Thursday, November 29, 2007

Response to Doug Wilson

Ol’ Beelzeblog responded to Andy Webb’s post from the BB Warfield list by utilizing his well-crafted art of deception. I would link to it if reading it was worth your time, but it’s not. Just read Pastor Webb’s answer and appreciate the absence of fast moves, cutting insults, deliberate misquotations, clever word games, or other devices from hell.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I really didn’t want to get into a direct exchange with Doug Wilson over the matter of discipline concerning Steve Wilkins and Louisiana Presbytery but given that he has responded to me directly on his blog and both asks questions and implies that I made groundless assertions, I don’t really feel like I have much of a choice but to reply. I’m going to go ahead and post Wilson’s reply, but I should point out that Doug’s post quotes my original very selectively, and at times it’s unclear where what I wrote ends and how he responds begins. For that reason, I’d recommend reading my original post first if you haven’t already done so:

Andy then argues that FV advocates by definition will cry procedural foul so long as our views are not upheld, which is manifestly false. He says, “the only way the FV community will consider a report ‘fair’ and the scholars who prepared it ‘wise’ is if it approves their theology.” Oh, I don’t know. My threshold is much lower than that. I would have considered a study committee report procedurally fair if they had not, for example, stacked it with all opponents, nothing but opponents, opponents all the way down.

Manifestly false? Ok, I’ll bite. Show me a few examples of when a denominational or seminary report that labeled the FV a serious error (if not a heresy) was not attacked by FV advocates on procedural grounds (“they didn’t contact the authors personally,” “the committee members were . . . (you may choose more than one) biased, incompetent, disingenuous, hypocritical, ignorant, sloppy,” etc., etc.) Also by Wilson’s criteria, the Canons of Dordt were procedurally unfair because the council was “stacked” with Calvinists.

Substance and process are different issues. I have repeatedly named FV critics who are obviously fair-minded and judicious men. I know they are out there, and I pray that some of them are on the SJC. So there is a difference between a decision with which we differ and a decision which is obviously a judicially-coated bum’s rush.

It’s at the point that I almost want to break off the dialogue. “Judicially-coated bum’s rush”? We have men like Sean Lucas, the Dean of Faculty from our denominational seminary on the committee and it’s to be assumed that these men are closed-minded, sinister, unfair, and incapable of accurately assessing a theological movement? Given that the FV has been discussed to death via books, papers, conferences, debates, colloquiums, DVDs, the internet, etc. for at least five years (longer if one includes contributing movements like Shepherdism and the NPP), and that its proponents have had ample time to present their case and have only been able to persuade a tiny minority, I find it bizarre that they would demand that we look for people who either haven’t been exposed to the FV and come to decision or some of its open proponents to populate the committee. Where is the requirement that a study committee have active proponents of the issue being studied on it and how does a lack of them nullify the validity of the conclusions of such a study? Historically the reformed have not felt constrained to put proponents of a position suspected of being in error on the commission studying it, rather they have sought Christian men who were qualified to judge and render an assessment. Is Wilson asserting that this committee and the OPC committee that drew the same conclusions were unqualified to assess a system of doctrine? For instance, was the old PCUS study committee report that determined that Dispensationalism was not compatible with the Standards in error because the assembly did not take care to make sure Dispensationalists were well-represented on the committee? Are we to assume that we can’t come to a fair assessment of whether having foxes in the henhouse is a good idea unless we have foxes represented on the committee?

If the position “PROPONENTS MUST BE PRESENT ON THE COMMITTEE AND A MINORITY PAPER MUST BE DELIVERED” is really a rule to be followed are we going to follow it when it comes to studying issues like Women’s ordination, Open Theism, Same-Sex marriage, etc?

Then Andy gives a summary of the whole Wilkins’ deal. I will follow the numbering of his summary, and add comments as we go.

1. Wilkins is a member of Louisiana Presbytery, which has only 8 churches, and has in the past harbored other malefactors. “For instance, Jeff Steel, former pastor of an LA Presbytery church, went on to become Father Jeffrey Steel and an assistant to N.T. Wright. Simply put, this is not a Presbytery where an attachment to the FV or NPP is considered odd.” Wilkins is suspect because another pastor in his Presbytery went Anglican? I wonder how many presbyteries in the PCA are suspect on this interesting basis.

I sense Doug is not getting my point. Steel is more than just an Anglican, by his own confession he’s an Anglo-Catholic, the type that includes posts like “Most Holy Theotokos Save Us!” on his blog. None of this is brand new to his theological perspective, and yet there was never a thought of investigating his theological views when he was in LA Presbytery because Anglo-Catholic and NPP views, while they would be incredibly alarming in most PCA presbyteries, are no big deal in LA Presbytery. LA Presbytery didn’t view Wilkins’ views as out of accord precisely because they are fairly common in that particular Presbytery.

In fact, while the SJC was very careful about their wording, they as much as admit that the critical problem is that a controlling majority of Presbyters appear to agree with the FV and the NPP and therefore that no trial that seriously questions the truth of those convictions will be forthcoming. After pointing out the places where Wilkins’ answers deviated from the teaching of the Standards, the SJC decision notes: “Indeed, Presbytery’s citation, without any caveats whatsoever, of the written and oral examinations of TE Wilkins as part of its grounds for denying the complaint of TE Jones gives the appearance that Presbytery is supportive of views such as those noted above.”

“2. Steve Wilkins’ own attachment to the FV is unquestionable.” Okay, I’ll give him half of this one. FV and Auburn Ave Theology (named after Steve’s church) are interchangeable, and Athanasius Press, the publishing arm of Auburn Ave, published a book entitled The Federal Vision, which had an essay by Steve in it. But unquestionable attachment to the FV is a very different thing than asserting that the opponents of the FV are representing it accurately. Wilkins is FV, all right, but if FV is what some people say it is, then he is not, and neither am I.

Again we see that no one can define the FV except the FV and they reserve the right to assert that they don’t mean what we think they mean when they do and don’t necessarily affirm what the other FV guy said he meant at the time. In the end, no one has understood the FV if they condemn it, and if an FV proponent ceases to agree and leaves the movement, that only proves they never really understood it. And this is an improvement over the “Old Perspective?” If I went around arguing that a majority of Reformed people disagree with me because — even after they’ve read my copious writings on the subject — they don’t understand what I’m saying, after a while I might begin to wonder if the problem wasn’t me.

3. This next one is astonishing. “Despite the size of the Presbytery attempts have been made to bring charges against Wilkins by members of the presbytery. These attempts have never produced a trial because the Presbytery has consistently refused to do so.” Oh? Every day I learn something new about PCA polity. I did not know, for example, that charges can only be filed if Presbytery allows it. Or let’s suppose another suppose. Let us assume that the men who objected to Wilkins did file charges properly, and the Presbytery, in defiance of the BCO, refused to act. So why wasn’t Louisiana Presbytery brought up short on charges for that?

Excuse me. How is this possible? Is Andy making an accusation here that Louisiana “consistently refused” to act on charges properly submitted? Is he able to prove this? Is he able to bring charges? If Louisiana really did something like this, that really would be actionable.

On two separate occasions motions where made at the Presbytery to begin investigations into Steve Wilkins’ teaching which is the necessary precursor to a trial. The following is from the minutes of the 72nd Stated Meeting of Louisiana Presbytery at Auburn Avenue PCA on October 19, 2002, on page 5:

“In reference to Item # 4 (Attachment F.) TE Jim Jones moved that the presbytery establish a committee to investigate the theological issues raised by the RPCUS in their communication received at the July 2002 meeting of Louisiana Presbytery and by a member of this presbytery.

The vote was: 6 for, 7 against, 4 abstentions.
TE James Jones records his positive vote on this matter.”

The context of this discussion and vote was the teaching of Steve Wilkins and the Auburn Avenue declaration.

Later in 2004 when Rich Lusk, Wilkins’ Associate Pastor at Auburn Ave, was attempting to transfer to Evangel Presbytery (Evangel’s Candidates Committee declined his transfer on theological grounds and Lusk subsequently brought that church into the CREC) at the meeting that year at Lafayette, LA, Jones again made the motion to examine both Rich Lusk and Steve Wilkins. The presbytery was unwilling to hold up Lusk’s departure for Evangel or examine Wilkins but did establish a study committee to look at the FV theology in general but declined to investigate Wilkins in particular.

On both occasions there was considerable negativity in the Presbytery expressed towards those in favor of examination and it was clear (as the SJC noted) that no trial would likely appear as that would amount to a trial not just of the beliefs of Wilkins, but the bare majority of the presbyters. As I noted before, this is a problem endemic to theological affinity presbyteries — everyone has the same Ox so a strict “No Goring” rule is in force.

4. In January 2005 Central Carolina Presbytery asked Louisiana to examine Wilkins’ formally, which they did, deciding that there “was nothing chargeable in Wilkins’ views.” No comment here.

5. This one takes us back to #3. “Given that no action against Wilkins was available from within the LA Presbytery, several Presbyteries determined . . .” Okay, humor me. Let’s go over this assertion again, for it has been made two times now. “No action against Wilkins was available from within.” That is a substantive assertion, one we ought to be able to hang our hats on. So where is the peg? What happened? Were there not enough members of the Presbytery to file charges? Did they file charges and the Presbytery kept losing the paperwork? Can charges only be filed if the charges themselves are approved by a majority vote of the Presbytery? Or was it some other thing I haven’t thought of? Notice Andy’s curious circumlocution here: ““No action was available . . .” What is that supposed to mean?

See above answer to #3. No investigation, no trial, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the verdict would be when a theological affinity Presbytery tries the majority view.

6. Although one appeal from the outside presbyteries was rejected, another one based on BCO 40-5 was taken up. This memorial charged that Louisiana was guilty of “important delinquency and/or grossly unconstitutional proceedings.” This is how Louisiana first found itself having to answer to the SJC. Another Presbytery asserted that they had done wrong, and the SJC considered it.

Not really. As demonstrated, several attempts including requests from other denominations had been made to get LA Presbytery to try Wilkins views. Complaints were also filed by members of the presbytery over Wilkins’ exoneration. Even Howard Davis, a man no one can seriously label “Anti-FV” or “unfair,” filed a dissent over Wilkins exoneration. The fact is that because of the composition of the Presbytery, it was only POSSIBLE to deal with the problem by exercising the BCO’s review and control methods. Emergencies like this is what they were written for in the first place.

7. “The SJC determined that our memorial was in order, and that LA Presbytery had erred both in the methodology of their investigation and in their decision to exonerate Wilkins.” Emphasis there is mine. I have to assume that this cannot be understood as a finding of Wilkins’ guilt, but rather a determination that exoneration was premature or improperly grounded. Louisiana was told to reinvestigate, using new guidelines. Notice that all these are inquiries, investigations, reinvestigations, sets of questions, and so forth. No trial yet. No charges (to this day) have been filed, and the procedures that a trial would call for have not yet been applied.

8. Louisiana examined Wilkins again and exonerated him a second time (Is that the word we want, exonerated? He is not on trial). The vote was 13 to 8, and 7 of the dissenting votes filed a complaint with the SJC.

Ah, now you are complaining about Louisiana’s Presbytery’s own language not mine. I agree it was over the top. I quote: Louisiana Presbytery Report on Federal Vision Theology — found him to be “publicly exonerated by Louisiana Presbytery and declared to be faithful to the Confessional Standards of the PCA.”

9. In the meantime, the GA assembly overwhelmingly approved a study report which condemned what they considered to be FV theology. The runaway train aspect of this whole affair is summed up nicely by R.C. Sproul’s statement on why there was no minority report, why it was okay for the committee to be stacked. You don’t put the defendents on a jury, it appears. Right, but it was a study committee, not a jury. And if it were a jury, you don’t put avowed opponents of the accused on a jury any more than you put friends, employees, or cousins of the accused on a jury. Either way you go with it, that was all screwed up. If a study committee, why no minority report? If a jury, why were adversaries of the accused allowed on it?

See my answer above regarding the study committee. Also, Doug’s objection neatly disregards a few salient facts. As mentioned before, for FIVE YEARS at least, the proponents of the FV have industriously spreading their message, it has reached and affected churches as far away as Eastern Europe. In order to become the report of the PCA the study committee paper had to receive a favorable vote. Now, if the majority of PCA presbyters liked the FV, you could have had the most negative report in history and it wouldn’t have made a difference, they still wouldn’t have voted in favor of the report. The fact that over 90% of the PCA voted for the report is not due to the fact that we all like RC Sproul (and who doesn’t?), but that the vast majority of presbyters exposed to the FV have responded negatively because IT ISN’T SCRIPTURAL OR CONFESSIONAL AND THEY KNOW IT. The FV men would like us to believe that the PCA is entirely filled with gullible twits who know nothing about any issue and will automatically adopt anything that a study committee sets before them and that the same is true of the OPC, BPC, RPCUS, RCUS, and every other denomination that has condemned the FV. The actual fact is that wherever it is presented, the FV fails the “smell test” hands down. Now, given that the clear indication is that one must either repent or leave, the FVers instead choose option three, attack the church as being shepherded by a bunch of politicking ignoramuses.

10. This last October, the SJC approved the complaints against Louisiana, and have indicted Louisiana to appear and explain itself. We are all now waiting to see how that turns out.

Got all that? And so now we return to the original question, the one that Andy was replying to. Andy made all these points without interacting at all with the points I have been raising. So here they come again, in short form, in just a minute.

But first, let us by-pass the mysterious failure of charges to appear from within Louisiana. Let us wonder no more about it. Let us pretend that that didn’t happen, and let us pretend that the PCA really is dealing with an anomalous situation, where charges from within are impossible, and yet something absolutely must be done. A big pretend, but let’s do it, shall we? After all, we can put out of our minds the fact that seven members of the Louisiana Presbytery were able to file a complaint with the SJC, but somehow their ability to file charges from within the Presbytery was beyond their ken. Look, I am not asking you to believe it. Let’s just pretend that we are okay with how the SJC got this mess on their agenda.

See the above explanations detailing WHY and HOW no trial was able to be brought against Steve Wilkins from within LA Presbytery. Additionally, please note that Doug is speaking as though it is impossible for a Presbytery to act to screen a member they like or agree with from valid charges. The PCA’s own experience in the PCUS flatly contradicts this, that is precisely what happened again and again to thwart conservatives from dealing judicially with notorious liberals. BCO 34-1 and 40-5 were actually good rules generated by actual historical circumstances, namely a Presbytery consistently voting not to investigate a member clearly out of accord with the Standards, or if an investigation occurred, deciding again and again that there was nothing meriting a trial.

Now, given this, the questions I have been raising are basic, and Andy’s claim that the PCA has been moving at glacial speeds does nothing whatever to answer my concerns. Glacially slow injustice is still injustice. So here are my questions again.

Will Louisiana be charged with failure to indict Wilkins, or failure to convict Wilkins?

If the former, then a full trial for Wilkins, not Louisiana, will have to be held in some venue, and Wilkins will have to go into that trial with the full presumption of innocence, right? I am asking Andy here. Right?

To tell the truth Doug, at this point, I don’t know what the SJC will do in regards to Louisiana and Steve Wilkins. Personally, I am content that judicial action has finally begun to deal with a highly active and industrious proponent of a theology that both the PCA and OPC have overwhelmingly declared to be contrary to our Standards. My hope is that by this process God would be glorified, the purity of His church would be defended, and that ultimately the advocates of the FV would hear the church and abandon their attempts to promulgate an erroneous theology. I also hope that unlike so many denominations in the past when it came to discipline and who allowed error to thrive and grow by failing to cast it out, we will not grow weary in well doing, and would strive to continue until there are no longer ordained men teaching FV theology within the PCA. I hope that all the denominations that have condemned the FV will do likewise.

If the latter, if the charge is a failure to convict Wilkins, then how can this be sustained when Wilkins has not yet had his day in court? And when every setting where he has been able to answer questions (not in a trial setting) has been dismissed? So when will the SJC arrange for a trial for Wilkins, with the full presumption of innocence, so that they can then charge Louisiana with a failure to convict him?

It seems to me that two distinct issues have to be dealt with: 1) Louisiana’s decision not to indict Wilkins when his written materials clearly indicate that he is out of accord with core doctrines in the Confession (admittedly not to the satisfaction of the FV which alternately redefines the meaning of the Confession, declares their theology an improvement on the Confession, or declares the Confession out of accord with the teaching of scripture). 2) Then at some point, if he continues in maintaining the FV, Wilkins will have to be tried.

I will not attempt to speculate how the SJC will deal with these matters, but the “mess” you describe is the making of the FV and Louisiana, not the SJC or the PCA. The fact that we won’t tolerate the continued presence of serious theological error in our denomination is a good thing, even when dealing with it is difficult.

And last, as Louisiana comes to appear before the SJC, do they have the full presumption of innocence, and is the burden of proof on the prosecution? Does the prosecution have to demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that Louisiana was negligent in their second interview of Wilkins? Or does Louisiana have to prove their innocence, as one member of the Commission (at least in part) thought?

These are basic questions, and Andy has given us a history lesson covering the whole saga. But he has not answered the questions. So, Andy, is Louisiana innocent before the SJC until the prosecution proves them guilty in open court? And are they judicially innocent of a charge of “failure to indict,” or are they judicially innocent of a charge of “failure to convict?” And if the latter, when will Wilkins have his trial? And does he have the presumption of innocence?

Or are you of the conviction that obviously guilty people shouldn’t have fair trials?

See above. LA was clearly found to be in error in not indicting Steve Wilkins given the overwhelming evidence of a serious departure from the Standards. That problem is being dealt with via our judicial process spelled out in the BCO. Trials should be as fair as they can be this side of the final judgment, I am reasonably sure that if it comes to a trial, Steve Wilkins will get a trial that is equitable and follows the BCO. But the FV doesn’t want any trial that concludes that one of their advocates is teaching a serious error, they want a trial that maintains their ability to go on teaching the FV or whatever the next theology is we begin “claiming” our FREEDOM! to teach. It’s interesting to me how the post-theonomic FV community is now screaming for their right to theological autonomy, a very popular and up-to-date American position.

When it comes to the FV, from the very beginning we’ve been hit with “so prove it’s an error” arguments, we’ve done that and they are never satisfied, all we hear is “doesn’t prove it” and then later “you’ve never proved it.” There is no court, no trial, no debate, no colloquium, no paper, no book, no sign we can perform that will ever meet their standard for proving the FV is an error. In that respect, the whole process reminds me of past dialogues with Roman Catholic apologists. There is a wall of infallibility that simply cannot be scaled.

Anyway Doug, since you asked me my opinions of fair trials, please allow me to ask a couple of questions about your opinions on the matter of church discipline:

1) Do you believe that not only church members but church officers have a right to scrupulously fair trials conducted strictly according to an established written procedure, including the ability to face their accusers, see and present their own evidence etc. before any sort of verdict is rendered or censure administered?

2) Do you believe that the judicial decisions of other denominations should be respected, particularly in regard to excommunication or deposition from office, and that the practice of receiving members or officers who are currently being tried is unsound?

Thanks in advance,

Andy Webb

Re: Response to Doug Wilson

Hi Andy:

I don’t know; our denomination has ruled his messed-up paradigm out of bounds. Do you really think that you need to dignify his idiocy with an answer anymore? To what end? It’s just throwing pearls before swine now.

It’s all just the same garbage over and over from those guys now. They’ve been marginalized, so old Doug feels that he doesn’t have a shot at the golden ring now. His chances of getting the “Reformer of the Year” are diminished somewhat, so he screams. So what? Did anyone expect anything else?

I certainly wouldn’t feel led to an exchange, but dear sir, you probably have more patience than I.

Have you set a limit on the exchange? This would be prudent, I think.

In Christ,

Dan Landis

Thank you.