Thursday, July 21, 2011

More Thoughts on the Lost Generation

More Thoughts about the Lost PCA Generation

After yesterday’s post, I got a number of responses, one at least meant to make me feel better about the usefulness and impact of the lost generation. That is appreciated. But I do not think sympathy is in order. Perhaps a little understanding. But, really, not even that is asked for. I am just trying to tell a story because I think it needs telling.

Not all the men who graduated from RTS and went into the PCA were members of the lost generation I described. I am writing of those who actually absorbed the education they were given. Their working theology was the theology they learned from Morton Smith; the approach they took to interpreting and preaching the Scriptures was an attempt to “do Biblical theology” as they learned it from Palmer Robertson; the church government they tried practice was the Thornwellian polity taught by Al Freundt. (This was before the decision was taken to teach the “unique” polity of the PCA.) Not everybody could or would “internalize” these things. These men, to a remarkable degree, did.

I would characterize the overall thrust of the training they absorbed as a mediation of the blended Old Princeton-Christian Reformed ethos of Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia) tradition. To it was added a jure divino Presbyterianism.  It was Young, Stonehouse, Murray, Van Til, Clowney, plus Thornwell.

With regard to the practical department the weakness of Westminster in this area of training was reflected at RTS. One of the questions that lay beneath the surface was, “What kind of minister are we trying to produce?” Was the model to be an academic one – the pastor as exegete-theologian –or a professional one – the pastor taking his place beside the doctor and lawyer? Or, something else? Probably the view of the ruling elders was to produce preachers who would appreciate the real world experience of the ruling elders, since it was the preachers who had caused all the trouble in the PCUS.

What of the “practical department.” When it came to pastoral counseling, the primary influence was not at RTS. It was Dr. Jay Adams, who was then teaching at Westminster, and whose Competent to Counsel gave them access to his approach. They saw themselves as “nouthetic counselors.” They did not think much of psychology or psychiatry, and had a certain confidence that people’s problems could be solved by application of the right Biblical truths and principles. And, not infrequently nouthetic counseling was performed with a meat cleaver rather than a scalpel. Perhaps in principle they were competent to counsel but not in practice.

When it came to preaching and worship, they were pulled this way and that by differences within the faculty. On the one hand they were influenced by the “liturgical renewal” movement. They were encouraged to wear Geneva gowns, and even Geneva tabs and clerical collars. They constructed liturgical calendars and preaching plans reflecting them. They learned to use The Book of Common Worship. Princeton’s Donald MacLeod’s book on worship was read and digested in classes. (It is interesting how much of MacLeod’s book is reflected in the later work on worship by Robert Rayburn, who taught worship to several generations of Covenant Seminary men.)

They were taught to preach sermons that had an in introduction with proposition, distinct and logical points, and a conclusion that ended with something more than a stated wish that God might bless this word to the understandings and hearts of the hearers. It was a John Broadus-Andrew Blackwood approach. And, all along giving preaching your best was emphasized. In those days of public criticism of sermons the public evaluations of sermons were stringent and sometimes devastating. The joke was that the chapel floor was covered with blood on senior sermon Fridays. Poor preparation, shoddy delivery, incompetence got no sympathy. I, for one, am grateful for this.

But, and this is a big but, there were disconnects. For one thing, rightly or wrongly, there were suspicions of liberalizing tendencies and lack of spiritual vitality associated with liturgy, clerical dress, and prayer books. And, how did all this fit with the regulative principle they were learning in other classes? And how did the teaching on worship and the regulative principle, go with the revivalistic worship of their actual experience? These things could not be reconciled, but that was not obvious then to young men trying to prepare themselves to lead in worship.

Then there was the fact that other faculty members, who had gone to Westminster, had done little thinking about worship, but a lot about preaching. In fact worship was primarily about preaching with some songs and prayers thrown in. When it came to preaching, they thought the way to construct and preach a sermon was the Ed Clowney way. Then, there were the outside influences.  What do you do with the “experimental preaching” which seemed, when experienced from such as Al Martin, so powerful and compelling?  Again, it was impossible to know then, but these influences could not be welded into a compatible whole. 

The differences among faculty were not at all hard to detect in the criticism of student sermons when sometimes the comments of faculty seemed as much directed to the other faculty as to students. And there were classes offered in other departments that were in reality classes in how to prepare a sermon that differed from what was taught in the preaching classes.

It would not be unexpected and perhaps it would not be inaccurate to say that that when it came to preaching and worship, they were mixed up. This might be humorously illustrated by the fact that at my graduation, a recent graduate who was a TR, showed up to give the benediction wearing a clerical collar.

Needless to say, these things are still being sorted out by the lost generation. We were told we must “not perish and the parish.” And, doggone it, we tried.

But, I am not at all sure the succeeding generations have done much better when it comes to pastoral care, worship, and preaching.

Let it be said, also, that we of the lost generation, owe a huge debt of gratitude to those men who trained us. They launched an institution and provided a training without which we could not have served as we did and without which it is doubtful there would be a Presbyterian Church in America.

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