Two groups in the PCA

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Puritan Board Freshman
I have one question that has bothered me and thought someone on here might have a good answer. Why is it in the PCA do I find two different groups? Some PCA church, like where I am from in Indianapolis, Indiana, seem to all tend to be broadly evangelical, while other PCA churches tend to be truly reformed. Has this always been the case since the denomination was founded, and why is it like this in a reformed denomination? Most of these PCA churches are just like any good southern baptist church, besides the occasional baptizing of babies. Any thoughts?


Staff member
A better historian can correct me but I believe the divide has been there from the beginning, since you had both TRs and Evangelicals in the PCUS, and both groups came out to form the PCA.


Puritanboard Commissioner
A better historian can correct me but I believe the divide has been there from the beginning, since you had both TRs and Evangelicals in the PCUS, and both groups came out to form the PCA.

Then you had the RPCES "joining and receiving" in the early 1980's, most of whom were in the broad evangelical camp.


Puritan Board Freshman
I believe the distinction to lie along two different boundaries: 1) American Presbyterians / Continental Presbyterians; 2) Fundamentalist Presbyterians / Evangelical Presbyterians


Puritan Board Sophomore
I have one question that has bothered me and thought someone on here might have a good answer. Why is it in the PCA do I find two different groups? Some PCA church, like where I am from in Indianapolis, Indiana, seem to all tend to be broadly evangelical, while other PCA churches tend to be truly reformed. Has this always been the case since the denomination was founded, and why is it like this in a reformed denomination? Most of these PCA churches are just like any good southern baptist church, besides the occasional baptizing of babies. Any thoughts?

Oh, if we want to nitpick, within that first broad evangelical group are what I call the "urban" churches, which seem to follow a pattern of trying to reaching the urban lost while downplaying doctrine (at least, if their church websites are reflective of their churches - they usually don't even mention their PCA affiliation nor explicitly endorse or provide a link to, say, the WCF). I admire their experientiality but wonder about what's being said in the pulpit. It's probably unfair of me to say that, not having heard many actual sermons from those churches; if you belong to such a church and wish to admonish me, please do so.


Puritan Board Senior
One thing that contributes to the difference is that with the exception of a few sections, the Directory of Worship is not constitutional in the PCA as it is in say the OPC. This gives the BE's room to have more contemporary services.


Puritan Board Junior
I have one question that has bothered me and thought someone on here might have a good answer. Why is it in the PCA do I find two different groups? Some PCA church, like where I am from in Indianapolis, Indiana, seem to all tend to be broadly evangelical, while other PCA churches tend to be truly reformed. Has this always been the case since the denomination was founded, and why is it like this in a reformed denomination? Most of these PCA churches are just like any good southern baptist church, besides the occasional baptizing of babies. Any thoughts?

There was a byFaith Online "Monthly Umpired Debate" back in 2000 titled "What is the PCA?" You can find it by searching Google or going here. I can't seem to find the original piece by Tim Keller (The Original PCA "Contract"), but you might want to check out comment #24 by Mark Rooze.


Puritan Board Junior
I found a cached version of Keller's article:

The Original PCA "Contract"
Dr. Timothy Keller

I joined the PCA when I was 24 years old, fresh out of seminary, in 1975. The PCA was still brand new--just 19 months had passed since the birth of the 'National Presbyterian Church'. It was a very exciting time. Reformed U.S. Christians up to that time had to choose between being members of a liberal mainline church, or of one of the very small Reformed bodies, or of one of the heavily ethnic confessional Reformed churches. The PCA was so refreshing because it promised to redraw the truth-unity line. What do I mean that?

Every church has to decide how it will practice Christ's mandate to be apostolic and holy as well as the mandate to be one and catholic. Apostolicity/holiness means that we have to stand for the ancient truth without compromise; unity/catholicity means that we should not allow unnecessary division over secondary issues. (The High Priestly Prayer of Christ in John 17 shows that unnecessary division from other Christians is a sin.)

The only way to honor both mandates is to draw a doctrinal boundary line that seeks to honor both mandates as much as possible. A Christian body has to decide the number of "essential" truths that are worth dividing over and which issues are secondary and not worth dividing over. Absolutely every single Christian body has drawn this line somewhere. The further you draw the line over (leftward???) toward being more unified and catholic--i.e. decreasing the number of "essential truths"-- the broader the church tends to get. The temptation in this direction is to compromise the truth so you can be bigger and more powerful and look broad-minded. The further you draw the line over (rightward??) toward being more holy--i.e. increasing the number of "essential truths"--the smaller and more divided the church tends to get. The temptation in this direction is to drive out or withdraw from anyone who differs with you so you can feel very pure and superior to people who do not have all the "right" doctrines. It is interesting to notice that in both directions, the temptation is to pride and power--albeit in different forms.

But once a church has drawn this line it should be very humble about its decision, because it is so hard to know just where the line should be. No matter where you draw it, much or most of Christianity thinks you're wrong! If you think you have escaped "impurity" because you have drawn the line far over toward holiness, you will soon discover there is always someone who has gone even further and thinks that you are a compromiser. If you think you are not guilty of "narrowness" because you fellowship with a diversity of people, you will soon discover there is always someone who has gone even further and thinks you are a sectarian. So we never can be sure we've eliminated the danger of "impurity" nor "narrowness". You have to rely on the Spirit of wisdom and pray for balance. All you can do is to try to honor both Biblical concerns, not favoring the one over the other.

When the PCA came along, we had either Reformed churches that had drawn the line very far toward unity or else very far toward holiness. Many of the PCA founders felt that, as a result, Reformed Christians in both settings were ineffective in reaching North America for Christ. They felt that if you are lost in a huge pluralistic church or trapped in a narrow tiny church, you cannot minister very well. So when the PCA was formed, they determined to re-draw the truth-unity line in a way they thought that was more biblical and (therefore) more conducive to effective ministry. They wanted to avoid the mistakes of both the mainline church and the smaller Reformed bodies. It was a big part of the 'genius' of the new PCA that made it attractive to many.

Thus there was what I call a kind of 'contract'--a mutual understanding among the founders--that the PCA was going to allow for Reformed diversity at more points than the smaller denominations had done, but also to insist on uniformity on far more issues than the mainline churches had done. The result was a unique 'PCA balance' of diversity and uniformity, of truth and love, which was going to be an alternative to any other American Reformed body. This 'contract' was not formally laid out in any one place. (This may have been an oversight!) It could be discerned, however, in a variety of places--parts of the Constitution, various General Assembly rulings and reports, Confessional subscription-exceptions allowed in Presbyteries, word-of-mouth, etc. Nonetheless, it was quite clear where the PCA allowed diversity of opinion and where it demanded uniformity.

A. Points Of Diversity
First, it was understood that a diversity of positions would be accepted on the millennium and on eschatology. This was one of the points that had split the OPC from the RPCES and its forbears, for example. Everyone realizes that eschatology is very significant. As an a-millenialist, I have concerns that pre-mils do not understand the presence of the kingdom and tend therefore to have an individualistic, pietistic approach to the faith. On the other hand, pre-millenialists have had concerns that a-mils have a hermeneutic that plays loose with the Scripture, that they don't believe in taking the Bible literally, and so on. So no one was saying that one's position on eschatology was inconsequential. Rather, we simply decided not to divide over it as others had. It was not put in the list of 'essential truths' for unity. Despite our differences in this area, we wanted to stay together and work together. (It was interesting to me that a-mils in the PCA have never pressed their advantage in the Confession. Chapter 33 probably teaches a single judgment and resurrection of the righteous and the wicked at the same time. But, unlike in the creation controversy (see below), one side has not started insisting that the other side begin to register exceptions to the Confession.)

Second, it was understood that a diversity of positions would be accepted on creation and the days of Genesis 1. There was from the very start a good number of ministers who believed that the first chapter of Genesis was not describing 24-hour days. Many believed a version of Meredith Kline's 'framework view' that he got from other Dutch Reformed thinkers; others believed in the day-age view. But it was very clearly understood in the early days that the PCA was not going to be split over this issue either. In this case, Chapter 4 of the Confession seems to indicate that the authors believed the days of Genesis 1 to be 24-hour days, but that the seventh 'day' was not. So the Confession probably sides with the hermeneutical literalists in this case, (while it does not in the eschatology issue!) Yet it was generally understood, that whether a candidate took an exception to Chapter 4 on creation or not, we expected people on all sides of this question to stay together and work together. It was not put in the list of 'essential truths' for unity.

Third, it was understood that a diversity of positions would be accepted on our practice of the Sabbath. In this case, the Confession clearly articulates the Puritan approach to the Sabbath day in strictly forbidding not only work but all forms of recreation. Other very old and ancient Reformed traditions (leading back, of course, to Calvin himself) allowed more flexibility in Sabbath practice including leisure and recreational activities. Despite the strict Sabbatarianism of the WCF, and despite the continual protests of some original PCA members, most Presbyteries have regularly allowed ministers to take exceptions to the standards at this point. The result was, again, to allow a diversity of historic Reformed positions.

I mention these three because they came up in presbyteries again and again. But there were other issues somewhat less prominent. Some felt we should keep Freemasons out, but the PCA refused to do so. Some people tried to get the GA to go on record encouraging abstinence from alcohol, but the PCA refused that as well. On the other hand, efforts were made to question whether 'theonomists' should be allowed in the PCA. That was also rejected. Many tried to get the PCA to avoid cooperative ministry agreements with non-Reformed bodies and churches. But that was resisted too.

The main lesson was this. There were a number of historic divisions that had split Reformed bodies in the past. There was a tension between European Christianity vs. American Christianity (e.g. abstinence from alcohol, millennial issues); between Continental Reformed vs. British Puritans (e.g. Sabbath); between the more Dutch approach to Biblical Theology vs. the American approach to Systematic Theology (e.g. nature of the kingdom, reading Genesis 1); between the Old Side non-revivalists vs. the New side revivalists (e.g. cooperation with other evangelicals, ministry emphases). But the PCA was not going to buy heavily in to any one of these. We were going to be open to a breadth and diversity of historic Reformed positions, all under one roof.

B. Points Of Uniformity
Just as significant to the identity of the new PCA were those points at which diversity was not allowed. As our greater diversity made us more broad than some smaller Reformed bodies (such as the OPC), so our greater uniformity has made us more unified than other bodies, such as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which drew it's truth-unity line more broadly, more toward the "unity" side.

First it was made clear that there would be no divergence from Reformed soteriology. Election, definite atonement, forensic justification, sanctification by faith, and perseverance of the saints are all contested by non-Reformed branches of evangelicalism. We early on determined not to grant exceptions here. It is not enough to be 'generally evangelical.' Everyone in the PCA must be committed to the full Reformed system of salvation. I think it is well known that a couple of older pastors who came in with the original PCA 'fathers' were not really Reformed in their soteriology, but there has been no replication of that allowed by any Presbyteries over the years. In the EPC, however, it was clearly stated in their original 'contract' that you could come in to the denomination even if you were not 'a full 5-point Calvinist.' They define 'Reformed theology' more loosely than we do.

Second, it was made clear that full-blown charismatic ministry would not flourish in the PCA. The second GA approved a "Pastoral Letter" on the charismatic gifts that took (what I call) a 'soft cessationist' view of tongues, healing, etc. It did not insist that miracles and the extraordinary gifts had necessarily ceased, but it insisted that there is no new revelation coming from God through any spiritual gifts and rejected the idea of the 'baptism of the Holy Spirit' as a second stage of spiritual experience. The gist of the letter was to make it impossible for anyone truly in the mainstream charismatic movement to practice a classic Pentecostal ministry in the PCA. In the EPC, however, complete diversity is allowed, from hard cessationist to strongly charismatic.

Third, it was made clear that there would be no diversity on women's ordination. Though there has always been some difference of opinion about whether women can be deacons (especially after the entry of the RPCES churches in 1982), there has never been even a hint that the PCA is open to diversity on the ordination of women to the ruling or teaching office. However, in the EPC, local churches are able to take positions either for or against women in ruling or teaching office.

C. Points of diversity inside the unity
Inside these points of uniformity, however, a delicate balance was struck. A limited but real diversity of position and practice from congregation to congregation and minister to minister has been allowed.

First, in the area of soteriology--the PCA has never made an issue out of (for lack of a better term) supra- and infralapsarian. We have always allowed a diversity of opinion here. Practically speaking, for example, there are churches that do not consider the PCA really Reformed because we offer the gospel to the non-elect. I would consider that a 'hyper-Calvinist' position, while they have called me (an infralapsarian) a 'hypo-Calvinist.' We do, therefore allow some diversity within our Reformed soteriology.

Second, with the charismatic issue, the GA has never taken a complete and total cessationist position--i.e. that miracles have ceased, that tongues of any sort have ceased. The "Pastoral Letter" only insisted that we not allow any gifts that bring new revelation apart from the Scripture. But that leaves limited room for diversity of opinion about the nature of tongues. Some in the PCA believe they have not ceased, and that they are not revelatory. No one has ever tried to ferret such people out of the denomination.

Third, with the issue of women's role, there has also been some difference of opinion and practice allowed. At a couple of key places, the BCO could have precluded women from reading Scripture in worship (cf.50-2) or teaching in public, but it never did. So though women's ordination office is excluded, what women do within the church as laypeople has never been prescribed specifically. Here too, there has been a diversity of practice at the local level. Some churches, for example, forbid women to speak in worship or teach groups with men and women in them. Other churches take their cue from J.B. Hurley's book, Men and Women in Biblical Perspective, which asserts that what non-ruling elder males can do in the church, a woman can do.

These points of a) diversity, b) uniformity, and c) diversity-within-the uniformity help us discern the original PCA 'contract'. I think that my analysis can be easily checked out. Call up ten of the original 'founders' and almost all of them will say that these were the original understandings of where the unity-diversity line was to be drawn. And even the one or two men who never liked where the line was drawn will agree that this was where most of the founders wanted it.

In the last few years, however, there seems to be an increasing effort to re-draw the original PCA doctrinal boundary line. Perhaps the most visible places that this is happening is with the issue of the days of creation. That was always a "point of diversity," but there is a push by some toward making this an "essential" doctrine. Another area may become the area of women's role in lay ministry. There are many efforts under way to eliminate much of the "diversity-within-the-uniformity" that has been there. Besides these two, there are fairly regular attempts to reverse older policies set years ago--like cooperative agreements with other evangelicals in mission.

A. The Reasons for Changing the Line
What reasons could be given for changing the diversity-uniformity mix of the PCA? The reason that is often given is that there is a trend toward 'theological declension'--toward theological liberalism or pluralism--in every denomination, and the PCA is showing signs of it. So we must stem the tide.

But is it really drifting? Of course, it is very important to hold people accountable should we drift from our original position. But I've been here virtually from the beginning, and I can say that I'm amazed at the lack of 'drift' in the PCA. It would be very serious if someone was trying to change our view or Scripture, or trying to say that we don't need to believe in election or substitutionary atonement, or seeking to promote the ordination of women to the ministry--but no one is. In only one area have I seen much change--and that is in the area of worship. There is much more diversity of liturgy and worship music than there was twenty-five years ago. Many people have grabbed hold of the trend toward "contemporary worship" as a sign that such churches have become influenced by secular culture. That is certainly worth discussing. (New patterns in worship is a far more important matter to debate than 24-hour day creation, I believe.) But contemporary worship, all by itself, can hardly be considered a broad pattern shifting toward heterodoxy or theological pluralism. And apart from this change, I don't see any other trends in the PCA toward 'loosening' standards.

I wonder whether a more direct reason for the efforts to change the line is the amount of diversity itself. Those with 'stricter' views often find their consciences more 'grieved' and violated than those of their opponents in these issues. For example, if I was a strict Sabbatarian, it would break my heart to see so many churches in the PCA violating the standard. (I often feel something of the same heartache when Christians I respect and love support women's ordination, a position I think is a significant mistake.) On the other hand, I do not experience any sorrow to see a church stick much more closely to the traditional Puritan view of Sunday. Here's another example. If I take a "Kline view" of Genesis 1, I think that the 24-hour-day view is simply a misreading of the text. But if I take a 24-hour-day view, I could possibly feel that the "Kline view" is a dangerous compromise of Scriptural authority. Therefore, many people in the PCA have consciences that really keep driving them to challenge the historic PCA 'truth-unity' line.

B. The Reality of Changing the Line
However, this paper is trying to point out that any time we demand more "hard-line" uniformity in an area where there was previous diversity, we are not simply "firming up" our church--we are changing it. We must not look at these issues only doctrinally, but ecclesiastically as well. We should not conduct our discussions of these issues in the PCA without remembering the historic context. If we insist that all churches in the PCA hold to 24-hour creation, (or if we insist every church have a 'hard' cessationist view of charismatic gifts, or become strict Sabbatarian, or preclude women from public reading and teaching) then we are drastically re-drawing the original truth-unity line. If we add to the uniformity list--to the "essential doctrines" worth dividing over--then we are going to significantly change the original 'contract' that made the PCA what it was. We will also significantly change the size of the PCA.

(Let me give an illustration. John Murray (an early professor at Westminster Seminary) was a candidate under care of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. In the mid-1920's, there was a debate over whether members who took public transportation to worship on the Sabbath should be barred from the Lord's Table (because they were encouraging others to work). Though Murray was extremely scrupulous in his own Sabbath-observance and did not use public transport himself, he did not believe it was Biblical to discipline people where the Scripture did not bind their consciences. However, the Synod ruled that such persons had to be barred and they required all ministers and Sessions to do so. As a result, John Murray had to leave his church. (See J.Murray, Collected Writings: Volume 3, pp.32ff.) What happened here? The FPC drew the boundary line further over toward truth, but that necessarily required that it be moved away from unity at the same time. When you add to the "essential doctrines-list", that is the result.)

Some people know this very well--and that is exactly what they want. They have never liked the original consensus. They would prefer to split the PCA into at least two or three smaller bodies by insisting that old points of diversity now become points of uniformity. But I think that most people who are seeking to change the original boundary lines don't seem to realize that this is what they are doing. If, for example, the PCA GA determines that 24-hour day creation is the only orthodox position, it will force many people out of the denomination. If it determines constitutionally that women cannot participate in public worship services, it will have the same effect. Most people who are pushing for these changes do not seem to fully realize they are attacking the original 'truth-unity' line of the PCA and are assaulting its original identity.

C. The Adequacy of the Line
I don't want to argue for keeping the historic 'truth-unity' line just because it is historic. I also think it has been 'adequate'. I know 'adequate' sounds like a rather weak complement, but we have to remember that any place you draw this line will be somewhat imperfect. Remember that the Bible does not provide for 'denominations', and doesn't tell us which issues to divide over! What you want to do is have a line that gives you enough diversity of gifts so you can do a full range of ministry, yet gives you enough consensus that you can pool resources and work together.

Is the line adequate? I think so. Consider the factor of church planting, which is a fairly good indicator of denominational health. Churches too broadly drawn or too narrowly drawn both have a poor track record of new church development. The PCA has done pretty well here, certainly in comparison to sister denominations of the narrower or broader variety. That is certainly a sign that the line is in a wise place.

I'll go farther. The PCA "line" even has untapped potential. George Marsden has noted that American Reformed churches tend to break down into three different "streams" which he calls 'doctrinalist', 'culturalist', and 'pietist'(See George Marsden, "Reformed and American" in Reformed Theology in America ed. David F. Wells, Baker, 1997). Doctrinalist churches stress theological reflection and confession, Culturalist churches stress social and cultural transformation, while Pietist churches emphasize evangelism, discipleship, and church growth. Obviously, however, the Bible calls us to all three.

The smaller Reformed bodies (like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) have drawn the line so tightly that they almost have to be exclusively 'doctrinalist' churches. The more mainline bodies, who draw the lines so broadly, are full of culturalists but are dying because they can't do evangelism and church planting. I believe that the PCA's 'original contract' could accommodate us becoming a truly fully-orbed church, that engages broadly and deeply in all of these endeavors. We have not realized this fullness or balance, of course, but we at least have the possibility, as the line is now drawn. But if we begin to turn points of diversity into points of essential uniformity, our opportunity will be lost. We'll be pressing ourselves into a 'doctrinalist' mode.

Let's keep the line where it is!

In many presbyteries and nearly every General Assembly this is the on-going, underlying issue. All the controversies about strict or loose subscription, about relationships to para-church groups, about women speaking at conferences, about creation--are all aspects of the same question: where should the truth-unity line be? A minority wants to change it, increasing the number of 'essential' doctrines, while a majority wants to keep it where it has been. What, then, can we do about the chronic tensions and the continual efforts to re-draw the line?

Below are five common responses to the problem that I have heard proposed. Each has merits and each has very serious problems. I admit that right now I prefer the fifth approach, but I critique them all and I don't feel any one of them is the obvious "true and right" way to go.

1) The "Mellow Out" Scenario. In the earlier days of the denomination, the most prevalent response of those in the majority (who affirm the original balance of the PCA) was to hope that those who want to re-draw the line would eventually 'mellow'. This was partly because, back then, so many of the 'Founders' were in their 40's and 50's and most of those who wanted to redraw the line were younger men in their 20's. So the hope was, "eventually they will come to accept and see the wisdom of the degree of diversity and kind of unity that we have." Problem: This hope has begun to dim as we pass our 25th anniversary and there seems to be no sign of the tensions moderating at all. If anything, they may be getting worse. Also, there no longer seems to be any discernible age differential between groups or parties. Therefore, fewer people now hope that more consensus will just 'come with time'.

2) "Voluntary Re-alignment". Another prevalent response of those both in the majority and the minority has been to hope that many on the other side will tire of the battle and leave. This has been called "voluntary re-alignment." This is seldom said out loud of course. There are plenty of people who argue that a respectful division is the best way to seek peace. Problems: a) First, there is the theological objection. This view means that each 'side' has lost hope for the growth in grace of the other. In the Bible, loss of hope for a fruit of the gospel (unity, maturity) is never a good thing, and then there is John 17! There needs to be a very strong biblical reason for division--where is it? Most of the arguments for it are pragmatic. b) Second, this hope for division has bad practical effects. This view leads people either (1) to 'play hard-ball' in church courts and make no effort at real persuasion or dialogue (because they hope the opponents will simply get out or shut up), or, on the other hand, (2) this view leads people to simply ignore presbyteries and General Assemblies and committees as much as possible, and to be very passive and detached from the denomination as a whole.

3) Re-Engagement. A third response I've heard has two parts to it. a) First, change the attitude toward conflict. This view insists that we should declare tension and conflict as an acceptable cost in the business of ministry and get on with it. This approach says: "Even if there was a division, then the new denominations would simply develop their own tensions and counter-balances and we'd be back to square one. So let's not be so upset about the conflicts, nor hope for the other side to leave. Let us strengthen our personal relationships and carry out our debates with civility and let's not talk about splitting or leaving (or strangling!)." b) Second, however, this view calls all sides to become very engaged and active in presbyteries, General Assemblies, committees, and denominational venues. Right now, many in the majority are dis-engaged and tend to bury their heads in their own local ministries, hoping the conflicts will go away and avoiding them at all costs. This view calls everyone to 'get involved' and 're-engage'. Problem: Though this sounds wholesome and wise, it could easily lead to an escalation of the tension. It could lead to more political maneuvering, political organizing, and to greater conflict and hostility rather than to honest interchange and unity.

4) Confessional Revision. A fourth possible response I've heard is to do work on revising the Confession itself. Why? As we have seen, the original PCA 'balance' was arrived at through a decision to allow more Reformed diversity than the Confession itself allows at several points. One of the reason that many in the minority feel driven by their consciences to re-draw the line is because at several key points they feel the compulsion of the Confession. So this view goes like this: "We have allowed widespread exceptions to the Confession at certain agreed upon points, as well as widespread divergence from the strict Puritan view of worship that is behind the Confession. But if we are going to grant regular and constant exceptions at certain points, shouldn't we amend the Confession at those points, so that it reflects the truth-unity line that we have in fact drawn?" In this process, people might find their minds being changed, greater unity occurring. Or, on the other hand, when the revision is done, some people might find themselves conscience-bound to leave, but even that may promote peace and integrity, if it is done properly."

Problems: This approach has a lot of integrity about it. But there are at least two serious objections to this strategy. a) One is the objection is the riskiness of the venture. There is a risk of huge cost for no gain. It almost certainly would take years and would consume big parts of the lives of many gifted people. (It would also take mountains of money.) But it could very easily produce absolutely nothing. It is very likely that the General Assembly will simply get 'cold feet' about passing any major revisions to the Confession. Some people are so sure that we don't have the theological 'fire-power' to produce compelling and worthy alternatives to current confessional language that rejection and failure is guaranteed.

b) But there is a second objection that goes even deeper. It says that Confession-revision may not get to the root of our problem at all. It may be that our divisions are not so much over basic doctrine as over "theological vision." Rick Lints says that a Theological Vision consists of both a doctrinal/theological framework and a particular interpretation of the contemporary culture and moment in history (See Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology, Eerdmans, 1993, pp.312ff.). In other words, two people may have a fairly similar view of biblical truth, but be quite different in their view of how to communicate and apply that truth to the culture. For example, two ministers may believe the 5 points of Calvinism, yet may have very divergent views of popular culture, or secular psychology, or global capitalism. As a result, their churches will minister in (even radically) different ways. Why? Because the ministers have conflicting "theological visions," though they might be able to agree on most all the doctrinal formulations in the Confession. Therefore our conflicts may not be fixable by revision to the existing Westminster Confession.

5) Theological Vision Statement. A fifth response is not to work on the Confession, but to work on a different document that would serve the PCA for more like a decade or so. This would be a "Theological Vision" statement, more along the lines of what Rick Lints discusses. A document like would interpret the culture as well as the Bible, make some of the unwritten "PCA Contract" on uniformity-diversity explicit, affirm broad strategies for mission, and so on. An effort in this direction was the Statement of Identity that some PCA members worked on in the early 90's. Problems: 1) One main problem will probably be a persistent confusion about whether this is amending or adding to the Constitution or not. There will need to be continual effort at definition. It might not work. 2) The Statement of Identity was met with a lot of hostility, and I won't take the time to critique the process or content here. But a second objection would be similar to that under #4 above. It might take a tremendous amount of time and effort for the GA to develop such a statement, and in the end it might not pass. On the other hand, it is much more likely to be adopted than a Confessional revision.

I hope it is evident that I do not think any of these approaches are a 'magic cure', and there may be other approaches that I can't see right now. All I know is that the "status quo" is getting difficult to live with.

My bottom line: I am happy with my connection to the PCA and I don't want to lose the denomination I've been part of for the last 25 years. I would like to see it grow, especially in its understanding and practice of mission. That will not happen if the truth-unity line is redrawn to make us a 'tighter' and more narrow church than we have been historically.


Puritan Board Senior
Morton Smith, one of the early founders of the PCA, would disagree with Mr. Keller, which he did at the GA in Dallas a few years back. In fact he confessed that it was a mistake on the part of the founders of the PCA not to state categorically that the PCA was a strict subscriptionist denomination. The founders simply assumed it.


Puritan Board Junior
I found a cached version of Keller's article:

Thank you for posting this. Although I ultimately disagree with Keller's position on the relationship between unity and uniformity in the church, it is interesting and refreshing to see someone from "the other side" being so candid about the way things are.
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