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Explaining Faith Church and the Presbyterian Church USA

by on March 6, 2012

Several weeks ago I made a presentation to the congregation explaining the diversity of the Presbyterian Church USA and why some conservative churches feel the need to separate from us. Since then, the largest PCUSA church in town has made headlines with their intention to leave. I’ve been asked a number of times to explain what’s going on to the media, so I’m offering this brief summary of my presentation to my congregation to you.

The following diagram depicts four approaches to God, the Bible, and human experience. The four approaches are fundamentalist, conservative/traditional, progressive, and liberal.


Fundamentalist dismiss human experience as a source of knowledge and rely solely on the Bible.

Conservatives/Traditionalist take human experience into consideration as a source of knowledge, but it is subordinate to biblical revelation. Where the two conflict, the Bible decides.

Progressives consider human experience as well as the Bible as sources of knowledge, while at the same time recognizing that God as Mystery transcends the Bible. Where there are conflicts, progressives err on the side of grace, trusting God to be the judge.

Liberals look to human experience as the final arbiter of conflicts among sources of knowledge.

In the PCUSA, you can find all four approaches to God and human knowledge. The official theology of the PCUSA is in the middle, characterized by both progressive and conservative/traditional approaches. Typically any given congregation has the character of only one or two approaches. The congregations seeking dismissal from the PCUSA are by and large conservative/traditional to fundamentalist in their approach. Faith Presbyterian Church mirrors the denomination; a majority of our congregation falls in the progressive or conservative/traditional camps.

A note about the word “evangelical.” In recent decades, “evangelical” has become nearly synonymous with “fundamentalist.” This is primarily due to the media’s use of “evangelical.” Historically this is not the case. “Evangelical” at the time of the 16th century Reformation simply referred to Protestant groups that placed a higher priority on the Bible than on the inherited church traditions. In this context, one can be a progressive evangelical or a conservative evangelical. The PCUSA, therefore, is evangelical in the historical sense, but is not evangelical in the sense of being fundamentalist.

  1. Susan permalink

    Thank you for this post – I am one of the 80 who voted “no” to leaving the PCUSA this past Sunday. I am struggling to put my feelings into a more concrete framework and this has helped me to understand some of the differences.

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  1. In the Beginning… | Trinity #StayPCUSA
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