Thursday, April 04, 2013

Jason Stellman’s failure as a prosecutor led to the Leithart acquittal

I know there is a lot of disappointment among PCA members over the what essentially is the decision to let a lower-court verdict stand.

Over at the Green Baggins discussion of the Peter Leithart case, Ron DiGiacomo is clearly making the most lucid comments:

To suggest that the SJC should have taken into account any evidence other than the trial itself is to undermine one’s right to a trial. In other words, evidence is never to be considered so incriminating as to allow for an immediate conviction without a trial. Accordingly, it would have been inappropriate for the SJC to arrive at a guilty verdict based upon arguments not formulated by the Presbytery. To have done so would have been for the SJC to try the case without having to undergo rebuttal and cross-examination, a clear violation of Leithart’s rights.

The failure is Jason Stellman’s failure as a prosecutor:

[Peter Leithart] essentially denied on the stand what FV has gone on record affirming. All that is left to do at that point is to pepper the defendant with questions regarding inconsistency in view of previously written (or stated) Roman Catholic tendencies. That did not happen and that was Jason’s job. Consequently, the SJC was left with too many uninterpreted brute particulars that were not fleshed out with formal argumentation. Again, to have drawn their own conclusions based upon arguments that were never formulated would have been to put PL on trial without the right of a defense attorney. We’re Presbyterian not papists.


  1. John,

    This is coming in two parts due to word-count limits.

    As I see it the nub of the matter can be found on page 375 of the transcript. It certainly comes to surface in the questioning of Robert Letham. I find it striking that the prosecution noted (beginning in line 14 of page 375) that if the theological distinction of attributing the blessings of salvation to visible church members is all that Peter Leithart had in view then there would have been no trial. It was in that context that any contra-confessional citing that could have been indexed to Peter Leithart should have surfaced and been examined.

    Found at the very bottom of page 374 into 375 we can read that in Letham’s estimation (and he asked to be corrected by the prosecution if he was wrong) “[Leithart] distinguishes clearly between…the faith of the reprobate and the faith of the elect or - - or the status, shall we say, of the reprobate and the elect.” Letham went on to note, still referring to his understanding of Leithart’s view, that “The difference is that the elect do not have faith, or do not, shall we say, persevere in faith until the end and it is the elect who persevere and the - - the others don’t.”

    The transcript of the trial demonstrates that Letham had a “hermeneutic of suspicion” regarding Leithart’s theology, not because Letham basked over FV thought {far from it in fact – I believe he has employed his time better than that(!)} but because of a committee report of the OPC. As the transcript shows, Letham formed his own opinion of Leithart’s views based upon personal interaction and email whereby “to a great extent” any concerns he had were alleviated. He went to “the horse’s mouth as it were.”

    I don’t want to read into Letham’s remarks too much because he was speaking extemporaneously after all; in so, he used the qualifying phrase “or do not, shall we say.” I’m not sure whether he was retracting or only adding to what preceded it. In either case, I can interpret what follows as confessional. However, I do believe that Jason should have asked a follow-up question if to clarify if nothing else. Does Leithart believe that unbelievers have faith, the same faith as the truly justified, just not persevering faith? Does he, in other words, believe as this former OPC minister did? I now digress: {When involved with a mission work in the OPC a fine candidate on paper (OPC minister, WTS graduate with high marks) wanted to be considered for the position of pastor. At my home, on my porch, over a cigar (I remember the day well) he disclosed that a non-elect person could be united to Christ, have faith yet not be elected unto glory. I asked him how a regenerate elect person can have the assurance of salvation that the Confession teaches if one with seemingly the same union with Christ, faith, and presumably same witness of the Spirit can fall away. With little hesitation he said that he does not affirm the Confession with respect to assurance, in particular that one may have infallible assurance. I dropped it for the afternoon. Within a day or two I wrote him saying I could not support his candidacy because of his views on that matter. He responded saying that he had gone back and read the Confession again and in fact does embrace the teaching on assurance. I told him I was delighted to hear that but given his confusion over the matter I still could not support him. Shortly after he secured a call in the CREC. } End of digression


  2. Letham is obviously Reformed and understands the Confession as well as anyone. I believe I can safely say by his testimony that he thought that Leithart, once given the chance to amplify his views, drew acceptable distinctions (as finally did the OPC minister I interviewed) between the visible-invisible church and the external status of church members as it relates to those who truly enjoy existential union with Christ. Leithart’s testimony also corroborates a confessional understanding of the Westminster standards. So, although I think maybe a couple of follow-up questions might have been in order on page 375, I think we can infer how they would have been answered – that the faith the unbeliever has is neither preserving faith nor is it anything like justifying faith. (What I think would be a good discussion, as I think it lurks behind these questions, is that which pertains to common operations of the Spirit and the tasting of the heavenly gift etc.) Again though, that was when apparent contradictory writings should have been cited and exegeted.

    Finally, here we find this way of resolving the Kinnaird issue: "While Mr. Kinnaird's teaching should not be judged to be out of accord with the Church's Standards, his teaching has not been as clear as should be expected from an elder (cf. Titus 1:9)."

    I’d be happy with that sort of resolution regarding Leithart. In fact, I would like to see Leithart publically modify, elaborate upon and even retract various statements that he has made and that he has tacitly approved by others.

    Lastly, these discussions could have been resolved in an afternoon many years ago, and should have never been allowed to linger as they did. Letham did something that should be obvious to all of us, especially Christians. Go to the horse’s mouth. The blogosphere is occasion for real problems, I must admit. But there have been other problems, greater than this one, which preceded blogging so I won’t demonize it - the Clark-Van Til controversy to name one. As it was once pointed out from a pulpit within my hearing quite a while ago, how could the doctrine of the incarnation have been avoided in those debates?!

    1. Ron, thanks for sharing these details. I certainly didn't get to page 375 in the transcript :-)

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      For anyone who is interested, Ron DiGiacomo was ordained in the OPC and is a member of Evangelical Presbyterian Church, PCA.