A valuable essay for understanding the PCA

Dr. Ligon Duncan’s Owning the Confession is well worth reading. Many may not know that it is still available on the internet:

Here is the best quote:

Comparison of the old Scottish Formula and the second ordination vow of the Presbyterian Church in America provides an interesting study in contrasts. 1) The Kirk’s formula requires the ordinand to own and believe, while the PCA asks one to receive and adopt. 2) The Kirk’s vow entails commitment to the whole doctrine of the Confession as founded upon the Word while the PCA’s acknowledges the Confession as the system of doctrine contained in the Word. 3) The minister of the Kirk had to affirm both the Confession as the confession of his faith, and that he would practice the Confession. Neither of these clauses is found in the PCA vow. 4) Finally, the minister of the Kirk vowed to assert, maintain, and defend the Confession while the PCA minister promises to inform the presbytery if he is out of accord with it.

This was written before the BCO had been amended to officially show “system subscription” (and really shows the amendment was unnecessary).

By the way, I would love for someone to show me how this “observation and conclusion has anything to do with anything in the body of the essay, because I simply don’t see any relationship:

As to the core of doctrine in the Confession, it is clear that classic federal theology is so much a part of the warp and woof of the Westminsterian system, that removal of any component of its covenant theology would bankrupt the very idea of a Westminsterian system of theology of any meaning. Therefore, those who have expressed reservations about the Confession‘s covenantal system (in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) are not so much questioning particular doctrines of the Confession as they are the very heart of its theological system.

I have no idea what Dr. Duncan is talking about, unless he’s criticizing Dr. Wilson Benton’s essay on Federal Theology (“Federal Theology: Review for Revision” in Through Christ’s Word: A Festschrift for Philip E. Hughes ed. by W. Robert Godfrey, et al [Presbyterian and Reformed, 1985] 180-204).  I can’t think of anything else in print or in any other medium that would make that statement relevant to the Presbyterian Churches in America. It would great to see the two scholars discuss this issue. But nothing in his essay gives any context or explanation at all for this remark.  It reads to me like it came from some other essay or from a rough draft that contained material that was cut.

While I’m not prone to agree with the thrust of Dr. Duncan’s concern, I did find this paragraph both eerily prophetic and ironic:

There is good evidence from Scottish Church history to show that loss of confessional authority (in either the act of approval or formula of subscription) does not increase freedom, but rather it diminishes it. Having been freed from meaningful adherence to an established formulation, one finds oneself captive to the tyranny of a fifty-percent plus one majority of any General Assembly all the worse for its changeability.

Finally, I’ll end with a quotation that I think shows real wisdom:

It is evident from the Scottish practice, that subscription is not the answer if one is seeking to create theological unity out of diversity. Rather it is an instrument of enforcement and preservation of existing orthodoxy and consensus. Any who see strict subscription as a panacea for the conservative Presbyterian Churches in America, hence, have the cart before the horse. First there must exist a consensus to guard, before one discusses how best to guard it.

Well put.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *