to confront challenges and to pursue Gospel opportunities that God reveals to us. Below are some of the PCA’s significant resources and strengths:

1. “They Preach the Bible Here….” (The vast majority of people who attend our churches are drawn to the PCA because of the belief that we are committed to proclaiming the truth of Scripture.)

2. Theological Cohesion, Soundness and Depth (Despite our internal debates, the breadth of theological difference among us is quite small on the theological spectrum. In addition, we generally share an appreciation for the necessity of Word and deed in faithful witness of the Gospel) [So really, how bad are the divisions listed above under “Internal Challenges”? Have they overstated the divisions there and understated them here?]

3. Historical Emphasis upon the Gospel of Grace

4. History and Expectation of Growth

5. History of Valuing Mission

6. History of Valuing Cultural Influence [First, what does this mean? Second, can it be documented?]

7. History of Planting Churches (esp. suburban)

8. Large and Well Supported Mission Agency [Is it well-supported or not? “Internal Challenges” seems to indicate some question here.]

9. Sound and Solid Educational Institutions (providing value continuity) [So how helpful is this if we are still left with #11? Are our institutions teaching our identity. In speaking with graduates of our institutions, I'm not sure that the institutions are teaching our identity. But maybe that's just my perception.]

10. Theological Respect for PCA in Broader Evangelicalism (except for actual position on women and perceived position on race) [The position on women is a problem. Shall we abandon our stance to fix it?

11. Connectional Theology (despite non-connectional practice)

12. Cultural Niche for “Traditional” and “Family Focused” Churches (the downside

obviously is our limited connection with non-churched or unwed persons)

13. Significant Denominational Support from Most Mid-size and Large Churches

14. Good Will of Most Congregants and Pastors (delighting to be in the PCA)

15. Large and Well Organized Women’s Organization

16. RUF

17. Openness to Ethnic Diversity (despite lack of accomplishments)

18. Key Innovator Churches and Leaders (Perimeter, Redeemer, New City, New Life,

Seven Rivers, Harbor, Southwest Church Planting Network, etc.) [Ooh! Love those innovator churches! Does that mean we all ought to be innovator churches? What about those churches that are growing and at least seemingly healthy that aren’t innovator churches? Are innovator churches necessarily a good thing? In the end, however, what does this mean?]

19. Support and Growth of National Seminary and Associated Seminaries

20. Pockets of Strong Children and Youth Ministry

21. Willing workers Among Growing Retiree Population

22. Significant PCA Representation in Leadership of Major Evangelical Organizations

[Again, I’m not sure that this tells us anything that we didn’t already know, nor do I find it particularly helpful, as many key items are either not defined or not explained.]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 9

I am changing my approach in this post. The statement itself is straightforward, so I will eliminate the Summary. In addition I will make my comments in the body of the work, putting the comments in brackets, since there are many specifics of this section that need to be addressed.

Internal Challenges

The magnitude of the external challenges listed above should make it apparent that the temporal powers of our church are not the ultimate answers to our world’s problems. While the church cannot simultaneously ignore the world’s current problems and minister in Christ’s name, her energies will be consumed in futility if she perceives her primary mandate to be re-creating Eden with earthly resources. Jesus said that his Kingdom was not of this world, that we would always have the poor with us, and that his people would face suffering until his return. The ultimate mandate of the church is not to fix a fallen world, but to give God’s people rest and rescue from its corruptions. This is done by honoring, proclaiming and demonstrating the truths of God’s eternal love. God’s people give these truths credibility by the way we worship Him according to his Word and serve as salt and light in the world.

With God’s blessing our efforts can truly be culturally transformative, and the cultural mandate of Scripture obligates God’s people to bring the light of the Gospel and the demands of Christ’s Lordship into every inch of the world over which they have influence. Yet, the priority of the Gospel remains spiritual transformation through which cultural transformation may come but by which eternal security assuredly comes. This spiritual priority by no means lessens the concern or obligation of the church to seek peace and justice in the world. Rather this spiritual priority reflects the Biblical understanding that, through its transformed people, the church of Jesus Christ is the most powerful change agent in any society – whether religious, secular or pluralistic. When a community of believers lives faithful to the Gospel – loving one another, forgiving one another, helping the helpless, loving enemies, sacrificing for the undeserving, honoring Christ, sharing his claims for this world, and living with confidence in the blessings of the next – then, Christ’s Spirit becomes evident and moves across society as he intends.

Our obligation is not to demand that the Spirit move according to our design or timing, but to be vessels for his wisdom and work. As jars of clay, we should expect that our efforts will sometimes be flawed. Still, we are a branch of the visible church through which the Spirit brings his transformation and should expect that God will use us as we seek to serve him in humility and repentance. True humility will require understanding that we are not the only branch of his church through which God will work, and also acknowledgement of the many challenges for which our wisdom alone is insufficient. True repentance will require confession of weakness and sin that are evident in many of our internal challenges. These internal challenges are now listed not to discourage or blame, but to enable us to address what we must in order to be a worthy vessel for God’s transforming work of souls and society:

1. Slowed Growth with Lack of “Rallying” Strategic Plan (key influencers also “burned” by previous 2000-2006 Strategic Plan Process) [Is the slowed growth due to the lack of a strategic plan? The writers have not demonstrated that the slowed growth is any more than normal after the adding of a whole denomination and the Korean churches. Also, who are the “key influencers”? In what way were they burned by the 2000-2006 Strategic Plan Process? Does the former process indicate anything significant for the current process? In other words, have we learned anything from previous experience? There’s no indication here that we have.]

2. Predominantly Small Churches Struggling to Survive (49% of churches have less than 120 members; 20% have less than 50 members; only 8% have more than 500 members) [What do these statistics mean? Is the goal to have all churches >500 members? Are those the only churches that are healthy? What about the churches with membership between 50 and 120? Are these by nature unhealthy? What about the churches under 50 members? Are they necessarily unhealthy? Is it possible for a church >500 members to be unhealthy? Has the denomination (or presbyteries) looked into possible solutions for the small churches (such as multi-point charges, wehere one minister serves more than one church)? In other words, these are bare facts that need some constext in order to be understood. If they are not properly understood, we cannot possibly respond to them correctly.

3. Anti-denominational Historical Context and Post-denominational Present Context [This is probably an accurate summary of where American Evangelicalism is, but it would be nice to have a couple of studies cited, rather than bare assertion.]

4. Loss of Denominational Heritage, Knowledge and Identity with Passing of Denominational “Fathers” [If this is true, whose fault is it? Is it the fault of the seminaries? Is it the fault of the “denominaitonal father”? Is it the fault of the denomination at large?]

5. Culture of Suspicion and Caricature Perpetuated by Past Narratives (e.g., encroaching liberalism, insensitive bureaucracies, racist agendas, big steeple power) and Present Divisions (see below):

a. Have and Have-not Divisions (size, salaries, recognition, influence)

b. Generational Divides: Builders/Boomers=Institutional priorities; Gen-X=Relational priorities (See earlier discussion of Evangelical generational divide)

c. Regional Divides (Southern identity; Northeastern; and Western autonomy)

d. Perspectival Divides (Creating false and destructive dichotomies)

-Aggressive TRs (eradicating unReformed) vs. Cynical Progressives (abandoning Reformed)

-Doctrinalists (theological-erosion policemen) vs. Missionalists (reaching-the-lost pragmatists)

-Southern Presbyterian Theology vs. Continental Reformed Theology vs. Broadly Evangelical

-Traditionalists (prioritize traditional churches) vs. Emergents (prioritize relational churches)

-Fundamentalists (piety removed from culture) vs. Tranformationists (piety traded for culture)

-Planters (entrepreneurs and innovators) vs. Providers (structure maintainers and shepherds)

-Younger pastors (desiring mentors and shared leadership with peers, not RE’s) vs. Older Pastors (desiring authority and shared leadership with RE’s)

[All of these are probably common perceptions in the PCA. But common perceptions, and conventional wisdom are often wrong. Furthermore, they have the appearance of false dichotomies. Can these divides be documented? Or is this another case of bare assertion and simplistic analysis?]

6. Pervasive Disregard for Eph. 4:15 and Matthew 18 in Discussions of Differences

Our organizational cohesion has not primarily been achieved by shared mission goals, ministry practice, organizational support, worship style, ethnicity, political perspectives or economic status – but by doctrinal agreement. The downside of so valuing doctrine is that we have little tolerance within or without the church for theological variance. Our tendency is not simply to consider those who differ with us wrong – but to consider them bad (because they are obviously “compromisers” or “unbiblical”). It is easy for us to give moral status to our theological perspective – even on secondary issues, and thus rationalize uncharitable characterizations of those who differ (esp. on blogs) [Doesn’t this paragraph display a certain diregard for Eph 4:18 and Mt 18? The way the paragraph is worded strikes directly and intolerantly at those who hold doctrine important, painting them with a broad brush as an intolerant bunch of theological purists with evil motives.]

7. Decline of Confidence in Presbyteries for Pastoral Support or Cooperative Ministry [Is there a documented decline, or has the support always been low. We need data here, which is surely available, not more assertion.]

8. Rise of Networks for Fellowship/Perspective Affiliation

9. Disinterest in (and suspicion of) General Assembly Structures, Positions and Participants (dissatisfaction among young Progressives resulting in a few departures and many discussions, as with TR’s in previous decade) [Once again, may we please have some documentation?]

10. Committee/Agency Non-Support

-Competition re: resources/recognition

-Doubts re: effectiveness and leadership

-Concerns re: relational harmony/cooperation

11. Maintaining Biblical Worship with Cultural Diversity

12. Ethnic Homogeneity both in General Membership and Denominational Leadership (with vestiges of racism despite strong Korean presence)

13. Most Members and Leaders with Little Exposure to Other Cultures or the Global church

14. Significant Consternation Regarding How to Do Theological Reflection in Confessional Church [What does this mean? I think at the very least, consternation is not the word they really wanted here.}

15. Maintaining Biblical Standards While Encouraging Women to Minister in the Church (and how to discuss this without being caricatured chauvinist or liberal; and how to relate to Evangelicals who differ with PCA standards)

16. Generational Divide among Women re: Responsibilities in Church, Workplace and Home (these are not typically issues related to ordination but to contribution and significance)

17. Loss of Youth (secular culture and denominational disinterest causing many of our children to leave the PCA – and the visible church)

18. Lack of Desire among Young Leaders to Assume Positions with PCA’s Most Significant Pulpits and Organizations (perception that they are moribund and dangerous for families) [Again, may we please have some documentation?]

In sum, this section is particularly troubling, since it is filled with the kind of unsupported assertions that the document itself has already called unhelpful. Further, even in cases where documentation is certainly available, the writers of this analysis have not made use of it. The end result is entirely unhelpful.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 8

B. Global Challenges

1. Most rapid growth of Christianity in world history

2. Re-centering of global Christianity and missionary origins (viz. Southern hemispheres Christianity)

3. Conservatism of Developing World church vs. Liberalism of Western church (e.g. African Anglican communions leading efforts to combat North American homosexual agendas and Islamic expansionism).

4. Majority World church deserving and demanding influence on global Christianity development and doctrine with significant challenges ahead, e.g., Male and female leadership of Chinese Church vs. Male leadership of Developing World church vs. Male and female leadership of Western mainline & new Evangelicals vs. Male leadership of PCA).

5. Expanse of Global Pentecostalism

6. Rise of Radical Islam (Hinduism) fueled by economic/political inequities

7. Rise of Alternative Spiritualities (as major world religions all dominated by materialistic nominalism)

8. Pandemic Threats: AIDS, Avian Flu, Bio-terrorism

9. Class stratification deepening (poverty and ethnic divides)

10. Resource concentrations increasing (oil, wealth, population, food, medicine)

11. Third World debt increasing and leading to greater disparities (and antipathies)

12. Waning impact of U.S. on global economy (and interdependence of all economies)

13. Fracturing of European Union

14. Increase of national economies dependent on drug, weapon and sex trades

15. Worldwide recession affecting church giving, staffing and mission support

16. The “Chinese-century” ahead

17. Chinese aggression concerns for Soviet and Central Asia (one-child, birth-control policy favoring males will lead to an excess of 70 million unmarried males of military age within 20 years)

18. Russian Federation re-militarization

19. Middle-east destabilization continuing with possible nuclear threats (especially as oil depletes and/or Western economies become less oil dependent)

20. African ethnic struggles destabilizing continent (allowing Islamic, Russian and Chinese encroachments)

21. World urbanization and Giga-cities (but in U.S. growth continues to be Suburban as inner cities and rural areas empty with few exceptions)

22. Technological/Informational acceleration and world compression

23. Influence of Western entertainment/pop culture dominant in Developing World

24. Aging (and decline) of Industrialized-world population vs. Youth-ifying of Majorityworld population

25. Sex trafficking the modern slavery dilemma

Summary: The church faces many challenges at the global level.

Comment: As with the previous post, it's not clear to me that we needed the committee to tell us this. Anyone with internet, a television, or (gasp!) a newspaper, knows these things. The real question is not whether these things are real challenges (they are, and not for the church only), but in what way they are challenges for the church as church. For example, with regard to #25 (sex trafficking), I'm not sure that the church as church, whether considered as the PCA in particular, or the global church, has anything other to do than to proclaim the whole counsel of God, to wit that manstealing is not only a crime, it is a sin; that rape and sexual abuse of other persons is not only a crime, but a sin; and that all who practice such things will stand at the bar of a holy God to answer for them. It may well be that particular Christians, and even coalitions of Christians, are burdened to speak and act in the political realm regarding this issue. They are not only free to do so, they should be encouraged to do so. But it is not the calling of the church as church to enter into the political arena on this or on any similar issue. The same analysis applies to most of the rest of these items.

With regard to other items, such as #4 (church in the Developing world, and the significant proportion of female leadership in that part of the church), the role of the PCA is to continue to stand for the biblical standard of male leadership, and to labor to provide increasing numbers of well-trained men to help meet the need in the global church. It would be wrong of the PCA to approve or encourage what we believe the Scriptures teach against. Instead, as Aquila and Priscilla did with Apollos we need to come alongside our brothers and sisters and explain the way of God to them more accurately (Acts 18:26).

The PCA is a tiny church. It constitutes approximately one-tenth of one percent of the US population. At present, the world population is approaching 30 times the size of the US. Thus the PCA is at best about one three-hundredth of one percent of the world population. The best thing we can do for the world is to stand firm in what we proclaim, serving as a lighthouse and direction guide to other Christians at sea in the world culture.

Monday, May 03, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 7

External Challenges

A. North American and European Challenges

1. Loss of Christian consensus in West replaced by Naturalistic worldview

2. Dominance of Pluralism and intolerance of religious “preference”

3. “Hidden revival” in immigrant church; church decline in general U.S. culture

4. Mainline church decline

5. Evangelicals now mainline (minority �� majority)

(Salvation theology �� Kingdom theology)

(Orthodoxy [Word] ��Orthopraxy [deed])

(Doctrinal consensus��Relational consensus)

No Protestant faith group rivals Evangelicals in both membership and political influence. Evangelicals have moved from a mid-Twentieth Century minority to an early 21st-Century majority. With majority status has come a shift in emphasis from hope not-of-this-world (Salvation theology) to this-world hope (Kingdom theology). Reacting to self-oriented pietism and consumerism of previous generations, movements as diverse as Focus on the Family and the New Perspective on Paul have argued the Gospel requires Christians to engage in some form of cultural transformation. Orthodoxy (the right proclamation of the Word) has been deemed impossible without orthopraxy (the the right practice of the Word). With the diminished emphasis on the Word, Evangelicalism has become a much broader tent theologically, embracing those who both in doctrine and lifestyle choices differ widely from previous generations. Evangelical leaders and laypersons are paying less and less attention to denominational lines and distinctives, but while trying to survive in an increasingly secular culture that views the church as either irrelevant or polarizing.

6. Evangelicals strongly divided over Formal (let’s be church) vs. Informal (let’s be real) worship practices (differences are not strictly generational)

7. Evangelical generational divides (Builders vs. Boomers vs. Gen-X; e.g. zeal for programmatic evangelism vs. relational evangelism; antipathy to vs. acceptance of pop culture; differing socio-political agendas – see below) Builders/Boomers = Constraint Theology (STOP abortion, homosexuality, pornography, immigration, minimum wage, etc.) Busters/X-ers/ Millennials = Compassion Theology (HELP poor, discriminated, AIDS victims, refugees, environment, etc.)

8. Dominant influence of parachurch for diaconal and mission work

9. Rise of Emergent Church in West (Proclamation emphasis �� Incarnation emphasis)

10. Youth exodus of Western Church and modern Evangelicalism

11. Rising generation financial stress, and sense of having been denied earlier generations’ privileges

12. Postmodern philosophies and mindset (subjective truth; narrative vs. didactic learning)

13. Orality and visual literacy of Western youth culture and Developing World

14. Pervasive Biblical/doctrinal Illiteracy (all generations)

15. Birth control/abortion normalized

16. Traditional family decline (divorce, delayed adolescence, delayed marriages, starter marriages, pervasive pornography, working parents, absent fathers, abuse)

17. Gender Roles re-definition and confusion (more than Feminism per se)

18. Transition from Anglo-majority culture in U.S.

19. Transition to No-growth Economies in Western Europe as Birth Rates Fall among All But Immigrant (Muslim, African and Asian) Populations (sic)

Summary: There are may challenges facing the church. Some are external, some are internal. These are some of the external challenges particularly facing the church in North America.

Comment: So? We needed the PCA Strategic Plan to tell us this? I suspect most ministers in the PCA (or in evnagelical churches in general) could have come up with most of this off the tops of their heads. That’s not to say it’s not true. It is to say that this falls in line with the simplistic “analysis” which this Plan presents to us, and is ultimately not very helpful.