Sunday, February 20, 2005

A Review of the MVP Report

It is my turn for a little discussion on the controversial Mississippi Valley Presbytery report. In general, I found it to be useful. The summary statements are well documented in the footnotes, and the need for such a study is defended in the opening of the report. Yet, I do have a few points to quibble about.

First the minor points. These are just small points that really don’t detract from the quality of the report. Mostly they are my little pet peeves.
1. More contrast of the views in question with the Westminster and the Bible would have made this report invaluable, but they left it out. They admit it up front and state that it laid outside the commissions given guidelines. One can understand that, but I still wanted to see it.
2. They only name names in the footnotes. The committee also tells us that they only named names in the footnotes because of the outcry of misrepresentation from the copy that did not have footnotes. I hate it when they fail to name names. This is an old Presbyterian trick that dates back to Gilbert Tennent. Go present a paper that attacks the doctrine and/or Christian life of fellow ministers, and then refuse to name names, or bring charges. It was wrong in the 1700’s and it is wrong now. If they truly believe that these men are teaching anti-confessional, misleading, confused and confusing doctrine, and have dangerous tendencies, then the next step for this Presbytery had better be charges against someone.
3. They need to mention the RCUS more. We got one small note. We did not even make the list of all the denominations and presbyteries taking action. That hurts.
Now for the things that I think are a little more serious defects.
1. They tried to take on too much. This report examines The New Perspectives on Paul, Bishop N.T. Wright, Norman Shepherd, and the Federal Vision. This would have better been split into several papers. One of the chief complaints made by the Auburn Avenue Church is that the report does not recognize the nuances of their argumentation, and it does seem to overlook some. The report does state on a few occasions ‘they attempt to qualify this statement, but . . .’ This is the sort of overlooking that the proponents of these views complain about. It is very possible and often true that their qualifications don’t change the logical outcomes of their beliefs, but those qualifications need to be dealt with head-on.
2. No mention or condemnation is made of Theological and Historical Development, which most of these men promote. I admit that this is one of my hobby horses, but I believe it to be important. Without destroying this foundation the impetus to innovate in doctrine will continue. But even more importantly, the PCA will not be ready for the next step in this debate.

Let me elaborate further. The proponents of the Federal Vision and the other views entailed in the report are always discussing the "diversity within the Reformed tradition." This is one of their main defenses. They claim to represent just another acceptable line of theology. The can quote people from history to prove this point, mainly men from Mercersburg, but there are others. The place that this argument leads, and I believe it will be the place the PCA ends up, is in the necessity, usefulness, and place of creedal subscription as a whole. When one holds to doctrinal development what use can a creed that does not develop have? Why should one be bound to such an old formula? When one sees that history move and doctrine does as well (as they claim) creeds must be abandoned. The key phrase will be ‘liberty of conscious’ to choose the ‘historic tradition’ that best fits you. This is where Mercersburg took the RCUS. The RCUS merged with a Lutheran church and where the two creeds conflicted everyone was allowed to choose the tradition that best suited them. It is where the Presbyterian church went in beginning of the 1900’s. They changed the confession, they declared such outmoded beliefs like the Virgin Birth to be non-essential, and weakened the faith to keep up with the times (Schaff had a role in that as well from his post at Union Theological Seminary).

If churches do not actively denounce this idea of doctrinal development, and defend the Biblical nature of the confessions, then they will be one step behind and one step late when the debate shifts to the role of creeds. Just one man’s opinion.


Anonymous said...

The center-of-gravity of this flap is these NPP, FV, etc. clowns are intentionally calling themselves Reformed because their program is to defile pure Biblical doctrine which IS Reformed doctrine.

If they don't call themselves Reformed nobody pays any attention to them and they become just any other dumb liberal fools who can't see the truth. These clowns, though, are evil. They are consciously deceptive in what they're doing. Certainly some of them are mere dupes (Kevin Johnson seems like the weak-minded dupe type), but the others are pure evil.

When I see anybody give these clown ANY space or any excuse for what they're doing (or ANY praise for any detail of what they write or say) it's a sign that person doesn't have discernment, pure and simple.

If you can't see that these filthy deceivers have no shame in how they use language or in what they claim to believe and will say anything to get themselves off an immediate hook, then turn around and say the opposite once off the hook then you just don't know and can't see how these evil water-carriers of darkness and the devil operate.

Matt Powell said...

Thanks for the latest in a very useful series of posts. This is a good critique of the MVP's paper.

I have a question- on the subject of theological development. You're against it, obviously, in the way that many NPP/AA/FV people promote it, and rightly so. But what's your view of the end of theological study today? It was centuries before the doctrine of the Trinity or vicarious atonement was well understood by the church- if we had theological growth before and up to the Reformation, what is to say we can't continue to have growth?

Or is it that we simply continue to refine and develop the doctrines of the ages, as the Reformers did, rather than altering or shifting them?

I don't know what that last guy is on about. I guess your criticisms weren't quite robust enough for him.

Lee said...

I believe that the goal of theological study is to continue to refine and apply the truths of the Bible to our lives today. The world always presents new challenges that need to be handled by continued and new theological study. For example, until Darwin the doctrine of creation never had to deal with the Day-Age theory posited by theistic evolutionists. When Kant and Hume changed the world of epistemology it was helpful to have Van Til come and flesh out more thorough biblical view of the subject. New challenges abound. But, at best these things are amendatory to the system of doctrine that has long since been established. We should not expect a change in justification, as many Federal Vision men and Shepherdites do, or a change in the Trinity, as Andrew Sandlin and others seem prone to doing. This sort of doctrinal development is a departure from the faith given to the saints by God.

I hope that helps everyone understand my position on theological study and development. Good question, and thanks for the link.

Lee said...

Dear Anonymous,

I confess your rhetoric makes me uncomfortable. I do believe that many of these men are wrong when they argue for the changes or acceptability of their new views within the Reformed faith, but that is a long way from them being ‘pure evil’. We should remember that these men are often ministers in good standing in their own denominations, and deserve to be treated as such. It is also uncharitable to assume such bad motives as you seem to imply. The slurs on these men go too far. I for one think Kevin Johnson seems like a very intelligent man, just one who holds to doctrine I disagree with.
Also your rhetoric seems to rule out any discussion or friendly exchanges with these men. ‘Pure evil’ and ‘clowns’ are not exactly ways to get people to listen. And listen is what we should want them to do. Do not write off those who disagree with you or with me. I have confidence that in the end the truth of God’s Word will not return void. That His Will will be done. Even controversies that rack the church come from God, and are intended for our good. I would encourage you to remember these things.

David said...


Thank you for your comments on the MVP Report. I think you hit a particularly important nail on the head in pointing out that the scope of the report was excessively broad. I am concerned that we in the OPC may do the same thing this summer, as we created a study commission last year to deal with all of these issues. It would be wiser for us to narrowly, but thoroughly deal with each potential deviation from orthodoxy in irrefuteable detail.

Anonymous said...

I speak from much experience in conversing with these fools. They are not just confused, they are willfully attempting deception specifically within Reformed understanding of the Bible (which is apostolic Biblical doctrine and they know it which is why they target it specifically).

Your comment about many of them being ministers and that that should in some way give them some kind of special standing is incredibly naive regarding how the devil and his followers work, and where they work...

Anonymous said...

We also have to regain perspective and realize these names being named are 'famous' only because they write to a small audience on the internet. I mean, without the internet I wouldn't know Sandlin's name or Wilson's name or even N. T. Wrights name (in the last case I'd know his name but it would be just one of many voices in the Christian book world, and a liberal one, despite his covering all bases, seemingly, in his career, at that). The fact is: most all of those who understand Reformed theology see the juvenile nonsense and disingenousness in the rC, AA, NPP, FV self-published, blog-fueled 'theology'.

Notice their ranks don't grow. They only attract to them semi-amused Roman Catholics and already addled academic-oriented philosophers who 'dabble' in theology...

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your history on Mererburg, and the effect of Hegel on Schaff. It helped fill in some of the blank areas of of recent Church History, esp the RCUS.
Rick Carducci