The PCA Has Tim Kelleritis: Will the Presbyterian Church in America Heed the Warnings?

UPDATED: Several PCA pastors tell me they think I am overstating or misstating the problem. They say the problem is not that pastors are avoiding or embracing certain sins as fine, but that they are figuring out how to talk to culture in the 21st century. That may be true in some cases, but in a growing number of cases it is not true at all. They are either scared to talk to the culture or they are fine with the culture. At a time the world is coming for the children in their church, they’re rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic avoiding the water coming in the boat. Tim Keller, as he really is, should be a solid model for how to talk about churches. But some pastors have embraced a mischaracterization of Keller to be more like him. The authentic Keller is a good model on this stuff.

The Presbyterian Church in America (“PCA”) is one of the fastest growing denominations in America. It is the non-heretical branch of the Presbyterian Church within the United States. Its sibling, the PCUSA, is one of the dying mainline churches that has long rejected scripture in order to cater to itching ears.

But the PCA, to which I belong, is starting to hear some prophetic calls and I worry too many of their elders are ignoring what is happening. One of its supported campus ministries, Reformed University Fellowship, has the same problem. Rosaria Butterfield has been one of those quite vocal about the growing problem, but again, a lot of people are ignoring the growing problem.

Given my involvement in the PCA, and in a very solid PCA church no less, I have been hesitant to say anything, but after several weeks of conversations with people that have picked up steam after the release of the Nashville Statement, I think it is worth saying something.

The long and the short of it is that the PCA has Tim Kelleritis and this disease is slowly, incrementally infecting some of its churches. It will start affecting presbyteries and will ultimately harm the whole denomination.

Tim Keller, for those who do not know him, is a rock start among theologians. He is one of the most famous graduates of my seminary, Reformed Theology Seminary (actually, he is not, but you would think he is, given how often he is talked about on campus. Right up there with Calvin). He started Redeemer Church in New York, which showed an orthodox believing pastor could lead a large and thriving congregation in New York City, a place many Christians view as a new Babylon.

In a denomination with few rockstars and even fewer mega-churches, there are a lot of young and middle aged pastors who want to be Tim Keller. They want to do what he does. They want the large church industrial complex. They want the book deals. They want to go on TV. They’ve metrosexualed themselves, put on skinny jeans and ugly glasses, and fired up power point presentations on stage at church.

But Tim Keller is Tim Keller and imitation may be flattery, but way too many of these young pastors in the PCA have misunderstood Keller’s ministry. As one of my friends describes it, they have started preaching the culture to the church instead of preaching the church to the culture. To draw in crowds and be liked in their communities, they have started ignoring Biblical doctrine that non-believers find offensive. In failing to teach their congregations and guide their congregations with a whole health approach, they’ve selectively taught and are failing to help their congregations deal with a world increasingly hostile to Christian values, particularly the Christian sexual ethic.

Keller has, for years, taken a “love the sinner” approach to ministry. The church is to be a hospital to sinners. But even Keller has made clear to his congregation that sin is still sin. His would be imitators in the PCA would prefer to spend all their time on love and ignore sin. But worse, some within the PCA and RUF are so worried about driving people away, they are trying to find ways to accommodate sin.

The most notable issue within the church is, of course, homosexuality. In welcoming gay Christians (which they absolutely should do), these churches are not only failing to preach repentance, but they are more and more suggesting homosexuality and Christianity are compatible, which they are not.1 This is affecting congregations. Nashville, of course, has at least one prominent PCA pastor who has fallen into this. He is regularly trotted out by the press to tell others how icky and mean spirited his fellow Christians can be because they dare to quote scripture. But he is one of many and part of trend many of us are starting to take notice of within the denomination.

I financially support the PCA and I financially support RUF. I am glad to. They have great ministries and the PCA has long been bold in standing up to the world in the name of God. But even I am more and more concerned to see young men coming out of seminary into the pulpits of the PCA and they so want to be the next Tim Keller that they have failed to understand not just Keller’s ministry, but Jesus’s as well. That story about not judging, after all, ended with “go and sin no more.” A pastor needs to preach repentance, but cannot if he is unwilling to preach on sin.

1. The church absolutely needs to welcome in those who are gay or struggle with same sex attraction. But they need to not weaken calls to repent or ignore a real Christian sexual ethic to make then make them feel welcome or comfortable. All of us should squirm in the pew when called to account and repent. Unfortunately, the churches I am talking about are abandoning the uncomfortable in order to welcome.

If You are in the PCA or RUF, You Need to Watch This

Rosaria Butterfield, from a speech in December of 2016, has some hard words for the Presbyterian Church in America and Reformed University Fellowship. She is also absolutely right. The forces of “I want to be liked” have invaded both institutions and are trying to twist Biblical theology to be more popular and less confrontational.

From my vantage point, knowing people who have bought into what Mrs. Butterfield is talking about, these guys want to be liked. They view themselves as good guys drawing people to the gospel and have decided they and the gospel must adapt ever so slightly to attract millennials. Yes, many of them themselves are millennials.

But in making their change, they’ve altered the gospel and now have invented a class of sin that God would find he can overlook without Christ on the cross.

Hat tip to Jim Curtis.

A Mainline Primer (Explainer?) for the Media: Not All Presbyterians Are in the PCUSA

With the Presbyterian Church USA fully embracing its heretical temptations and rejecting Israel, I have read a number of articles that seem pretty ignorant of various denominations in the United States.

Most national reporters tend to not be religious and when having to write about Christian denominations in America they screw it up badly. I posted this below after opposition research against Rick Santorum in 2012 revealed he’d given a speech in 2008 in which he suggested Satan was waging war against the United States.

His statement was actually an orthodox tenet of the Christian faith, but most reporters and pundits who commented on the statement clearly had no idea. Given the latest bad batch of reporting about the heretics in the PCUSA, it is worth reposting this explanation of what a “Mainline” denomination is.

Santorum, in his 2008 speech, said, “We look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.” Reporters clearly misunderstood what he was talking about when he referenced “mainline Protestantism.”

For the record, mainline Protestantism is one of the most rapidly declining faiths in America.1

When mainline Protestant denominations are in the news these days, it is more likely to be over their debates on the ordination of gays than on anything they have done to actually advance Christ’s kingdom. The problem is that a lot of reporters and even a lot of conservatives do not understand what “mainline Protestants” are.

It is not hard.

A mainline protestant is not a “mainstream” protestant. The two are not interchangeable. The former is more of an academic term.

The base way to understand what a mainline protestant is would be to understand that the term largely means those protestant denominations that existed during the colonial era of the American colonies and as they have evolved from that point.

Many suggest the term comes from the Pennsylvania Main Line railroad that ran through Philadelphia neighborhoods at the turn of the twentieth century, which were organized around communities of interest making up those original colonial faithes.

Specifically, Mainline Protestant denominations are Episcopalians, the United Methodists, the Presbyterians (USA), the American and Northern Baptists, the United Church of Christ, the Congregationalists, the Disciples of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.2

While evangelical churches are more mainstream in America, they are not considered main line. Many evangelical churches branched off from the main line. The Southern Baptists, the nation’s largest protestant denomination, branched off from the Northern and American Baptist Churches. The Presbyterian Church in America, Evangelical Presbyterians, and Reformed Presbyterians broke away from the main Presbyterian Church, which is today the PCUSA. Anglicans have come back into the country in response to the ordination of gays within the Episcopalian Church.

I await the United Methodist Church splintering over that issue and the social gospel too. The Methodists are one of the last major mainline denominations not to have a serious split. But it is on the verge of happening.

There is a long history here and I am no religion scholar, but there are a couple of points to understand.

The mainline churches are more concerned these days with the social gospel, the role of gays in the church, etc. These churches are in decline. Their numbers are falling as they have replaced the actual Gospel with a modern sense of spiritualism that ultimately does not feed the flock.

Evangelical churches over all are growing. The charismatic churches are really seeing strong growth. These churches are much more concerned with fundamentalism, which is, like “mainline”, a specific term. Fundamentalist churches believe in the fundamentals of the faith, which were toward the turn of the twentieth century narrowed to five points including the inerrancy of the Bible, the death and resurrection of Christ, and the need for salvation. When people talk about “fundamentalists” these days, they usually mean hard line Christians who are no fun. Actually, a “fundamentalist” is someone who subscribes to five specific points within Protestantism: (1) the inerrancy of the Bible; (2) the virgin birth of Christ; (3) the atonement of sins through Christ’s death; (4) the bodily resurrection of Christ; and (5) the reality of Christ’s miracles.

Mainline Protestant churches are on decline. In several surveys over the past year, one of the main reasons for that decline is that congregants want to go to a church where the preacher seems to actually believe what he is preaching. In mainline churches that is less and less common. The Gospel gives on assurance when even the preacher is not sure of it.

These churches have less and less to do with orthodox Christianity and it is no surprise that it is from the ranks of these churches that the media typically draws on ministers to rebut long held orthodox Christian views and the mainstream churches of America, which are more and more evangelical.

Please consider yourself explained and educated now.

  1. Consider these statistics from the Association of Religious Data Archives on congregational growth from 2000 to 2010:


    • Assemblies of God +14.9%
    • Evangelical Presbyterian Church +61.6%
    • Pentacostal Church +22.7
    • Seventh-Day Adventist Church +29.5%
    • Southern Baptist Convention +0.1%
    • Presbyterian Church in America +8.3%


    • American Baptists -11.7%
    • Congregationalists -52.8%
    • Disciples of Christ -22.8%
    • Evangelical Lutheran Church -18.2%
    • Episcopal Church -15.7%
    • Metropolitan Community Churches -24.9%
    • Presbyterian Church USA -22.0%
    • United Church of Christ -24.4%
    • United Methodist Church -4.7%

  2. The United Church of Christ vs. Church of Christ issue is complicated. I learned the list as UCC being mainline and Church of Christ not. Checking Wikipedia, it too has UCC listed. But some Church of Christ members contend they are mainline, not UCC. The general rule of thumb, however, can be that congregationalists are generally considered mainline and those congregationalist churches that prioritize the social gospel are more in keeping with the mainline trends in the country than those that do not.

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