A Few More Thoughts on "The State of the PCA"

I've been wondering just what we're supposed to do with Bryan Chapell's "The State of the PCA" essay in byFaith (available here), beyond praying over the sad state of affairs it describes.

Chapell adapted this essay from a private letter to a friend he was trying to orient to the PCA. In the moonlight, it reads as a straightforward attempt to describe a difficult situation; out in the sun, as a state-of-the-union statement, a few early paragraphs seem to have some english on them. Still, I'm grateful elder statesmen are willing to cast their thoughts into the current for little piranha like me to devour.

A Useful Orientation?

Trying to find my place in the PCA with this essay, however, is not easy. I immigrated here a dozen or so years ago and am grateful to have a home where people care as much as I think we do for biblical fidelity, Reformed theology, and the church's evangelical mission to the world. Like Sean Lucas, who comes off rather neutral here, I also think we should work hard to be friends and am grateful to see so many brothers and sisters doing just that.

That said, I'm also "highly committed to our Confessional standards," believing they mark the most helpful and urgently needed place for us to stand in the world today. The way forward, I'm convinced, is to keep on confessing those robust biblical standards as we energetically devote ourselves to ordinary means of grace ministry.

Does that make me a traditionalist? Apparently not. First, I'm too young. Second, I tend to view orthodox evangelical types as a fringe minority in a pseudo-pluralist society. The notion I was surrounded by a moral majority always seemed a bit absurd and self-serving to me. Third, I agree that a merely reactionary conservatism is unworthy of Christ and our calling in this world and I'm willing to raise questions about the credibility of our theology--actually, the credibility of those of us who profess our theology--on the contemporary American scene. 

Then again, I'm pretty sure the progressive version of cultural engagement that focuses on meta-affecting the ambient culture through centers of social influence is just a gentrified version of Falwell's blue-collar culture war, rooted in a similar misunderstanding of the evangelical nature and mission of the church.

Where does all that leave me? Right where it found me, I think: happy, active, and confessional.

Partisanship and Pluralism?

Every sociological observation is easily criticized for seeming to describe something in general but never anything in particular. Chapell's essay is no exception. But this brings me back to my opening question: What are we supposed to do with "The State of the PCA"?

Using this essay as a field guide to orient ourselves to party politics, as natural as that is, is exactly the wrong use.

A far better use, I think, is to take this Corinthian-like description of our church--as divided and weakened by partisanship while confronting a challenging cultural context--and carefully consider how Paul's appeal in 1 Corinthians 1-4 applies to us at this moment. What does it mean for us to agree, to be of one mind, as undivided as Christ? How must we become fools that we may become wise through the word of the cross? How can we move beyond suspicion that all progressive types are compromisers and all traditionalists are indifferent to the world and all neutralists are rudderless, and be the one church under one Lord with one faith and hope that we are in Christ?

What has the possibility to unite us is not the recognition of a greater enemy on the horizon in the form of pluralism, an enemy we have in common to some degree with Mormons and Muslims. Our unity must be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's the clear assumption Chapell makes in his discussion of how God might use pluralism to bring us "to new levels of graciousness to each other and dependence upon the grace of our Savior." Maybe God will use pluralism this way, but I think it's worth reminding ourselves that unity in Christ does not require and will not be secured by a common cultural enemy, but only by faith working through love in the messiness of it all right here, right now, whatever our cultural context may be (Gal. 5:6). On that I trust we all agree.