Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Timeline of Presbyterian and Reformed Denominations in the US

A few months ago, I put together a chart showing the various mergers and splits among Reformed denominations in the US. My chart shows both Presbyterian and Reformed denominations and is, I hope, a cleaner version than some other charts out there. Below are links to PDF, PNG, and SVG versions. Please feel free to leave feedback in the comments. I hope the chart is useful to you!

I have edited the timeline to now include the Netherlands Reformed Congregations, the Free Reformed Churches of North America, the Covenant Presbytery group split and re-merger with the Bible Presbyterian Church, and the correct date for the formation of the Evaneglical Presbyterian Church (1956-1965). I have not included the Canadian and American Reformed Church (CANRC), simply because of their 55 congregations, only 4 are located in the United States. If I were to include the CANRC, I feel I would have to include other Canadian denominations, and I don't wish to do that, at this time. All links below show the latest edits.

Also, I would love to include the various Korean Presbyterian denominations that exist in the United States, but have no sources for information about them. If anyone would like to point me to sources, I will add them to the chart.

Timeline Of Reformed and Presbyterian Denominations in the United States
PDF Version
PNG Version
SVG Version

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Missouri Presbytery (PCA) Denies Complaint Against Exoneration of TE Jeffrey Meyers

TE Wes White is reporting that the Missouri Presbytery of the PCA has denied a complaint against he exoneration of TE Jeffrey Meyers (related to charges of Meyers teaching Federal Vision, and other false doctrines). You can read the full article here: http://www.weswhite.net/2011/04/mo-presbytery-denies-complaint-against-exoneration-of-te-jeffrey-meyers/

I can't add much to what Wes has already said, but I will say that it was discouraging for me to hear of this news at first. Then, I came to realize that the Presbytery already tolerated false teaching in the first place, so this procedural step should not come as much of a surprise. I'm sure the action will be appealed and pray that the truth will prevail upon appeal. I will quote the same section of the Presbytery's report that Wes quotes. It is troubling that this is the view of supposedly Reformed, Confessional men:

“ . . . no one school of interpretation on these disputed issues should be adopted as the only orthodox position to the exclusion of the others.” (Report of the Complaint Review Committee, 62)

So much for WCF 1.9 ("IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.").

Sad. Very sad. May God have mercy on the PCA.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

PCA BCO 14 Amendments Map Update

Two more presbyteries have voted on the failed amendments to the PCA's BCO. See the updated map below.

Friday, April 8, 2011

What is Said and What is Meant

A friend of mine recently posted the following clip of Rob Bell on Facebook:

It is a short clip of Rob Bell obviously responding to the criticisms he has received over his new book Love Wins. Since the clip in only 54 seconds long, I've typed out a transcript of what Bell says, below:

My name is Rob and I live in Grand Rapids, MI and I'm a Christian and I, uhh, I believe in Jesus and I believe Jesus is the way and I believe in heaven and I believe in hell and I believe the Bible is God's Word and I'm not a universalist because I believe God's love is so great, God let's you decide. I believe in the communion of the saints. I believe the church is the fullness. I believe in the new heaven and the new earth. I believe in healing. I believe in miracles. I believe in salvation. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe that God is alive and working. I believe there's been a resurrection and there's a whole new creation bursting forth right here in the midst of this one and I also believe it's best to only discuss books you've actually read.
Now, what I pointed out to my friend is that Rob Bell makes a lot of statements concerning what he believes, but he never tells us what he means. In other words, what does Bell mean when he says "I believe in hell"? Does he believe hell is an eternal place, in which those who hate God will be punished for all eternity (which is the classic, biblical definition of Hell)? Or does he believe that Hell is a place of *temporary* torment, in which people will still have a choice about accepting Christ or not, and that, eventually, everyone will choose Christ (because in the end Love Wins), even if it is after they have died and after they have been in Hell for a very, very long period of time?

Christians have to be careful for two things: what people say and what people mean. Bell says lots of things that sound good, but what does he mean when he says them? He does not mean the same thing as I do when I say "I believe in hell." And when we examine Scripture and what it says concerning hell, and then compare what Rob Bell is teaching concerning hell, we find Bell's teaching does not agree with Scripture, and is therefore wrong.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

C.S. Lewis, Part 2: Origin of Lewis' Anglo-Catholicism

Brian Carpenter has posted the second of three pieces on C. S. Lewis at WesWhite.net. I am reposting it here, with permission. I especially enjoyed this article, because it points out the numerous affiliations with Roman Catholics that Lewis had. Read for yourselves, below:

Some Guesses on the Origin of Lewis’ Anglo-Catholicism

By Pastor Brian Carpenter

C.S. Lewis, the well-known 20th century author and apologist has been beloved by many English-speaking people for over 70 years now. He burst on the scene with a full blown and intellectually defensible supernatural Christianity in the early days of World War II when liberal Protestantism was fumbling to have something to say to men and women who were facing the distinct possibility of an early death, whether from German bullets in North Africa or from German bombs in London. His first book, The Pilgrim’s Regress, had actually been published some 8 years earlier, but had not known very much success. Neither had his first science fiction novel, Out of the Silent Planet. The Problem of Pain, Lewis’ attempt at theodicy, brought a greater measure of recognition, and the speaking engagements which grew out of that book led to him being noticed by the religious programming authorities at the BBC.

His career as a Christian writer began in earnest because of three radio addresses delivered over the air, between 1941 and 1944. These talks eventually became Mere Christianity, an apologetic based on the moral argument for the existence of God. This was an especially shrewd tactic because ordinary people were again thinking of the necessity of an objective right and wrong in the face of all of Hitler’s behavior. The publication of The Screwtape Letters in 1942 cemented his reputation and his fame. Once again, the sunny optimism about the goodness of human nature and the general social and natural order which was so prevalent among the older theological liberals seemed very out of place in light of what was known, even then, about Nazism and the events on the Continent. The reading public was psychologically primed to receive a more traditional, supernatural exploration of the issue of evil.

Lewis’ output was truly prodigious, running the gamut from scholarly publications on English and Medieval literature, science fiction, popular fiction, children’s fiction, Christian philosophy and apologetics, pedagogy, and autobiography, to various short essays on topics which were then of current concern, and which still seem remarkably prescient today.

As a consequence, Lewis is still widely read today and finds a ready audience among both Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. He even has a devoted following among the Mormons, whose theology finds a certain congeniality with some of Lewis’ more imaginative scenarios.

As I have argued before, Lewis’ own words give ample evidence that his own views were highly congruent with Anglo-Catholicism. In some ways this is not surprising, given Lewis’ own sitz im leben.

I am going to attempt something that Lewis himself cautioned against. I am going to do so with only the barest evidence from the man’s own pen and without the tools and resources available to a trained historian. I am going to attempt to make some guesses as to why Lewis embraced the views that he embraced. I argued last week that Lewis was an Anglo-Catholic. I now want to try and guess why.

In speaking of this sort of exercise in his essay “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” (first published as “Fern-Seed and Elephants”) Lewis wrote:

All this sort of criticism attempts to reconstruct the genesis of the texts it studies; what vanished documents each author used, when and where he wrote, with what purposes, under what influences – the whole Sitz im Leben of the text. This is done with immense erudition and great ingenuity. And at first sight it is very convincing. I think I should be convinced by it myself, but that I carry about with me a charm – the herb moly – against it. You must excuse me if I now speak for a while of myself. The value of what I say depends on its being first-hand evidence.

What forearms me against all these reconstructions is the fact that I have seen it all from the other end of the stick. I have watched reviewers reconstructing the genesis of my own books in just this way.

Until you come to be reviewed yourself you would never believe how little of an ordinary review is taken up by criticism in the strict sense; by evaluation, praise, or censure, of the book actually written. Most of it is taken up with imaginary histories of the process by which you wrote it. The very terms which the reviewers use in praising or dispraising often imply such a history. They praise a passage as ‘spontaneous’ and censure another as ‘labored’; that is, they think they know that you wrote the one currenete calamo and the other invita Minerva.

What the value of such reconstructions is I learned very early in my career. I had published a book of essays; and in the one into which I had put most of my heart, the one I really cared about and in which I discharged a keen enthusiasm, was on William Morris. And in almost the first review I was told that this was obviously the only one in the book in which I had felt no interest. Now don’t mistake. The critic was, I now believe, quite right in thinking it the worst essay in the book; at least everyone agreed with him. Where he was totally wrong was in his imaginary history of the causes which produces its dullness.

Well, this made me prick up my ears. Since then I have watched with some care similar imaginary histories both of my own books and of books by friends whose real history I knew. Reviewers, both friendly and hostile, will dash you off such histories with great confidence; will tell you what public events had directed the author’s mind to this or that, what other authors had influenced him, what his overall intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why-and when-he did everything.

Now I must record my impression; then distinct from it, what I can say with certainty. My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; that the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure. You would expect that by mere chance they would hit as often as the miss. But it is my impression that they do no such thing. I can’t remember a single hit. But as I have not kept a careful record my mere impression may be mistaken. What I think I can say with certainty is that they are usually wrong.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, or so we are told. I am going to risk showing myself to be a fool. I am going to progress on the theory that a man’s times, a man’s books, and a man’s friends exert a profound influence a man’s ideas. This is an admittedly speculative exercise at this point, and so I ask the critical reader to bear that in mind.

By the time of Lewis’ conversion in the Trinity Term of 1929, the Church of England was dominated by two camps, neither of which was congenial to historic Protestantism. The 19th century Tractarian movement, also known as The Oxford Movement, had made great inroads in spreading doctrinal views which were much more congruent with Roman Catholicism than with Protestantism. At the same time many of the clergy who would have rejected Anglo-Catholicism had embraced theological liberalism instead.

Traditional Protestant clergy of Evangelical opinions received no support from the theological academy, were few and far between, and those who were too inflexible in their opinions incurred the displeasure of both Liberal and Anglo-Catholic bishops. The British Evangelical also lacked the (admittedly two-edged sword) of the support of a well organized and feisty fundamentalist movement such as we had in the United States.

Consider Lewis’ own words, once again from “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,” which is addressed to theologically liberal Anglican clergy he writes:

There are two sorts of outsiders: the uneducated, and those you are educated in some way but not in your own way. How you are to deal with the first class, if you hold views like Loisy’s or Schweitzer’s or Bultmann’s or Tillich’s or even Alec Vidler’s, I simply don’t know. I see – and I’m told that you see – that it would hardly do to tell them what you really believe. A theology which denies the historicity of nearly everything in the Gospels to which Christian life and affections and thought have been fastened for nearly two millennia – which either denies the miraculous altogether or, more strangely, after swallowing the camel of the Resurrection strains at such gnats as the feeding of the multitudes – if offered to the uneducated man can produce only one or other of two effects. It will make him a Roman Catholic or an atheist. What you offer him he will not recognize as Christianity. If he holds to what he calls Christianity he will leave a Church in which it is no longer taught and look for one where it is. If he agrees with your version he will no longer call himself a Christian and no longer come to church. In his crude, coarse way, he would respect you much more if you did the same.

Notice that atheism and Roman Catholicism are, in Lewis’ mind, the only two options for a man who accepts the idea that the views put forth by the liberal priest are the views of the Church of England. If he agrees with their view he abandons all pretence at Christianity. If he rejects their view he will become a Catholic. Why? Because the ranks of traditional Evangelical Protestant Clergy had been decimated by the rise of theological liberalism in the Church of England. The Calvinistic Methodists, the Wesleyan Methodists, the Congregationalists, and the Presbyterians were all in a similar pickle. Biblical fidelity was found in pockets of these churches, and could be found amongst the more separatist denominations, like the Plymouth Brethren and some Baptists. But Evangelical Christianity had suffered a mighty blow in the 19th century and was in a very weak position for much of the 20th century. Iain H Murray’s biography on Martyn Lloyd- Jones, and in particular the first volume, are invaluable for setting forth a picture of the ecclesiastical scene in Britain in the period between WWI and the 1950’s.

We who enjoy the embarrassment of riches of Classical Protestant theological materials today would do well to remember that such materials were mostly unavailable to the average pastor for much of the 20th century, let alone the average church member. Such materials as existed were locked up in university libraries. When they could be read, they were often read as artifacts of historical curiosity, rendered unbelievable to the modern reader thanks to “the assured results of modern scholarship.” Good answers have since been formulated to those challenges, and the springs of our forefathers have been cleansed of the clogging muck and debris, and once again flow clean and strong across the land. We are the beneficiaries of the labors of visionary men like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, J.I. Packer, and, in the United States, Billy Graham. Whatever criticisms we might level at them, we ought to honor them for their labors. We must also remember that these resources all but disappeared once, and could well do so again in the midst of mass defection from the faith such as seems to have begun in our own day.

Thus in 1929 if a man who was a member of the Church of England was going to be a thoroughgoing supernaturalist who held anything approaching traditional views of God, Christ, sin, salvation, and The Four Last Things, then the Anglo-Catholic, or “High Church” party was a natural place to go.

It is probably also useful to take note of Lewis’ own experiences prior to conversion. His maternal grandfather was, in Lewis’ own words, “an Evangelical clergyman” of apparently traditional Protestant convictions. Lewis says about his own early religion that it was not the “strict and vivid Puritanism” which some critics assumed he had been brought up in. Rather he was “taught the usual things and made to say [his] prayers, and in due time was taken to church.” He writes, “I naturally accepted what I was told, but cannot remember feeling much interest in it.”

His earliest sincere and self-aware religious experiences happened sometime between 1908 and 1910 when he was at a boarding school under the tutelage of a headmaster who was most likely insane, and who ended up dying in an asylum. The man, called Oldie in Lewis’ autobiography, was an Anglican clergyman who had no pastoral assignment. He took the children to a “high Anglo-Catholic” church twice every Sunday. “There,” he writes, “I became an effective believer.” For the first time he “heard the doctrines of Christianity (as distinct from ‘uplift’) taught by men who obviously believed them.” He even states that anyone who wishes to blame some early experience for his willingness to speak and write about hell, they ought to look to this period of Anglo-Catholicism rather than any supposedly radical Ulster Protestant upbringing.

The form of Christianity he adopted at this time was particularly burdensome to him, but for psychological rather than doctrinal reasons. This can be further explained by reading the relevant chapter, titled “Concentration Camp” in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy.

Not too many years later at about the age of thirteen or fourteen, he abandoned these beliefs with a great sense of relief, and embraced atheism.

Later, during young adulthood, and before he had been converted, Lewis’ reading and friendships once again exhibit the influence of Roman Catholic doctrine. In 1917, during the time he spent in a hospital recovering from an illness contracted in the trenches of wartime France, he first read G.K. Chesterton, the Roman Catholic apologist. It seems to be little understood today that Chesterton exerted almost as much influence on Lewis as MacDonald did. In Surprised By Joy he writes,

I had never heard of him and had no idea of what he stood for; nor can I quite understand why he made such an immediate conquest of me.

And again he writes:

In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wants to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful in his reading. There are traps everywhere- “Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,” as Herbert says, “fine nets and stratagems.” God is, if I may say so, very unscrupulous.

After being wounded in battle in 1918 Lewis was “demobbed” and returned to his studies at Oxford. He was still an atheist, but “the One Whom He So Desperately Did Not Want To Meet” was closing in. Upon finishing his degree, he went on to be a tutor and a lecturer at Oxford. There he met several men who became lifelong friends and influences. Among those was Alan (later Dom Bede) Griffiths, who converted to Catholicism in 1931 and eventually became a Benedictine monk. Lewis’ autobiography is dedicated to him.

It was during this phase that he also met Roman Catholic philologist J.R.R. Tolkein. Both men exerted a great influence on Lewis. Lewis’ friendship with Tolkein was somewhat surprising, even to him. He writes that as a Protestant growing up in Northern Ireland he had been warned “never trust a Catholic” and in the English department at Magdalene College, Oxford he had been warned “never trust a philologist.”

“Tolkein was both,” Lewis remarks dryly. Their friendship was formed when Tolkein invited Lewis to join a group he started called The Kolbitar. The members taught themselves the Old Norse language and read their mythology in that language, discussing the subject exhaustively. One writer says:

Tolkien named the association “Kolbitar,” which referred to Coalbiters. This name hearkened to the telling of noble adventures and sagas around the roaring hearth. (Coalbiters are those who lounge so close to the fire in winter that they virtually bite the coal.) The image also emphasizes the intimacy shared by the group’s members as they bundled themselves against the chill of world change and secularization, and regaled one another with the retelling of grand tales of history and myth.

There are other Catholic and Anglo-Catholic influences as well. He corresponded regularly with an English nun, and also corresponded regularly in Latin with an Italian priest.

Lewis’ main area of study was Medieval and Renaissance literature, and his special contribution to the field was his study on the Medieval concept of Courtly Love and its relations to the Medieval views of the Virgin Mary as the archetype of womanhood. Obviously the literature he specialized in was steeped in Catholic ideas and concepts, and was written during the period when Catholicism was getting especially far from its biblical moorings. In particular he enjoyed Julian of Norwich and Dante (reading him in the original Italian.)

Given all of these different influences in his life, it is not terribly surprising the Lewis held the theological views that he did. Indeed, it is somewhat surprising that he did not follow the path that his friend Dorothy Sayers and his student Sheldon Vanauken took, namely, conversion to Roman Catholicism. But he did not. He remained in the Church of England his whole life and died an Anglican. However, I think it is fair to say that his Anglicanism was more that of Pusey and Newman than that of J.C. Ryle.

Monday, April 4, 2011

PCA Overture 1 Map

Below is a map I produced that shows the split of Central Carolina Presbytery that is being proposed in Overture 1 at this year's PCA General Assembly. As you can see, it would create a new presbytery ("Catawba Valley Presbytery") and would split the Charlotte metro area in two.