Monday, May 21, 2007

Correspondence on discipline and doctrine

Here's my initial email.


I'm heartsick as I write this, but I don't know to whom I should turn.

Is Holston Presbytery aware of the theological positions of John Shuck? He broadcasts them on his blog, casting vitriolic derision on anyone who asks why a Presbyterian minister denounces the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the unique/ontological divinity of Jesus, and the inspiration of the Scriptures. Many (if not most) of his "theological explorations" end up equating God with the universe, or some other panentheistic concept. This is most repugnant because it represents a thorough collapse of Trinitarian Godhead. Given the level of misuse and neglect of the Trinity throughout our denomination (on both "sides"), the last seems especially troubling.

Am I alone in my concern for both him and the sheep entrusted to his care? I've gone to him personally, and communicated privately and semi-publicly. I'm not sure what else I can do


Here's the response I got.
Thanks for your email.
You ask, "Is Holston Presbytery aware of the…" I can't speak for all of Holston Presbytery… but I can speak for myself and in regard to the Constitution of the PCUSA. So, let me try to address those concerns from my perspective and the Constitution.
I am aware of John Shuck's blog site. John is free to express his opinions and theological views—although much of what is on his blog are the viewpoints of other scholars and theologians—even if they are different from yours or mine or even mainstream Presbyterianism. John (and any ordained officer or church member, for that matter) is not free to depart from the practice of Presbyterian polity or Scripture.
The examination of officers and candidates for ordination is where an individual's conduct and beliefs are tested and judged by the Constitutional standards and according to the session's or presbytery's sense of orthodoxy. Church discipline in the PCUSA is designed to bring about repentance, reconciliation and restoration for those who have acted contrary to Scripture or the Constitution of the PCUSA.
John has appropriately and Constitutionally been examined by the Committee on Ministry, approved for membership in Holston Presbytery, and John has affirmed the Constitutional Questions required of ordination. I am not aware that John has acted contrary to Scripture or the Constitution of the PCUSA. (Just as I am not aware that you have acted contrary to Scripture or the Constitution of the PCUSA.)
I and the Committee on Ministry are charged with the responsibility of caring for pastors and congregations. Ideally, as the entire body of Christ, we all care for one another. So, my answer to your question, "Am I alone in my concern for [John] and the sheep entrusted to his care?" would be "No, you, Chris, are not alone."
Richard L. Fifield

I've sent comments along to other ministers within our presbytery, asking them to talk with John or the COM or the EP. No response has been given.

I was always proud (in a good way) to be from Holston. Good work is going on there. The gospel is being faithfully proclaimed (in word and in deed) by presbyters, deacons, and "laity." But when it comes to exercising discipline (formal or otherwise) against "troubler(s) of Israel," I'm guessing this is going to go in pretty much one direction.

I imagine that my CPM will see this as further evidence that I'm too adversarial to lead a church. Maybe. I doubt that the "heretics" at the various congregations I've served would say so. I'll talk Spong and Borg with them, and gently express what criticisms (and true statements) I find therein. But they are church members. Sometimes they are officers - but none are ministers.

As I read Paul's instructions to Timothy and Titus, the most pastoral approach to take with people that are unsteady in their doctrine is an educational one backed up by prayer for illumination and kindness. But this is not acceptable with those who would teach and lead. To turn a blind eye or deaf ear is not only unloving to the person who is stumbling in their doctrine, it's downright hateful to those who are under their teaching authority.

When I spoke with a friend in the Renewal network, I was asked if this was a hill I was willing to die on. The answer is "yes." I will risk my future in the PCUSA in order to clarify our denominational position towards those who mock the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus and decry God's merciful provision of salvation through Christ as mere exclusivist provincialism.

To that end, here are my public questions of complaint.

1. I'm not a polity guy, so there are things that aren't always clear to me. But my reading of the "shall" statements in our Directory for Worship (especially 2.2007, 3.3101(1), and 3.3401d) seem to necessitate that sermons be based upon the Scriptures. Would that mean that sermons based on the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Mary are acts contrary to our Constitution?

2. If doctrine doesn't matter, why would Timothy be instructed to watch both his life and his doctrine , because his (and his hearers') salvation was impacted by it?

3. Is preaching about the rotting body of Jesus an acceptable position within Holston Presbytery?

The problem isn't that Mr. Shuck reads and posts about these things. I'm all for that sort of freedom. The problem is that he believes them - so convinced is he of the truth that the Bible is not inspired (a belief he sees as sentimental at best, spurious, pernicious, and moot at worst), Jesus' body is still in the grave, and that there is no afterlife that he PREACHES these doctrines from a pulpit of Holston Presbytery. He veers dangerously close to (if not into) gnosticism, docetism, and unitarianism. If these doctrines - which are condemned by the Church catholic - are acceptable in a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in our denomination, then I need to know now before vows bind me any further.

As for me, there seems to be a veiled implication of my activity that is contrary to Scripture or our Constitution. I must admit that I have acted contrary to both. When I see the standards of righteousness and justice set before me in the pages of Holy Writ, I know that I not only fail to meet them but in many cases I willfully transgress. When I led a catechism class through the Westminster commentary on the Decalogue, I caught a renewed sense of my error (both in omission and commission). I was also driven even more forcefully to Christ as my only righteousness before the Godhead (and a foreign righteousness, at that).

That's why resurrection is such a big deal to me. I sin in my body and in my mind. And Paul declares that Jesus was raised for my justification ( Rom. 4:25). If Jesus is just a man, then he died for his own sins and not for mine - and that leaves me with a vain faith and no hope.

I have spoken with Mr. Shuck personally. I have communicated with him electronically. A number of ministers and elders from around the country have communicated with him and he still does not recant. I have no other option but to ask the church to intervene - for his sake and for the sake of his hearers. And if this action is considered unloving, mean-spirited, or arrogant then I need to go somewhere else, because I can almost guarantee that at some point in the future, I'll need a loving rebuke too.Hier stehe ich; ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir! Amen.


Anonymous said...

It's not fun to be the whistleblower...

But it IS a calling and is necessary for the church in every age.

The fact that it takes a candidate in that presbytery to point out this heresies of Shuck and that NOT A SINGLE ORDAINED PERSON has evidently raised a complaint should shame them all.

Fight the good fight brother!

St. Blogwen said...

Wait a minute. Is your presbytery guy maintaining that preaching outright heresy isn't "acting" against the Scriptures and the Constitution of the PCUSA?

I haven't read the D section of the Book of Order lately. If there's no provision for dealing with heresy in it, we're in worse condition than I thought.

regressivepresby said...

St. Blogwen (love the name, btw),
Its nearly impossible (I would say impossible, but never say never) to bring someone up based on espoused beliefs in our (PCUSA) current culture. We refuse to name the standards which we promise to uphold. Its been that was since the late '20's. And apparently its taken this long to come home to roost. And we're rather Alice in Wonderland-ish in our use of words.

Lord have mercy


Bayou Christian said...

reality is often ugly

JP Manzi said...

Well, really, here is your options. A) Live with it B) Find a new denominational home more supportive of your views or C) continue talking with the possibility of creating riffs between you and others who don't see things in the same light.

You should worry about Chris, not John Shuck. The folks in his congregation, I'm sure, are mature enough to handle their faith. The fact that they are there tells you something and if they disagree with his theology, they would already be gone.
With respect.

Stushie said...

There is another alternative. We could pray that the Holy Spirit intervenes and protects the people of Elizabethton by bringing them to their senses.

Chris said...


Welcome to Adiaphora.

1st, let me say that my denomination is supportive of my theological position because I am a strong adherent of our official confessional documents. Mr. Shuck aint. If anyone needs to find a denominational body more in line with their views, it is he. I would suggest UUs. I don't expect an anti-creedal CoC guy to understand what it means to have a confessional church, but trust's important.

In a Presbyterian system (as opposed to the CoC's congregational ones), we're all intimately connected - especially the officers of the church. This is for the sake of edification and discipline (both positive and negative). In other words, I don't have the right to turn a blind eye even if I wanted to. It is horrifying to see that my presbytery is not living up to its duties. You should also note that I believe Mr. Shuck was not adequately examined. His faith statement appears very Christocentric. However, it does not appear that there was much questioning from the floor as to the nature of his theology proper (i.e., doctrine of God), which is most unsound and inadequately (if at all) Trinitarian.

I will keep talking, because I prefer clarity to agreement. But that's precisely the point. The more Mr. Shuck speaks, the less he sounds like a Presbyterian. In fact, with his advocacy for paganism and his vituperations against historic Christianity (such as Jesus' unique deity and bodily resurrection), he hardly even sounds Christian.

As for the congregation: I don't know. I know a few members there (not sure if any of them are officers). I do believe that they have not been given proper oversight by the presbytery. Again, you need to understand that it is the presbytery's responsibility to see the Gospel proclaimed (ordinarily through overseeing ministers). For the better part of three decades, the congregation has been overseen by pluralists and persons of questionable orthodoxy. In other words, the Word has been stifled, and thus discernment has been in ebb. It's not a problem that can be remedied overnight, but it will only get worse so long as heresy is preached from the pulpit (and preaching from gnostic texts is evidence of heresy).

Please don't misunderstand. I'm not closed-minded, though I am confessional (i.e., I have strong convictions - just as he does). I do care about John. When I read his blog, I made it a point to personally visit and express my concern. We share numerous background similarities, and I'm interested in a lot of the stuff he is. I'm fascinated with how orthodoxy was crystallized by reacting against heresies, and love to expose cultural lies by examining gnostic texts. But they aren't to be preached as Holy Writ, and it is unconscionable for holding a person holding teaching office in the Church to do so.

JP Manzi said...

Fair enough, I appreciate your views on it. I have much respect for the Presbyterian Church. I am assuming you are apart of the PCUSA? Besides the PCA being more on the conservative end, is there any difference between the 2?

Aric Clark said...


This really has become an obsession with you. You've completely lost sight of the gospel and are wasting time, energy, and blog-space with these rants against a man, that, however much you disagree with him, is not the demon you suppose him to be.

Go build up the kingdom!

Go worship the Jesus you proclaim to love!

Get the giant-sequoia out of your own eye first!

Presbyman said...


I doubt you'll get much satisfaction from official channels. The fact is, the ethos of the PC(USA) is proudly pluralistic. We think it's "cool" not to nail down beliefs or define essentials. As long as a pastor can affirm that Jesus Christ existed at some point in time and was a really neat guy that we can learn from, then that pastor is probably in the clear.

I'll pray for your discussions with your CPM. Sometimes CPMs can be wonderful, sometimes they can be awful ... I experienced both.

And I'll pray for your successful navigating through the ordination process. It would be reprehensible for the church not to ordain someone with such well thought out and orthodox beliefs.

It is probably true, however, that rocking the boat the way you are doing will harm your chances. Doesn't matter if you're right ... well, it matters to God.

Viola said...

As you may very well know John Shuck has another post on pluralism using the sermon Dick Ficca preached several years ago. I left him a post which is mostly quotes from a sermon preached by Bonhoeffer. I also meant it as a "good" word to you. May Christ be with you. The post is here:

Chris said...

Thanks for the prayers, John. I would have one disagreement with you: orthodox views are not enough to justify ordination. The Pastoral epistles lay out a complex of qualities necessary for elders (teaching or ruling). I look at them every day and see my short-comings. I know that I'm very hard on myself, but it's still true. Nevertheless, I can preach and teach (which I believe is our chief duty as pastors). I love the people of the Presbyterian Church - even the heretics - and so I have to guard my family else I pour out too much of myself. (A CPE supervisor would say I have "boundary issues" - tell that to Paul!)

To Aric,

Lost sight of the Gospel? You've got to be kidding me. Unlike John, I can explain what we're saved from and how we're saved. I even know who did the saving!

I've not called him a demon (though he preaches doctrines of demons). And if I'm guilty of "demonizing" him, it is to no greater degree than he has demonized me, Bush, or anyone else with whom he disagrees. I at least have the decency to call him wrong and heretical. He likes to call us evil and stupid.

Second, I am building up the kingdom. I teach weekly, preach 1-2 times monthly, I witness to co-workers, help seminarians, and volunteer for Habitat (in addition to filling the Presbyterian Church's baptized - and catechized - membership lists). I'm not here to crow, but I've found that evangelicals are normally far more active than the activists across the aisle. When it comes to the choice between lifting a hammer to help or lifting a fist / plaquard in protest, my seminary "colleagues" consistently chose the latter. I've been a deacon for 7+ years and take my vows very seriously.

Third, I worship joyfully with the people of God (normally twice a week). Unlike the casual church hoppers and shoppers that make up the student body here at LPTS, I sought out one church into which I could pour my gifts and be shaped within the context of loving faithfulness to an accountable community. It's almost sickening how full the parking lot on campus is come Sunday morning.

Fourth, I hope you don't think I (or you) have to be perfect in order to obey Jesus' command to judge rightly. (Otherwise, we - being sinful - could never "speak truth to power!") The standard in the text you reference is hypocritical judgment. Christians are supposed to exercise moral judgement on those inside the family of God, and we are commanded to be discerning! If they are false teachers we are to deal with them decisively.


Thanks for your concern.

Doug Hagler said...

Chris, I think you need a loving rebuke right now. I don't think we speak the same language, though, so I'm probably not the one to give it.

I'll just talk about me instead. Your writing does not reflect Jesus Christ to me at all. I'm glad you're active with Habitat because that, in contrast, does. What I see more in your writing is the Gospel caricature of the Pharisees and Sadducees and experts in the law. I hope Christ will speak to you as well.

I pray that at some point you will find a lower opinion of the perfection of your own beliefs. I say this because I am often surprised by the recurring need to do this myself. You'd think we'd learn, but we don't seem to. Maybe you'll have more luck with that.

I will say this. The more certain you are in your rightness, the less I think its God you're certain, or right, about.

But that's just me. Doubtless, I'm in the same camp of heretical, denomination-destroying abominations as John Shuck.

Boo. We're coming to get you.

Chris said...


Thanks for popping by. You're right - we apparantly don't speak the same language. In fact, we must not be reading the same Bible. You see, the Sadducees were politically-savvy materialists who denied things like a personally involved God, resurrection, angels, etc. (Does that sound like me or someone else you know?) I am much like the Pharisees, I suppose. I agree with many modern scholars that Jesus was a Pharisee and thus both the warmth and bitterness of his interactions with them are seen in the light of a family-feud. However, I don't trust in my own righteousness but in Christ's. In fact, I'm convinced that anyone who trusts in their own good deeds is lost - which is why I polemicize human-centered "gospels" because they rob people of the Sabbath rest they can have in Christ Jesus.

You see, Paul wasn't exactly skittish about coming out against heretics when the Gospel was on the line. Neither was John the Elder. Neither was Jude. But in the PCUSA, we have seemingly enshrined doubt and disbelief - the ultimate post-modern sell-out. (Not to say that there aren't good things about post-modernism that we can't benefit by - but this relativistic attitude towards truth isn't one of them.)

John isn't skittish, either. It's one of the many traits we share - and something I admire in him. He tells the tradition that it is wrong, he tells orthodox believers that they live in a misconstrued past and are unable (or unwilling) to deal with modern realities (or non-realities, take your pick). Where's your criticism of his "unchristlike" attitude? I'm pretty sure you're bright enough to see right past the constant "I'm no expert" and "this is my truth...what's yours?" litanies, so it's not so much a matter of attitude as it is your predisposition to agree with him. Conservatives rarely find fellow conservatives mean, and liberals rarely find fellow liberals mean; we leave that for the other camp because we're just "telling it like it is" or "speaking truth to power."

Something else you mistake is my confidence in my own rightness. I'm no less confident at this moment about what I believe than John is - though I won't play the false humility card. We're both confident enough in our positions to publicly blog about it and criticize dissenting opinion. The chief difference between us is that when I'm not sure of something, I trust the tradition - the faith that has sustained countless Christians (especially as that is distilled through the magisterial Reformation in Geneva and England). You can call that weak minded if it makes you feel better. I will say this, though: it is a proven hermeneutical / ideological approach (just as feminism, liberationism, or queering are ideological approaches to the Bible - though these generally spend more time deconstructing than edifying). You can judge it by its fruits.

Presbyman said...


One piece of advice I would give to anyone trying to be ordained as a pastor: it's safer to be outspoken after you are ordained.

That doesn't mean you'll actually get any results, of course, but at least you have a safer platform from which to speak.

Chris said...

Thanks, John.

Like any good Irishman, I'm always looking for a scrap. In some settings, I'm the peacemaker. In others, I'm the agitator. I guess this is one of those subjective areas.

Nevertheless, I've been disheartened at watching orthodox officers of our church remain silence for fear of troubling the waters and risking their pensions. God has been good to me and given me a way to make a living outside of a pulpit. I believe that I'm being called to use that freedom to give a voice to those who've been paralyzed into silence (for whatever reasons).

I'm probably not going to be much different as an elder than I am now (perhaps busier). If they don't think my gifts are useful for edification within the PCUSA, I'd just as soon know now than wait until I'm five years in and worried about threatening my 10 shekels, suit, and victuals. Just pray that I have the wisdom to keep the main thing the main thing. It's so easy to get sidetracked on...adiaphora.


will spotts said...

Thank you Chris for not accepting the false claim some make to equate rejecting historic Christianity with humility.

It is self-evident, and if any of those who have commented on the topic are honest and self-aware, they will immediately see this - both sides in this difference of opinion believe they are RIGHT and the other side is WRONG - objectively. Thus the number of people who have stepped out to 'rebuke' you - and who have maligned you on this and other sites. (It is irrelevant whether or not the reverse is the case - as you have consistently made no claim to the virtue of pretending logically irreconcilable opposites can be true.)

The simple, unadorned fact is this: you believe you are correct, and that this is the best way to be faithful to Jesus Christ. Many of your commentors believe they are correct, and that your approach is unfaithful. Both perspectives can't be right. Neither perspective believes itself to be wrong - though some protest this, and others act like the issue is unimportant - though their need to comment on the subject betrays this as a contrived position. It is a difference of opinion - and one that has great bearing on how a person lives his or her life.

For my part, I agree with your position. I do not accept claims that this is unimportant, or that you and those you disagree with are really somehow in agreement. And I don't believe their assertions to that effect. Otherwise the vitriol would be far less.

Chris said...

Careful, Spotts. That kind of clear thinking gives the PoMos nosebleeds.

Stan said...


I want to encourage you to "wage the good warfare" (1 Tim. 1:18).

Jim Jordan said...

Keep up the good fight, Chris. If a fellow Math teacher was teaching that there was no correct answer to 2 plus 2 you would be remiss not to report their foolishness.

As for Aric and Doug, they are a couple of seminarians on a mission from God to preach that homosexuality is divinely inspired.

Hagler quote: "Frankly, if Jesus Christ pried open the skies and leaned down into my living room right now and said 'Doug, it is a sin to be homosexual,' I'd say 'Okay Jesus, that makes things simple—I'm not Christian anymore. Now go away.'"

Aric has spent considerable time rebutting (Pittsburgh Seminary) Robert Gagnon's orthodox view of homosexuality.

They are still students (I hope).

I thought of a good homiletic for Rich Fifield's e-mail response:
I know what you're saying, but, heck, good help is hard to find these days.

To me it would be a great privilege to be a pastor, but the attitude of the PCUSA is that they need pastors more than pastors need them. This I might add has encouraged the young liberal theologians in the pipeline.

Keep up the good fight, brother. God bless.

Doug Hagler said...

Chris: (you're welcome; thank you for the response)

One big difference between you and John is that he is not trying to use the machinery of the denomination against you. He seems willing to accept you despite disagreements - symptomatic of his view of his own rightness compared to your view of yours. So I am in part looking at the fruits here.

Clearly, you and he (and everyone who takes the trouble to blog about these things in all likelihood) think you're right, and the other is wrong. I think I'm right and you're wrong on some things. The difference is how you treat those who see as 'wrong', and how much weight you give to your particular 'right'.

You made the claim that his teaching is "hateful" to his congregation, and you seem to feel that you need to rescue his congregation from his evil ideas. Do you have any evidence of the terrible damage he's doing? Are members of his church crying out for rescue from his blasphemy?

If the answer is no, then frankly this does seem pretty arrogant (I don't know about unloving or mean-spirited - you seem to be neither). You're saying that you know what is good for all of these thinking, faithful adults, more so than they do for themselves. Its pretty likely that some number of them are smarter and more faithful and discerning than either of us. Should that matter?

You say you trust Christ's righteousness and not your own, but I don't see concrete evidence that you see a difference. I think that's a cop-out, because you clearly retain a very high view of your own righteousness - or for a simpler synonym - rightness. What I see is someone who is unable to abide a (future) colleague who disagrees with him on theology, who has such a towering trust in his own rightness that it outweighs disagreement from the congregation and Presbytery in question.

Maybe the PC(USA) isn't the place for you. I sometimes think it isn't the place for me either (too little orthodoxy for you, too little orthopraxis for me - ha). But I don't think either of us have the credentials for a crusade like this one. There are loads of bloggers who I think display some apalling theology, but my response is to blog, and let the truth show itself for everyone to see. If I'm right, great! If not, well, then we'll know. And if we're all wrong, then at least we tried.

If you are right, if you are on the side of Christ and John is on the side of error, do you need the machinery of denominational discipline to prove it?

Doug Hagler said...

will spotts:

It would be awful to pretend that logically irreconcilable opposites could both be true.

Like humanity and divinity.

Or something that numbers both three and one.

In fact, I think Christian theology is driven by logically irreconcilable opposites that are experienced as both simultaneously true.

And you're wrong - I don't think I'm objectively right. I think I'm subjectively right. The difference is huge. In the first case, I'd be saying that my truth is the only truth. In the second case, I'm saying that my truth is my truth - the best truth I can come up with.

And despite claims to the contrary, no matter how objective you think your truth is, I assume it is the same - your truth, the best one you can come up with.

What gives me a nosebleed is when someone presents their ideas as if they are objectively true, as if they have this conduit that the rest of us lack that lets them have these ideas without the limitations the rest of us have to deal with.

I guess its possible that some of you out there are objectively correct. If so, though, it is carefully and cunningly disguised in the form of beliefs and ideas and arguments coming from limited, contextual beings.

John Shuck said...


I have read your post and the comments. I have refrained from commenting, but I will do so now.

I love you. You are a colleague in ministry and my brother in Christ. I hope we will learn to appreciate each other more and honor one another's gifts. Look me up the next time you are in Johnson City. You know my number. I will take you to lunch.


Chris said...


Your self-righteousness about my "self-righteous" "arrogance" is still self-righteousness.

I don't know what members of the congregation of 1st Pres think or feel towards their pastor. I'll not feign omniscience. What I do know is that the opinions expressed on shuckandjive and (more importantly) the gnosticism seen there and in his published sermons is not only inconsistent with Presbyterianism, but is outside of the pale of Christianity (historically understood).

Let me ask you this: if you heard of a Presbyterian minister in your presbytery of care preaching that we should become Theonomists, reinstitute Israelite penal codes, and stone homosexuals - would you keep your mouth shut? What would you say if people started saying that your criticisms were arrogant, misguided, and power-plays? Would that even matter to you, given the seriousness of error that is at stake if you keep quiet? Answer that, and I suspect you'll have an idea of what motivates me.

Although I'm sure I don't speak for Jim, I'll say this: neither the hypostatic union nor the Trinity should be misconstrued as some sort of koan.

Chris said...


Thank you for your kind words to me. I'd be glad to have lunch with you, so long as we don't talk church. I think you're a funny guy and you're most likely a better person, more moral man, more dedicated father, and more compassionate human than I am.

However, when you call me a brother in Christ I'm not sure what you mean by that. When I say "Christ" I mean the eternal second person of the Trinity who - eternally begotten by the Father and made incarnate by the Spirit - lived among us as theanthropos, died for the sins of the elect, was raised bodily as a vindication of the work he undertook bodily and reigns in power over all the universe. Your blog posts - if they are honest to your convictions (and I have no reason to doubt you on it) - show that you mean something very different when you say Christ. Are we both elect children of God? That's not for me to know. Are we "brothers in Christ"? Since we hold radically opposing views of who Christ is, I'm not so sure.

But we are colleagues? We're both ordained officers of the Presbyterian Church USA and members of Holston Presbytery. There's a lot of good things brought about by our local partnerships. As someone who was examined for candidacy in the sanctuary of First Elizabethton, who has picked up garbage on US 321/67 with members of First Elizabethton, and has even made Native American drums with a "shaman" who was also a member there, I'd be lying if I said we weren't connected in more ways than one.

While you're celebrating Hinduism tomorrow, make a nod at the "church's birthday," okay?

will spotts said...

Doug Hagler:

"...and you're wrong..." That wouldn't be a unique occurrence; I've been there before. But I have to ask - is that objectively or subjectively?

"Like humanity and divinity./ Or something that numbers both three and one." 'A touch, a touch, I must confess.' But I'm once again curious: surely you're not suggesting that some Christians believe in three, and others believe in one? Or that some Christians believe in the humanity of Jesus, while others believe in the divinity of Jesus? The reason I ask is that you appear to be using these proclamations as if they are by definition necessary to Christianity - a position with which I happen to agree. If that is the case, however, it seems to me that our original discussion might be moot.

In all seriousness, I do have a couple of more significant difficulties comprehending your line of reasoning. You seem to have a concept of “betterness” for both your ideas and your approach. Part of the best truth you can come up with is your view of how people should act and believe (in accordance with their own truths) – otherwise you would not use words like arrogant or rebuke or wrong or even orthopraxy. These are not value neutral terms; and were you content with holding the best truth you can come up with and letting others do the same, you would never employ such value judgments. Unless, of course, you believe that the best you can come up with is better than that truth held by others – this is, of necessity an appeal to an objective. I could be misreading this – it may be that you are just violating your own beliefs; it would not be unusual – everyone does so from time to time. Or it may be that you’re going for some other distinction that would permit you to have some kind of “better and worse” ranking system of somehow subjective beliefs and actions.

You are also arguing against an idea I never advanced. I believe Christianity has definitional content – both in beliefs and practices. I also believe Christianity to be objectively true. The operative word here is believe; in all belief of every type there is a particle of risk. I could be wrong in these beliefs. I have certainly held beliefs formerly that I have since deemed errors. I would, in fact, be quite foolish to not allow for this possibility. The distinction is this: I have not said my beliefs are objective truth; I have said I believe some of them to be objectively true. (Some beliefs are clearly only preferences, but others – truth statements for example, I would cease to hold the moment I believed them to not be true.) You seem to maintain that you do not believe your beliefs to be objectively true – yet you argue against beliefs that conflict yours (about what practices or even what opinions are right) using value judgments.

Rev. Shuck articulates with intelligence, lucidity, and wit a description of a deity in which I do not believe, which I do not serve, and which I do not worship. It is irrelevant that he claims the same name I do. Part of my ability to name my own experience is to say definitively what I do not believe. Yet there seems to be a desire in some quarters to take away that right. Perhaps the issue is with the name – though I’m not certain that a Christianity that denies the tenets definitional to Christianity qualifies – I recognize, of course, that I am not the arbiter of that definition, but I do think the weight of the historic record suggest that such a definition actually exists. Whether or not propagating certain Gnostic and theosophist doctrines is appropriate for a Presbyterian minister is an issue for Presbyterians to decide.

Two unrelated side notes: I have on more than one occasion advanced an identical argument to the one you did – so I suppose it serves me right.

I also recognize the value of having the freedom to consider all options – for a person to even know what he or she believes. I see the need for a safe space to do this; and I see the danger of having career implications (or grades for that matter) attached to it. However, I’m not prepared to say that that means that an organization must ordain all who ask – and I am not prepared to say one who has chosen to be a minister has unfettered intellectual freedom while holding that office; obviously all persons have such unfettered intellectual freedom, but there is a real moral question about the ability of one to carry out one’s obligations in good faith while not accepting limits. The office itself carries certain responsibilities with it; no one demands that person seek that office, but it would hardly be unreasonable to have specific expectations about the content that teaching elders will actually teach. You commented earlier about the opinions of the congregation – and that is certainly legitimate, but there is a power dynamic at work here that makes it an uphill battle for congregants or ruling elders to even question the pronouncements of teaching elders. This may be wrong – as I believe – but it is our own Presbyterian form of clericalism at work. A person is placed in a position of authority, and that person often has the skills, the intellect, and the authority of the office, to bully people into his or her own pet opinions. Since the PC(USA) as a whole, and the presbytery specifically, grants that peculiar authority, then it seems to me that Presbyterians have a vested interest in examining how it is being used.

Doug Hagler said...


You never address my central criticism, which is: you're willing to force other people to believe as you do. So while we may both be self-righteous and all that, the difference is, once again, how we *act*, how we treat other people. I'm the sort of latitudinarian who gives *latitude*.

It bothers me because you still have yet to demonstrate *any* discernible damage that Shuck's views are actually causing. You don't seem to distinguish between things that are actually measurably injurious, and things you just disagree with or you think are stupid. For me, that distinction is absolutely crucial in how I respond to something I disagree with.

In the example of Theonomy, I would speak out against it and it wouldn't stop me if I was called names. But what makes it a bad comparison is that theonomy, if applied in our legal system, would damage the rights and threaten the lives of tens of millions of people.

Doug Hagler said...


As I said in the post, I was just trying to make the case that making logically irreconcilable claims is at the heart of Christianity. Christianity is not founded on logic, like mathematics for example. I'd say it is founded on experience - no amount of Bible quotes about grace will convince me unless I've experienced that grace, for example.

I reject your apparent assumption that something must be either 1. objectively true, 2. objectively false, or 3. meaningless. For example, a metaphor can be not-1, not-2, and 3.

I don't see any meaningful distinction between "my beliefs are objective truth" and "I believe some of [my beliefs] to be objectively true." In both cases you seem to be absolutizing your beliefs and shutting down possible discussion. I mean, if they're objectively true, they're unassailable. Nothing more to be said there. End of story.

Did you think the previous beliefs you indicate you've rejected were objectively true? I've thought that in the past, too, but when I later rejected some beliefs, I realized that saying they were 'objective' wasn't really accurate. In fact, I don't think 'objective' applies to any belief by definition.

But it occurs to me - if you think your beliefs are objectively true, is there really any point in continuing?

Viola said...

Excuse me Doug,

What would you do with Jesus words, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matt. 16:24-26) As Christians surely we can speak of souls that are damaged or lost.

It seems to me that anything that would cause a person to fail to follow Jesus or take up his cross would be sin and that includes the sin of heresy. So what if a preacher preaches heresy and causes others to be disobedient to Christ or even keeps them from coming to Jesus Christ?

An example that lies heavy on my heart: last week I wrote an article for Presbyweb on those who were celebrating pluralism Sunday with Pentecost Sunday. I quoted from one church web site some of the things they were doing. One thing I copied: “We model religious tolerance to our children who will participate in our worship by presenting a dramatization of the parable of the elephant, which offers the thought that each religious tradition may contribute something to an understanding of our vast and infinite God.”

I received an e-mail from a dear friend who simply quoted that and then wrote “Millstones incoming.” It took a while, but finally I got it. “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt 18:6 )

Jesus goes on to speak of the sin that offends and reminds us of the Good Shepherd seeking his sheep that has gone astray. The sin of heresy is horrible it takes away from the heart of those who listen to it the knowledge of God’s grace given through the death of Jesus on the cross.

Paul, as he faced arrest and imprisonment, implored the leaders of the church at Ephesus to guard the sheep. He tells them, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood.” Paul was not afraid to call wolves those who attempted to draw the church away from Christ to themselves.

Mark said...

Dear Chris,

(Is that short for Christopher, "Christ bearer"?).

I must say that I take a middle ground between you and Doug/Aric on this one. I read John's Easter sermon and I'd have to agree, he doesn't sound Christian. Yet, neither do you.

I've read through some of your blog. You strike me as someone with blades drawn, ready to blood the infidels. You strike me as very similar to your caricature of Muslims.

Granted, you don't draw an actual sword, but you take very seriously the axiom that the pen is mightier. For a person who claims to serve the Word made flesh, you seem quite happy to pick the flesh off your "opponents" with carefully sharpened words.

And then there's John, peaceful infidel that he is, critically opposed to the idea that God might just both be able and willing to take on flesh, give up that flesh to death, and raise it up again--for real, for us--in Jesus Christ. Yes, he's a heretic, a misleader of the people.

Yet he sounds much more willing than you to live the life to which Jesus calls us. Unlike you, he actually sounds pastoral. He actually sounds like he cares for people--ALL people. And perhaps, by his example of living the way Jesus calls us to live and caring for all people, he might actually (accidentally? by the grace of God?) lead more of them to Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior than either he or you think possible.

Yes, John's a bit too far beyond the Christian faith for me. And so are you. May God bring us all together in Jesus Christ, and send us out once again to serve in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God and the joy of God's creation.

Yours in Christ,

Chris said...


God alone is Lord of the conscience. I am not trying to force anyone to believe a certain way. In fact, I think a multiplicity of rules leads to less faithfulness, not more. (Exhibit A: our Form of Government!)

"No church governing body may bind conscience contrary to Scripture. It can, however, interpret Scripture and require that those who disagree either submit or withdraw peaceably. Because of the right to withdraw, the individual conscience cannot be bound by actions of the church." ("Historic Principles, Conscience and Church Government," Minutes of the General Assembly of the PCUSA, 1983. pp. 151-152)

Let's be very clear about my charge: Mr. Shuck teaches and promotes beliefs that are contrary and repugnant to Presbyterian confessional theology, catholic Christian orthodoxy, and - most importantly - to the Scriptures (though there can be some debate on the latter part). He has the right to do so, but must understand that there is no absolute right to ordained teaching office within the PCUSA. It's not a right, it's a privilege.

As a matter of personal concern, I believe he would be an amazing instrument in the hands of the Redeemer should he settle in his mind on the side of orthodoxy. But this aint about him - it's about the Gospel. When the Gospel is at stake, the only Christian thing to do is get in somebody's face about it! That's precisely why I think he's a little "in your face" about stuff - he, too, believes that the gospel is at stake. The problem is that the two of us preach a very different gospel.

The harm that is being done is the substitution of "another gospel" or "no gospel" for the Gospel. The Gospel actually saves us from something - the wrath of God - and anything else leaves people dead in their sins. Paul is keen to lay out the basics of the Gospel again and again (e.g., 1 Cor. 15). That Gospel is the God-ordained means by which humans are saved from eternal hell.

Now you may not believe in an afterlife or hell (despite the fact that Jesus preached both), therefore my efforts appear draconian. I don't believe in anthropogenic global warming, so efforts to turn us back to a 18th c. economy seem unjustifiably harsh to me. But I would ask: given the conviction of either of these likelihoods of being uncomfortably warm for a loooong time, what is the compassionate thing to do?

Chris said...


Welcome to Adiaphora!

Yes - my Christian name is Christopher.

To be honest, the criticism about "swords drawn" is equally applicable to John and myself. We both believe that there are people out there doing harm to the flock of God by preaching false doctrine. He regularly derides people who are classical orthodox Christians as mindless, illogical, simplistic, unlearned, etc. When I have something to say about the way people behave in church, I'm going to use the supreme authority within the church - the Scriptures. (That's why I was surprised when you said that I don't draw a sword: I never go out unarmed!) I do my best not to dehumanize them with language about their intellect (though I've been guilty of that, too).

I also think you probably have a poor picture of who I am pastorally given the context of my public voice. It's always been the case that wherever I work, I draw the heterodox. They find me warm, respectful, and caring - and note the kindness with which I correct or disagree. They find in me an ally and dialogue partner. That's what pastors are supposed to do with sheep. But there's little room for word-mincing with false teachers. Just read Galatians, Jude, and 2&3 John.

will spotts said...

Doug - The distinction is this. When I say I believe something to be objectively true, then I am open to being persuaded otherwise. (The burden of proof depends on who is trying to alter whom.) It is the use of the word belief that indicates such a thing. There is no element of this that is a conversation ender. You seem to just display a distaste for the words used.

I suspect you are using them imprecisely, and I suspect that you also have a set of beliefs that you hold to be true, and other beliefs that you hold to be false - you just don't use the word. I'm not trying to make assertions about your mental landscape, as much as trying to grasp what distinction you are trying to make between views you hold to be "better" - at least enough to try to persuade others, and to try to rebuke those who don't share your perspective, and my belief that certain beliefs are true. What is the functional difference? How do you distinguish beyond personal preference or distaste? How open are you to be being persuaded to adopt views you've expressed disdain for - whether by suggesting people are farther behind in the 'process' than you (e.g. 'aren't there yet') are or by expressing what appears to be moral outrage?

Yes, when I believed things I no longer believe - I believed them to be true - and I now no longer do so - If I did, I would still hold those beliefs. It is the belief that changed, not the status of the items believed. It could well be that those I have rejected were, in fact, the true ones. I just don't believe that to be the case.

I never made the tripartite designation you mention. If something is a truth claim, however, yes, I do believe it has few options: it is objectively true, it is objectively false, it is partially true (in which case the part that is true is objectively so and the part that is false is objectively so), or it is meaningless. A metaphor is not such a statement. What the metaphor is used to describe may, in fact, be such a statement. A person can use a metaphor to illustrate an idea that is objectively true, or false, or partially true. Even in poetic descriptions this is often the case.

You have asked a very valid question - about the harm of 'heresies' or ideas - as opposed to actions. And you have expressed the faith that the best ideas will prevail. (I do not share your optimism in general - as I suspect many of the best ideas have been relegated to the trash heap of history - and I have seen inferior ideas prevail time and time again. However, within the context of Christianity - perhaps God will intervene to cause such an occurrence. Yet that is only a guarded hope, and it is something I've partially observed in history - as it were, through a glass darkly.)

Where I see a problem is this: if a person alters Christianity, and claims their views are Christian - while departing from the historic beliefs of Christianity, they may mislead others and cheat them out of the ability to decide for themselves. To me this is a violation of an ethical principal - expressed in 'Thou shalt not steal.'

To me it would be more ethical to cease to claim a relationship with historic Christianity. If the person is arguing that historic Christianity got it wrong - say for example, that Jesus did not rise from dead, or that God is not the God presented in the Bible - that is his or her choice, but if that is the case, it is dishonest to claim that Christianity teaches these things - and it deprives those who hear it of the chance to make up their own minds.

I most often see this occurring in the service of political agendas. Some of these agendas are, in fact, harmful - every bit as harmful as Theonomy, but that is probably a tangent. The chief problem in equating Christianity with politics (something done on all sides of the political spectrum) still lies in the fact that it replaces the contents of Christianity with some alien agenda.

will spotts said...

Doug Hagler - I accepted your comment about logically incomprehensible ideas in Christianity. I would point out one thing, though. Christianity claims that these logically irreconcilable ideas are objectively true. There is a distinction between that and saying the Christian proclamation and its opposites are also both saying the same things. There are binary options.

The Armchair Theologian said...

Chris, God bless youn for standing firm, but I don't envy your position at all. I'm not Presbyterian, nor do I really understand Presbyterian church polity, but I definitely understand heresy. I'm Canadian and have been involved in defending historic orthodoxy in both the PAOC (Pentacostal Assemblies of Canada...more as a hired gun though, I'm quite an aggressive cessationist) and the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conference.

From my experience, I imagine that you will fight and fight and eventually either get tossed out when the right heretics get the power they need to silence your annoying words, or leave out of frustration when you come to the realization that your oponents are immune to biblical reasoning because they have no concern for Christ...

Don't forget that, "Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." -2 Timothy 2:25-26

...although I'm not saying that you should give up. You also have a biblical command to preach the truth in season and out of season (and it's basically always out of season...doh!) Also, if you can get ordained and teach at a church where you have elders that support you and whatnot, then great. If you are part of a denomination that will LET you teach orthodox Christianity, I'd advise you to actively build people up with the truth and disciple as many as you can while you can.

You have a Biblical command to "teach sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9), but it sounds like you're on a dangerously leaky ship. No matter, sometimes God raises up a William Wilberforce or a Daniel. Maybe he'll raise up a Chris.

God bless bud.

Eddie Louise said...

All of these arguments, all of this nastiness, all of this testosterone and posturing is what drove me from the church 20 years ago.

I did not stop believing in GOD, nor Jesus, nor did I stop worshipping. I just stopped attending a building where everyone felt they had to shout and wave their fists and condemn all those that came at their faith from a different direction.

If Jesus walked among us today her would be a Pluralist! The world is both ALOT smaller and alot bigger than it was 2000 years ago. Nobody in ancient Judea had any concept of Brasil, or Austrailia or Iceland. Rome did not know about the community of Skara Brae on the Orkneys. Jesus spoke to the known world at the time. Today he would speak to the known world.

Chris, you claim to be doing this out of love and concern, but you come off the same as an abusive husband who believes he is hitting his wife 'for her own good'. Conversation is good. Registering concerns is good.

Witch-hunting is bad. Stop it!

Chris said...


Your blog indicates that you're a classically trained musician. I'll try to evoke some of the pathos for you:

Imagine that somehow a cabal of people had infiltrated Juliard's faculty and started spending all of their time teaching music of the last forty years. (Sometimes, to quell the traditionalists, they reach back to some of John Cage's early work.) They would make passing, casual references to Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, etc. but mostly just to tell people that it was "music for that time" and "hopelessly locked in the oppressive cultural attachments of the XXXteenth century." Plus, since it wasn't adequately representative of what was happening with women, Africans, Chinese, etc. so it's useless at best (and bordering on self-serving sentiment) to even study it. Students are taught the intricacies of gangster rap (East Coast vs. West Coast vs. Crunk) and how to differentiate Electronica from Dance, Ambient from New Age, and Folk from Country.

This cabal goes on to train two generations of music teachers who are (at best) ill-equipped - antagonistic is more often the case - at teaching classical music as it developed from the 16th century to the 1910s. These teachers claim Juliard credentials for teaching / performing music, and yet they are incapable of appreciating - and transmitting - the value of the great deposit of Western music.

Would you sit quietly while that happened? I hope it would anger you that people are deprived of such beauty. I hope you would fight to preserve the names of those who shed so much light and joy on the paths of music lovers the world over. Even if you appreciated the new forms, I would think you would be hard-pressed to throw out the old.

It is exactly what happened in the churches and church-schools. And it's why we "fight" so hard. People are being told that there is no God who will set the world right - it's just up to us. People are told that death and entropy get the last word - because the Resurrection is just a myth. And then those who are quick to restore those lost treasures get denounced as angry or arrogant or narrow-minded.

As for your statement that Jesus would be a pluralist if he were born into our era...well, I'm not sure how you derive that from any historical or biblical data. Pull that from your own agenda instead? Or are you grounding it in something other than your whim? As far as I can tell, with the spread of the Gospel in Africa, Asia, and South America...I'd say that Jesus still looks like he's perfectly able to speak to people today. (Do some research about the type of Christianity that's flourishing - both in this country and abroad - and see if it matches the "Jesus is okay with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Secular humanism" stripe you seem to lean towards.)

I do know that the Scriptures declare when he does come back, false gods aren't going to be tolerated. You'll find he's not as milque-toast or "tolerant" (our age's golden virtue) as you think.

Eddie Louise said...

Well, actually Chris, your metaphor doesn't work. See the problem with the typical music education is it seeks to segregate 'high' music and 'low' music. The classical establishment would commit suicide before it would allow a study of Rap forms, let alone Jazz, Rock, Pop etc. Luckily musicians are wiser than their teachers and consider ALL forms of music fair game for study and experimentation. Whether the establishment appreciates it or not, many musician take a pluralist approach to their music.

I am a lay-person. I only know the Jesus that communes with me personally. I have done no great reading or study. But when I say I think Jesus would be a pluralist what I mean is this:

Jesus did not teach in the synagogues.. he spoke on a hill, or at the well. He reached out to the unclean, the prostitutes, the tax collectors. He didn't back his words up with the written Law. He didn't say 'Prostitutes are cool.. go be a prostitute', but he did say stop judging people, start understanding people. I think he wants us to understand and accept. It is nearly impossible to change the mind of an enemy, but it is relatively easy to change the mind of a friend. A pluralist approach allows us to make friends. And that is how Jesus would/did use the pluralist approach.

Chris said...


My musical qualifications end at my ability to offer vocal assistance in a church. I'll take your word about the wide approach in musical education. I merely wished to set forth a scenario that would simulate for you my own experience in higher theological education. The issue is not segregation, but silencing. I wasn't presenting what does happen at Juliard...just how the approach taken in many seminaries would play out if it were.

My only point was that there is a tremendous unbalance which leans towards modernity and especially the period from 1947 to 1997. C. S. Lewis called this uncritical allegiance towards one's current intellectual climate "chronological snobbery." It is a malicious and self-serving lie...and most people are so enchanted by modern conveniences that they've become as lazy in their thinking as they are in their daily life. In theology as it is practiced in the mainline protestant seminaries and university-run divinity schools, chronological snobbery mixes with post-modernism to deprive people of the wealth in our 2000 yr. old intellectual tradition. It's a sham, and the inheritors of the church (that is, congregations of believers - not PhDs and ministers) deserve their birthright.

Also, notice that I don't seek to outlaw diversification in theology or prohibit study of modern thought. I simply ask for balance: when you have two millennia of well-preserved texts, it seems ludicrous that 75% of your class time be concerned with what was written since the early 1960s. It's an appropriate specialization, but it is poor practice for the pastor / general practitioner of theology.

As for your latter comments on Jesus the pluralist, it is not supported by the narrative material in the gospels. I invite you to read how he is reported as regularly preaching in the synagogues. Notice that it is reported as his regular custom. (The Greek makes this even more clear, but it's a bit pedantic and technical.) He taught in synagogues of "pure" Jews in Judea, and to mixed congregations (containing Jews and Gentile god-fearers like the Roman centurion). He even taught at the Temple. The times where he taught in homes or hills are the exceptions to be noted - not the rule. The difficulties with the synagogues predicted by Christ and experienced by the early disciples make these reports of regular preaching therein (and thus validation of their respectability) all the more noteworthy.

And while it is very true that Jesus spent time with prostitutes and tax collectors, he also spent plenty of time with Pharisees. Luke has him eating at the home of prominent Pharisees at least three times. Nicodemus was one of his converts, and he wasn't the only one! In none of these cases - whether sitting with self-righteous Pharisees or morally depraved publicans & prostitutes - did he excuse their behavior. His message was the same to both - REPENT. There is not one place where he excuses idolatry, but instead demands that God is to be worshiped in spirit and truth. To make things clear, he declares himself the way to God the Father and truth itself! He's really a lot more narrow than you think. You and I may not like it, but we don't get a vote. He's God and he does what is right in His eyes - not ours.

Jesus would have failed just about every test we put to him on tolerance, open-mindedness, cultural sensitivity, etc. Why? Because he didn't come to be nice. Instead, he came to be GOOD. And the churches have, by and large, forgotten how to tell the difference.