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September 24, 2008


Bob, in looking at your response to Giorgio, I'm wondering what would count as evidence for you.

Evidence that Giorgio gives doesn't count because it could have happened anywhere. But is there anything he could cite that could only happen in the PCA? And why would that matter?

Your concern that the denomination should not self-flagellate and retool in order to remedy unsubstantiated allegations of abuse certainly resonates with me. But I think the question that would matter is, if these sins are happening as claimed, why are they happening in the PCA, as opposed to other sins? And, is there anything about our structure that helps foster those sins, instead of restraining them?


Fair questions. I will try to address your concerns directly and honestly.

First, I wasn't saying that these examples didn't count or aren't bad things, only that they aren't unique to the PCA and don't necessarily constitute "oppression". I apologize if I didn't make that clear. I also have a somewhat stricter definition of oppression than is being used here. I've been all over the world and have seen real oppression. Ask the house church Christians in China about oppression or read Foxe and you'll see something on a whole different level than the examples presented here.

My other point is simply that the examples that Giorgio presented aren't theological or even polity errors but human failings. What specific actions in a "denominational renewal" would prevent these kinds of incidents? I'm not suggesting that the PCA couldn't improve as it continues to grow, just that "denominational renewal" won't change our sinful natures.

By His grace,


You said:

"So what if you are a pastor/seminarian who reads some NT Wright and you like it but have some concerns? What do you do? I know what one seminarian did. Several months ago, I was checking out a NT Wright commentary (along commentaries by Phil Ryken, Derek Thomas, & Peter Leithart). The person checking me out made a snide comment about Wright. I rebutted pretty nicely (for me) and said I really appreciated much of his work. To my surprise he jumped ship and told me how much he liked him too but wasn’t sure I was safe to discuss this with. That’s a suspicion of oppressive ethos. Sure it’s a character problem too, but character problems form more easily in bad ethos."

My question to that individual would be, "What do you like about N.T. Wright and where do you have concerns? If you spell them out there may be no problem. If you like him, and teach him on the issues that the SJC dealt with then there would be cause for concern. This is not "an oppressive ethos," it is a love for the truth of the word of God. What would you think if I told you that there are many things in Joseph Smith that I liked and other I had concerns about? Would I be free to preach at Christ Central? Or, would you want to know what I liked and what I didn't like about his teaching before you trusted me to teach people the word of God? I agree that you should have a clear example of someone teaching falsely but you have to have standards, and as a minister in the PCA you vowed to uphold the standards of the WCF (which N.T. Wright is out of accord with).

I'm a little perplexed by your response; i read your question as one asking for evidence/proof/examples of an oppressive ethos. It didn't seem like you were asking about "how" the ethos got there but "if" it were there at all. I've not attempted to link it to some of our theology. Jeremy did that for us quite satisfactorilly in my estimation.

I am also not claiming the PCA is unique in its oppressive ethos. Unfortunately we share the same ethos with many religious and irreligious groups. In fact, Howard's comments re: cult of Euro-Ameicanism is precisely explaining that this ethos problem does not even originate with the Church per se; it was just adopted by us and our tradition.

Let me know if i am still missing you--i don't want post my second answer if giving examples won't be helpful.


I believe that we are demonstrating the imperfection of this simplex communication system of blogging. You were correct in your first statement--I asked and am asking for specific examples. What you most graciously provided, in my mind, answered the mail. I hope that my brief response to you was clarified by my response to Al, i.e., the definition of oppression itself, etc.

I would also respectfully differ on the "cult of Euro-Americanism" as some kind of unified front. This country, in particular, seems keenly divided at the moment between two socio/political poles, which could be further subdivided into addition broad brushes if that were the objective or even helpful. I could say the same for Europe, having spent some time in almost every country in Europe. I commented on my lack of use for broad philosophical categories last week. I believe that it would be difficult and counter-productive to toss 250+ million individuals into one bin.

So yes, your examples are extremely helpful, at least to me, to provide insight into your perception of the issues. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to interact on them.

By His grace,
Bob Mattes


I agree. We have got to have standards. I have vowed to uphold Westminster and do. Gladly.

I also agree that you might be right that my seminary example was too weak to prove an oppressive ethos point. Added to the others (both written about and not), it fits in my experience and view of the overall oppressive experience. What do you think? Do you see or experience this at all? I’m so glad to be out to lunch here if I am. This could just be an experience of my own gadfly tendencies; I hope it is for the PCA’s sake. But I fear it’s not.

As for preaching at CCC, if you are a Minister of the Word, duly ordained and in good standing in the P.C.A., i'm sure our session would let you preach at Christ Central--if the interns don't box you out first. If you’ve made it through the PCA’s rightly rigorous examinations and God’s people have called you to preach, bring it brother. I’m not really that concerned with what you might think about Joseph Smith—unless we’re just sipping scotch and enjoying good conversation. Unless you prove a liar, I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt. Oh...I should put in one exception. If you haven’t done the theogogical work necessary to translate the gospel into our context—then I’d say hang out a while, let me prep you on how to speak to our people, and then go for it.

Let me try to get at my issue this way. Dabney was train-wreck in some of his theological anthropology. I hope we can all agree to that without me having to quote his view of the “morally inferior race” whose only tolerable relationship between whites and blacks is slavery. The point is you can walk out of that same library with Dabney in your hand and get no questions or theological adjustments because he’s from our tradition. You walk out with Wright and you can’t. This is what I think Howard and Jeremy are getting at when our own tradition goes unchallenged. And so many others go way-too challenged. Again, if you don’t see this, please say so. I may just need to get some more friends;-)

Oh and Bob,

I would be uncomfortable calling it oppression too. I think the adjective connotes a less violence especially when it’s modifying an ethereal word like ethos. That's why i'm ok with "oppressive ethos."

But let’s not forget, a christofrom manner of listening probably requires we ask why and how someone experiences oppressive things before asking them to justify them.

Thanks for giving us some more context and explanation for your original comment. I obviously thought that your comment seemed dismissive, as Giorgio has said, rather than a serious appeal. I'll just let it go at that.


Al Tyzinger writes: "But I think the question that would matter is, if these sins are happening as claimed, why are they happening in the PCA, as opposed to other sins? And, is there anything about our structure that helps foster those sins, instead of restraining them?"

But I would think the question is: are these sins the dominant ones in the PCA, or the ones that are the focus of the conference? The sins of sectarianism, of an ugly ethos, are obvious sins of social interaction. They cause problems to the health of the denomination. It does not follow that they are the most glaring sins to the God who looks on the heart. There may be other areas where renewal of the heart (and hence of the denomination) is even more greatly needed, e. g. in a passionate love for God, a daily gratitude to our Savior, a reveling in His Word and His presence, a determination to keep the unity of the Body, humility and joy, and an eagerness to be led in prayer and equpped by the Spirit for effective preaching of the Good News of salvation.

The proposed renewal at the conference presupposes a view of the problem. The two talks responded to suggest that mistreating others in the name of a rigid confessional orthodoxy is the problem; therefore the solution is to not be so concerned with what we think are theological errors. But isn't the Biblical solution both a living out of tender love, and a wise discernment, ever necessary as we do battle spiritually against the forces of darkness?


Excellent thoughts, and thanks for your willingness to engage everyone!

As a seminarian myself, let me give some anecdotal evidence as well. I have spoken to countless fellow students who express to me fears that they will not be ordainable, will be defrocked, or run out of the ministry by other ministers in the PCA. Everyone jokes about "when I get kicked out of the PCA", but it really is only partly a joke. And the sad thing is, many of the people who express their fears to me don't even really believe very controversial things. There is such a culture of fear and suspicion in our denomination at the moment that it preys on the minds of the generation of upcoming ministers. For instance, consider D. G. Hart's first post to Rev. Keller, in which he suggests that the "pietists and culturalists have an agenda that is unwilling to live within the constraints of Reformed Christianity?" It would be hard for a seminarian not to read that and think that there might not be a place for them in the PCA.

Nicholas, what you have articulated is of course a very helpful and charitable way of approaching someone who expresses appreciation for a persona non gratia. However, the problem is that very few in our denomination would be as charitable as you.

As for the question of oppression, it is true that it would be a degradation of the word and experience of others to apply the term "oppression" loosely to our situation here. However, it would also be wrong to suggest that a term can only be applied to its greatest fulfillment. The question of oppression of Christians in other countries, though, is somewhat tangential since that is a question of oppression by unbelievers of believers. What Rev. Brown and Rev. Jones are talking about though, is oppression of ministers *by ministers*. As if the world, the flesh, and the devil aren't causing us enough trouble...

It is true that much of the problem is with individual sin, but perhaps "denominational renewal" means developing the means for censuring ministers for violating the first half of the "peace and purity" clause and not just the second half. Perhaps it also means producing a place where constructive dialogue about theology is safe and not something ministers and seminarians do behind closed doors with people whom they know are "safe".

Peace in Christ,
Peter Green

Three thots, yeah four:

1) The Westminster Standards assume and operate by the generally aristotelian intellectual habits of the 17th century. We don't. Thus it is no surprise that we have Frame doing the three-step, Gaffin doing the epoch and Horton engaging in dramatics. Renewal is just an ambitious attempt at what we MUST do.

2) Howie, I know as a pilot you can get the free plane ticket, but it's springing for the beer as well that will make that work. The value of your heuristic suggestion is seen in Athanasius' defense of ministers who wouldn't affirm homo-ousion. All issues are systematic and therefore with each man idiosyncratic. If you'll pay, we can talk about it.

3) Dabney was a racist like my great-grand-daddy (a pious methodist who did the most to disinfranchise black folk in NC after the war of the 1860's) and argued in a fashion similar to W.E.B. Dubois. Yep, it's ugly; however, with the irony of learning Byron from a prostitute, he points out the CONSENSUS nature of the WCF. At least we should concede that diversity encoded into our standards must stand (uh . . . though I disagree vehemently and for the sake of piety, I mean denial of Christ's active righteousness). And, that then pushes us to recognize that subsequent diversity within our tradition is perhaps allowable depending on how it fits in the big picture of the standards. We must be smart BY our Standards and smarter THAN our Standards.

4) Howie, I know the issue to push for change of our Standards in order to produce a therapeutic hernia: WCF VII.iv describing the Covenant as "frequently" presented in terms of testament. All four speakers at the Subscription discussion in Dallas (2002?) agreed that that this was not correct-- if I recall correctly, Pipa/Chapel/Keller/Barker. It's wide open, exegetically indisputable and threatens the formulation of nobody.

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