Presbyterians Expose THeir Buts!

In their proper place, I have long, and roundly, maintained a lowdown admiration for nice, big Presbyterian buts.  To close and appreciative observers like me the fundaments of Reformed dogmatics are both ample and shapely with lots of wiggle room.  Being generously endowed (and with intelligence, too), Presbyterians are aware that many theological affirmations are so complex the only proper response to them is, "yes, but...."

            Most Presbyterians do not run around em-barr-assed; they cover their buts decently and in order to confess the truth aright.  For example, our scholars teach divine sovereignty, but they also assert human choice.  We affirm God’s free grace but also our bounden duty.  We study revelation in Scripture but also cultivate reason in the world.  We trust in eternal election but also work for temporal improvements and so on.

            The issue before us, and behind us, is not about having buts.  Being privy to buts is part of the walk of life.  Trouble appears when buts are uncovered in the wrong place.  This is called the downside to the backside.  The diversity of Presbyterian buts is ordinarily a benefit.  Since each of us is unique, our bottom lines are naturally different.  The problem is not our diversity; the problem is our unity.  On what do we all agree with no ifs, ands, or buts?  For Christians the answer should be that “we, though many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12:5).

            At least on the paper of The Book of Confessions Presbyterians confess with one voice that Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God is Our Lord — and the world’s Lord — full deity and full humanity.  This confession is not one doctrine among many; it is the basic conviction that makes us Christian and the starting point of all Christian doctrine.  Sadly, a number of commissioners at the last General Assembly exposed their ugly buts in public.  Their Christological affirmation was in my judgment tentative and defective — a shapeless “yes, but….”  In strongest opposition I was taught in Presbyterian confirmation class that Christ was Lord of all or not Lord at all. 

Without invoking the seventh planet, I think Presbyterians should bite that but.  Everyone who has ever tried to explain the extra calvinisticum well knows that the doctrine of Christ is a great mystery.  However, the Church’s confession of Christ as Lord (Philippians 2:11 passim) has long been unambiguous and non-negotiable.  Since theology matters (both right and left) Presbyterians have normally recognized the difference between humility before the divine mystery (God’s sovereignty) and the disavowal of the divine revelation (God’s incarnation).  These doctrines are, it presently seems, being confused at the highest levels of the Presbyterian Church. 

Is it now possible that Presbyterian leadership requires no more faith than to say, “Yes, Jesus Christ is Lord, for me, but I make no claim about you and the world?”  To say nothing of the “alls” of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), when did Presbyterians quit believing Colossians 1:19-20?  The fundamental question confronting the Presbyterian Church (USA) is whether to (1) kiss that but or (2) kick that but.

In my gridiron days quarterbacks called the plays on the field.  As the signal-caller I always thought using a holder for extra points made the play too easy.  So one night, when we were winning comfortably, and nothing much was at stake, I informed the guys that I was going to try to drop-kick the extra point.  Younger Presbyterians have probably never even seen a drop-kick.  Nevertheless, I am once again loosening up the old leg.

The way I call it — the entire game is on the line in the confession of the Lordship of Christ.  Since by God’s grace we wear the Saints uniform, we must kick the sorry but of the last General Assembly into the stands and completely out of play.


Charles Partee
Presbyterian Outlook
December 2001