A d F o n t e s

(Latin: "to the sources")

"Justified in Christ," K. Scott Oliphint ed.


Many Westminster Theological Seminary graduates are receiving this book in the mail; I received mine a couple weeks ago, and probably against my better judgment started reading it.  It’s an edited volume with contributions from some of the seminary’s current faculty (excluding the current Biblical Studies department).  Sending it seems to have 2 purposes: (1) show you how Westminster bridges the past with the present by engaging a difficult (though rather passe) subject; (2) reaffirm the seminary’s commitment to “the historic reformed teaching on justification” (or rather, how it interprets it).

In my opinion, it falls short of either of these.  The intention of the book “#1” is given in Sinclair Ferguson’s introduction, the target being primarily pastoral and theological concerns arisen from the not-so-New Perspective on Paul and “Federal Vision,” two movements perceived as a threat in certain protestant circles.  However IMO only 2 of the articles arguably deal with related topics:  Jeff Jue’s on whether the Westminster Divines believed both Christ’s whole-life obedience (=”active obedience”) and his death on the cross (=”passive obedience”) availed for the sinner’s justification, or just the latter; and Lane Tipton’s which is an attempt present a more distinctive Westminsterian perspective on justification over against alleged views of NT Wright.  Jue’s essay is good in its own right, though the topic is not very relevant to current Pauline debates, particularly since it doesn’t engage in the exegesis; Tipton’s topic is more relevant, though it contains numerous inaccuracies, many of which have been made by others before.  The more “practical” essays by Bill Edgar and Stafford Carson are also pretty good in their own right in taking historic insights and applying them to the present circumstances, though those circumstances are not all that contemporary.  The strangest aspect of this book is that it includes a full reproduction of John Murray’s Imputation of Adam’s Sin appended as the last 100pgs(!!) of this 300-pg book.   

It fails on #2 for one reason:  half the faculty are not represented (Biblical Studies).  There have been plenty of rumors of intra-seminary strife circulating among graduates for years now, yet the seminary has continued to avoid confronting them directly.  This certainly seems to substantiate the rumors.  Of course, privacy is good to an extent, but it looks suspicious if it continues when everyone else already knows something’s up; it makes it look like one’s hiding something one doesn’t want others to know.  Moreover, given that (a) Westminster has had a history of collaborative faculty volumes (Innerrancy and Hermeneutic, etc.) and that (b) the seminary president Peter Lilback contributed signals something fishy.  I might recommend that if any graduates or donors have serious questions about the current trajectory of the faculty, make them known and don’t back down until you’re satisfied with the answers received.  In the past the seminary has stiff-armed inquiry about internal affairs, and that’s certainly fair to a point, but it’s unethical to tell us to check our consciences at the door while being told to send it our money and our students.  Personally, I don’t care if there’s some disagreement among them.  Issues like these which do cut against some traditionally held views of protestants are going to evoke disagreements, and given that the npp particularly is ~30 yrs running, they shouldn’t expect to resolve the issues in, say, 1-2 years of even the most heated debate–that’s ludicrous. Charitable disagreement is healthy and a normal part of a healthy academic environment–including an evangelical one–; strife and secrecy are signs of a degenerative one. 

Finally, I mist say that reading the book was also a deja vu experience.  There are many goals Ferguson set for this book on which it simply didn’t deliver.  It reminded me a lot of Don Carson’s intro and conclusion to Justification and Variegated Nomism vol 1. 

September 5, 2007 - Posted by | Theology


  1. JD I thought your comments were fair here, has it gotten many hits?

    Comment by setsnservice | September 15, 2007 | Reply

  2. Nope. I got a record-breaking 1700 hits on that day Scott Clark cited my blog, since then a mere few hundred. And of course you’re the first to comment šŸ™‚

    …and I don’t blog enough for me to be on anyone’s regular reads, I don’t think.

    Comment by JD | September 15, 2007 | Reply

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