Tuesday, June 05, 2012

More about my history with Jason Stellman

Xian asked the question: Do you really think that the instant he began studying how to answer those who opposed his reformed views that he should have informed his congregation and his session that he could possibly one day be convinced of those things?

I'm following up on my earlier blog post about Jason Stellman.

First of all, I'm not much concerned at all about the tone in the thread on Jason's blog -- not after knowing that the murderer-pope Damasus hired a mob of (pick-axe-armed) grave diggers to kill 137 followers of his rival, and someone like Cyril of Alexandria, who likewise hired a mob to enforce his policies at the *Ecumenical* Council of Ephesus. I imagine the pick-axe murders were pretty brutal. No one here has gone that far, or has the ability to go that far. [By the way, the pick-axe murderer "Pope Damasus" is a "saint" of the Roman Catholic Church].

I'm all for putting Reformed/Reformational ideas on the table, next to Rome's doctrines and theologies. No one is killing anyone. And the Reformation, at least, doesn't have a policy saying, in effect, if our understanding conflicts with an official "interpretation" of the Magisterium, then "the problem is with our understanding". The Reformation, rather, wants us to use our own minds.

Jason says that the Peter Leithart trial started in 2007; I met him (online) some time in 2008. He started raising questions about Roman Catholicism in late July and early August 2008. Here are a couple of the first threads that I remembered seeing:


[With that last one, he would have been one to benefit from Michael Kruger's Canon Revisited].

The fracas started when Mike Brown, a friend of Jason's, and another WSC grad, responded to a Bryan Cross article on Sola Scriptura. Jason chimed in, and it seemed to me that, beginning with these couple of posts, Jason would ask a question, usually from a Roman Catholic perspective. Lots of Roman Catholics would comment -- there were a few Protestants, but Jason himself was often AWOL for the follow-up discussion. [I'll invite you to go look at those links above].

True, at the end of a month or so, he'd write a summary post, saying "So Sola Fide still does result from the best exegesis", or "Sola Scriptura still seems to me to be the way to go", but even these summary comments were very tepid and not very challenging at all. Here's an example of what I mean (these are taken from my own emails to him): from an email dated August 30, 2008:
Jason, before you start reaching such conclusions as this:
I just mean that we both, each in our own way, affirm that God saves us by grace and that our works flow from, rather than cause, that salvation. We're very different in how we reach these conclusions as well as how we articulate them, though. And of course, I think that Reformed exegesis and nomenclature is far superior, but still, I do see many similarities and will even concede that the CC's formulation makes sense given the way it defines its terms [emphasis added].

I would like to see you do much more of an explanation and analysis. I know this is your blog, and that you are trying to seem gracious, and that is admirable, to a degree. But in leaving such conclusions hanging, as you have done here, you risk opening yourself (and the Gospel) to all sorts of mischief.

There is a huge [difference in] what Protestants mean by "grace" and what Catholics mean by that term. You need to articulate that early and often. But, with your limited time, and inability to follow every thread, [you] are going to find yourself quoted on the "Catholic Answers" forum under the heading, "Westminster-trained Pastor Concedes Catholic Catechism Formulation on Justification Makes Sense." If you haven't already become a topic of discussion there.

You are not out there representing "Jason Stellman, the inquirer." You are out there representing the name of Westminster and all that it stands for.
* * *

At one point he was teaching Sunday School classes about G.K. Chesterton. Audio for this has been taken down from the Exile PCA website, but he was doing it, and I listened to it. I haven't kept in touch with him in the intervening years. But in 2009, I was accusing him, privately, of being two-faced, of telling one group of people one thing, another group, another thing.

He confided to me, early on, that he was wrestling very hard with Roman Catholic teaching. And then he swore me to secrecy about what he had just told me. That whole process really (had you been in my shoes) sucked. It was a terrible thing for him to do to me. (I say this now, not giving away any secrets, because the process came out in emails with other people near the end of 2009).

However, Jason never deviated from his pattern of asking a question, going AWOL, letting the Roman Catholic commenters have their way, rinse and repeat.

So yes, I did challenge him, most strongly in private, but in public from time to time. The following is probably the strongest thing I said to him, in a private email, probably summer 2009:

“You are two-faced. I will stand by that assessment of you, and I am certain that time will tell on that one. Your heart is yearning for Rome, and yet you stand up in front of your people every Sunday and you don't dare to share honestly with them what is in your heart. Yes, the Gospel will stand. My claim is that you will not stand with it.”

Some time later, September 13, 2009, I have an outbound email that said this:
"Jason -- I know some things get pretty intense in your comments box, but I am concerned about this line [which Jason published in a comment]:
I agree with you. And trust me, no one has been personally insulted by him as much as I have (the "John Bugay" folder in my inbox is way more filled than yours, and with way worse stuff). But what are my options? I can stop posting about Catholicism, but as it is, I usually do one of those a week, mainly if it's connected to something interesting I'm reading.
Following this comment, I made a comment in which I admitted that I have insulted you precisely once, in private, it spoke to a very specific situation, and that you know what that insult was about. ... You deleted my comment.

I'm a communications person, and I know how certain things, for good or ill can spread. I don't know whether you deleted my comment on purpose, while leaving yours intact on purpose or by accident.

As it is, you have borne witness, in public, that somehow, I insult you on a regular basis, behind everyone's backs. ...

But I was under the impression that you and I have an understanding -- to the effect that I will keep private some of the things that you confided in me early on.

I am conscious of having insulted you exactly one time: and that is to have compared you (in private) with "Two-Face" -- the Batman villain. And I did so because I had good reason to think that you were telling different stories to different people.

I've tried to handle this "situation" between you and me in as above-board a fashion as I could. I only commented on your public statements. But you have, with this statement, crossed a line. ...

I still have all of the emails that I wrote to you, and those that you've written to me. I know I have written firmly to you, but I do not insult you. And for you to say that I have, in public, is far beneath your position as a PCA minister.

But I continue to think that the public examination of Catholicism you are putting on, especially given that you are a PCA minister, is very unseemly. There are some things that you are "mulling over in public" that should be dismissed out of hand. (And if you privately have questions about their legitimacy, you have access to people and resources who can answer any question for you that you want -- including evidently, a "back channel" to Scott Hahn and all the Called to Communion guys). ...

I want you all to know that I find this very unpleasant."
Many of the individuals who formed the Called to Communion site were having a field day in Jason's comment box, long before that website went up. And Jason did nothing at all to dissuade them. In fact, he seemed to encourage them.

Yes, in answer to your questions, I have prayed for Jason and his family. Nor is it my intention to air all of the dirty laundry that went back and forth. I liked Jason very much before he started "investigating" Roman Catholicism. It is June 2012, and he just now made the public decision. We were having these kinds of discussions in 2009. I was very much aware then of his "investigation" of Roman Catholicism. And he tried to keep it a secret.

* * *

If you start looking at pornography, and find it fascinating, then you keep going back to it, you are going to get in trouble. I believe that is the process that Jason Stellman followed with Roman Catholicism. He became fascinated by it early on, never stopped returning to it.

At what point should someone (especially a pastor) confess to someone that he is looking at pornography? Sooner rather than later, I would think. At what point should Jason Stellman have gone to his church, or someone, and said, "I think I'm getting hooked on Roman Catholicism?" Sooner rather than later, I would think.

And of course, now he is citing Michael Liccione's defense of papal infallibility verbatim: unless the church’s interpretation of Scripture is divinely protected from error at least under certain conditions, then what we call the “orthodox” understanding of doctrines like the Trinity or the hypostatic union is reduced to mere fallible human opinion.

Jason is the one giving away that little secret (about why he no longer holds to Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura), and what his ultimate destination might be.


  1. There is a Chesterton series still on the Exile PCA website;


    I should just add, I appreciate the forthright manner in which you have approached this. It seems to me to be warranted.

  2. Thanks Andrew, on both counts!

  3. What a mess and a burden for all involved. I'm making special prayers just for you, Mr. Bugay. Judging by what I've seen of your online presence over the past couple of years, John, you are a total package and a class act. I hate that you find yourself entangled with and buffeted by such nastiness as this, but it comes with the territory for the true MAN of God such as yourself. Younger men like me can only aspire to your character, wisdom and erudition, praying that we too might someday be counted worthy to suffer such things to the glory of the Lord and the sharpening of the brethren. Steady as you go, sir.

  4. Hi aztexan. I genuinely appreciate your comments.

    1. Lots of whining and wagging of fingers pointed at you rather than at the hypocrite. Felt obliged to offer a word of encouragement, be it minority dissent or the (silent) majority report.

    2. I do appreciate the encouragement. Most of the other stuff just bounces off, but it's really good to hear this sort of thing.