Last week Erick Erickson spoke up about a topic that many of my friends have also noticed and been concerned about for some time:

In a denomination with few rockstars and even fewer mega-churches, there are a lot of young and middle aged pastors who want to be Tim Keller. They want to do what he does. They want the large church industrial complex. They want the book deals. They want to go on TV. They’ve metrosexualed themselves, put on skinny jeans and ugly glasses, and fired up power point presentations on stage at church.

But Tim Keller is Tim Keller and imitation may be flattery, but way too many of these young pastors in the PCA have misunderstood Keller’s ministry. As one of my friends describes it, they have started preaching the culture to the church instead of preaching the church to the culture. To draw in crowds and be liked in their communities, they have started ignoring Biblical doctrine that non-believers find offensive. In failing to teach their congregations and guide their congregations with a whole health approach, they’ve selectively taught and are failing to help their congregations deal with a world increasingly hostile to Christian values, particularly the Christian sexual ethic.

Erickson is certainly describing a real problem in the PCA.. Without naming names, I think most people with experience in the denomination will recognize what Erickson is describing. I’m not able to say what percentage of people this refers to, but it’s a large enough percentage that someone as prominent as Erickson felt the need to raise the issue and it is a large enough percentage that I can feel confident most people who know the PCA will know pastors like this.

Keller is not the problem.

That said, attributing this problem to “Kelleritis” or “Kellerism,” (another common term and one I have used myself in the past) seems wrong-headed for a few reasons.

First, as Erickson himself notes, there are few people who would be quicker to condemn the sort of spinelessness that Erickson is condemning than Keller. Moreover, though many evangelicals don’t appreciate this because they are not familiar with the scene in New York, Keller is, if anything, a model of courage given his forthright proclamation of the Gospel in a place like Manhattan. What many evangelicals see as him being timid or slow-playing the biblical teachings on sexuality is really just him being sensible about his context and recognizing that, while persuasion on these topics is obviously possible, it is very difficult. The rest of America is not like Manhattan so we should not necessarily embrace his particular approach elsewhere, but in New York his approach to these questions is faithful, sensible, and even courageous. If you don’t understand this point I can only assume you haven’t spent much time speaking to actual New Yorkers.

Second, one of my friends is fond of saying that pupils are almost never as good as their masters. Occasionally it will happen—Augustine exceeded Ambrose as a theologian and so too did Calvin with Bucer. But it’s not normal. Indeed, the reason the master becomes the master is often precisely because they are not normal in their skill set, capacity, talent, or wisdom.

So it isn’t fair to assign blame to a teacher when students do not live up to his standard, particularly in a case like this one where the “teacher” had virtually no personal contact with most of the students and has instead simply attracted a crowd of admirers via publications.

Indeed, if anything I think we should commend Keller for his stewarding of his position at Redeemer. They were very selective in what sermons they made freely available online, he waited a long time to start writing books, and he has put a far greater emphasis on church planting in NYC rather than simply growing his brand as a celebrity pastor. Given what has happened to Mark Driscoll and now Darrin Patrick, we should be profoundly grateful for men like Keller (and John Piper) who manage to be in the spotlight for so long and to do so with relatively little scandal.

So what is the problem in the younger PCA?

It’s not surprising that a conservative critic would miss this, but a more class-based analysis is helpful in assessing the problem.

One of the weird quirks of American Presbyterianism is that we have always existed in a suspended state between Episcopalianism and the Baptist churches. And much of our history is about our struggle to handle that position well, sometimes pulling more toward the hierarchical, upper-class Episcopalians and sometimes veering toward the more congregational, working-class Baptists. My friend Miles Smith wrote a paper on this dynamic in 19th century Presbyterianism which you can read in For Law and for Liberty which shows how old this problem actually is.

This question was near the heart of the PCA’s founding, as Sean Michael Lucas explained in his history of the denomination.1 At our founding, the PCA did not want to be an evangelical denomination. Evangelical was a nicer word for fundamentalistic Baptists and non-denominational Christians. Rather, the PCA, which, perhaps tellingly, was first called the National Presbyterian Church, aspired to be an orthodox continuation of the mainline tradition.

What we are seeing in the younger Presbyterians is simply this generation’s version of the pull toward Episcopalianism.

These days, of course, Episcopalianism does not simply mean snooty, upper-class, and hierarchical. It also includes a deeply progressive orientation that is suspicious of any sort of unchosen identity or any social norms that would constrain individual self-expression. Where this becomes especially complicated, of course, is that there are genuinely unjust social norms which constrain individual liberty, particularly as it concerns issues of race. Moreover, for a variety of reasons, the debate about gender and LGBT has been closely tied to the debate about race for some time, such that support for traditional understandings of sexuality is often conflated with support for racial segregation or other forms of institutional racism.

What this means is that young Presbyterian pastors, many of whom are on university campuses with RUF or working in gentrifying urban neighborhoods, face enormous class-based pressure to conform to certain progressive cultural norms. These pressures make themselves felt in a variety of ways.

First, there is a strong and classic American pull toward being dismissive of the past, toward what is established, and to embrace what is new. This temptation exerts an even stronger pull than normal on many young PCA pastors because many younger pastors and RUF guys have strong entrepreneurial tendencies. While this is often a very good thing—indeed, it’s what makes it possible for them to succeed as church planters and RUF pastors—this same trait can make them naturally inclined to be dismissive toward established norms, policies, and beliefs, especially when they are surrounded by other young people with the same entrepreneurial sensibilities. It is probably not a coincidence, in other words, that the most famous “Kellerite” to go progressive is pastoring in San Francisco, the capital of Silicon Valley.

In addition to the disregard for things that are older, established, etc. there is also strong cultural pressure to embrace a kind of bourgeois bohemian lifestyle—buy a cute house in the gentrifying neighborhood, embrace the careerism, food and exercise regimen, lifestyle trends, and broadly progressive ethos of your neighbors. You can even say you’re just being outreach-focused as you do it. While none of these things are bad in isolation, taken together they’re all steps that involve embracing the norms of a younger bobo sub-culture. And if you’re embracing those norms out of a desire to be liked rather than a pure desire to make the Gospel sensible, it will be disastrous.

But, of course, it is all very complicated: Essentially, these are young pastors being handed different cultural scripts and asked to choose which ones to follow. But these clashing scripts cannot be simplistically labeled “good” and “bad” such that we can tell young pastors to follow the “good” script and avoid the “bad.” It is more complicated than that.

This is similar to the point that Ron Belgau made in his response to Rod Dreher earlier this week: It’s not that we have a legacy PCA script that is unambiguously good that we need to cling to. That script has problems—it’s awful on race issues, for starters. So figuring out the cultural scripts question in the PCA is challenging: The young white bobo script you’re pushed toward culturally and according to class is bad, but then you don’t necessarily have a good alternative script, particularly if you’re trying to plant a church or RUF in a more hostile environment. There simply aren’t good evangelical templates for how to do that because we have for the most part been really bad at it.

In such a situation, the draw toward Keller and the ham-handed attempts to mimic him are quite understandable. What other models do these pastors have? Driscollism? Straight-up progressive Episcopalianism?

Certainly, you can argue that there actually are other models out there—Calvin basically turned Geneva into a booming intellectual hub. Someone like Richard Sibbes was a very successful preacher in Cambridge at the university in the 17th century. Richard Baxter could be helpful in that we know more about his routines as a pastor than any other minister of his era. Bucer and his colleagues in Strasbourg did good and faithful work in a major intellectual, cultural, and scholastic hub. But these examples are all either from radically different cultural contexts, much more obscure, or both.

It isn’t unreasonable that these pastors would look to Keller and, being young and failing to understand their context, fail to mimic him well. But that isn’t Keller’s fault and it isn’t entirely the young pastor’s fault either. It’s a predictable outcome given all the factors I have mentioned already.

This brings us to a second point worth considering: Many of the pastors Erickson has in mind are young and inexperienced. They often have first jobs on university campuses which are particularly difficult places to minister due to the current cultural atmosphere on many campuses. In such a context, it will be extremely easy to be quiet on certain points because you are genuinely (and reasonably!) concerned about losing recognized student organization status, which could in some cases make doing ministry on the campus much more difficult.

Moreover, as an RUF pastor you are often going to be working fairly autonomously. You may or may not office in a church and even if you do office in a church, you may not be in your office that often depending on how far the church is from the campus. You also are not technically part of a session (“session” is the Presbyterian word for “board of elders”), which means you are not part of regular session meetings which draw you into the life of a local church and into closer relationship with other more experienced teaching elders as well as wise, seasoned ruling elders.

Being a young pastor is extremely difficult work. It’s new, it requires a wide skill set, and you’ll feel yourself under a microscope quite often precisely because you are uncertain about how to do all the parts of your job and because you are working so closely with so many people. And, of course, there is the good and right fear that any pastor, old or young, should have given the weight of their calling: Scripture tells us that teachers will be judged more harshly. Being a pastor is a heavy thing.

Third, one of the particular difficulties I have seen in young pastors is a pull toward people-pleasing. I suspect I’ve seen it so much because it’s the natural consequence of these first two points: You’re in this weird denomination that aspires to being the church that can reach secular bobo-types in upwardly mobile neighborhoods but that also aspires to be faithful to theological orthodoxy and even to be theologically evangelical, all the way down to not ordaining women. That is an awkward position to be in from the beginning. And, by the way, we’re going to isolate you such that you won’t have a lot of contact with older ministers. Add to all this the normal pressures of being a young pastor and the pressures of pastoral ministry in general and, well, you end up with pastors who are deeply fearful of offending people. It’s bad, obviously. It does real harm. But it’s not hard to understand how it happens.

In an ideal situation, this pastor would have older mentors helping them to work through that issue. But in the first place many young pastors don’t have that because of either being an RUF pastor or being a solo pastor in a small church. (The average PCA congregation is, if I recall correctly, around 175 people, so in many cases the congregation can only support a single pastor.) Second, quite often older pastors are not eager to provide such mentoring due to how busy they already are or because they simply don’t wish to be involved in such work, which only makes the problem worse as this can lead to younger pastors becoming resentful and even more distrustful toward their elders who they perceive as abandoning them early in the start of a very difficult vocation. Finally, even when you do have older mentors doing that for you, there is no guarantee that they will succeed.

Conclusion

If you have read this far, one question you might be asking is what this lengthy reflection on PCA politics has to do with you, particularly if you’re not in the PCA. The answer is, “actually, quite a lot.”

During times when progressivism is ascendant, as it certainly is in our day, there is a natural temptation amongst conservatives to want to double down on their most strident rhetoric, add purity tests to protect their institutions, and to begin attacking people not only for holding wrong ideas, but for holding ideas which they suspect could lead to wrong ideas (even if they won’t inevitably lead to them).

The effect of all this is that, within the smaller niches of evangelicalism, the Overton Window is shifted hard to the right. One unfortunate consequence of this is that people who are centrists or even just a different kind of conservative and should understand themselves as such suddenly feel themselves to be leftists because that is what some of the conservatives are trying to make them believe. The less careful amongst them will think, “OK, fine I’m a leftist,” and suddenly begin aligning themselves with the people who genuinely are progressive. But we should be clear on this point: Conservatives pushed them there with their own irresponsible rhetoric.

The centrists must resist that move.

When the Overton Window is shifted further to the right then it needs to be, the inevitable result is that valuable allies are alienated and issues which need not be causes for schism suddenly become watersheds in the movement. This is what could happen in the PCA if we are not careful. There is already a great deal of mistrust between the right and left fringes of the denomination, both of which are real and account for some significant portion of the body. My fear is that Erickson’s post is going to embolden the right, causing them to escalate their rhetoric and alienate not only the genuinely progressive people in the denomination, but also the many of us that reside somewhere in the center, resolutely opposed to progressivism but also reluctant to embrace TRism or an odd contemporary version of Carl McIntire’s fundamentalist instincts in order to preserve a faithful Presbyterianism.

The center needs to hold in the denomination.

When irresponsible conservatives run rampant, the truth is lost as quickly as it is when progressives are ascendant. Questions that are rightly the domain of prudence and wisdom become theological litmus tests. Complicated discussions requiring precision and nuance instead become ideological battlegrounds. People who should be ministered to with pastoral compassion are instead treated as enemies. And organizations that rely on trust and affection to function well, as Presbyterianism does, collapse down into bickering and in-fighting, leading to a procedural morass in which the only way anything can ever be accomplished institutionally is through the methods outlined in the Book of Church Order. (The BCO is the procedural rule book for the PCA, basically.)

The PCA is not the only Evangelical institution facing such a reckoning right now. But the center must hold, not because of some misguided attempt to win over long-gone progressives or out of some bland commitment to niceness, but because the excesses of the right can be as dangerous as the excesses of the left. Indeed, anyone with eyes to see should be able to recognize that we are living in a religious landscape that is, in part, the fruit of the right’s excesses of the past 35 years. Because Gospel fidelity matters, because the peace and purity of the church matter, the center must hold.

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  1. Dr. Lucas has stopped by and left a comment below clarifying this point and correcting my representation of his book.

Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy, and son Wendell. Jake's writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play.

  • This comment is just a bread crumb. I have a lot of thoughts on this as a Presbyterian church planter (EPC) in just a slightly different ecclesial context. Naturally, I think the EPC’s “center” might hold better because there’s actually a delineated center (however much that also exposes a confessional weakness, which I’ve seen you write about as well). I’d love to dialogue more offline since I have a lot of dogs in this hunt.

    Two questions: is the “progressive” problem really as widespread as you think it is? I know a lot of PCA church planters in Denver, the Southeast, NYC, and Wisconsin, and I do not see these progressive conditions at all among them. To your one solid reference, Fred Harrell wasn’t even PCA when he made his ‘affirming’ move.

    And, have you read Keller’s article on “What’s so great about the PCA?” I think his three legs on the Reformed stool have a lot of explanatory power, and that paradigm might explain more than a so-called “progressive” wing of the PCA, which to my eyes isn’t all that progressive (for which I’m thankful).

    • JR_Walker2100

      Hi Dave, great observation on the EPC’s delineation on their stable middle stance.
      Two thoughts, Fred Harrell was already in motion on that move long before he left the PCA. He just couldn’t do it while he was still in the PCA because of charges and judiciary reasons.
      Secondly, I also know a few Denver church planters and have found that all of their social media communications are definitely of the SJW and CRT lens. Maybe we know different guys? But I makes me wonder whether we’re seeing progressivism the same way?
      Just a couple of thoughts.. fwiw..

    • hoosier_bob

      I agree. I don’t see much evidence of progressivism in the PCA. That said, if you’re the kind of person who wants the denomination to tilt more in the direction of Carl McIntire, then probably anything but rigid fundamentalism looks like progressivism. I note that the person who keeps leveling that accusation in the comments section can’t seem to come up with a single example of what it is. Pointing to a guy who left the PCA years ago doesn’t exactly substantiate the case.

  • Philmonomer

    Has Tim Keller explained anywhere why he didn’t sign the Nashville Statement?

    • soter phile

      Do you doubt he is a biblical complementarian? (He’s on record elsewhere.)
      Or are you simply noticing he hasn’t chosen that method to engage the culture?

      • Philmonomer

        I am curious. I’m sure he has his reasons. I was wondering what they were. They are probably interesting/good/thought-provoking reasons.

        • soter phile

          If I had to guess: he has a church that is thoughtfully reaching out to the secular world (including LGBT communities) – speaking the truth in love.

          The Nashville Statement has a lot of truth, but love isn’t even mentioned until Article 8. The ‘affirm/deny’ format is very clear – and very cold. Not exactly the most winsome way to sit down with your LGBT friends or family… It seems to take Jesus’ hard approach to the Pharisees and throw it at the woman at the well.

          One is left to wonder: is the Nashville Statement’s intended audience the secular world or the evangelical community?

          • hoosier_bob

            Bingo. The Nashville Statement represents little more than a circle jerk. It’s part of a continuing effort by Mohler, Burk, and Strachan to arrogate themselves into the position as the arbitrators of what “real evangelicalism” is. Take a look on Google Maps at the size of the church in which Burk is a leader and Strachan was formerly a leader. That’s the size that evangelicalism will be if these clowns are to be the arbitrators of what constitutes evangelicalism.

            It was heartening to see that few folks in the PCA signed it aside from a few hardened culture warriors.

          • Philmonomer

            That certainly makes a lot of sense.

            However, whenever one talks about how “nice” Christians should be to the LGBT community, I’m always reminded of this blog post:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/06/11/you-cant-deny-people-their-rights-and-be-nice-about-it/

    • Google User

      I personally have no idea… But I’ve noticed that Keller directs his writing/speaking overwhelmingly to 1. Books and 2. Sermons to his congregation. That is, very few, if any, media interviews, magazine articles, etc.

      It seems that his focus is either toward the book-length treatment, where a topic can be explored thoughtfully at length, or towards the sermon to a specific congregation. He seems to shy away from “statements” and activity in the media in general. For example, his Twitter feed is basically bon mots taken from his sermons, not active 140-word commentary.

      • Philmonomer

        I personally have no idea… But I’ve noticed that Keller directs his
        writing/speaking overwhelmingly to 1. Books and 2. Sermons to his
        congregation. That is, very few, if any, media interviews, magazine
        articles, etc.

        That hasn’t been my experience of him. He seems often to be on The Gospel Coalition’s website. He speaks to many issues there, writing an occasional column (I believe) and doing roundtable-type discussions. Also, he did something fairly recently (an interview within the last year) for The New York Times. But, yes, I don’t think he has a blog where he regularly posts his thoughts.

        Still, I’d think there’s a good chance someone has asked him about it somewhere, and his reply is somewhere (given the internet).

    • CPT

      Probably because as a PCA pastor he already affirms that transgenderism and homosexual activity are wrong.

      • Philmonomer

        I suspect nearly every signer of the Nashville Statement already belongs to a denomination that affirms that transgenderism and homosexuality are wrong.

        Clearly, whether they are a pastor in such a denomination, are a leader/elder in such a denomination, or belong to such a denomination, didn’t keep all those others from signing.

        I am pretty sure he made a conscious decision not to sign (indeed, the cofounder of TGC with him has signed the Statement). I was wondering what led him to that decision.

  • hoosier_bob

    As someone who spent several decades in the PCA, I think it makes sense to recognize that Presbyterian represents a middle-ground socially between the Anglicans and the Baptists.

    That said, I would not necessarily describe Anglicans as progressive. There are surely pockets within the Protestant mainline that are progressive. But conservatives still predominate in Episcopalian churches in many parts of the country. But they are conservative elites, not conservative populists. In that sense, they, like nearly all elites, detest explicit statements of morality, whether those be on progressive issues or conservative issues. So, while a pull toward Anglicanism may imply a pull toward progressivism, it need not necessarily mean that. It may simply mean a move toward addressing moral questions in ways that are not as explicit as what we see among Baptists.

    Ross Douthat’s piece “Social Liberalism as Class Warfare” is helpful in at least understanding the terrain here. In our country, Anglicans have generally moved in a subculture that’s fairly rich in social capital. The church is simply one institution among many that serves to shape and train people morally. That’s true when you’re an adolescent, and it continues to be true when you’re an adult. So, the church doesn’t need to be as explicit and overtly paternalistic about morality because it doesn’t serve people who require such things. Moreover, the elite subculture does a reasonably good job of organically absorbing cultural changes and domesticating them in ways that end up being fundamentally conservative. For example, homosexuality within the elite subculture is almost unrecognizable from what one sees in the broader culture. Even so, there are surely a number of Episcopalians who believe that committed same-sex relationships are unwise; they’re just not willing to impose those views onto others. After all, they move within a subculture that does a fairly effective job at absorbing and domesticating social change.

    Despite the PCA’s initial intent not to be an evangelical denomination, its early growth came almost entirely at the expense of low-church evangelical traditions. In that sense, it has a far more distinctly Baptistic and middle-class feel than what one would generally see among Presbyterians historically. But the PCA church-planting efforts have done surprisingly well in urban areas dominated by elites. Yes, Manhattan is almost entirely dominated by elites. But other cities have their own subculture of elite-class professionals who move in a social world little different from the world that Anglicanism has served historically. Besides, it doesn’t take too many high-income, educated professionals to sustain a church financially. So, in recent decades, the PCA has increasingly attracted elite professionals. In fact, because entry into the elite subculture today hinges more on merit than on lineage, it’s easy to find PCA-raised kids who grow up to become members of the meritocratic elite. But when they do this, they too become shaped by the social capital-rich environment that defines their daily lives. And they expect their churches to disabuse themselves of the kind of explicit morality and paternalism that may have characterized the churches that raised them.

    As you note, this has always posed a problem for Presbyterianism. It’s a particularly difficult problem as the social gulf between elites and non-elites widens. Keller didn’t start this problem; he simply saw a mission field, and went out to serve it. But that mission field continues to grow, and there’s no reason why the church should stop seeking to serve it. There’s also no reason why the church shouldn’t be culturally sensitive to that mission field as it seeks to minister to it. That said, Keller has had the luxury of operating during a time when the cultural divide between elites and non-elites had widened to the extent that it has today. In that sense, I wonder whether it wouldn’t make more pragmatic sense to treat ministry among urban elites in much the way that the PCA treats ministry among foreign cultures. After all, it’s not as though Erickson’s version of Presbyterianism represents straight line from the apostles to the present. Most PCA churches have evolved in ways to serve the needs of a middle-class culture for whom the church is often a prime source of social capital. There’s no reason why that model should be imposed onto elites, whether they live in Manhattan or Birmingham or Fresno.

    • hoosier_bob

      Not to respond to my own comment, but one statement in Erickson’s piece struck me as emblematic of the problem. The statement is: “…but they are more and more suggesting homosexuality and Christianity are compatible, which they are not.”

      This is a rather odd statement, given that homosexuality is largely a social construct, as is heterosexuality. These notions originated in the late 1800s, and came to the fore in the 1950s as conservative Freudian social theorists popularized heterosexuality as defining the bounds of healthy sexuality. Michael Hannon published several excellent pieces in First Things in 2014 that address how useless the terms heterosexuality and homosexuality actually are in arriving at a Christian sexual ethic. These concepts do about as well at describing sexuality as phrenology does at describing intelligence.

      The problem for evangelicals is that they made the fatal mistake of promoting a sexual ethic that centered around what sociologists call “compulsory heterosexuality.” In fact, CBMW’s primary purpose is to promote compulsory heterosexuality as a litmus test of orthodoxy, despite the theologically (and medically) suspect origins of heterosexuality and homosexuality as useful descriptors of reality. Thus, Erickson is only partly right. In fact, neither heterosexuality nor homosexuality are compatible with Christianity. That said, Erickson’s characterization of RUF and Scott Sauls is inaccurate. From my observation, RUF and Scott Sauls are seeking to move towards a more thoroughly Christian understanding of human sexuality in all of its complexity. Thus, their move is not towards embracing homosexuality; rather, it is a move away from our past embracing of heterosexuality and towards something better and more Christian. Erickson engages in a bit of casuistry in suggesting that heterosexuality and homosexuality are our only two options. They are not. These terms have only existed for about 150 years, and have only featured prominently in mainstream discussions of sexuality for about 70 years. It’s time that the church disabuses itself of this flawed secular understanding of sexuality.

      Understandably, this is less pressing in Erickson’s context than it is in other contexts. Erickson lives and worships in a very conservative mid-sized Southern city where the culture still largely embraces compulsory heterosexuality. I have no problem with the church accommodating that cultural reality for the sake of ministering in that context. But in making an effort to accommodate that culture, we need to be careful not to baptize that particular cultural understanding of sexuality as necessarily Christian. That’s the mistake that evangelicals made over the past 60-70 years, and it’s the mistake that Erickson appears to want the church to continue making. Heterosexuality provided a useful moral shortcut for middle-class Americans in the late 20th century, but it’s not biblical. At best, it’s a concept that provides some useful guardrails for those who may otherwise drive off the edge of the cliff. Even so, there’s no reason why we should promote compulsory heterosexuality in ministry contexts where the culture is not otherwise committed to the concept. RUF, Scott Sauls, and Tim Keller largely operate within ministry contexts in which heterosexuality has lost most of its cultural grip. That’s actually a benefit, as it opens up cultural space to accept sexuality’s complexity and to embrace a more thorough Christian understanding of it.

      I was thinking about that when I was in Berlin last week for work. A gay colleague was complaining about the scarcity of gay bars in Mitte, the ultra-chic part of town where hip professionals live. It’s true. Despite the fact that Mitte has a relatively large population of same-sex couples, it has almost no venues that market themselves to patrons on the basis of one’s sexual orientation. That’s because younger gay Germans no longer to view their sexual orientation as essential to any particular social identity. Gays and straights (to the extent that those terms are even meaningful) hang out together in the same spaces, and mix socially as though sexual orientation were little more important to their identities than eye color. The cultural shift in this direction opens up great opportunities for the church to think about sexuality afresh without the burdens of outdated notions of heterosexuality and homosexuality. Oddly enough, when you visit the old Berlin gayborhood around Nollendorfplatz, it’s rare to see anyone much below the age of 40, with the median age being about 55. It strikes me that Erickson has no appreciation of this intergenerational difference. To the extent that RUF, Sauls, and Keller are moving away from compulsory heterosexuality, it is not so that they can accommodate the culture that one finds in the old gayborhood. Rather, it is so that they can minister effectively among the culture that one finds in places like Mitte. Just because we continue to accommodate the peculiar understandings of sexuality that are prevalent in Macon, Georgia, does not mean that we have to require ministers in other places to pretend that Mitte is Macon.

      • Physiocrat

        Bob,

        You’ve made the claim that the concepts the of hetero and homosexuality are an offshoot of Freudianism before. What I don’t understand is what it the material change between a pre-Freudian concept that homosexual acts and desires were disordered, using a Thomistic framework, and the post-Freudian concept of normative heterosexuality? Is it that the latter is more prescriptive about behaviour overall or something else

        • hoosier_bob

          Prior to the late 1800s, few viewed those acts as necessary products of certain biological properties of the person. In fact, in many cultures, some measure of bisexuality was viewed as common and normal. Sexuality is simply too complex to be reduced to binary concepts and the limited social scripts associated with those binary concepts.

          • Physiocrat

            It is certainly the case that at least in Thomistic Catholicism (from the 14th century onwards) biology is accorded a high place in this context as it is the basis of the perverted faculty argument. Does Freudianism materially alter this form of outlook?

          • hoosier_bob

            But not in the sense that one saw following late-19th-century scientism. When one reads Denny Burk’s book on sexuality, you feel like you’re reading a book on eugenics where sexual orientation becomes a stand-in for race.

          • Physiocrat

            So what is the difference that appears with scientism in the late 19th century? I’m not getting the race analogy since the native peoples of South America were considered genuine people with the same moral worth before God by at least the 17th century if my dates are right

          • hoosier_bob

            Because the concepts of heterosexuality and homosexuality emerged from much of the same scientism that also gave us eugenics. They were early post-Darwin efforts to explain social differences as the result of biological differences. Evangelicals have largely moved away from this scientism when it comes to justifying racial hierarchies, but they have retained it when it comes to justifying hierarchies based on sex (males > females) and sexual orientation (heterosexuals > non-heterosexuals). Note that many conservative evangelicals even deny Nicene formulations of the Trinity because those formulations make it harder to defend sex-based hierarchies.

            I agree that Catholic theology contains some elements of this, and that Aquinas is probably to blame for that. But I don’t see where that thinking was ever used by the RCC to justify social hierarchies in the way that one has seen among white evangelicals.

            That said, there are evangelicals within the PCA who favor moving away from this kind of chicanery concerning social hierarchies around sex and sexual orientation. If that’s a “problem,” then it seems like a good problem to have.

          • Physiocrat

            You still haven’t explained how the post-19th century concepts of homosexuality and heterosexuality differ from earlier formulations which state that homosexual acts are immoral and that marriage and children is the norm for most people?

            Unless of course all you claim is that biology following the 19th century were used to justify social hierarchy whereas they previously were not. However that seems entirely false historically based at least how marriage customs, property ownership within marriage etc was conducted far from equal between the sexes.

          • hoosier_bob

            I think I explained it several times. I’ve noticed that you generally engage people here via an endless game of hide the ball, pretending that you can’t understand what they’re talking about or nit-picking about ancillary issues. If you have an actual argument to make, then make it. Otherwise, stop feigning confusion or misunderstanding.

          • Physiocrat

            Mmm pot kettle and black comes to mind here. I think the idea that our notions of sexuality are post-Freudian is interesting but you just simply haven’t made the case. The closest you have come to is basically saying that no-one really cared about homosexuality until the 19th century which is clearly untrue as I have demonstrated. My case is that Christian civilisation, as a whole, has considered homosexual practice immoral pretty much from the beginning. Now the way in which this has been justified could well have changed hence my interest in your Freud comments but you again haven’t shown how it has changed

          • hoosier_bob

            I’ve pointed out repeatedly how it’s changed. Moreover, you’ve engaged in some sleight of hand in your response. The point I’ve made concerns the notion that there’s such a thing as homosexual people and heterosexual people. That notion knows no progeny before 1869, when it was first postulated by Karl-Maria Kertbeny. Sure, Christianity has generally opposed certain kinds of same-sex sexual activity, but that’s not the point I’ve been making.

            This is the comments section of a blog. I’ve pointed you to several articles by Catholic theologian Michael Hannon, which appeared in First Things during the 2013-14 timeframe. I’m not going to repeat the entirety of Hannon’s argument here simply because you’re too lazy to go read it.

            And, again, the comments section of a blog is not a venue that’s conducive to laying out full-fledged persuasive arguments. That’s the nature of the venue. So, it’s not a persuasive criticism merely to complain that people have merely proffered sketches of ideas. If you don’t like that venue, don’t participate. But it’s intellectually dishonest simply to criticize others’ ideas based on the constraints of the venue. If you have a positive idea to sketch out, do so.

          • Physiocrat

            I originally asked the question because I was interested in the line of thought. If I was asked a question about a claim of mine that Economists moved changed from objective to subjective value theory I could give you a paragraph giving you a good idea about what changed. That is all I asked for and all I got was a vague reference to scientism of the 19th century and its focus on biology. From your responses I have no idea of what actually changed post-19th century in this context. I fail to see how this is asking too much.

          • Physiocrat

            I read all the articles by Hannon on First Things on hetero and homosexuality. If I read him correctly, his main argument is that the traditional natural law arguments against homosexual acts was replaced by a psychological categorisation where heterosexuality was healthy and normal and homosexuality was not – this was based on the yuck factor to some extent. This may well be true as you have a growing rejection of natural ends following Newton so the perverted faculty argument makes no sense.

            I also think he’s right that the determinative identity built upon a sexual orientation is certainly problematic. It is just my physiology says yes and going against that must be bad.

            However, I don’t think most people use heterosexuality as a determinative concept rather that tends to be the homosexual activists who use it to justify their proclivities by saying they are natural. Rather heterosexuality is just a description of an individual’s current disposition of sexual desire. I see this normative psychological disposition as complementary to the traditional natural law arguments. Having a disposition of sexual desire contrary to natural law is certainly problematic. I do think however using it as a foundation for building an identity is stupid – I find all the identity talk hugely naval gazing.

            Shannon’s focus on external action when pastorally inculcating virtue is wise. And certainly celibacy is a good option on occasions although I don’t but his reading of 1st Corinthians. The focus should be on achieving a virtuous life not finding out who you are. Also his defense of same sex friendship is very important although that’s Freud’s fault it seems “gay” to modern ears rather than heterosexuality per se.

    • calebroberts811

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here, both regarding the PCA (which I was a member of for a few years) and the establishment mainline churches like the Episcopal Church (in which I now am a priest).

      • hoosier_bob

        I agree completely. It is hard for evangelicalism to self-correct because it often refuses to account for its underlying social and political commitments. Its social and political commitments are repackaged as elements of a “biblical worldview,” thereby enshrining divine aegis the social and political dispositions of middle-class whites in North America in the late 20th century.

        Much of what evangelicalism teaches may make for good pragmatic wisdom within its particular social and political context. But let’s just acknowledge that it’s pragmatic wisdom.

        As Molly Worthen documents in her book, inerrancy has never been about protecting the biblical text; it has always been principally about protecting fundamentalist interpretations of the text.

  • Jeremy

    I had not heard of this “bobo” sub-culture before. I immediately thought of Baylor’s Spiritual Life Center, which is called the Bobo Spiritual Life Center (http://www.baylor.edu/spirituallife/index.php?id=870570). Ha.

  • Sean Michael Lucas

    Actually, what I argued in For a Continuing Church was that the founders of the PCA wanted to be a conservative, mainline Presbyterian body that was profoundly evangelical. In fact, the last section of the book was “Evangelical Presbyterians and Presbyterian Evangelicals.” The founders were connected to the Christianity Today wing of the “new evangelicalism” from the 1950s on, most obviously through Nelson Bell and Billy Graham but also through our consistent relationship to the National Association of Evangelicalism. Further, part of that mainline desire was the cultural custodianship that conservatives enjoyed while part of the PCUS; as the new evangelicalism has increasingly sidelined the mainline, the PCA has moved toward the center of influence within broader evangelicalism.

    But even at the founding, as I showed in the final chapter and epilogue, there were those who wanted the PCA to be more “thoroughly reformed.” While always a minority, they have exercised a disproportionate influence in denominational life. If I can summon up the energy to write a history of the PCA’s first 50 years, the struggle between the evangelicals and the “TRs” would be right at the heart of the story.

    And so, in that regard, some of the tensions represented in our denomination over Keller’s ministry and influence fits right into the master narrative of the past 45 years of PCA history. Keller firmly represents the founders’ mainstream vision; his followers continue to wrestle with the mainline inheritance of our founding, especially the emphasis upon cultural custodianship and activism, many who lean toward the more thoroughly reformed wing of the denomination have anxieties and offer pushback. But what one should glean from my work is that none of this is new nor particularly problematic, especially because the vast “middle” of the PCA, including many of the so-called “Kellerites” remain committed to being faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.

    • JR_Walker2100

      Perhaps the author didn’t completely get the gist of your book and what you had intended.
      However, he is dead-on about the Kellerism problem. Unfortunately, you are in the progressive wing of the PCA, so your take on Keller is not as accurate as you’d like. Personally, I have great admiration for Keller for all of the reasons that the author of this article states. But the Keller-ites are ruining our denomination, again, for the reason the author states. They try to imitate aspects of Keller without understanding their predicament. Keller brought the church to the culture in terms the culture could understand. Many Keller-ites import the culture back into the church and thus compromise in areas where Keller never did.

      Anyway, I greatly appreciate the church history work you’ve done, but for some reason I think you may have been bamboozled by the progressive wing. But I hope I’m wrong.

      • Sean Michael Lucas

        I think that’s funny to suggest that I am in the progressive wing and/or have been bamboozled by the progressive wing. I’m not sure what you’d base that upon and I’m sure that would be surprising to many on that so-called wing. But perhaps you are revealing your own presuppositions in labeling me as such? (as in, everyone to the “left” of me is “progressive”)

        Regardless, I was offering analysis based on nearly 20 years of studying southern Presbyterianism in the 19th and 20th centuries. I’m not sure how that evidences an “ideological” PCA party loyalty.

    • Dr. Lucas – Thanks for stopping by. Apologies for not representing your argument correctly. I’ve added a note to the post directing people to your comment.

    • Sean, not to burst the bubble, but how do you ever explain Keller without the OPC (not the best of it, by the way)? Keller’s vision for “the city” comes right out of Harvie Conn. And Keller’s ministry sensibility has Jack Miller’s New Life Presbyterianism all over it. Granted, much of the New Life migrated into the PCA — think John Frame. But Keller’s instincts are New Life on steroids. No offense to PCA urbanists, but they have pumped a lot of their expectations/hopes into a guy who is not really a hipster. He hangs with D. A. Carson and John Piper after all.

    • In other words, don’t look only to the founding PCA generation. You need to include the PCA’s absorption of the RPCES (old Bible Presbyterians) and New Life OP’s. If you do that, then you get Jake’s hero – Schaeffer.

    • hoosier_bob

      I agree with your characterization. I’d suggest that the alleged “Keller problem” amounts to a sociological issue more than a theological issue. Elite status used to be inherited, so evangelicalism was principally a movement that originated among middle-class whites living in rural and suburban areas. Keller did little more than repackage the basic principles of evangelicalism to minister to meritocratic elites at a time when they were emerging as a distinct social class. After all, Keller is no progressive. I’d suggest that the accusation of progressivism comes because middle-class whites have a stupid habit of wrongly associating meritocratic elites with progressivism. Truth be told, most members of the meritocratic elite live by fairly socially conservative precepts, and generally believe that doing so reflects wise decision-making. But they operate within a subculture that shapes people through a series of soft nudges rather than through explicit statements of morality.

      The real question for the PCA is whether it will be open to social-class diversity. I applaud the efforts that the PCA has made on issues concerning race. Even so, it still feels like a socially foreign place for members of the meritocratic elite. And I’m not sure that the denomination can pull it off. I wonder whether it wouldn’t make more pragmatic sense for the City2City movement to strike out on its own separate from the PCA. I see denominations as pragmatic constructions whose purpose is largely justified on the basis of transactional efficiency. If we can spread the Gospel in more transactionally efficient ways as two denominations rather than one, I see no reason not to divide amicably. I’ll even be willing to let the TRs keep the “continuing church” label.

  • Jay Miller

    The first problem I see with this post… is an initial one. Mr. Erickson’s description of Dr. Keller’s ministry. His words are wrong, misrepresentative, erroneous, and misguided.
    Your conclusions are disconnected? Wanting to be Tim Keller but then a description of PowerPoint and skinny jeans? Huh?
    Ignoring biblical doctrine? Not Dr. Keller.
    Your criticism of the compromise of so many preachers seems completely unrelated to the criticism of Erickson’s observations. Has he ever encountered ANYthing of Keller?
    And this is the introduction!?!

  • Greg Herr

    Love, Love, Love Big Tim.

    But this article was *already* “written” circa 1995/2000 by and among Episcopalian/Anglican pastors and theologians (too many to name or count, available upon request).

    Maybe start with Canon Gary L’Hommedieu; dozens and dozens of others.

    Then,

    “…the Holy Spirit….moved groups of Anglicans to petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately. The Apostolic See has responded favourably to such petitions. Indeed, the successor of Peter, mandated by the Lord Jesus to guarantee the unity of the episcopate and to preside over and safeguard the universal communion of all the Churches,[1] could not fail to make available the means necessary to bring this holy desire to realization.” (Anglicanorum Coetibus, Nov. 4, 2009)

    So, we did. And we LOVE Presbyterians. Our pastor was a Calvinist. :)

    • Cal P

      I miss the old Papist apologists who threatened everlasting torment for heresy and schism to Protestants.

      • Greg Herr

        I can set you up with some by the close of business tomorrow.

        For right now, we’re just holding the door open.

  • Cal P

    What exactly is this article even about? There seems to be a constant blur and slush between social positions, quasi-political positions, and theological positions. Are we talking about Baptists as working-class or as theological conservatives? Or both, and if so, why are the concepts so tightly wound? As much of sub-Saharan Africa would show, there’s nothing explicitly socially elitist in “Anglican” theology, even if there are historical reasons for why it was so in the US. I don’t understand what center you want to hold. It doesn’t sound principled, it sounds like rhetorical flash, a means to virtue-signal about your reasonable and moderate posture against two ravenous lunatics.

    And I don’t know how one gauges the metrics of whether Tim Keller is truly successful. It seems the only one was that he didn’t go down in flames as a megachurch pastor. How exactly do we count the success of a ministry of “preaching the church to the culture”? If we consider, globally, the insidious reach of American corporatism and neo-liberal empire, how is Keller really having an impact there? Should we be proud of marauding imperialists who break the backs of people with a fountain pen and polished smile?

    And at the end of the day, it was Keller, and no one else, who was responsible for the perverse ballet of tritheism before a communion celebration, and it was David Wilkerson who set up shop in Times Square.

  • Caroline W

    Many of those “with deep pockets” who fund church planting initiatives want the young pastors to pledge allegiance to the “Tim Keller Model.”

  • sdesocio

    Jake. I appreciate much of what you’ve written here and else where but I think there are a bit too many generalizations which bog down this post. There are over 4,000 pastors in the PCA. I’m not sure of the demographic trends around the age of PCA pastors, but this means there are probably 500-1000 pastors ordained in the last several years. This group never gets together exclusively, nor have they been polled about their perception of ministry (which would be an amazing project). Because of these things, I find it hard to accept any general statements about the loneliness of young pastors or their general theological leaning. In fact, I think it is dangerous to concede that most, or many young pastors are just “ham-handed” mimics of Dr. Keller. The theological cross-sections which are found in the older generations are just as present in the younger.
    I think you concede too much ground to Mr. Erickson who seems to have no idea what Dr. Keller’s ministry looks like “They want to do what he does. They want the large church industrial complex. They want the book deals. They want to go on TV. They’ve metrosexualed themselves, put on skinny jeans and ugly glasses, and fired up power point presentations on stage at church.”
    I’ve never seen Keller in skinny jeans, and I’m pretty sure those are prescription lenses he is wearing.
    It seems that Erickson is reading Keller through RUF, and he is reading RUF through the lens of Rosaria Butterfield.

    I do agree with your warning about centrist being herded towards the left can be very dangerous. Tragically, I’ve had colleagues who so defined themselves that they cannot escape the trajectory of always being on left side of any topic. There was a comical list of “notable progressive” floating around the PCA in recent months. If the men on that list are progressives, Calvin is in purgatory.

  • CPT

    Erick Erickson needs to keep his divisive talk radio shtick out of denominational issues. The fact that he’s recently gone to seminary seems to have gone to his head and made him thin he knows more than he does.