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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Federal Vision and Petulant Papists

The blogosphere has, of late, been scandalized by the apostacy of a supposed Calvinist fellow (a.k.a. "Paleocrat") to Rome. Paleocrat announced that he was "swimming the Tiber" on his Xanga blog, and the Puritanboard picked up on it in this thread. There, one of Paleocrat's friends commented:

His flip flopping on issues started a few months after we met...just after I helped guide him back to paedobaptism. From there he went FV, and then I told him perhaps it would have been better to be a Baptist again, that God was protecting him from further errors there. After that, everything was up for grabs.

Scott Clark commented on Paleocrat's self-professed Federal Vision sympathies and it's logical connection to his conversion to Romanism. He is right about this, but there is a bit more to the story.

I clicked over to Paleocrat's (former) church's web site. Notice anything strange? This church was not a confessionally Reformed or Presbyterian church. Not even close. It is a Church of God member, a Pentacostal denomination. Although this particular church is an um...interesting hybrid. It lists theonomy, presuppositionalism (although it's definition of it is fideistic), "victorious exchatology", and dominionism as their distinctives. Oy veh!

Reading Van Til and Bahnsen is all well and good, but clearly there were a lot of conflicting strains of theology at work in and around Paleocrat. Being confessionally Reformed grants us a stability, along with coherence and consistency, in our theological convictions, as opposed to merely having an unstable hodge-podge of beliefs that happens to include presuppositional apologetics and TULIP.

James Swan commented (in the Puritanboard thread), regarding Paleocrat's reasoning for the authority of Rome:

I have to wonder if he ever did the basic-presuppositional 101 test of applying the same question to the person asking it. Typically, Roman apologists can't answer their own questions. They can't give a coherent response when the same question is asked of them.

Indeed, I think this is another chapter in what Dr. Clark would call the Quest for Illegitimate Certainty. Essentially: gosh, there are a lot of hard questions and issues in life and in the Bible for me to get a grasp on, so I will turn to X system to answer those questions for me and provide 'certainty.' The promise of epistemological certainty come through various means in different claims, but the core promise is the same. Rome claims infallible authority in it's teaching, so I don't have to depent on my own fallible interpretations of Scripture.

Of course, this fallacy is exposed when you consider that Rome's teachings also must be interpreted by us fallible interpreters. You haven't improved the epistemic situation by putting the question one step back, and swapping out the object of our interpretation for another source. Eric Svendsen's book On This Slippery Rock covers this, and other, epistemological fallacies that Roman apologists routinely use.

Be sure also to read James Swan's article here, and Steve Hay's here.

On a more biographical side of this issue, I had this to say on the Puritanboard:

A few things go through my mind when I hear about this:

1. I hope that his pastor and session will excommunicate this newly-minted Roman convert swiftly if he does not heed their admonition to repent.

2. There but by the grace of God go we. Amen and amen.

3. I cringe to think of his wife and new child being discipled in a false church unto their spiritual destruction.

4. I hope that the wife I marry in the future will have the Scriptural fortitude and moral integrity to exercise godly and firm disobedience of my spiritual 'leadership' if I were to ever apostatize; and pray for me without ceasing, rebuke me, and continue to attend a true church without me. I hope that the powers of my emotional and intellectual persuasion would have their limits at such a point, and not drag her into such foolishness.

I'll also take some time to quickly note some breaking Federal Vision News.

First, the good news is that Lane Keister's presbytery drafted and approved this anti-Federal Vision and anti-New Perspective document. It is short, sweet, and oh-so-delicious. If you don't read it, you are just plain silly.

Second, the bad news is that Steve Wilkins' presbytery exhonerated him again. Now the PCA's Standing Judicial Commission will review LA Presbytery's decision. A few thoughts:

A. I'm trying to find another source to confirm this, but someone on the Puritanboard testified that the vote was 13-8. If this is true, then it is telling. If 38% of your presbytery thinks that there is a strong presumption of guilt on matters like this, there is something terribly wrong. I would be utterly embarrassed to attend a church under such a pastor. There is at least some plausible reason for this happening to someone like Wilkins, and why it would be absolutely laughable if someone were to accuse anyone in my URC classis (Classis Southwest) of not teaching the Reformed doctrine of salvation with 100% crystal clarity.

B. Even if the vote was unanimous, this only raises the bigger question of whether or not the LA Presbytery is worthy of censure from the broader PCA not simply for failing to discipline Wilkins, as a failure or duty or perhaps incompetence, but rather because the whole presbytery has been infected by Wilkin's errors. We have already seen the inter-presbytery problems that this failure to be of one mind has caused when Rich Lusk's transfer was denied when he tried to transfer out of Louisianna to a sister presbytery. (He then jumped ship to the CREC). That sort of situation cannot be resolved until the lines are drawn in the sand at the General Assembly level.



  • You have nothing better to do than to write slanderously about a man and a church that you know so very little about? While you know so little about me, you reveal your true ignorance when it comes to Okemos. I can handle childish attacks against my intelligence or the condition of my spiritual wellbeing, but I think it is rather unfair for you to slander a church that you are so unfamiliar with. This being said, I will say only a few remarks in defense of them.

    A. They taught the Westminster in Sunday school. They believe in presuppositionalism, theonomy, postmillennialism, weekly communion with the use of wine, weekly confession of the Nicene Creed, responsive reading from the Psalms, infant baptism, etc. Our church has very close ties with David Bahnsen, RC Sproul Jr., Steve Schlissel, Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, Andrew Sandlin, Ian Hodge and others. The pastor has written numerous times for Chalcedon and sits as VP of Sandlin's Center for Cultural Leadership. Still, you accuse them of not being "reformed enough"?

    B. You are correct to say that they are part of the Church of God, denominationally. I once asked the pastor why he decided to remain in the denomination after his becoming reformed, to which he replied, "so long as we are not forced to withdraw from communion, I think that it is in the best interest of our church to remain in fellowship with the denomination." Regardless of whether or not I agreed with his reasoning (I believed it would be in his best interest to join the CREC), this is the basis for his decision to remain in the COG.

    In the end, you, like your cohorts on the Puritan Board, speak authoritatively on matters you know little or nothing about.

    PS- Tell your pal Jacob Atken that if he wants to accuse me of being a nut and changing my theology every other week then he ought to have some way to substantiate it. Otherwise, well, it is slander.

    By Blogger bannisterandsutherby, at 7:30 AM  

  • Paleocrat, there would be slander if you could point to something that I said was a lie. But teaching the Westminster Standards in Sunday school does not make it a confessionally Reformed church (where there is subscription by the elders and accountability to a wider confessing church body).

    And I'm not sure you want to mention Andrew Sandlin or any of his projects to bolster anyone's Reformed credibility. He, himself, is an odd hybrid and he will even commune you as a confirmed Romanist if you ever visit his church.

    It was probably also a bad move to mention Steve Schlissel, who is on the wackier end of FV. That just makes Dr. Clark's and my point.

    Also note: I did not quote Jacob Atken in my article, and he is not my "pal."

    By Blogger David Gadbois, at 8:57 AM  

  • "His church was not a confessionally Reformed or Presbyterian church. Not even close."

    Why must one be part of or submitted to one of the various reformed religions (you call them denominations, of course) in order to be considered "even close" to being confessionally reformed?

    I mention Andrew Sandlin and Steve Schlissel because, at least for many in the reformed world, they are highly esteemed. Whether or not your specific religion favors these two, many in the reformed movement do. Still, you use the fact that I mention two men you consider to be "odd balls" in hope of negating the fact that others such as Ian Hodge, Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, David Bahnsen, all of whom are reputable in the reformed community, have very close ties to Okemos.

    Conflicting strains of thought in and around Paleocrat? An unstable hodge-podge of beliefs? Where do you get off saying any of this? Substantiation is a fitting courtesy for such remarks.

    I am well aware that Atken was not mentioned in your article. Regardless of whether or not you two are chums, I figured you could do the favor of relaying a message, seeing that you are part of the Puritan Cabal and all.

    Honestly, I must thank you and the Puritan Hoard for being passionately dedicated to making my decision all that more reasonable.

    PS- A "supposed" Calvinist? Cute.

    By Blogger bannisterandsutherby, at 9:55 AM  

  • Is the title of your post meant to convey the idea that I am petulant? Just curious.

    Correction: I accidentally wrote Puritan Hoard rather than Puritan Horde. Darn homonyms.

    By Blogger bannisterandsutherby, at 5:05 PM  

  • "Why must one be part of or submitted to one of the various reformed religions (you call them denominations, of course) in order to be considered "even close" to being confessionally reformed?"

    Well, being confessionally Reformed means that you aren't just a chap who has a Calvinistic theology who attends, say, a Calvary Chapel. Now let's even say that the pastor agrees with you, and the pastor even preaches TULIP and baptizes baby. That makes you Reformed in your ideology, but where is the subscription to a confession or accountability TO that confession by any outside body? That is what folks mean by being confessional.

    "in hope of negating the fact that others such as Ian Hodge, Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, David Bahnsen, all of whom are reputable in the reformed community, have very close ties to Okemos."

    All well and good, but my comments implicitly assumed that there were, indeed, good and respectable parts of the "hodge podge" (thus my comment on VanTil and Bahnsen).

    But this particular remaining cast of characters, for all we know, just come by to speak/preach because the church is friendly to postmill/theonomy and dominion theology, not because it is a Reformed church, per se. Connection does not equal identity.

    "An unstable hodge-podge of beliefs? Where do you get off saying any of this?"

    Well, for starters, FV is precisely a hodge-podge unto itself. I am hardly the first to note this. It is an unstable compromise between Calvinism, Arminianism and Romanism (this is simplistic - there are other elements in the mix for sure).

    Now I am open to the idea that I could be wrong about your particular church, but let's be clear. Is it reasonable for people to assume that a Church of God church has NO teaching in it that reflects Church of God distinctives and, indeed, that there are even no residual vestiges of Pentacostalism? You act offended that the obvious has been suggested by me on this count. Well, I could be wrong, but what I said would still be reasonably wrong, not slanderous. Hardly a wild accusation.

    That which is "obvious" is sometimes not true, I greely grant. But then whose fault is it for sending mixed messages by such a denominational association? And what are we to think, most naturally, by a church web site that invites you to "Charismatic Celebration!"?

    Be that as it may, there are a few clues that buttress the fact that I'm on the right track. This comes in the form of the pastor's sermons. Check out, for instance, this little number:

    This is not classic health & wealth, of course, but it is just a theonomized/dominionized version of it with the word "covenant" sprinkled liberally throughout for Calvinist street cred.

    Notice no mention that covenant-keeping, obedient people might suffer and be poor for their whole earthly lives. How odd.

    And his explanation (in part 2): "Therefore I am confident that what is greatly in need of in charismatic churches is ethical application, or the right things for the right reasons in the right way." The most natural reading of this would assume that he counts himself among 'charismatic churches.'

    Hey - again, I could be wrong. The sermon was not dated, so perhaps this took place a while back before his theology had "settled." I'm open to that possibility.

    Also, if this church is a true church then, according to the Belgic Confession, she should exercise church discipline. Out of curiosity, are you under discipline from this church? The answer to that would be telling on this account.

    “PS- A "supposed" Calvinist? Cute.”

    As one who has learned Reformed theology, you know exactly what I mean by this. We distinguish a true faith, saving faith that is indefectible and incorruptible granted by the Spirit, and false or temporary faith.

    As for Jacob Atken, I don’t hesitate to say that I am sorry that that sort of unnecessary vitriol and ad hominem has been lobbed in your direction. I’m not about to defend any of the name-calling and such.

    Although I think it does bear pointing out that the same would happen it you were swimming the other direction on the Tiber. That is not at all a justification for it, just a reality. Rome has no superiority on that account. You will take flack either way you swim.

    “Honestly, I must thank you and the Puritan Hoard for being passionately dedicated to making my decision all that more reasonable.”

    You are smart enough to know that I have done no such thing. Let’s say that my comments (or, indeed, anyone’s comments from the Reformed camp or Puritanboard) on the subjective side of your conversion are 100% wrong, on those matters dealing with the psychology or biographical account of your conversion – your ignorance (or lack thereof) in certain areas, influences, etc. This doesn’t in the least effect or justify the objective authority claims of Rome nor the substance of her theology. The substance of the Reformed apologetic would still have to be addressed even if we were completely wrong in our subjective evaluation of your particular situation. Perhaps you have had all of the right influences and read the right books. At best, that would make you learned and wrong, at worst learned and foolish.

    So I think you are confusing the main thrust of my post (an account of the subjective phenomena) with the substance of an anti-Roman polemic. I only dealt with that, secondarily, in the brief paragraphs on the epistemological issue (more of a thumbnail argument, really) halfway through the post. David King fleshed this out more on that Puritanboard thread I linked to, and in the link to Triablogue Steve Hays put his two cents in, too. I am more than willing to elaborate on these things.

    And, for what it is worth, my faith in the Reformed belief is hardly conditioned on my ability to rightly analyze a particular case of apostacy. Therefore, I certainly don’t know how my ability, or lack thereof, to do so should substantively effect your beliefs concerning Rome vs. the Reformation.

    By Blogger David Gadbois, at 9:18 PM  

  • While it is interesting that you mention the vote in the Lousiana Presbytery as bringing into question Pastor Wilkin's orthodoxy, you should at least be aware that the Pacific Northwest Presbytery has given a clean bill of health to Peter Leithart, and the Missouri Presbytery the same to Jeffrey Meyers, and Mark Horne. These men were examined on many of the same issues and you will see their names associated. What you have are conflicting responses by different presbyteries and local churches over matters yet to be determined by the General Assembly. Premature judgement within a denominational structure only adds invective and fuel to the fire.

    By Blogger John Harley, at 2:00 PM  

  • I might add that I have been involved in many ordination exams in which the candidate being examined passed by closer votes than you mentioned regarding the vote concerning Pastor Wilkins in the Louisiana Presbytery. In some cases the votes were as close as 48% against and 52% in favor. These votes certainly did not prevent the ordination and eventual installation of the pastor, associate or assistant, which ever office the ordinand was examined for.

    By Blogger John Harley, at 2:07 PM  

  • Mr. Harley,

    Thanks for your comments, and thanks for stopping by our neck of the woods.

    1. Leithart's exhoneration was a qualified one. It stated that it was not a comprehensive examination and that, indeed, further investigation was justified.

    2. True - Leithart, Meyers, and Horne are all firmly in the FV 'orbit', but the correspondence to Wilkins is not one to one. It was Wilkins who not only spoke at the AAPC conference, but wrote that most unfortunate chapter "Covenant, Baptism, and Salvation" in the Federal Vision book. His parallel soteriology and ordo salutis (which he applies to non-elect covenant members) is by far one of the most problematic features of any FV advocate.

    3. I don't think there is a one-to-one correspondence with ordination exams as there are with votes on charges like this. We would expect 'close' votes during exams, because the bar is higher than when a vote concerns a "strong presumption of guilt" to the accusations of the CCP Memorial/SJC action.

    By Blogger David Gadbois, at 3:44 PM  

  • David: Was this exchange written before paleocrat's decision to join the schismatics of the popish "church"? What is really scary here is rejection of the Gospel!

    By Blogger CB in Ca, at 8:33 PM  

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