Atlanta, Georgia (February 25-26, 1999)-The Christian Education & Publications (CE/P) Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) held its spring stated meeting in Atlanta at the denominational office building. The two major items for discussion were reaching the millennial generation and the relationship of the Women's Advisory Sub-Committee (WASC) to the General Assembly and the CE/P Committee.
Teaching the Bible in an Understandable Way
The CE/P Coordinator rang the changes on his burden to reach the generation born between 1982 and 2000, and his vision for how the PCA can accomplish that. Addressing the Committee on the first afternoon of the two-day meeting, Dr. Charles Dunahoo spoke of post-modernism and its effects on the culture.
Dr. Dunahoo expressed his concern that the PCA is not that different from other evangelical denominations in teaching the members a Biblical world-and-life view. Despite the fact that "we're turning out more Reformed and evangelical men from the seminaries," he said: "I'm concluding that we're teaching the Bible but I'm not certain that we're teaching the Bible, Biblically. . . . We're failing to teach Biblical truth to the younger generation. . . . I frequently encounter people working with our youth ministries . . . and children's ministry in the PCA, who don't have a clue as to Reformed doctrine, . . . [including] covenant theology. . . . I think we've either so watered down God's Word or kept it so ethereal and out of touch with the average man in the pew that it doesn't really reach them."
In the Coordinator's eyes, I Corinthians 12-14 teaches that "our worship of God has to be intelligible." This means that worship must not only emphasize the transcendent, but also must be understandable.
Dr. Dunahoo believes that the Westminster Divines understood this principle. He appealed to the language of the Confession of Faith, Chapter I, which maintains that the Word of God is to be translated into the "vulgar" language-Dr. Dunahoo added, "even the street language of the people."
He referred to a book by David Henderson, Culture Shift, which the Coordinator called a work in the genre of Francis Schaeffer. According to Dr. Dunahoo, Mr. Henderson writes that there is a difference between actual relevance and functional relevance. The Bible actually is relevant to all of life. However, functional relevance is the perception that something is relevant to one's life. Today, "something isn't connecting. And I wonder if we're speaking God's truth to our changing world if we are not speaking that truth with intelligible, vulgar, street-wise language that people can understand."
The CE/P mission is to help people communicate the Word of God in a way that connects with the hearers, without altering the content of that truth, which we're not at liberty to do, because it's God's truth. But we must package it in a way that they can functionally relate to."
Dr. Dunahoo is distressed that relatively few ministers today pay any attention to the crucial field of hermeneutics (the science of interpreting Scripture). He also believes that a great weakness in contemporary preaching is lack of application. This application is necessary in order to communicate truth in the language of the hearer.
CE/P's Vision for Reaching the New Generation
Dr. Dunahoo praised the members of his staff for their professionalism, and their dedication to the CE/P common vision to reach the Millennial Generation. "Our staff has been blitzing the church the past six months with this message." One of the great needs, financially, is the funding of a new Children's Ministry staff position, to complement the Youth Ministry staff position filled by Will LaRose. The Coordinator stated that $250,000 to $300,000 is necessary in order to fund the new position; however, if $60,000 to $70,000 could be raised, he is willing to "bite the bullet" and go ahead in faith by hiring this staff person.
In his opinion, CE/P is "on the cutting edge" regarding educational methodology. He mentioned the fact that the work of CE/P is respected by others in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), of which the PCA is a part; and that the Stated Clerk of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church had invited him to Detroit next week in order to give guidance to that denomination in its Christian education program.
Next on the agenda were other members of the staff, who also spoke of the need to reach the new generation. The Rev. Bob Edmiston spoke of the need for more regional teacher trainers, most acutely in Central Florida, but also in Southern Florida, the Mid-Atlantic region, and St. Louis and the upper Midwest. The Rev. Will LaRose stated that he had three areas on which to concentrate in 1999: providing qualified youth workers; increasing the training opportunity for middle school and high school students; and providing ministry assistance to PCA churches regarding youth ministry.
The Rev. Dick Aeschliman spoke of the bookstore, the video library, prayer and prayer ministry, the training of officers (including the practical aspects of ministering in the body of Christ), and men's ministry. The Rev. Tom Patete of Great Commission Publications (GCP), which is jointly owned by the PCA and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, said that GCP was becoming more market-oriented. This does not mean market-driven, but rather market-sensitive. The Rev. Mark Lowery, also of GCP, highlighted the family devotional guide, As For My House, which is designed to assist fathers in leading family worship.
The Rev. Bob Palmer gave a pep talk on the need for the older generation-especially those in their sixties and above-to reach the Millennial Generation. He exhorted: "Today is the accepted time, now is the day to join the Millennial Booster Program." He also urged his hearers to become field representatives to promote this new program.
Mrs. Susan Hunt, the denominational Director for Women's Ministry, noted that compassion was going to be the theme for the National Women in the Church (WIC) Conference slated for Atlanta in September. Studies were being undertaken prior to the actual conference on the theme of compassion in order to "do everything possible to guard against a merely emotional reaction" to the plight of unfortunate people.
Two major women's issues were explored during this meeting. One was whether or not to develop inductive Bible study material from a Reformed perspective, in order to satisfy a desire by PCA women for that type of material. Mrs. Hunt expressed her frustration with the fact that many PCA women are involved in non-Reformed Bible studies, in which the modus operandi is that there is never a wrong answer to the questions. "I don't mean this sarcastically," she said, "But where are their pastors?" She continued: "I'm just baffled." It is not just that the materials are, for example, dispensational in their theology, but that "the methods are faulty." Mrs. Hunt said that she is "scared" because she believes that today many pastors are not teaching the lay leaders of Bible studies.
The other major issue was the relationship of the Women's Advisory Subcommittee (WASC) to the denominational structure. Dr. Dunahoo said that the early documents which established the WASC were not clear as to whom the women were advising. He proposed two scenarios: either for the women's work to become a separate agency which would report directly to the General Assembly, or, for the women's work to be so totally integrated into CE/P that women would have a greater voice during the Committee meetings. He spoke approvingly of the fact that the Covenant College Board of Trustees and the Mission to North America Committee have invited women to sit in on their meetings and give feedback, and desired that CE/P could function the same way. "I really would like women more involved in this Committee," he opined. "I just see more and more listening to the godly counsel of my wife and Susan [Hunt] and others."
The Rev. Paul Settle, who was the original CE/P Coordinator and whose wife, Georgia, was the initial key person for women's work in the PCA, noted that "in the early days, there was a very real question whether there would be a Women in the Church organization." In his estimation, the recommendation to establish a women's organization "carried partially, and maybe largely, because women's work was to be under CE/P. . . . Much of the liberalism in the old PCUS [Presbyterian Church in the United States, from which many in the PCA separated in 1973-Ed.] came through the Board on Women's Work. . . . If there was going to be a women's work, it was not going to be a separate committee, it was going to report to a General Assembly committee."
The consensus was that WIC would continue to operate as it has, as an advisory committee to CE/P.
Interview with Charles Dunahoo
Long-time Christian Education and Publications (CE/P) Coordinator Charles Dunahoo has demonstrated his concern for reaching the millennial generation in a variety of ways. Premier among them has been his writings and speaking directed toward the constituency of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
Over the last year or so, many of Dr. Dunahoo's editorials and articles in CE/P's bi-monthly Equip for Ministry magazine have addressed the issue of how to minister to the new generation. In these writings, he has tried to communicate to the church, the particular needs of the millennial generation.
In his estimation, there are two basic facts which the church must understand. The first is that she must move from a propositional to a relational approach of discipleship. The second is that the young people today are a Biblically-illiterate generation. "We can't assume they understand the words we use," he declared.
With regard to the first point, Dr. Dunahoo states that while the church must speak authoritatively, she must avoid authoritarianism, which he defines as "preaching to you my own preferences." When authoritarianism takes over, "Man's reason has taken precedence over God's revelation." Furthermore, he says that in dealing with the new generation, "My intention is to sit down and talk with people you're trying to reach."
Relating to today's young people means building a bridge to them and establishing rapport with them. In the visually-oriented culture, a gospel appeal which utilizes linear logic is going to fall on deaf ears, according to Charles Dunahoo. Today, people are so "experience-oriented" and "feeling-oriented." However, once rapport is established, then "it's business as usual in that we want to get them into the Word."
A relational approach also means that the church can learn from "soft post-modernism," in the sense "that it calls us to be more honest as an individual than the Enlightenment model has done." Dr. Dunahoo affirms objective truth set in propositional form. At the same time, he also wants to acknowledge that "we can only know the gospel subjectively. We can really only know things personally." Using the language of twentieth century apologist Cornelius Van Til, the Coordinator states: "I can't approach reality as if there are brute facts. All facts have meaning only as they are related to God; hence our knowledge of facts must be related to God. As the personal God, our knowledge of Him and His truth mustbepersonal.
In the May-June 1998 issue of Equip for Ministry, Dr. Dunahoo wrote that "in contrast to modernism, truth has both objective and subjective aspects." His point is that truth, which is fully objective, must be apprehended by the person.
With regard to the second factor, viz., the lack of basic Biblical knowledge, he says that the church must learn to communicate in the language of the people without changing the message but following the Apostle Paul's example in Athens (Acts 17) and in I Corinthians 9.
In the July-August 1998 issue of Equip for Ministry, he wrote: "Does your church's ministry operate on a paradigm that communicates Christianity to today's world, or does your church operate on yesterday's paradigm? . . . Is my church a place where people congregate for worship in a traditional fashion, claiming that visitors are welcome, but making no attempt to draw them in? Is it a place where the preaching and teaching are highly sophisticated, using the best of rhetoric, logic, and reason? Is my church a place where the people are content to allow the professional staff to 'do the work of ministry'? Or . . . Does my church deliberately reach out to the community around it? Does it provide good participative worship that neither dumbs down my people nor loses them in liturgy? Is my church simply a homogeneous group of people, or is there good heterogeneity? Are our people actively engaged in 'the work of ministry'? Is the preaching and teaching faithful to sound doctrine but set forth winsomely, practically, and relationally? Does my church simply represent continuity with the past (that's the way we've always done it), or does it show a willingness to break out of a mold for the sake of reaching out to people?"
Dr. Dunahoo says that, in posing those rhetorical questions, his purpose "is not to draw any conclusions, but to stimulate thinking." He also believes that much of the discussion over worship today reflects not a difference between "contemporary" vs. "traditional," but rather a difference between "pop-culture" vs. "traditional." With regard to worship that has been informed by pop-culture, he says that "some of that is not necessarily wrong." But he objects to the implementation of either type of worship when it has not been guided by careful thought.