Instead of a Reply:
A Quick Survey of MVP's Accusations against Me
Pastor, Presbyterian Church in America
Mississippi Valley Presbytery adopted a report on February 1, 2005 from their ad hoc committee
charged with facilitating the presbytery's study of the issues surrounding the distinct but related phenomena of the so-called "New Perspectives on Paul" (NPP) (including the theology of N.T. Wright, hereafter NTW); the so-called "Auburn Avenue theology" (hereafter AAT, which is sometimes referred to as the "Federal Vision," hereafter FV, or AAT/FV) and the theology of Norman Shepherd (hereafter NS).
Certain statements are made about me in the endnotes of the statements made about
the so-called “Federal Vision.” What follows are my responses to these statements.
I stress that I am only addressing what is said about me personally and am not
commenting on any other truth claims made in the document. My silence must not be
taken as agreement or disagreement with the report’s claims about any other person they
have named. This is not a general overview or reply to the whole paper.
I realize, that in reading this document, you are reading what are merely the claims of
one man. I am presuming to disagree with a person or persons of much greater stature
in our denomination, and indeed with the official act of an entire presbytery. The only
reason I believe it is right (and required) that I write on this issue is because this is, in
my (admittedly brief) experience, an unprecedented act. A court, without the due process
of a trial, has publicly and officially denied the doctrinal orthodoxy of ministers in good
standing in the Presbyterian Churches of America. I have never been given the
opportunity to confront my accusers, to stipulate the items admitted into evidence, to gain
representation. Yet I have now a verdict pronounced over my head, one that has quite
substantially hampered my ministry. In this special circumstance, I believe it is
appropriate to answer what has been said. I hope you will read it with an impartial
On Page 12 of the document, the report claims on lines 7 & 8:
Proponents of the FV identify themselves as Reformed. Most appeal to the writings of the
sixteenth century Reformers in support of their views.
This is referenced by endnote #3:
Examples of this approach include … Mark Horne, "Samuel Miller, Baptism, & Covenant
1. I do not only identify myself as Reformed, but
On page 12, lines 24-25 we read:
a) I identify myself as one who does “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of
Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine
taught in the Holy Scriptures” and who does “further promise that if at any
time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this
system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your
Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption
of this ordination vow?”
2. It is false to claim that I appeal in any special way to the sixteenth-century
reformers, as opposed to our seventeenth-century doctrinal standards to which I
b) Thus far three presbyteries have identified me as such a person: Pacific
Northwest Presbytery where I was examined and ordained. Mid-America and
then North Texas Presbytery where I pastored for over three and a half years,
and Missouri Presbytery where I was received this last January. In this last,
due to the damage my reputation has suffered by gossip and misinformation, as
well as due to the present political climate in our denomination, I was
examined quite closely on issues relating to justification and the sacrament, and
after hearing me speak for myself I was admitted as not only Reformed, but
Presbyterian and in conformity to the Westminster Standards.
a) My essay on "Samuel Miller, Baptism, & Covenant Theology" is available
It is my opinion that Bucer is only mentioned in
passing and that my argument is directly from the Westminster Confession of
Faith and Catechisms (as well as the Bible passages used as prooftexts within
b) In fact, a great deal of my theological writing is an exposition of the
Westminster Standards: To wit:
• Sacramental Assurance & the Reformed Faith: The Biblical Perspective of
the Westminster Standards
c) While I do have an interest in sixteenth-century Reformation theology and worship, particularly in the English version of Zacharias Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, my main interest has been in seventeenth-century
theology. Francis Turretin and Benedict Pictet (at least those of their works
that have been translated into English by American Presbyterians, who did not
do so because they believed they were subversive to Westminster Doctrine).
Also, I have a preference for Charles Hodge (despite a critical essay I wrote
listed above) and have posted his material from time to time. Furthermore, a
primary theological teacher in my theological development has been the
Westminster Confession and Catechisms. It is true there was a time (1994-
1995) when I went through an embarrassing “Calvin is the Greatest” phase, but
I was set straight rather quickly under the teaching ministry of Pastor Jeff
• Heads of Household Membership & Male-Only Voting in the Church (originally appeared at the pcanet.org website under the Christian Ed Committee, I think. It is
an argument against the things mentioned in the title.)
• The Necessity of New Obedience: The Westminster Standards, Repentance, and Pardon
• Mixing "Law" & Gospel in the Abrahamic Promise: A Response to Michael Horton
• Charles Hodge’s Deficient Idea of the Church
• Law & Gospel in Presbyterianism: The Reformed Doctrine Stated & Briefly Vindicated from Scripture
• The Church: An Exposition of Chapter XXV of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Originally written for a seminary class on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Received an “A” in the denominational seminary)
• The Westminster Standards & Sacramental Efficacy
• Credo Regarding Personal Justification before God (Response to gossip and false statements)
• A Quiz on Justification & Salvation
FV proponents deny the imputation of Christ's active (and perhaps passive) obedience to the
believer for justification.
This is endnoted (#13) and on page 14 of the report we read in that note in part:
While Mark Horne believes that he is not denying the traditional doctrine of imputation, it is
clear that his positive definitions of the righteousness imputed to the believer are moving in a
different track – the track of reception of status (See Mark Horne, "God's Righteousness and
Our Justification;" "Some Thoughts on Wright, Righteousness, and Covenant Status;" and
"Righteousness from God").
1. It cannot possibly be controversial within the Protestant tradition to claim that
justification is a conferral of a forensic status. The idea that this is somehow “a
different track” than the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is an incredible
premise to simply assert without argument. Yet without this alleged antithesis the
entire argument fails. The committee does not address the possibility (a) that the
claims I make in my writings are true statements in and of themselves without in
any way jeopardizing the “traditional doctrine of imputation”; or (b) that my claims
are quite compatible with the “traditional doctrine of imputation”; or (c) that my
claims are part of a Biblical and exegetical case that proves “the traditional doctrine
On page 13, lines 29-31, we read:
For the record, I contend that (c) is correct, though any of the possibilities deals
with the accusation. I continue to believe I am “not denying the traditional
doctrine of imputation” because nothing the committee itself has alleged regarding
my “positive definitions of the righteousness imputed to the believer” even offers a
reason to think otherwise. For some good material on the imputation of Christ’s
righteousness, as related to the Biblical material, see D. A. Carson’s essay “The
Vindication of Imputaton: On Fields of Discourse and Semantic Fields,” which
starts on page 46 of Justification: What’s At Stake in the Current Debate, edited by Mark
Husbands and Daniel Treier (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004).
2. Why did the committee, in listing my “positive definitions of the righteousness
imputed to the believer,” leave out my “Credo Regarding Personal Justification before God”?
For the record, I affirm as my belief and teaching that God justifies sinners “by
imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ to them.” Furthermore, above and
beyond what the Westminster Standards require, I affirm the imputation of Christ’s active
obedience as well as his passive obedience.
Following Norman Shepherd, FV proponents argue that election must be understood in terms
of the covenant, not vice versa. The result is formulations of election that render one's election
a process and a function of one's covenantal obedience.
This second sentence is endnoted (#18) so that we read on page 15:
Many FV proponents argue that biblical statements concerning Old Testament corporate or
national election are determinative of our understanding of individual election. See here …
Mark Horne, "Election: Corporate & Individual."
1. I have never argued that the covenant cannot or should not be understood in
terms of election (and remember that I am only commenting on my own beliefs
and not those of others; my silence should not lead to any conclusions). That is
not, and never has been, my position.
Page 15, endnote 22:
2. It is hard to be sure what is meant by “formulations of election that render one’s
election a process and function of one’s covenantal obedience.” But if the
Committee is claiming that I believe or profess or teach a formulation of election
a) Denies that, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy
counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes
then the committee is misrepresenting my teaching and position.
b) Affirms or leads people to think that God “decreed anything because he
foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon [foreseen]
c) Denies that, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory,
some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others
foreordained to everlasting death.”
d) Denies that, “These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained,
are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and
definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.”
e) Denies that, “Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God,
before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and
immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will,
hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace
and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in
either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes
moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.”
f) Denies that, “The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the
unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth
mercy, as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his
creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their
sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.”
I am certainly open to other ideas as to what the committee means, since it is
virtually unthinkable that they would make such a false accusation. But because
other readers, I believe, will certainly be tempted to come away with the impression
that I am some sort of Arminian, I see no way I cannot address the possibility.
After all, if the committee is merely reporting on the fact that I believe that God
foreordains the means as well as the ends, and that we come to know ourselves as
elect through the gifts of faith and repentance through the immediate work of the
Spirit and through the Gospel ministry, then why even mention the issue?
3. Likewise, I don’t know what it means to claim, “biblical statements concerning Old
Testament corporate or national election are determinative of our understanding of
individual election.” If they mean that no one is ordinarily saved out of the
visible Church, and that, therefore, election is ordinarily executed by bringing a
person into the visible Church, then what is the problem? If they mean
something else, see point 2 above.
Frequently polemicized is a doctrine of assurance wherein the inwardly wrought saving graces of
the Holy Spirit constitute a ground of the believer's assurance of grace and salvation. See Mark
Horne, citing John Barach, at Mark Horne, "Whose Legalism? Which Works-Righteousness?
The 2002 Auburn Avenue Pastor's Conference and the Assurance of Grace;"
1. My position is that the saving graces of faith and repentance are sufficient for
assurance and that the Sacraments are instituted in part to confirm our interest in
Christ—to thus strengthen our faith.
The Committee claims on pages 12-13, lines 45-47:
2. My essay polemicizes against the idea that professing believers need to produce
some number or quality of general good works in order to have assurance. That
at least is my understanding of my intention and my meaning. Readers may
decide for themselves by reading the essay in question.
Baptism is assigned a place in the doctrine of the Christian life that denigrates the place of
preaching as the instrument of conversion.
Page 17, endnote 27:
Mark Horne has called for a "model for conversion" that is rooted in baptism and discipleship
rather than in evangelistically minded preaching, "Baptism, Evangelism, & The Quest For A
1. I affirm of baptism and the ministry of the Word what the Confession and
Catechisms affirm. I don’t believe that there is a “zero-sum game” going on between
preaching and either or both sacraments. The Preaching of the Word, Baptism, and
the Lord’s Supper, are all efficacious means of salvation for the elect. The preached
word interprets the sacraments, invites to the sacraments, and exhorts believers so that
they may profit from the sacraments. The sacraments confirm the promise of the
preached word and seal the preached word. Unbelievers can be converted without
sacraments but they cannot be converted without Christ preached to them. Sinners
are not ordinarily saved out of the visible Church and baptism is the way one is
admitted into the visible Church. Nothing I have said is inconsistent with this.
2. If we had doctrinal standards that assigned a numeric rating to preaching and a
rating to baptism, and if I then disagreed with the assigned values, this sort of thing
would be a matter for the involvement of the Church courts. Here there is nothing.
3. It is unfortunate that my rather exploratory essay calling for whole-life and whole-community
evangelism is being used as evidence that I am unconfessional. Here is a
large portion of what I wrote:
The truth is, taken in the narrow sense, I wonder if there can be any such
thing as a "converting ordinance." Think of the best scenario, an unbeliever
goes to Church for some reason and hears the Gospel preached by a
minister in public worship. He repents and believes. But ask him to give his
testimony. What happens? Does he tell of what he heard in the sermon
and end it there? No. He tells us of why he was drawn to be in Church
that day. Perhaps a neighbor invited him and he was intrigued because this
neighbor had displayed a functioning and harmonious family. And then
when he heard the sermon, was its persuasive power simply in the
statements made by themselves? Almost invariably converts have stories of
many instances in which they become confronted with the claims of Christ.
The sermon reminds one of how her grandmother use to take them to
VBS where she learned that Jesus died to satisfy our debts.
I don’t see why I need to defend this essay against being some sort of doctrinal
threat within the PCA. Nothing here is out of accord with my ordination vows. The entire
essay is available online here.
I acknowledge that I don’t do
enough thinking or strategizing about reaching the post-modern world for Christ, so
that anyone with experience may find my suggestions rather naïve. Nevertheless, one
has to start somewhere, and I am one who finds it easiest to think in writing.
What I am trying to say is that an unbeliever is often converted not by
one ordinance, but by many instances of confrontation with the New
Creation that is Jesus Christ made manifest in the Church. The preached
word is one part of a package of things involved in encountering Christian
society, including hospitality, an example of good works (Remember: Peter
tells wives to win their husbands not by preaching at them but by their
submissive behavior), and a harmonious community (May they all be one so
that the world might know that you sent me). How often does the preached
Word convert if stripped of that context?
There is an analogy here with language generally. We learn language by
being forced to participate with interacting bodies. Facial expressions, hand
motions, and various actions are the context in which sounds are heard and
eventually understood as words. Without gestures, language loses coherence.
God established a community of interacting people by the administration of
the covenant of grace. First in Israel according to the flesh and now in the
Spirit-filled Church, Jesus communicates within a tangible family in which
his Word is preached and confessed and followed. Interacting with this
family can be described as encountering the Word of God as opposed to
the words embodied by other communities (Mormons, JWs, surfers), but it
seems terribly reductionistic to only think of this as the result of one
Again, this whole way of thinking seems more appropriate for battles among
professing Christians. If the issue is that there are confessing Trinitarians
who attend Church, support missions, and pray at meals, but who have not
been "truly converted," then it makes sense that one would ignore what is
common among Church members and concentrate on one particular ritual
(preaching the Word on Sunday morning or on other set occasions). But if
we are increasingly going to find Hindus and non-practicing Buddhists are
our neighbors, or simply people whose multiple fractured families have never
bothered to let them see the inside of a church building, then none of this
can be expected. The issue is not about "experimental religion" among
practicing Christians, but about whole-life conversion about people who have
little to no context for understanding much of what might be said from the
pulpit. We're not in the colonies anymore and there are no ruby slippers to
take us back.
That is why the recovery of the full power of the Reformed Faith, as is
being done by people like Preston Graham, Michael Horton (who has
probably done more than anyone to widely acquaint Reformed believers with
the Reformed and Biblical doctrine of baptism) and others is especially
relevant for a time such as this. Churches are not service stations in
Christendom, but embassies in foreign territory. A concept of conversion
that hinges on summary messages and decisional prayers is simply not
adequate. Our model for conversion needs to be based on words like
"recruitment," "induction," or--dare I say it?--"discipleship."
A lot more could be said here--a book or more at least. I notice I haven't
used the word "repentance" yet in what I have written so far, so I remind
the reader that I can't affirm and discuss everything at once. The basic
point here is that evangelism now involves a true interaction between alien
cultures. The question is how we get the gospel heard among the cacophony
of many gods and many lords increasingly present today. People need to be
confronted with an entirely new life and community. They need to be
challenged to turn from their autonomous life and concretely entrust
themselves to Jesus Christ the risen King.
Thus, baptism as the border and entryway of the Church, the replacement
for circumcision under the previous administration of the covenant of grace,
can be seen as a clearly important rite. In the Bible the pattern we see is
clear. Men and women are confronted with a summary challenge to repent
and believe in Christ, if they agree they immediately submit to baptism, and
then they are taught and trained in the Church. If they later reject the
Faith, then they are dealt with. But they do not have to be catechized first
or to prove themselves "true believers." If they will confess that Jesus is
Lord, with the understanding that Christ was exalted by God in his
resurrection, then they are to be baptized as brothers and sisters in the
family of God, with their children.
To promote baptism as the transitional rite that marks the difference
between autonomy and discipleship to Christ does not in any way denigrate
the need for the preaching of the Word or its role in converting and
sanctifying sinners. It simply puts that ritual within the Christ-established
context of baptism, the Lord's Supper (something else I've not mentioned
yet), the Lord's Prayer, and other markers of Christian community. This
context can no longer be taken for granted.
This is a true record of my thoughts on the matter. I remind the reader that even great
men can make mistakes and even committees can err. If this were not so there would
be no need to guard the rights of the accused to defend themselves and cross-examine
those who testify against them. God is no respecter of persons.
I realize that some motions of conscience led the committee to express a desire not to
name names in their report Lines 94-98:
The MVP committee had initially thought of not footnoting the FV
summary statement, in order to avoid having to name names and involving
personalities (hoping that a more detached and anonymous account of the
FV theology would help keep the temperature of subsequent discussion
down). However, when the charges of misrepresentation were spread abroad,
the committee determined to provide full public documentation of its
descriptions in order to vindicate the accuracy of the report, as well as to
be maximally helpful to other church bodies wrestling with these issues.
Nevertheless, they have named me, and associated my name with the Pauline anathemas
(Galatians 1.6-9; lines 203-209). I respectfully agree with the report that my name does
bear to the issue of the accuracy of the report and that it would be “maximally helpful”
for “other church bodies” to read my works in comparison to how they are characterized
by the report.
I pray God will grant you wisdom as you consider these matters.