Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Westminster Theological Seminary: a Calvidispiebaptogelical appreciation

I am enjoying some correspondence with a Westminster Seminary prof, and reflected that some of what I said to him is worth sharing more broadly.

My Master's is from (then) Talbot Theological Seminary, where I had some splendid professors who were far better scholars and brothers than I.

Nonetheless, Westminster Theological Seminary has a very special place in my heart, distinct from any other seminary. This despite the fact that I'm theologically not in exact sync with Westminster, and many of their grads would give me the Angry Eyes, what with me being baptistic and all. (One well-known figure sneers that Calvidispiebaptogelicals such as I are neither Reformed nor Calvinists. Oh well; even we at the back of the bus must be allowed our unrequited love, no?)

Let me explain why I so love Westminster.

WTS is a place where giants have roamed the earth, from its very founding. Any time I'm asked to list the most influential books in my life, two are always J. Gresham Machen's What Is Faith? and Cornelius Van Til's Defense of the Faith. A larger list might include John Murray's Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, and a still-larger list would include E. J. Young's Thy Word Is Truth. To think that men such as those and many others — heroes to me — have taught in those halls... wow. Teaching or studying there would give me the chills if I stopped to think.

Also, I know of no other seminary long in existence that has stayed so true to its charter, without drifting to port. The suspension, then resignation of Peter Enns is an example. To me, what he's written since could hardly better underscore the appropriateness of his release. It is as if Enns has set out to validate WTS' actions. But in a Fuller or such, a figure such as Enns would be celebrated as another passing road sign in the inexorable process of decline.

After I'd written the previous, brother Bayly added this salient note:
Firing professors is a mark of a seminary that's still alive just as excommunication is a mark of a church that is still alive. A few years ago Westminster Theological Seminary in Philly fired Peter Enns for (as I see it) rejecting the authority and inspiration of Scripture.
Therefore, WTS is a "brand-name" that still means something. As Talbot/Biola was making decisions that concerned some of us in the '80s, a classmate said, "I don't want a degree that I'm going to have to explain." I knew exactly what he meant. Fuller came instantly to mind. While Fuller started out as a bastion of Biblical faith and top-notch scholarship, it has morphed into something very different. If you meet a man whose degree is from Fuller, you have to start at the very basics to see what he believes, to see if he's even within rifle range of Biblical faith.

But if you hear that a man got his degree from Westminster, you have a good idea of the framework within which he was taught. This is what Machen had in mind, reeling from his own sadly-declined Princeton. So many decades later, it still stands strong.

So: whether it likes it or not, Westminster Theological Seminary has itself a fan. A Calvinist, baptistic, dispensationalist fan. It may or may not love me, but I sure do love it, and thank God for what it has contributed and continues to contribute to the preaching of the Gospel and the Word of God, and to the defense of the faith.


Kyle Oliphint said...

Wow! I love the place too and this testimony was a great encouragement to me. Thank you! (also have two of your books on my shelf (well, WTG on the Kindle); World-Tilting Gospel and the Proverbs book. Looking forward to reading them. Thank you for your work!

DJP said...

Thanks, Kyle.

A WTS prof also is reading one of them. That was what provoked this happy little post.

Tim Bertolet said...

As a WTS grad, I promise not to give you angry eyes... but then again I'm credo-baptist (& historic premil).

I can't say enough good things about my Westminster seminary education. Very rigorous. Very enriching. You knew where they stood on issues, but also a very gracious community. But things were always defended exegetically. Even my apologetics course had an example question for translating Romans 1.

Dr. Stephen Nichols is the person influenced me to go the WTS. I told him if I was going to spend all this time studying Scripture I wanted to do it in the original languages at seminary. One thing that WTS has not lessened over the years is its commitment to the original languages as foundational for theological study and the ministry.

Great post!

DJP said...

Thanks, Tim. How cool! I didn't know.

Scooter said...

Oh Dan, you are rekindling my desire to go to seminary. Not that I have a goal in mind for the education, but to simply enrich myself in the study of Scripture in an institution with a rich history.

You also remind me to put What is Faith? on my wish list.

Tom Chantry said...

Having attended Westminster Seminary in California (no relation, as Trueman quipped), I add a hearty AMEN!

DJP said...

Explain that "no relation" to me. I didn't get it.


Tom Chantry said...

The two Westminsters (the original two) have a very odd relationship. Initially the California campus was staffed entirely by Pennsylvania professors who went to California for a term. Of course that couldn't work; they all wanted to be there in the winter. So eventually a distinct faculty was established.

It sounds like a branch campus, right? Only California has its own board of trustees. It was always said that they were distinct institutions with a unique relationship, not unlike how Churchill described the unique relationship of the US and the UK.

And then California decided to expand its doctrinal subscription to include the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms, arguing that there was no discrepancy. The faculty in Pennyslvania said, "You can't do that without consulting us," and the faculty in California said, "Oh yes we can," and everyone stared at each other trying to figure out if they were one institution or two.

Needless to say, when a campus was opened in Dallas the board in Philadelphia opted not to establish a separate board.

So are they one institution or two - close kin or only friendly neighbors? No one quite knows.

Trueman's quip is funny because, truth be told, the two institutions really do get along well. But it was a little bit of tongue-in-cheek ribbing from an older brother to the younger brother who wants to insist that he's got his own family now.

Or at least, that's as best as I remember - students chuckle about this stuff but rarely dig too deeply into the facts.

Kerry James Allen said...

A great addition to your reading on this subject is David Calhoun's two volumes on the history of Princeton. The second volume slows down a bit, but the first, laying the foundation for both of these institutions is tremendous. The Alexanders and Hodges turned out some tremendous laborers for the Lord. Thanks, Dan.

Rita Tomassetti said...

Amen! :)
The church Penn and I have been going to(and which we love to pieces! :D) for the past 4 months is associated with WTS. Meaning our pastors were trained there and some of the teachers at WTS were pastors(or members) at our church. And while I went to a reformed baptist church in my country, getting used to the pca has not been difficult at all :)...except for the nicene and apostle's creed that we often recite...being that I recited that at the catholic church I used to go to when I was catholic...xP

Kyle Oliphint are you Scott Oliphant's brother?

Thomas Louw said...

Unfortunately I have a degree I have to explain(not a lot of explaining but some) Sigh.

I followed your links to WM bookshop; the books are dirt cheap, only in America.

(This new word verification really makes you think twice about commenting, I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing.)

Kyle Oliphint said...

Yes, Rita Tomassetti, Scott is my older brother.

Kirby said...

Hi Dan,

I too have a strong affinity for WTS even though I never attended. At Master's Seminary we read Van Til's Defense of the Faith, and I've been a fan ever since. Since then one of my good friends from seminary did his PhD in apologetics there.

And here's the topper: when I was an exchange student at International Christian University in Japan in 1986, the pastor in charge of the campus church was a Princeton grad. It didn't take a seminary degree to see how whacked his theology was (I was only 20 at the time). Let's just say, I was curious as to why Marcus Barth (yes, Karl's son) was invited to teach the Ephesians class there for a semester.

I think I'd love to go to WTS and study but I hear the coursework is so rigorous it's scary. My friend had to read 450 apologetics books in his post-sem doctorate.

I am glad there are some continually unwavering bastions of truth out there.

Have a great weekend.

Rita Tomassetti said...

Kyle neat!! :D my husband and I met him at a conference on the Reformation (a great conference on the importance of the sufficiency and authority of the Bible) at our church (Westminster Presbyterian Church)last year in November.

Benjamin Paul Virgo said...

Thank you for that.

Here's something for you: iTunes U now offers not only one-off lectures from WTS but whole lecture series. Lectures from Van Til, Poythress, Gaffin, Moises Silva and many others. Free.

You probably knew that Van Til used to do street preaching in Philadelphia? It isn't surprising when you hear him lecture: the fun and accessibility.

As you imply in your blog, the excellence of scholarship, fueled by the reverence and fear before the word can make a profound impression. Access to such teaching to those outside the walls is a priceless gift.

Comparisons with the Gutenberg-Luther moment are well made in this instance.

Look in the iTunes store.