I grew up as a son of a Conservative Baptist pastor, and I came to Christ at a very early age (indeed, my tacit theological knowledge was piqued from an early age). After high school (graduating class of 1992, Brethren Christian High School, Cypress, CA [now located in Huntington Beach, CA]), I lead a rather nominal Christian life for a few years. The LORD moved in as I was with some friends in Las Vegas, and things haven’t been the same sense. At that point the Lord began to use the ministry of Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa, CA in my life (esp. through exposure they had/have through their radio station 107.9 KWVE), so I began to attend Calvary Costa Mesa, and eventually enrolled in their Bible College for the 96-97 academic year. It became clear to me, as a Baptist still, that there were some minor doctrinal points that were going to ultimately prohibit me from being involved as a pastor in the Calvary movement (which were my aspirations at this point, i.e. to be a pastor)—e.g. they are a semi-charismatic body (originally flowing from Foursquare doctrinal distinctives), and affirm a ‘second-blessing’ theology with the result of speaking in tongues (after Baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs). This was enough of a problem for me to move on. So I enrolled at Multnomah Bible College, Portland, OR (1998). I finished in 2001 with an BA degree in Biblical Studies/Theology/NT Greek, and a wife and daughter; and then went on to pursue the MA in Biblical Studies from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (which I earned in 2003). During all this time my ecclesial affiliation was with various Free churches, like Baptist, Bible churches, EV Free, and once again (for a bit) Calvary Chapel.
Over the years, I have been noticing a major problem in American Evangelical churches; they are inward turned (which all churches at some level are, since we are all still sinners). But what I mean more specifically, is that this turn has become absolutized in a way that I could only characterize as imbibing the ‘Liberal theological’ spirit given ingression by none other than Fredrich Schleiermacher. In other words, the Christian religion, for American Evangelicals, in general, has been taken captive by a dependence upon personal ‘feeling’, and not upon the objective reality of God’s life in Jesus Christ. Indeed, this mode of spiritual existence has gone ‘viral’ among Evangelicalism, to the point that I think it is beginning to implode (if it hasn’t). There is simply no more resources available for Evangelicals to strip; they have no meaningful doctrinal statements (most of them are copy and pasted from each other, generically), they have no inner constitutive confessional statements to provide some sort of ecclesial identity [I am not suggesting here that these kinds of statements should be seen as absolute either], the Bible has become, largely, a Readers Digest of ‘how to’ live a blessed life [i.e. how to thrive financially,], and an ethical compass, and other things that I think have somewhat condemned it (like personality cults).
Is the grass greener on the ‘other side’? Where is the ‘other side’? We just moved on from a small Calvary Chapel church in our area (we attended for almost 2 years), so another ‘Free’ church experience (something that has been my comfortable experience for my whole life). I became friends with the pastor there (a good brother!), and we made ‘some’ connections with people there that will be lasting (I think). But the reality is, is that I (and my wife) still felt out of place; I am a theological runaway, it seems, among Evangelicals—although I would maintain that I have become more Evangelical and not less, given the original pietas that has/had provided trajectory for the Evangelical vibe. Anyway, with all these realities, perceptions, and congruence in place; we have simply moved on. But is the grass greener on the other side?
We have just started (and I mean ‘just’) attending a Presbyterian church (USA) in our area (the Vancouver, WA area), and we were impressed with it. This is the branch of Presbyterianism than most Presbyterians would consider its liberal branch; the branch that is associated with Princeton Theological Seminary. Now for any of you who have been following me for any amount of time, this move probably seems quite natural; you probably aren’t surprised at all! After all, I have been reading Calvin, Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance and others of like mind for quite a few years now; plus, my network of on-line connections all are in one way or another (mostly) associated with this trajectory (directly or indirectly) as well. So it makes sense to me, that I would finally follow the trajectory set by my interlocutors. We will see how this experiment plays out. Is the PCUSA a ‘Liberal’ church? It depends, of course on how someone defines ‘Liberal’. I would argue that the theological anthropology that funds American Evangelicalism, and even its most Reformed parts (like the OPC, PCA etc) is, or could be, more “Liberal”, ironically, than the charge made against the PCUSA. Certainly there is a mood or ethos of pietism that might be absent from some PCUSA congregations that might lead to a perception of “theological Liberalism”, but I would argue that this is just an ethos, and that the underlying doctrinal distinctives underneath much of American Evangelicalism reach beyond an ethos of Liberalism, but instead to a Liberalism, in fact.
Anyway, I am under no delusion that shifting from one denomination, and tradition to another is the ultimate answer; since we are all just people on the way, in the ‘Way’. But, I am hopeful that being associated with a tradition that has some thought underneath it might provide the kind of ecclesial intentionality that I think is so lacking in the American Evangelical church (which I still count myself as a member of). I could say more, but I will stop. I have made many assertions here, that require further thought and argument to establish; but this is a blog.
I am still quite ‘socially conservative’, and so I ultimately might not fit with every aspect of the PCUSA, either. But then again, I would imagine that as the pastor and church leadership goes at a local body, so goes that body. We think we are at a body, that is quite Evangelical, and resonates with our persuasion. If not, then we will move on.