Monday, July 02, 2012

2012 PCA GA (4) In Thesi Statements, Theistic Evolution, and Historical Adam

This year's GA received two overtures requesting the GA to make an in thesi statement opposing theistic evolution and affirming the distinct creation of Adam directly by God. One was Overture 10 from Rocky Mountain Presbytery, the other was Overture 29 From Savannah River Presbytery. Opposing these was Overture 26 from Potomac Presbytery that stated that our confessional documents are already clear on these issue, hence a statement affirming them from the GA was unnecessary. Overture 26 was passed, and the other two overtures were answered with reference to the approval of Overture 26.

That sounds simple, but some of the language may be unclear to most readers. First, regarding in thesi statements. What are they, and what do they accomplish? In Presbyterian government, a ruling body, such as the GA (but this would also include sessions and presbyteries) makes formal statements in two ways: first, by  the judgment of the court in a judicial case; second, by issuing a statement that deals with some issue in the abstract, but does not deal with a particular case. These latter statements are known as in thesi statements. For a full discussion of them, I would refer the reader to the article by C. N. Willborn in the first (2005) issue of The Confessional Presbyterian.

Judgments made in judicial cases are considered binding on lower courts, and serve as precedent for future cases. In thesi statements are generally considered non-binding, but serve to provide "pious advice" from the higher court to lower courts (again, a fuller understanding of the issues may be found in Willborn's article). All three of the overtures acknowledged that the PCA (and its predecessor denominations) had made in thesi statements on these and related topics in the past. Hence, it would certainly not have been out of accord with PCA practice to issue another in thesi statement.

I went into this debate fully resolved to vote against Overture 26, and hence in favor of Overtures 10 and 29. However, as the debate progressed, it became clear to me that while in thesi statements had been made in the past, particularly in the PCUS (the immediate parent denomination of the PCA), they had had little effect on the progress of the teaching in that denomination of theistic evolution and of the denial of Adam as a historic person directly created by God. In other words, it appeared to me that those who held opinions contrary to the confessional standards of the church simply ignored those standards and taught as they would. Meanwhile, those who held to the confessional standards seem to have been comforted by the fact that the denomination had repeatedly made in thesi statements on these issues, and assumed, at some level, that the problem was taken care of. Thus, men teaching contrary to the standards were not charged and the loosening of doctrinal commitments continued in that denomination. The fact that in 2012 overtures came up asking for an in thesi statement against theistic evolution, and affirming the direct creation by God of the historic person Adam indicated to me that previous statement have in fact had little effect in slowing the spread of this kind of teaching in the PCA. Hence, the only recourse is judicial, in which the judgment of the church courts then become binding on the lower courts, and serve as precedent in similar cases. As a result, I voted with the majority, to affirm Overture 26 and to deny Overtures 10 and 29.

For a different view on this issue, I would highly recommend the podcast conversation with Richard D. Phillips at

No comments: