Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Lost PCA Generation

Lost Generation

In 1966 Reformed Theological Seminary admitted its first class of students. In 1973 the PCA came into existence through the efforts of many of the same men and churches that had, directly or indirectly, given birth to the seminary.

One of the things that happened at the seminary in those early years was that a group younger of men learned their apologetics and doctrine from Dr. Morton Smith, their hermeneutic from Dr. Palmer Robertson, and their polity from Mr. Al Freundt. Their theology tended to be rigorously Reformed, their interpretation of the Bible redemptive-historical, and their polity old Southern Presbyterian. To use the phrase they invented which often has been used against them, they were TRs. (There was also a group of older men whose previous work and church experience combined with seminary tended to produce a different animal.)

At the same time a number of other influences came to bear. They became familiar with the Puritans in part through the Banner of Truth magazine and books. They were exposed to the experimental Calvinistic preaching of Congregationalists such as Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Presbyterians such as Dr. John R. DeWitt, and Baptists such as Mr. Al Martin.  They absorbed an approach to preaching that tended toward long sermons, strong delivery, and searching application.

They were exposed to the Dutch tradition by the presence of Christian Reformed professors at the seminary, by the teaching of Professors Smith and Robertson who had studied at Westminster Theological Seminary, and by reading of such as Dr. Abraham Kuyper, Dr. Louis Berkhof, and Dr. William Hendriksen. One of the effects of these influences was the adoption of Dutch “world-and-life view” tempered somewhat by the Southern Presbyterian tradition. An unpublished paper by Dr. Robertson gave shape to a view of a church that was spiritual and a world that could be conquered by Christian thought and action.

Here is my attempt to capture the ethos by the use of Reformed personalities:

Apologetics: Cornelius Van Til
Theology: John Murray
Approach to Bible: Edmund Clowney
Polity: James Henley Thornwell
Preaching: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Worldview: Abraham Kuyper

What happened?

The church was not prepared for them. The conservative wing of the Southern Presbyterian Church that would form the PCA knew very little, if anything at all, of what these men had come to know, believe, and try to practice. The conservative ministers had for the most part been educated at Columbia Theological Seminary, where they had endured and resisted the influences of liberalism but had been exposed very little to Calvinistic doctrine and even less to Calvinist practice. They looked at these men as thought: “How in the world did they turn out this way? This is definitely not our concept of the conservative Presbyterian minister or of our new denomination.”

The ruling elders and churches were baffled by these men. What was wrong with them? “We want a man who loves Jesus and preaches the Bible.” “What, you don’t want to give an invitation? You don’t believe in evangelism?” “You think The Late Great Planet Earth is heresy?” “You want us to practice discipline?” “Why didn’t you go along with the founding fathers at General Assembly? Why did you kick up that ruckus at Presbytery?” “You don’t think women should teach adult men in Sunday school?”

As much as the churches were unprepared for these ministers, these ministers were unprepared for the church. Much of what transpired was predictable given their youth.

They were to a significant degree sincere and naive. They thought the church was ready for what they learned in seminary, so they preached it, taught it, tried to practice it. They thought that, if they just tried to do what they believed was right, they would be well-received. They believed churches wanted to be Reformed and could be, and that it would not take a long time or be very hard work. They thought the church fathers, who had come out of years of battling for the Bible and the gospel, and who had labored hard to birth a new denomination wanted the same church they wanted. They were wrong.

Some of them were sometimes hot-headed. “Reformation now, while tarrying for none” could have been their motto. They could have as much or more heat than light in the pulpit. They could be strident and unbending in church courts. They were men with certainty in a hurry.

They were often dumb as fence-posts when it came to how the church works. At the first General Assembly, a large number of them sat together in a wing of the Briarwood sanctuary, mainly for relational reasons. But what happened is that, being of like mind, they voted together, and became identified as those “hot-headed, impractical, TRs who think they are right.” They thought that, if the church just knew about Thornwell’s, the church would want to do the work of the church Thornwell’s way. They thought their speeches in church courts were effective.

The result of this was that the founding fathers of the PCA and of RTS realized that something had to be done. The seminary founders concluded the product of the training was not the product desired. Attempts were made to reign in the early graduates. This writer was invited to a meeting with other ministers at which a seminary founder did his best “to talk sense” into us. Efforts began to end production of the early model and to introduce a new line of seminary graduates. The church fathers began efforts to moderate these men, and if that failed, to marginalize and defeat them.

What we have is a lost generation. The older generation did not know what to do with them except to say, “This is not what we want the PCA to be.” Subsequent generations, especially those who have sympathies with the ideals of these men but who have achieved more success, think themselves much wiser and savvier than the earlier generation. They believe that “those TRs”  shot themselves in the foot, and, in some cases, in the head.

This writer feels sometimes he went from hearing, “Sit down and be quiet; you’re to young and too dumb,” to hearing, “Sit down and be quiet; you’re too old and too dumb.” What happened to those middle years associated with maturity, wisdom, and respect? We missed them.

This is  a lost generation. Was their service ultimately of little or even no effect? Did they suffer for a good cause or a bad? Did they waste their opportunities or pave the way for others to have the opportunities? Were they as wrong as an older generation thought? Were they as dumb as subsequent younger generations think?

As a preacher looking at 60 in the rearview mirror, these are questions that sometimes bother me so. Perhaps I need to go to Paris to search for answers. No I don't think I'll find answers, but it might get my mind off the questions.

(These are the view of one man. No other persons living or dead are responsible. Nor should they be thought to agree with these views.)


OpaRon said...

I just read this blog to my wife and she wants to ask you, "So what do we do now?" (And she's asking that, realizing she can't really do anything about it.) We're in your age boat, but 60 is WAY in our rear view mirror. After having not gone to a GA in many years, she attended the GA in 2002 in B'ham and went away from it in tears, asking, "Where is the PCA denomination that we were a part of in the beginning?" Since then she's not been willing to accompany me to a GA, and I don't blame her.

I think you have painted an accurate picture of what happened and how. (An earlier blog of yours dealt well with the "how.")

At this point in my life, I just teach an adult SS class, try to stay faithful to the Word, and thank our Lord that we've found a church that understands what it means to worship.

Keep writing, Bill. You encourage me with each blog entry!

Dianne Hill said...

Bill, I guess I'm part of the newer models that came out of seminary after you guys. We were warned about TR's but nevertheless we were influenced and many of us mentored by you guys. I still use your stuff on the first three chapters of Genesis on taking dominion, Christian marriage, the curse, and having a Christian world and life view that set my mind spinning at the possibilities in this world for Christ. In fact if I search my stuff I can still find my copy of those typed sheets you handed out at an RUF conference or in Staff training. I don't remember which, but I remember the content that still forms my world view. I know you guys made a difference in many lives for the Kingdom of God. My brother Tom sat under you much more than me and I know you had a wonderful impact in his life. I know you're not looking for sympathy and I'm not trying to give it, but I don't want you to overlook the real impact that only God Himself knows that you guys made in countless lives that continues to be passed on however many generations down the line. Hey I'm passing it on in Peru. In two weeks I'll be teaching 15 pastors in our seminary down here some of these very truths. As you know God's Word never returns void. I count you guys as fathers in my faith. Thank you for faithfully passing the baton and pray for Godspeed as we run with it. 2 Tim. 2:2 Steve Hill