Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Friday, April 11, 2008

So Long, Rev. Scott

Toby Brown posted an audio sermon by Elliot Scott, the minister of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Houston. The sermon is a conversation he has with his congregation as they move to another denomination. The PC(USA) isn't holy enough, so they want to switch to a fundamentalist one, the EPC.

Of course, they feel they are persecuted as the presbytery is not allowing them to take the church building with them for free.

This is really none of my business. The presbytery and this congregation will work it out one way or another. I thought I would comment since on his website is a sermon "Choices" that mentions me. Here is that part:

At First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton, Tennessee John Shuck preaches his version of the faith. Here are some quotes taken from his own writings which you can find for yourself online:
“Conceiving of God as a personal being has become increasingly problematic. We may imagine God in personal terms in prayer, worship, or poetry, but even there the language we use does not fit the reality we see.” (“God as Creativity”, John Shuck, May 9, 2007 Available online at )

“The preacher can no longer assume that just because a text is in the Bible that it is from God or is even valuable.” (“The Bible: Word of God?”, John Shuck, February 17, 2007 on Shuck and Jive, available online at

On Jesus’ resurrection of the dead he writes, “The resurrection of Christ to me is not about heaven in the sky when you die. It is not about believing in a resuscitated corpse. It is also not merely a metaphor, symbol, or subjective vision. To see the resurrected Jesus or the cosmic Christ is to glimpse in a person the summit of consciousness to which we are ascending.” In other words the resurrection is not something that happened to Jesus’ body. What does Pastor Shuck say happened to Jesus’ body? “I believe the remains of the historical Jesus decayed alike all human remains decay” (“What If We Found the Body of Jesus”, John Shuck, April 8, 2007 Available online at )

So we have a pastor who denies that God is a person, denies the trustworthiness of the Scriptures, denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus. (There are plenty of other things in his writings that are problematic but we’ve only got so much time and you can go online and read them for yourselves.) Why are ministers like this allowed to remain leaders and teachers of churches? Someone wrote to the Executive Presbyter in John Shuck’s presbytery to express concern and this was the email response:

“John has appropriately and Constitutionally been examined by the Committee on Ministry, approved for membership in Holston Presbytery, and John has affirmed the Constitutional Questions required of ordination. I am not aware that John has acted contrary to Scripture or the Constitution of the PCUSA.” (Richard L Fifield, email available online at

You see? The Book of Confessions is only a guide. No one has to subscribe to all of it. We handed out the resource a few weeks ago, the little blue sheet called the “Basics of Belief” that gave you a summary of differences between the PCUSA and the New Wineskins. Under the question “Who Is Jesus?” it says that the PCUSA answer is unclear. It also says that the PCUSA’s position on the authority of Scripture is unclear. And the presbytery sent a letter to you saying, “But our creeds and confessions in the Book of Confessions are clear about these issues.”

Yes, the Book of Confessions is clear, but no one has to subscribe to all the creeds and confessions. But there are plenty of people preaching in our pulpits, teaching in our seminaries, and administering on the staff of upper judicatories who don’t. There is no simple list of beliefs, no essential tenets of faith that we must subscribe to in order to serve as leaders. So it is quite fair to say that the PCUSA is unclear.

Why can’t the PCUSA have some essentials of the faith that are necessary in order to teach and lead in our denomination?

Here is the deal. A fundamentalist preacher somehow gets ordained in the PC(USA). Not hard to imagine, really. We are a denomination that does include the fundamentalists. But, because the denomination also includes those of us who embrace historical-critical scholarship, science, and Reformed Theology ("reformed and always being reformed"), he decides that he can't possibly be in the same denomination that would allow the likes of me (and others with whom he doesn't agree).

As far as I am concerned, he can preach his fundamentalism. He reaches people I do not. But the reverse is not true. He cannot accept that I may reach people he does not. Since the denomination doesn't boot me out, he feels persecuted. And he cries because the evil presbytery is looking out for the interests of the PC(USA) and its collective witness and ministry rather than his fundamentalist prejudices.

Rev. Scott asks:

Why can’t the PCUSA have some essentials of the faith that are necessary in order to teach and lead in our denomination?

Because the PC(USA) is not fundamentalist, that's why! We settled that in the 1920s!

So long, Rev. Scott. Godspeed.