Glad to report that I am back in the saddle. Our time away was very busy; I almost didn't come to work today, but couldn't stay away from blogging ;-).
On the way to General Assembly, we hit several Civil War battlefield sites (my oldest son is a big Civil War nut): Fort Donelson in Dover, Tennessee; Stones River in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; and Kennesaw Mountain near Marietta, Georgia. By the third battlefield, even I was wondering if this was a bit overkill. And yet, at the end of the time, when I asked my son his favorite part of the entire trip, he said the battlefields. So, it was worth it.
For me, General Assembly was very busy. Most of Monday and Tuesday was taken up with the final meeting of Bills and Overtures Committee as it had existed for the first 34 years of the PCA (more on that later). In some ways, our committee meeting was strange--things that shouldn't have taken a lot of time did (we spent almost an hour debating Overture 6, a memorial to honor Ed Clowney); and things that should have taken more time didn't (we spent only 25 minutes debating Overture 17 on whether presbyteries could restrict the right of TEs to teach their "exceptions).
The overtures that took the greatest amount of time were the ones dedicated to the Federal Vision/New Perspective on Paul controvery. We spent nearly 5 hours on Tuesday dealing with these matters. First, the committee took up Overture 26, which was Missouri Presbytery's request that its report be received as information and commended to presbyteries and sessions for study. After a lengthy debate, the committee voted to answer that overture in the negative, in a fashion similar to its answer to the Mississippi Valley report last year. We quickly dispatched Overture 23 on the grounds that the OPC had not yet adopted its justification report and, strictly speaking, hadn't officially released it to public scrutiny and use.
The rest of our time was spent on Overtures 2 and 11, both of which requested a study committee to study Federal Vision/NPP. After a little bit of discussion on smaller issues, it was moved that we answer overture 11 in the affirmative and overture 2 in reference to that action. However, there were some significant difficulties with overture 11: it used the word "heretical" which seemed to suggest that a committee might find heresy; it was both too broad (number of issues to study) and too narrow (brief report in a year).
In addition, some objected to even having a committee. These desired to allow judicial process to play out in the current SJC case. Others suggested that, from their perspective, this really wasn't a big issue and the standards were sufficient. Yet others claimed that a study report wouldn't accomplish anything other than being mere pious advice. The committee couldn't amend 11 enough to make it work; so it tried to make overture 2 work. But in the end, the majority determined (by a 20-17 vote) to answer overtures 11 and 2 in the negative. When we adopted our final report, with the grounds that came before GA, the count was 20-14 and 23-11 (which helps to explain why the number signing the minority report was larger--not everyone was able to make it for the adoption of the final report).
Zack Eswine, TE from Ohio Valley and my colleague here at Covenant Seminary, led the drive for the minority report, authoring the report and recruiting the members. His speech in presenting the report to the General Assembly on Thursday afternoon was masterful; and a number of us spoke in support of the minority. As the vote was taken, I looked around the hall and saw about a 60-40% split in favor of the minority.
The moderator, TE Dominic Aqulia, has the privilege of appointing the study committee, which will include 7 members. It is not yet known whom he will appoint, but my hope is that by drawing on the broad wisdom of our church that we will have a firm and winsome report that clarifies the issues of concern and upholds traditional Presbyterian doctrines and formulations.
The other major action from GA was the adoption of the Strategic Planning Committee's report. Frankly, I was suprised by the large majorities that voted for the SPC's recommendations. In some ways, what the PCA will be doing is an unique experiment in Presbyterian polity: the attempt to hold on to the broad representation of the church on the floor of GA while utilizing the delegated and representative principles that have historically characterized our polity in the new Overtures committee. I don't think anyone is really sure how the whole thing will work.
The other important SPC result was the creation of a Cooperative Ministries Committee which will force our 10 agencies and committees to work together. In my mind, this strikes me as very similar to the SBC Executive Committee, which has representatives from all of the SBC agencies, and I think this new CMC is a step in the right direction. What I hope will be next is a Cooperative Ministries funding plan, again drawing from the SBC Cooperative Program, that will funnel undesignated giving into a common pot for Kingdom purposes. We have to begin to cooperate financial and create a system where monies go both to the national agencies as well as the regional presbyteries if we hope to grow and expand our church in the future.
For me, other highlights of GA include doing my seminar on Presbyterian identity and meeting up with so many friends and colleagues throughout our church. I always come back from these events encouraged in the work of Christ's church. As someone who believes firmly in Presbyterianism, to see this much of the visible church at once gives me hope in the advance of Christ's kingdom around the world.