Many people like to use their vacation mornings to catch up on sleep deprivation. I just love to use those hours for “me time.” While everyone else was quietly resting, I would work on my Bible study, go for a jog, or drink lots of coffee and think. But while I was trying to relish all this great me-time, something was nagging my thoughts like a fly that just won’t be swatted away. I usually don’t talk about issues like this on my blog, but I think some of the concerns behind it are worthy of the gospel interrupting the ordinary. I don’t even know how many of my readers are following this story. I’m talking about PCA pastor and writer, Jason Stellman, resigning from his ordination and joining the Roman Catholic church. You can read his statement here.
When I first heard about this, I think I had the Ralphie-face from the movie A Christmas Story. You know the one—when he finally gets to decode his first message from Orphan Annie, locked in his bathroom while his little brother is pounding on the door, and finds out it’s a crummy commercial…
I’ve never followed Stellman’s blog or anything close like that, but I did read and enjoy his book, Dual Citizens. And I am a member of a PCA church. So I couldn’t help but wonder, “What the heck?”
Do you remember the popular craze of pictures in the 90’s called Autostereograms (yeah, I had to look that one up for the name)? They were popularly distributed as Magic Eye 3D pictures. At first glance they just appear to be colorful jibber-jabber, until you completely change your focus. The picture is actually made up of numerous two-dimensional images with repeated patterns. You must be able to stop looking at all the little pixel-like details and take in the piece as a whole. Your focus must penetrate behind the 2D images. Suddenly, a three-dimensional picture pops right out at you.
This is what I think about when I discover someone has left their true confession of faith for another. Someone like Stellman, who seemed to champion the Reformation faith, has now stepped down from his ordination in the PCA, left his church to struggle with his completely different theological convictions, and joined hands with the Roman Catholics. How does that happen?
Maybe this is just an extension of what Carl Trueman has already said, but I think that all along Stellman was only looking at the two-dimensional images. He was holding up “key verses” and fighting causes with this ammunition; but he never could have clearly seen the whole, three-dimensional picture of covenant theology in Scripture. There is just no way he could have.
When you are looking at these pictures and you don’t “see it,” you think you make out some parts of the whole. Maybe you see an ear to the right, so that must be the nose in the middle. The thing is, you’re not looking at a face at all; you’re looking at a city landscape. Your brain wants to hone in on the smaller, 2D pictures that are repeated on the canvas. But you must “look past” the smaller images to reveal the 3D picture that is hidden. As your eyes work together to penetrate the image, stereopsis does it’s work so that you can plunge your vision experience into greater depth perception. It’s really pretty amazing.
It is tempting to look to our “fighten’” verses of Scripture to defend our favorite doctrines. As we all have a proclivity for our pet causes, we can become champions of the 2D images without ever seeing the 3D image they are there to reveal. You might have some of the important pieces nailed down, but you start connecting the dots on your own. I feel like Stellman was like this, and as he continued making his picture, he realized that he does not see Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura as he always confessed. Here is a quote from Stellman that I took from another website, because his original post on the Called to Communion blog was removed:
Having realized that I was using a few select (and hermeneutically debatable) passages from Romans and Galatians as the filter through which I understood everything else the New Testament had to say about salvation, I began to conclude that such an approach was as arbitrary as it was irresponsible. I then sought to identify a paradigm, or simple statement of the gospel, that provided more explanatory value than Sola Fide did.
The 3D picture of Scripture shows us a covenant treaty to God’s people, based on God’s promise. God himself is the Divine Speaker who reveals to us the One who perfectly fulfilled this covenant on behalf of his beloved. And lo and behold, God’s people are written into this divine drama! We are being made like Christ! How amazing is the grace that rescues filthy sinners from the sting of death and the bondage of sin into eternal communion with our holy God?!
I wholly confirm that every word in its original documents is God’s Word to us. That is why it is authoritative. And through the illocutionary effect of the his Word, I see Christ, my one and only mediator. Through faith alone, in Christ alone, by God’s grace alone, I see! To God alone be the glory!
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