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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hurray! Westminster Seminary California Not Guilty of Opposing Application - (a minor point at such a time)

"One of the more frequent false claims about Westminster Seminary
California
which I hear from prospective students and others is
that "you don't believe in application in preaching." The short answer is:
nonsense."
R. S. Clark / Professor WSC

It is my experience that WSC is many things (proud for instance?), but I would not say that they don't believe in preaching application. Of course believing that application should be preached and endeavoring to apply sound preaching (assuming sound preaching) are different matters.

I have read through my share of ministerial applications and although I believe I never conclusively prejudged one who went to WSC (and certainly never prejudged one as having no regard for application in preaching), one’s attending that institution in the last ten years does not in and of itself leave me with a favorable impression. In fact, specific red flags go up when I learn that someone studied at WSC anytime since the late nineties. These are red flags mind you and although they might be enormous and radiant, they are merely flags and no more (and they have nothing to do with application in preaching). I am not inclined to elaborate on those red flags, at least not here. They are obvious enough. Suffice it to say, when profound Reformed thinkers cannot be respected, there are serious problems that must transcend doctrine into manner of life.

I do believe that one who thinks for himself and is successful in resisting movement mentalities can escape WSC in relatively fine shape, if not even theologically prepared for gospel ministry. In fact, I can imagine (with a little effort) one so full of grace that he could be better off for having gone to WSC. Similarly, I suppose I can imagine that attending a Roman Catholic high school or serving a life sentence in prison could be a means of obtaining a keener Christian world and life view. No doubt – God is sovereign over what might appear to us as meager means.

Ron
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16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ron,

Can you give some concrete examples that make you dislike WSC?

Thanks

Daniel said...

For those for whom it is not so obvious, could you briefly list (not necessarily elaborate on) at least some of the flags? And I'm curious who the profound Reformed thinkers are who cannot be respected, and what "movement mentalities" are at work that are inhibiting the students' preparation for gospel ministry.

Ron Henzel said...

Ron,

When were you at WSC?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Daniel

Some of the red flags include but are not limited to:

The seminary at best allowed a novice presuppositional apologist to teach apologetics only two years after making a boast on his radio show that he was an evidentialist. The boast was made the year following Greg Bahnsen’s death, which was the year of John Gerstner’s passing. The boast was made in the context of both men passing at about the same time. I heard the boast with my own ears. Anyone who is even somewhat acquainted with a truly Reformed, revelational epistemology and metaphysic appreciates that one is not prepared to teach seminarians on these subjects two years after a conversion. This same professor at the seminary has written: “The covenant of grace is not made with the elect, but with believers and their children.” Such a position is not only detrimental to the Reformed doctrine of the church and infant baptism; it simply denies the Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 31, which states just the opposite: “Question 31: With whom was the covenant of grace made? Answer: The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.”

Another prominent professor insists that Dr. Gaffin believes that infant baptism “creates” existential union with Christ. Such a ridiculous allegation hardly warrants a response. This same professor insists that “John Murray explicitly rejected the visible/invisible [church] distinction.” That, of course, is false. Murray was merely jealous to guard against the abuses that readily come with the view toward an invisible church, such as what he called the overlooking and suppression of corporate responsibility, noting that “[Invisible] is a term that is liable to be loaded with misconceptions… and tends to support the abuses incident thereto…” Indeed, Murray noted that “there are those aspects pertaining to the church that may be characterized as invisible. But it is to ‘the church’ those aspects pertain…” Accordingly, it is an outright falsehood to say that “Murray explicitly rejected the visible / invisible distinction.” Murray simply recognized the distinction and was careful to regulate its meaning within the context of the Christian’s responsibility to, and the grace found within, the institutional visible-church. Consequently, Murray never “explicitly rejected” the distinction. In fact, his application of the invisible with respect to the visible presupposes that he embraced the distinction and only rejected its abuses! Yet as if that misrepresentation wasn’t enough, this professor went on to say that “Murray’s criticism of it [the visible / invisible distinction] helped create the pre-conditions for the FV nonsense.” Not only has Murray been misrepresented, he has now become a cause of FV! Yet a few months ago theonomy was the culprit. Whose next, the bell choir?
Then there’s the matter of LFW, which one of the most prominent professors at the seminary unwittingly affirmed to me in a personal discussion having to do with Adam prior to the fall. There are also problems with at least one visiting professor who has not only repeatedly demonstrated no understanding of union with Christ language, he’s actually mocked the usefulness of the doctrine!
As for your other queries, let me quote John Frame: “I could not, of course, teach at a school [WSC] that I could not honestly recommend, and I could not teach at a school where my Reformed commitment was not respected.” The movement mentality has to do with the pop-celebrities at the school and those students and disciples I’ve interacted with over the years who have demonstrated an inability to defend their beliefs without appealing to an esoteric and sectarian interpretation of a consensus document called the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Ron

Daniel said...

Ron,
Thanks for the detailed response. I'm saddened by the one professor's careless interpretation of Gaffin and Murray on the points you bring up, and its unfortunate that one said Adam had LFW before the fall. As for the covenant of grace comment, it's possible he was referring to the external administration (I don't know). I did an MA at WSC (2004-6), and took all the (regularly offered) systematic theology classes; and for what it's worth, these are some of my relevant impressions from what I can remember. (1) It was never taught that Adam ever had LFW. (2) Gaffin and Murray were spoken of respectfully, and the latter was assigned reading quite a bit. In certain places where there was some disagreement with him, it was respectfully presented and was based in Scriptural argumentation. (3) The only professor I can remember ever making disrespectful comments about Frame is the one you allude to in connection with the Gaffin/Murray quotes.

Regarding apologetics, on reflection I would admit that the seminary needs a stronger philosophical presence on the faculty. In my view (we may disagree on this) the *main* way in which the apologetics instruction could be improved is not necessarily by having someone who has been committed to presuppositionalism longer, but by having someone who is generally more trained in and has spent more time working in the field of philosophy. Incidentally, the professor you refer to has recently been installed in a new endowed chair in systematic theology, and I think he is eminently qualified in this area.

My main concern with your post was your comments on movement mentalities and the implication that the institition is utterly ill-equipped to prepare students for gospel ministry (and the Roman-Catholic and prison analogies catalyze such an interpretation), a very severe charge; and you didn't say much on this. I don't know what you're talking about with the "pop-celebrity" comment. As far as those with "an inability to defend their beliefs," are these beliefs concerning the gospel, or concerning currently contentious intra-mural debates within the Reformed community? My experience was that WSC was excellent in training people up in the gospel; and the atmosphere was one of zeal for the gospel, not a divisive or sectarian one. Of course, points of disagreement come up as well, for surely future Reformed pastors should be made aware of intra-Reformed disputes.

I can't speak to your experience, but polemical contexts by their very nature emphasize disagreement and understate unity between parties (for the point of such contexts is to talk about the disagreements), and they can obscure what one's priorities are for the same reason (i.e., if I only talk to you when I'm disagreeing with you, then the perception may be that my life and priorities are *defined by* the debate, for it is the only context wherein you see me operate). A great way to get a feel for what is going on "inside" those walls is to listen to the (usually) faculty-lead devotions (happening twice per week). A number of these have been put on the podcast "Westminster Seminary California Morning Devotions" which can be downloaded free on iTunes. And if you happen to know any recent (i.e., within last several years) graduates personally, chances are they've been receiving monthly CDs containing 3 of these chapel messages on them each (and it is lawful to replicate them), messages which the podcast doesn't have (since the podcast only has very recent ones I think).

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Daniel,

First off, thank you for your very thoughtful and kind response. Please indulge me a bit longer as I try to address some of your observations and concerns, and please allow me to make some fresh comments.

I'm saddened by the one professor's careless interpretation of Gaffin and Murray on the points you bring up, and its unfortunate that one said Adam had LFW before the fall.

Some of the careless remarks regarding Gaffin and Murray are on this site. The other professor never explicitly stated that Adam had LFW, but he without question unwittingly argued that very point. I asked him point blank how Adam could have avoided sinning apart from God’s upholding him. His response was “Adam’s free will.” This very mistake was made on GreenBaggins too, which can be found here: http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2008/05/reformed-folk-power-of-contrary-choice.html

The point is, would the professor have said that I, according to my own free will, could have avoided choosing x apart from God providentially causing me to choose ~x? Call me crazy, but I would think that a working understanding of the will in all four states of man would be somewhat essential to teaching the doctrine of man. This is not an isolated doctrine because it gets right to the heart of the untenable position of merit in the garden. BTW, grace is undeserved favor, which applied to prelapsarian Adam. Mercy pertains to de-merited favor.

As for the covenant of grace comment, it's possible he was referring to the external administration (I don't know).

That’s a stretch I’m afraid. He spoke not of who is to receive the outward administration of the covenant. Rather, he spoke of whom the covenant was actually made with. The reason there are so many Baptists is because Paedobaptists cannot prove their own position. This polemic is not all that difficult: http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006/07/primer-on-covenant-theology-baptism-3.html

The only professor I can remember ever making disrespectful comments about Frame is the one you allude to in connection with the Gaffin/Murray quotes.

I can’t imagine what he could have said, other than taking a crack at John’s view of acceptable worship.

As for the other resident professor I referred to, I believe him to be very astute. More importantly, I also sensed the one time I met him for a couple of hours that he’s a most kind and gracious man, at least up close and personal. When my wife brought the radio broadcast into my life I was most amused, for a time. But like Credenda Agenda, I it didn’t take long until I couldn’t take it in anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised that over time the end product has improved and is now an instrument to sharpen and edify rather than to poke fun and tear down. God’s even sanctifying me!

Regarding apologetics, on reflection I would admit that the seminary needs a stronger philosophical presence on the faculty. In my view (we may disagree on this) the *main* way in which the apologetics instruction could be improved is not necessarily by having someone who has been committed to presuppositionalism longer, but by having someone who is generally more trained in and has spent more time working in the field of philosophy.

I’d say that it’s not an either-or but both. But here’s the rub. If one has internalized a truly Reformed epistemology (not of the Plantinga variety, though he likes the term), then he will have been a presuppositionalist longer AND spent more time in the field of philosophy. The latter requirement, spending more time in the field, is not a sufficient condition for the former, but the former presupposes the latter. After all, William Lane Craig has spent many years in the field of philosophy. I trust the seminary wouldn’t take him, even if he became a Calvinist. As a side note, I sincerely believe that Craig, a Molinist, could convince most Reformed people that he was Reformed in his view of sovereignty just by talking about feasible and possible worlds and his view of three logical moments.

Incidentally, the professor you refer to has recently been installed in a new endowed chair in systematic theology, and I think he is eminently qualified in this area.

I believe him to be a dear man, but the seminary can do better in this area. This is no slight against the man. He’s an historian, and a great one I would imagine. A man with the skill set of a Michael Butler wouldn’t even be considered because the seminary loathes theonomy; yet they don’t even understand it.

My main concern with your post was your comments on movement mentalities and the implication that the institition is utterly ill-equipped to prepare students for gospel ministry (and the Roman-Catholic and prison analogies catalyze such an interpretation), a very severe charge; and you didn't say much on this.

With respect to the latter, seriously - what am I to do, pick apart Irons, the logical trajectory of Kline with respect to the law? I’ve done a bit of that on this site already. Or, maybe I should I do some internal critiques of their latent dispensationalism and rejection of the simplicity of Moses as an outward administration of the one covenant of grace? The seminary is terribly confused in this area, which is precisely why it was said that the covenant of grace was made with believers and their seed. Scroll down this blog and just see the various times I’ve interacted with the confusion - whether discussing logical conditions, prelapsarian merit, covenant theology, epistemological implications of the relevance of the law, etc.

I don't know what you're talking about with the "pop-celebrity" comment. As far as those with "an inability to defend their beliefs," are these beliefs concerning the gospel, or concerning currently contentious intra-mural debates within the Reformed community?
There are very few intramural debates for the one pop-professor because he doesn’t seem to appreciate the latitude within the Confession. Not only are his positions often times contrary to the Confession, he’s all too quick to identify the absolute boundaries of the Confession. His new book will set us all straight though.

As for defending beliefs, I’ve found over the years that all too many end up following a tradition within a tradition as opposed to internalizing basic doctrinal positions from an exegetical justification as opposed to an historical one. We’re to give a defense of our beliefs, not just cut and paste Turretin when it suits our pre-commitments.

Glad to hear about the chapel. I truly am. I don't doubt that there is sweet fellowship and blessings to be had. Notwithstanding, I with Frame, though he might have altered his opinion, could not recommend the school for reasons cited.

Blessings,

Ron

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Dr. Clark,

I have your post in italics. I didn’t post the original because I did not want to mention the other professor’s name on this matter. I hope this doesn’t come across as some false nobility. I have my reasons. Obviously some will know.

I believe your quotes are comprehensive and unvarnished.

You quoted me but did you provide a link so your readers to could see the comments in their context? http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2008/08/14/preaching-and-application-at-westminster-seminary-california/

The quote I took from your site needed no context because I immediately concurred with your statement. Had I disagreed with it, then you might have a reasonable complaint.

The seminary you are describing doesn't much resemble Westminster Seminary California! We are stoutly committed to Van Tillian presuppositionalism. Yes, [X] was an evidentialist but his post doc work at Yale and his conversations with Scott Oliphant convinced him of the correctness of CVT's approach. [X] is well and widely read in CVT and follows him closely. He studied under Frame and read CVT as a student so it's not as if he was a novice.

My observation was that the seminary would put a novice in the position. Accordingly, even if the professor has now grown, even to be Greg Bahnen’s successor - it’s irrelevant to my point, which was one having to do with the seminary’s judgment, not their commitment per se. Let me try to make the point another way. If Clark Pinnock became convinced of your understanding of pristine Reformed theology and in two years was given a teaching position at a Reformed seminary, I would hope that you would not be suspicious of the seminary’s commitment per se to Reformed theology but rather the seminary’s judgment in placing a novice in such a position. In other words, I question the seminary for having appointed someone to the post with such limited credentials and limited time to have internalized his new found philosophy. Also, I don’t remember having commented that the professor has not grown into those apologetical shoes.

Also, you jumped from the past to the present and then back to the past in your remark. Accordingly, your comment that the professor is well read does not equate to “the professor was well read” when he took the position. As for being convinced of the correctness of a CVT - that can be a necessary condition for teaching presuppositional apologetics but it should never be a sufficient one. My eldest daughter is convinced of the correctness of CVT; the maturity of that persuasion is, of course, another matter. Finally, studying under Frame (or CVT himself for that matter) is neither necessary nor sufficient to be a fine professor in this area of discipline. Reading CVT is, of course, required, or at least should be, and of course agreeing and understanding CVT's principles is necessary but again not sufficient. It is noteworthy that when I spoke with the professor after he was already teaching apologetics, he had not yet heard of “the impossible of the contrary” and he had not yet listened to the Bahnsen-Stein debate, a classic demonstration of apologetics in action. The latter was simply a curious thing whereas the former was a bit concerning. When I asked about this person’s conversion to presuppositionalism, his response was completely unintelligible to me, but I was hanging on every word.

Not a systematician? Are you crazy? Have you read Covenant and Eschatology or any of the other succeeding volumes in the series? These are among the more serious works in confessional Reformed systematics for a very long time.

I don’t believe I said that he wasn’t a systematician. I believe I said that the seminary could have done better and that I thought his stronger gifts were elsewhere. Note that I am evaluating gifts not based upon raw ability but upon precision as it relates to sound doctrine. There are many brilliant theologians, but that doesn’t make their theology brilliant. Don’t get me wrong; given the seminary’s slant, I can certainly understand their choice. It is my position that if the seminary would straighten out its slant or at the very least respect the latitude within the Reformed tradition, other options for the chair might have become more appealing.

As for “Covenant and Eschatology” I am somewhat acquainted with the work but I do not own anything from the series, but you should understand that. Truth be told, I was actually delighted when the first book was released because I wanted to see this man employ his gifts in a different direction, if not also demonstrate to his peers that he is a serious theologian to be reckoned with and not just a swell guy. Certainly I would disagree with much in the series; even at cardinal points I’m afraid. I can applaud the effort (especially in the current climate) of trying to bring some fresh synthesis to that which has been placed asunder for too long, biblical and systematic theology. I would only wish that there’d be an altogether different synthesis coming forth from the seminary with respect to the covenants (plural) of promise (singular), law as it relates to gospel, covenant as it relates to election, and of course justification as it relates to union with Christ, just to name a few areas of disagreement I might have. Just as a for instance (in volume 3) – the insistence that all covenant blessings flow from the forensic origin of justification is a bit passing strange to me. Doesn’t regeneration precede faith and, therefore, justification? And isn’t faith a covenant blessing? One need not ground covenant blessings in the legal aspect of justification in order to avoid the mistake of grounding justification in the ontological change of the believer. We don’t save our doctrine of justification by separating it from union with Christ. We simply eclipse the Pauline doctrine that our resurrection in Christ has imputative implications. The bottom line in all of this is that I need not read even volume one to suspect that I’ll object to what I would consider dispensational tendencies, confusion over grace in the garden, the Mosaic economy, and the conditions of obedience as they may relate to blessings both in the Old and New Covenants. In other words, I am correct to assume that the series will be an elaboration and not a retraction of what has already been said over and over again.

You didn't say who said what and I had trouble following you but let me try to clarify. All our faculty accept and teach the internal/external distinction. There is a sense in which the covenant of grace may be said, narrowly, to have been made only with the elect. There is a sense, broadly, in which the covenant of grace may be said to have been made with all the baptized.

Given “in a sense” and “broadly” I, of course, will not presume to understand your precise meaning. Nonetheless, even if I grant consistency to your statement, I cannot make it comport with the sweeping remark that “The covenant of grace is not made with the elect, but with believers and their children.”

We all reject the FV doctrine of conditional, temporary election and union with Christ. Have you read our statement on justification? Have you read CJPM? Have you read Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace or the Confessional Presbyterian essay on the same topic?

I think you’re getting off topic my brother. I have not taken issue with the seminary’s rejection of FV theology, though I have not respected the precision in which it has been dealt with. It has struck me more on the level of a “Sword of the Lord” type dealing with Calvinism than a scholarly effort to pin-point significant differences and deal with them fairly. WTS has been much better in this regard. As for “union with Christ” I found one of your visiting professor’s remarks on another Reformed site to be an embarrassment to your seminary, which I alluded to earlier. The comments were flippant and even absurd. For instance: “One of the comforts of the gospel was that Christ died in my stead. But the deeper we go into the union teaching, I”m told that I died and was raised with Christ, and I need to dwell upon that reality. Here I’d been comforted all along that I didn’t have to die for my sins because Christ already did.” What, did he not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Doesn’t that reality deserve mediation?

John Frame doesn't like us but John doesn't like a lot about Reformed theology. He thinks the law/gospel distinction is "Lutheran." He thinks critics of Norm Shepherd (which would be most of NAPARC now) are "stupid." He rejects the Reformed view of the second commandment. He thinks God may be said to be one person. I'm not sure John's the guy from whom I would ask a definition of "Reformed." If we define "Reformed" as CVT did, by the Reformed confessions, I think WSC comes out alright.

I think your getting a bit off topic but in doing so you just underscored my point! John’s statement of “I could not teach at a school where my Reformed commitment was not respected” simply corroborates the reasonable impression that the seminary has left with more than a few, which is that the seminary questions the commitment of many respected Reformed theologians, like John Frame. That’s the material point, Dr. Clark, and frankly it escapes you. That you believe that John Frame is ill-equipped to give a fair and balanced view of Reformed theology with respect to doctrine and latitude is simpy unfortunate both for you and your students. I truly regret having to be so severe.

I don't recall any other of the allegations you made but I think you've got us all wrong. I don't mind disagreeing with folks but I dislike being misrepresented.

I can agree with both those sentiments. I am confident that you think I’ve got you wrong and that I misrepresented you. See, we can agree on some things! :v)

If you've got a problem with seminary or think that we're saying something wrong then write it down, show us where we're wrong, where we said it and in what context, and we'll take a look at it.

There’s much on this site you disagree with I would suspect. So, if you really are so compelled, I guess you can consider those things as where I think the seminary is wrong.

Proud? Well, we are horrible sinners. Jesus didn't die for for any other kind. We stand by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. If we've sinned, let us know and we'll repent. We have nothing to hide.

Horrible sinners always have something to hide, Dr. Clark. Also, I would bring to your attention that it is comes across somewhat proud to say that if you are proven wrong you will repent. Proof, let alone persuasion, is not a sufficient condition for repentance. God’s grace needs to be granted. I know you know that, but it's good to be reminded in light of such a bold assertion.

Blessings,

Ron

Anonymous said...

Do you draw any distinctions among the men?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Yes. For instance, I don’t imagine that the professor of apologetics (PoA) would get as flippant as the visiting professor I quoted with respect to Romans six (baptism and union). Also, I can’t imagine the PoA missing the point in the way that the visiting professor did on the other site. The PoA might disagree with the point, but I gladly extend the measure of charity that he would be able to articulate back the opposing position on that subject to the opposition’s satisfaction. I don’t even know if that would be charitable. I would suspect it’s deserved because he is most astute, as I’ve pointed out to Daniel. As for the gentleman I just responded to, I think my thoughts are clear enough. I don’t believe, for instance, that PoA would have made such remarks about the former professor of apologetics in such a public way.

Do appreciate that when I spoke of WSC, I was speaking of an organism and like any organism some characteristics will be more prominent than others and more peculiar to certain individuals than to others. Nonetheless, the teachers are in some respect in union one with another. {In the like manner, until there was some break in unity, I believe it was necessary to have lumped Wilson in with Barach and Schlissel with respect to the FV controversy. My FV brothers didn’t always appreciate my doing so and I did wrestle hard with that personal decision but given that a common bond existed among those men, in their case a compilation of essays and a conference, I felt it was appropriate if not needful to do so. I was most pleased when I read the PCA report because my reasoning in doing so seemed identical to their’s.} I believe such treatment need not be a bad thing because it affords occasion for some to break ranks; or else put pressure on others to get in line at least with a more irenic tone if not also greater polemical precision. So, to bring this full-circle, I see a difference in these men but I also must recognize a common voice. I’d like to see others like Godfrey persuade some of the louder voices to tone things down a bit especially with respect to setting the rest of the Reformed tradition straight.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

I wrote: "I have your post in italics. I didn’t post the original because I did not want to mention the other professor’s name on this matter. I hope this doesn’t come across as some false nobility. I have my reasons. Obviously some will know."

What's in bold was to be referring back to the person's name; it reads as if some will know my reasons, which was not my intention to communicate.

Mark said...

Excellent job Ron though I doubt it will be heard.

Bret L. McAtee said...

WSC is hell bent on "rescuing" the Reformed faith.

Anybody who gets in the way of their repristinating their version of the Reformed faith will be run over. I've spoken with some of their products and they all have the same cloned mindset with the same cocky swagger. I always come away thinking, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

Good piece.

David A Booth said...

Ron,

I don't know enough about WSC to comment on the school, but I would add that pretty much every seminary raises some red flags - those flags just happen to be different. I would, however, like to respond to two comments this post has received:

1. While I see things differently than John Frame on several issues - the fact that a student had the privilege of studying under Professor Frame would raise ABSOLUTELY NO RED FLAGs in my book.

2. In terms of taking church courts seriously: The OPC Church Courts did not find Norman Shepherd to be outside of the bounds of confessional orthodoxy. The Church Courts of the OPC did remove Lee Irons from office. I am no fan of Norm Shepherd, but it strikes me as exceedingly odd (in light of these decisions by the OPC Church Courts) that anyone would consider defending Norman Shepherd to be out of bounds while feeling absolutely free to commend the work of Lee Irons.

David

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

David,

Thanks for weighing in. Sounds like those two comments equal two strikes against RSC.

Ron

Kyle said...

david a booth,

The OPC did not remove Irons, they moved to censure him, and he resigned.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Kyle, that is correct. Thanks for saying so.

Ron