03 May 2005

i object

In a courtroom it is improper, prior to cross-examination, for an attorney to ask his witness a series of questions that are worded in such a way as to suggest a particular answer. That practice is called "leading the witness." During the process of gathering testimony about a disputed matter, such a practice is rightly proscribed in the interests of ascertaining the truth.

A daily devotional guide, of course, is not a courtroom, but similar objections might be raised against the leading questions contained in the reflection for "Day 44" of the "50 Days of Prayer," a devotional officially promoted by the PCA's Mission to North America and published by the denomination's Christian Education and Publications division. The devotional is otherwise useful and I appreciate the efforts that went into it.

On Day 44, however, the devotional recounts the parable of the wicked tenants who killed the servants of the vineyard owner, culminating in the heir himself visiting the vineyard and being murdered. The motives of the tenants, the devotional suggests, are clear: a desire to play God in order to keep possession and control of the church, a clinging to salvation by works rather than grace, a selectivity with regard to which sins are condemned, and an exclusivity that would keep out the Gentiles in order that the Jews might have the glory that belongs to Jesus.

Whatever the merits of these observations as an exposition of the parable, what might raise an objection is the proposed application, asked in the form of leading questions:

What will happen to the Church that rejects her preachers, wants a new Gospel to tickle her ears (2 Tim. 4:3-4), neglects the Great Commission and determines that the Church will be theirs, not God’s? Is this happening when the New Perspective redefines justification, when the Federal Vision Theology remakes the Gospel, when our worship defies regulative principles, and when some sins are selectively condemned, while others are excused away under the guise of therapy?

That strikes me as rather prejudicial language for an official denomination-wide organ such as MNA to be disseminating.

This is especially so given that the denomination has taken no official stance on the so-called New Perspectives or the supposed "Federal Vision" theology. Furthermore, views associated with these outlooks deeply influence a wide range of pastors, seminary professors, ministries, and laypersons all across the PCA precisely in their missionally-focused commitment to the Reformed tradition, its retrieval, development, and proclamation to a world in need.

It's also the case that a number of study committees and Presbyteries are in the midst of working through these issues and the outcome is far from certain. A process of careful reading, discernment, and determination is not helped by such prejudicial language, which could be seen as poisoning the well. As it's been famously observed, if something is repeated as true often enough, people will eventually come to believe it is true, whether it really is or not.

After all, it remains unclear and a matter of ongoing dispute whether either of these outlooks, properly understood, threatens or redefines anything with regard to our confessional teaching, let alone "redefines justification" or "remakes the Gospel."

What if this devotional guide were worded differently? What if the points of application were suggested with a different sort of leading question? Suppose the text instead read:

Is this happening when a particular interpretation of a confessional formulation is made exhaustive of the Gospel, when a single Presbytery creates extra-confessional boundaries to exclude other Reformed pastors, when our worship becomes a bully-pulpit for theological hobby-horses, and when some sins are selectively condemned, while others are excused away under the guise of doctrinal purity?

I suspect such a set of leading questions would not have remained unchallenged and rightly so.

In light of these observations, I don't think that I'm out of line if I say, "I object" and don't believe that the peace, purity, and unity of the church are well-served by such leading questions appearing in a denominationally produced booklet.