The Thistle

Presbyterians at the Crossroads – Buswell Library Select Items

From the April 2012 issue of Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought (vol. 27, no. 4), “Presbyterians at the Crossroads: Part Two” concludes the treatment by David Stubbs of recent PC(USA) developments, notably the Fellowship of Presbyterians and the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO), which he began in the March issue. That treatment focused mostly “on their positive role,” as the editor puts it, as “Spirit-filled movements of reform.” Part Two raises “some concerns and questions about these movements and their stated tenets.” Stubbs says:

In the nine core values of the Fellowship, there is a helpful interplay between the values of “biblical integrity,” “thoughtful theology,” and “center-focused spirituality.” “Center-focused spirituality” is explained in this way: “We believe in calling people to the core of what it means to be followers of Jesus—what ‘mere Christianity’ is and does—and not fixate on the boundaries.” A strong center, without fixating on the boundaries. I agree with this goal, but I do not see it being played out as well as it could be in the essential tenets document.

Naming essential tenets and naming them so fully is a large and important shift within the PC(USA). Part of me is glad for such a shift. […] Such clarity is needed in the PC(USA). […] I witnessed under the PC(USA)’s current system how almost unthinkable it was to disqualify any candidate for any theological view. Oddly, what seemed to be more important was something called “Presbyterian ethos”—a way of talking about who was “one of us” and who was not. This “ethos” often functioned as a kind of trump card that could be used to slow down or even disqualify a candidate for ministry. […]These concerns are precisely backwards. A clear statement of essential tenets could help reverse this.

Yet history warns us that naming essential tenets is a tricky business. This trickiness is evidenced in the considerable ambiguity that exists in the ECO about what the word essential means. […]

In sum, I would reserve the word essential for only the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, with perhaps one or two more central points, while calling for the creation of a larger work that would more fully describe a normative center.  This document could be used in conjunction with some practice such as “naming a scruple” that allows appropriate flexibility and humility about such a confession or catechism.

Stubbs suggests that “it seems time for something new—perhaps with a process similar to that of Westminster and with an ecumenical spirit and “center-focused spirituality” like that of Heidelberg, not losing sight of what we can continue to learn from the early church and from our ecumenical brothers and sisters around the globe.” Stubbs concludes that “the Fellowship [of Presbyterians] and the ECO are asking the right questions and pointing in many promising directions.” He hopes that all this will “be a force for renewal, not schism, within the PC(USA) and the wider Reformed tradition.”