Welcome to Common Grounds Online. Readers of Common Grounds have suggested a website to continue the explorations they began in the book. In keeping with the interactions of Professor MacGregor, Brad, Lauren and Jarrod, the theme of this site is ‘learning and living the Christian story.’
I have invited friends, and a few friends of friends, to communicate aspects of the Christian story that have been significant in their own lives. We’re all trying to find joy and pleasure in this life and the next, but often we forfeit the joy that could be ours by living out foolish, competing scripts. What distinguishes Common Grounds Online Contributors is not our own goodness, achievement or service, but rather the recognition of our need of God’s grace abounding in our lives.
We welcome discussion that is both robust and gracious. I [Glenn]
will moderate all comments and those comments that exemplify
graciousness and love for one's brothers and sisters will be approved. First and last name, and one's current, valid email address are required for comments. Also, please focus on Greg's talk and/or the response essay. ----------
This is another excellent piece of thinking and preaching by
a great young pastor, Greg Thompson.
Greg argues that ‘ethos’ is the character of a people, and
that it is more foundational than our theology, since Jesus in Matthew 7 speaks
of people who are theologically orthodox but bearing bad fruit in their lives. Spiritual formation he says, does not happen simply by apprehending ideas
but by encountering beauty. Here Greg
follows in the footsteps of Jonathan Edwards, who argued that the ultimate
purpose of the doctrine of the
holiness of God is a sense on the heart of the loveliness of that holiness.
That is what changes us. Maybe Greg could have added a sentence (as Edwards
does) that assured us there can be no beauty in the soul without sound doctrine
in the mind (though there can be sound doctrine in the mind without beauty in
the soul.) Whether he says that in so many words or not, the entire talk bears
witness to it. Because the ethos, the
changed character he wants for his church, is based on seven high and exalted
doctrines—covenant, incarnation, cross, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and
parousia. With great skill Greg goes immediately from the lofty doctrine to the
impact it can and must have on the most practical ways we live. It reminds me
of the best of the Puritans, like Flavel’s The
Fountain of Life Opened Up.
As I read this terrific piece, however, it made me think
about how we actually will have to do denominational
renewal. The PCA is the great and tense place that it is because it is perhaps
the only Presbyterian denomination that hasn’t purged or lost one or two of its
historic wings. George Marsden says that Reformed churches have always had what
he called ‘doctrinalist’, ‘pietist,’ and ‘cultural-transformationist’ wings.
Weirdly, they all grow out of aspects of Reformed theology. Historically,
they’ve produced some major splits--Old Side (doctrinalist) from New Side (pietist) in the 18th
century, Old School (doctrinalist/pietist) from New School (reformist) in the 19th
century. The OPC, though a doctrinalist church, grew and then shed a pietist
wing (New Life Churches.) The CRC, though basically a
cultural-transformationist denomination, had a doctrinalist split off (the
URC.) In God’s providence, the PCA has significant numbers in all three wings.
There have been very few times in Presbyterian history that
these groups have really ‘owned’ one another as legitimate parts of the
Reformed family or really listened to one another long enough to learn to speak
the other’s language when they argue. Greg’s paper is masterful, but if it was
re-purposed for dialogue, it would have to be different. If you’ve read John
Owen a whole lot more than you’ve read Lesslie Newbigin, some of the things
Greg says about beauty over ideas will sound murky and suspicious. There are
ways, I believe, to make the same points with arguments and vocabulary that
would stretch but also appeal to the other wings. Again, that was not necessary
for this paper and this gathering, but if we are going to really break through
into denominational renewal, we are going to have to do that. We will have to
directly address people who will see themselves described in this essay as
suspicious (#4) sectarian (#6) and provincial (#7) and show them we know and
appreciate the reasons why they don’t see themselves that way. Only after we’ve
described their view and position sympathetically and more articulately,
perhaps, than then can themselves, can we proceed with any hope of persuasion.
This hasn’t happened very often, of course. Recently I’ve
come to realize that the Old School Presbyterians of the 19th
century like Alexander and Hodge did pull something like this off. They were
neither as anti-ecclesial as the original New Side revivalists nor as
anti-experiential as the original Old Side doctrinalists of the 18th
century. How did that happen? I’m not a historian, so I can’t be sure. I would
love to see something like that happen again in the PCA. Greg’s paper
beautifully shows us what kind of souls we will have to have if we are going to
be part of this project.