Saturday, February 24, 2007

Peter Leithart and Changing the Debate

Peter Leithart has posted a lot of things about the Federal Vision, including recently many attempts to discover the root of the disagreement. Some of his opinions about the reason for the controversy have merit, but his latest attempt is just wrong, in my opinion. It also appears to be another cast the debate on grounds that have nothing to do with theology. Leithart thinks that anti-FV crowd is the institution, and the FV crowd is the underdog, but also with connotations of the disciples(FV) vs. the Pharisees(anti-FV). A popular role to be in for sure.

The problem is that I do not see the anti-FV guys as the establishment or occupying establishment positions. Leithart may have a point that many of those against the Federal Vision have been moderators. And no FV guy has been the moderator. Fine, I give him that one, but it is hardly proof. Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary hardly counts as the ‘establishment’. It is a relatively new seminary with less than 100 students. Even fewer than that going full time. It is not the official seminary of any church, and I do not think even of any presbyteries. Westminster West has a much better claim on being the establishment, but again, it is an independent seminary. No establishment credentials there either. Westminster East has the best establishment credentials claim, but it is barely noticeable in this debate. They have not taken a lead in anti-FV propaganda at all. In fact, as Rev. Leithart points out, D.G. Hart wrote a sympathetic book about John Nevin! Nevin’s views permeate the FV. I did not positively react to Hart’s whitewash of Nevin, and I am not sure who did. I will concede that if someone thinks Nevin’s views good and still thinks the FV bad, then perhaps they fall into Leithart’s criticism that the problem is not what is being said, but who is saying it. But, I do not see many PCA endorsements of Nevin.

Now if we really want to talk about establishment, one has to look at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. That is the official PCA seminary. Again, not much is heard coming out of Covenant Seminary except an exchange from Bryan Chapel, president of Covenant, that was not even characterized as anti-FV by FV men like Rich Lusk. You will also find Covenant Seminary professors’ signatures littered in the Presbyterians and Presbyterians Together document, which also contains the majority of FV men. While the document itself is not FV, the signers, promoters, and defenders are. You won’t find a lot of anti-FV signatures on it.

While Leithart also points to the lack of formal education of Doug Wilson as another proof, he fails to mention that other Federal Vision men include James Jordan with a doctorate degree, Norman Shepherd (who at least shares a lot of beliefs with the FV) a former teacher at Westminster East, and the Credenda/Agenda itself, which has a wide readership in the PCA. It should be noted that the anti-FV men do not have any such organ that compares to the C/A magazine.

So despite the protests that "The debate is not just about what's being said. It's also about who's saying it." It really is about what is being said. And remember anytime that someone tries to distract you from what is being said to some other issue, it means you really ought to pay attention to what is being said.


Andrew Duggan said...

His use of Hart on Nevin is really a bad example because 1) Hart is OPC and 2) he was writing about someone (Nevin) outside of the narrow stream from which the OPC considers itself to flow. Leaving Hart out of the rest of this, don't forget that the pervasive view in the OPC is there is no FV in the OPC, and she is impervious to it.

It's also helpful to remember, the OPC is a such a special case in so many ways it or its members can't be used in any way that's not specifically OPC.

Lee said...

Good point, Andrew. The problems in the PCA and the OPC are not necessarily the same. Thanks for pointing that out.

Xon said...

But if you participate or watch the FV debate for even a short amount of time you will see anti-FVers making the "you guys just need to go to seminary" charge, or the charge that Wilson or Lusk can't go toe-to-toe with Scott Clark or Guy Waters b/c the former don't have advanced degrees in theology. This is a pretty common anti-FV argument. Of course I appreciate you pointing out the fact that the FV actually has a lot of alphabet soup guys in it, though. They do indeed.

Second, you just listed a bunch of seminaries, and the only connection to being pro-FV you found in any of them was that Covenant has a bunch of professors who signed the PPT document, which you admit was not an FV document per se. So other than this very loose inference, what evidence is there that Covenant is pro-FV? The bottom line is that the seminaries in Escondido, Jackson, and Greenville at the very least are indeed pumping out anti-FV rhetoric. I don't see how it matters that these are not official denominational seminaries, they are generally well-regarded and people in the PCA look up to them. The "power structure" in the PCA isn't just about who is in this or that official position. FV men are pretty much outsiders from the "inner circles" of the PCA, however hard those are to define sometimes. Not professors at well-regarded seminaries, not pastors of well-regarded churches, etc.

Lee said...

You are completely right about the anti-FVers making silly comments about the schooling or lack thereof of men like Wilson and Lusk. It is pathetic. A seminary degree says very little about one's intellect, and nothing about the strength of specific arguments.

I do think that Covenant is more pro-FV than just PPT. For example the Missouri Presbytery Report committee had four professors from Covenant. That report is at least a compromise document. But my point is not to try and argue that the FV is institutional, only that it is not as 'FV vs. the institution' as Leithart claims. Both sides have supporters and are fighting for institutional control, in my opinion.

Oh and I would say that the Auburn Ave. church is a large well-regarded church.