This is a lot bigger than old Princeton and Westminster, this is who we are. This is the way ahead for us to get clearer and clearer on what the gospel is, on why we are here anyway. Without biblical theology, or Christ-centered preaching, or whatever we want to call it, we’re nowhere. Without a clear way to use the Word we can’t do anything else either.
Reformed people and their churches are struggling with very basic issues right now, what is the gospel? Is it forgiveness through justification? Or, holiness as the Lord sanctifies us; of course it’s both but how? Is FV helpful or harmful? N. T. Wright? Norman Shepherd?
May the Lord open our hearts and minds to hear each other. Without clarity on the message who are we? Without charity in listening to each other who are we? Clarity and charity are both needed.
We know the answer for us all will come from the Word of God. That is our most basic commitment, to the Lord and to each other. The Bible trumps tradition, Confession, and the way we have ministered so far. God’s Word is our hope and we rejoice in our common commitment to it. We rejoice that first and foremost it unites us, it encourages us, and it blesses us together.
But are we sure that we agree on how to read that Word, how to hear God speaking to us? It won’t be exactly the same as it was when the Westminster Confession was written, three and a half centuries ago. Of course not, and we recognize that and work with that.
In the 19th century we learned about history. Reality is not just ‘eternal truths’ as in geometry, it is also about the world changing, cultures changing, people changing, we know in the hand of the providence of God. That insight about change could be grossly misused, leading to blind foolishness about inevitable progress, about the Bible and the gospel being outmoded, obsolete, and not really up to date. But it also helped us look at the Bible with fresh eyes.
That was what Geerhardus Vos at Princeton Seminary gave us a century ago. We must do ‘systematic theology’ with the Bible, putting together what it teaches here with what it teaches there. But, Vos showed us, we must also take a very serious look at how the biblical story develops, how the New Testament builds on the Old, how those changes still come together to show us the kindness of God to his people. He shows his love to them, they reject him, and he judges them—and then shows his love to them in new and startling ways. Then at the end of time, he gives his Beloved Son to them at Calvary, raises him from the dead, and gives us the Holy Spirit. So now we truly have all we need for life and godliness. Take a joyful look at the whole picture, how the Lord shows himself to us in greater and greater clarity but still in continuity. Learn to read the Old Testament that way, pointing ahead to Jesus.
I believe the Lord raised up Vos to point us more and more to Jesus everywhere in the Word. My first student sermon at Westminster was David and Goliath and I did it well—but Ed Clowney told me off since I said nothing at all about Jesus. That startled me but he was overwhelmingly right. Trying to use the Word without Jesus, what’s the point? Read Ed’s book Unfolding Mystery and love Jesus more and more. Then go on to Bryan Chapell’s Christ Centered Preaching and Praying Backwards.
This is a lot bigger than old Princeton and Westminster, this is who we are. This is the way ahead for us to get clearer and clearer on what the gospel is, on why we are here anyway.
Without biblical theology, or Christ-centered preaching, or whatever we want to call it, we’re nowhere. Without a clear way to use the Word we can’t do anything else either.
Why do I say this? I just learned of the ‘honorable retirement’ of Prof. Douglas Green at Westminster Seminary. He is ‘retiring’ by action of the Board. I note in my aging process that my mind still finds that hard to see it as ‘retiring.’
Why? Go to this website and figure it out for yourself.
Especially read Doug Green’s own writings cited therein, apparently as evidence against him. You know that I am not an Old Testament authority, I am especially happy that in my recent change of Presbyteries no one gave me a Hebrew exam. But I just can’t see any difference worth mentioning between Vos, Clowney, Chapell and what Green says as the way to read the Bible. Read him yourself, we need everybody’s help here.
The big issue might be, when you say so much about the fulfillment in Jesus Christ, are you still paying attention to the original setting in the Old Testament? Maybe that’s it. That isn’t a brand new thing. Remember what Puritans said about The Song of Songs, doesn’t it seem weird to you? What do you think The Song was originally about? Obviously vigorous royal sexual yearning and satisfaction—that’s why Mormons throw out the whole book. Puritans were a tad better than that, but not much. They just barely allude to sex and then go straight to Christ the groom and the church the bride, at length. On doing a good job on both original and also fulfillment, I grade Doug Green B+; I’m a tough grader. But if anyone really wants to grade Doug with an F, then on their scale the Puritans come out with an H, maybe a G-.
Because this is not about what people in those ivory towers tinker with, this is the way God has shown us how to read his Word, from beginning to end about Jesus. If Westminster Seminary doesn’t want that to happen anymore, we mourn that loss to our churches. That will make it even harder than it is now for us to agree on what is the gospel. We can’t have law over here and forgiveness over there, we must see them together or we’ll keep on mumbling away to a lost and dying world. I paraphrase Paul: that must never be!
Yes, I taught many years at Westminster. Yes, I know Doug and many others. But I honestly know practically nothing more than what I see on that website, just like all of you.
Dr. D. Clair Davis, lives in Philadelphia, Penn., is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, and is a Professor Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.