Intown recently made a move from the Presbyterian Church in America to the Reformed Church in America. What does this mean for Intown theologically?
One of the things that attracted me, and later Intown's leaders to the RCA was their commitment to historic but generous orthodoxy. They practice a deep rootedness in and commitment to the Bible but allow space (within reason) for pastors, elders, and members to wrestle with difficult scriptural issues without fear of immediate censure and without an unnecessarily-narrow set of predetermined conclusions.
Of course there ARE certain predetermined conclusions that can’t and shouldn’t be negotiated. Intown has been, is presently, and will continue to be committed to the gospel of grace, justification by grace through faith, the divinity and humanity of Jesus, the bodily resurrection and return of Jesus, the Trinity, God as creator, the Bible as our final authority and guide for life, and a HOST of other things!
But, we felt more and more uncomfortable in a context where opposition to women’s ordination was functionally equivalent to the creedal matters above. And, as a PCA pastor I was expected to oppose a host of things that I felt the Bible was unclear or ambivalent about:
- Evolution. I was an ordained minister in the PCA for over a decade before I came to realize that our denomination had definitively ruled that theistic evolution was not a position that a minister could adopt, that is, unless you're Tim Keller...he gets a pass. I am delighted to be in a place where I don't have to deny the overwhelming scientific consensus in order to keep my ministerial credentials.
- Adam and Eve as our genetic parents: The scientific consensus that humanity did not descend from a single pair of human beings in recent history is enormous. And this consensus is bolstered by the work of numerous Christian scientists such as Francis Collins. While conceding the fact that this point creates some theological difficulties, such as how does sin enter the human race if the human race does not share common parents, I don't think that conceding the point means that we need to throw out our Bibles. It's okay to be in process and to not have everything nailed down with perfect clarity. We can allow science to guide us in reading our Bibles more accurately. Maybe Adam and Eve are our spiritual parents but not our genetic ones, and even Evangelical luminaries such as John Stott have wrestled with this.
- Historical Criticism is BAD. I'm not so sure. Of course there are practitioners whose theology has little resemblance to historic Christianity, but this doesn't mean that the entire historical criticism project needs to be jettisoned. Perhaps like the findings of modern science, the findings of form, source, and historical criticism can help us read our Bibles better and keep us from continually retreating into old apologetic paradigms that have ceased to be helpful. Many of the theologians and exegetes that we would consider "liberal" are men and women trying to wrestle with the text as we have it (not as we would want it to be) and trying to find Jesus in the Bible despite the challenges of a corrupted text, contradictory passages, and the theological diversity that even many evangelicals acknowledge.
This last point is pretty important and we will discuss it further in the next blog post.