Amongst friends and occasionally frenemies, I am regularly charged with being a crusty, old Presbyterian. I may be crusty, but at 31 I don’t think I’m very old. Such accusations generally come from the fact that I actually believe that the Westminster Confession of Faith accurately lays out what the Bible teaches us, including that the Pope is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God (WFC 25.6). Our confessional documents, in theory at least, are what binds us together as Presbyterians, because we hold that the Confession rightly interprets Scripture.
I’m not so naive as to think that the Confession doesn’t need some interpreting of its own, nor am I declaring that a brother is anticonfessional if he disagrees with me on certain points. However, I am suggesting that as conservative Presbyterians we should be more careful about the theological company that we keep. Just because a Christian could agree to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, or five points concerning monergistic soteriology, doesn’t mean he has anything relevant or remotely interesting to say.
Working at a large evangelical institution, I generally encounter people that want a risen Christ, but leave every other aspect of Christian theology as negotiable. This is the problem in a nutshell. The solution, you ask? As a broad Christian community, we have to stop trying to break our faith down to its lowest common denominator, because Christianity is not a lowest common denominator kind of religion. Apologetically, we cannot simply contend for the resurrection of Christ and neglect the other aspects of Christian theology (as some are in the habit of doing), because Christianity stands or falls as a whole. This being the case, we should take better care in defending and contending for our doctrinal distinctives.
As a group, we don’t have much trouble critiquing the views of other Presbyterians, but we seem to be a bit gun-shy concerning those outside of our tradition. If we have no trouble contending for a theologically consistent Presbyterian world, why then are we (I speak generally) so quick to throw our arms around evangelicals of various stripes without a word of caution concerning their serious theological deficiencies? Are we trying to “love them” into Presbyterianism? It seems to me that such a mentality does not bring them closer to our distinctives, but us closer to theirs.
I do want to contend that one doesn’t have to be hateful or mean to have a polemical discussion. I work with a couple of baptist seminary students that I would consider friends, and we often discuss our theological differences. While I am unflinching in my contention for confessional Presbyterian doctrine, and unwilling to grant the validity of some points of their doctrine, we get along well, and seem to genuinely like and respect each other. If we can do this on a small scale, why can’t it be done on a larger scale?
So, my question is, how much error is it okay to accept, and even promote? How much leaven is too little to be concerned about? Does Scripture really lay out what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man, or is it vague and mysterious, leaving us at a point where men may hold conflicting views and yet neither is wrong?
I would contend that Scripture teaches us clearly all what we are to believe concerning God, and that deviation from what Scripture teaches is sin, even with the best of intentions. This does not mean that we should quickly jettison all the works of Piper or Grudem that we own, but that we should not recommend such men without a serious word of caution. On a grand scale, our own leaders should be able to critique popular evangelical figures without the greater Calvinistic evangelical population losing their collective mind. Of course, for such a thing to happen, the leaders of the confessional Reformed and Presbyterian world would have to see the need to address such errors, and be willing to do so.