TWTS Mag_Take Heart Cover_FINAL 3.pdf
WESTMINSTER MAGAZINE Volume 1 | Issue 1 Winter, 2020
4 | PSALM 121
Encouragement for Hard Times
12 | STAY OR LEAVE? Reformed Ministry During Plague
Todd M. Rester
HEART 48 | TAKE The Hope of Faith for an Anxious World
40 | THE CHRISTIAN WORLD ORDER
A Biblical Perspective John Murray
FROM THE PRESIDENT’S DESK
hat a great joy to introduce you to the new Westminster Magazine! Pe r h a p s y o u’ v e received the President’s Newsletter I’ve sent to keep friends of the seminary up to date. Now that brief newsletter has grown into this full-length magazine. I hope you’ll visit the companion website too— w w w.w m .w t s . edu— where you can enjoy more articles, videos, and broadcasts. As you peruse the various items contributed by faculty, staff, students, and alumni, my prayer is that you’ll continue to uphold us with your prayers and ongoing support. We can’t continue our ministry without you—our friends and family of faith who stand with us. Each year, Westminster begins with a convocation dedicating the year to the glory of the Lord. As we do, I pause to consider what the Lord has done through the years of the seminary’s service. We are grateful that, in spite of the pandemic and its pause of our residential programs, we have welcomed one of the largest incoming classes in 92 years of ministry. We are grateful that the Lord has enabled us— through donors, friends, and the hard work of our staff—to offer new online educational programs of excellence. These programs now serve students from more than 20 nations. Furthermore, our board and faculty have developed our first fully online Master of Divinity degree. You can read more about our vision for that program later in this issue. Simultaneous to this new online degree, we’ve assembled a task force charged with ensuring the return of the very best residential Master of Divinity program Westminster can offer, when we welcome students back to campus next academic year. These indeed are challenging times, but there is much to be excited about. And again, we can’t do this without your prayers, friendship, and generous support. May our Lord continue to bless as we labor together to advance the glorious gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth! In His service,
PETER A. LILLBACK, PRESIDENT
Volume I | Issue I Winter, 2020
Peter A. Lillback
Executive Editor Jerry Timmis
Managing Editor Josh Currie
Assistant Editor Chris Jackson
B. McLean Smith
Public Theology Editor Jeffery A. Hart
David Owen Filson Joel Richards
Design Jared Eckert Read, watch, and listen to more online at wm.wts.edu Westminster Magazine accepts submissions of previously unpublished work, as well as pitches. For more information, contact email@example.com Westminster Magazine is published twice annually by Westminster Theological Seminary, 2960 Church Road, Glenside, Pennsylvania 19038. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations. Printed by Sheridan, a CJK Group Company
4 WHEN LIFE GETS TOUGH Encouragement for Hard Times from Psalm 121
12 REFORMING CHRISTIANS IN A TIME OF PLAGUE
Todd M. Rester
40 THE CHRISTIAN WORLD ORDER
48 TAKE HEART
The Hope of Faith for an Anxious World
60 HEARTS AFLAME
A Guided Tour of the Legacy of Precision and Piety in Presbyterian Preaching, Pt. 1
David Owen Filson
FACULTY NEWS & UPDATES
CLOSING THE DISTANCE: A NEW ONLINE MDIV
FACULTY INTERVIEW: VERN S. POYTHRESS
ALUMNI POINT OF CONTACT
ALUMNI INTERVIEW: THE SZTO FAMILY 54 SEA OF GLASS | Rob Golding 64
“ I l i f t m y e y e s u p . . .” T h e hills of the Negev, pictured here, provide a scending t e r ra i n a r o u n d t h e h o l y c i t y of Jersualem.
WHEN LIFE GE TS TOUGH E n c o u ra g e m e n t f o r H a rd T i m e s f r o m P s a l m 1 2 1 Jonathan Gibson
here’s a popular saying that caught my eye recently on social media: “Life is tough, but so are you.” When I saw this, I thought the first bit was refreshingly honest—life is tough, isn’t it? Sure, there are fun moments and happy moments, but there are also hard moments and sad moments. Life is tough. Just think about your daily routine, or the things you need to do each day. It’s hard work. But then add to that the common experiences of life that we face, like longing for companionship or marriage but never meeting that “someone,” the hidden pain of infertility, the worry over a particular child or a strained relationship with a parent, the boredom of an uninspiring job, financial straits, physical aches and pains of old age or a chronic illness, that issue in your marriage which you keep arguing over, the heaviness of depression or the panic of anxiety. Life is hard going. And then there are the unforeseen crises of life: the devastating news of some terrible illness, the break-down in a relationship, the shocking death of a loved one. . . The daily routine of life is hard work; the common experiences of life are hard going; and the unforeseen crises of life are heart-breaking. I think it’s refreshingly honest to admit: “Life is tough.” The question is, what do we think of the second part of the quote: “Life is tough, but so are you.” If the first part is refreshingly honest, I think the second part is particularly telling. It reveals an underlying attitude in our secular culture: That you have the resources within yourself to deal with everything that life throws at you. I am reminded of that classic song by Billy Ocean: “When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going.” Or there’s the 1990s’ one-hitwonder, “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba: “I get knocked down, but I get up again.” Your children might be more familiar with “Get Back Up Again” from the movie Trolls. Tweets and song lyrics like these reveal one of the great pillars of our secular culture: Aseity, i.e. “self-sufficiency.” The cultural attitude in the West today really has two structural pillars: autonomy and aseity. Autonomy says, “You are independent, selfdetermining, self-ruling. You are the master of your fate, the captain of your soul.” But there’s this other pillar of aseity, which says, “You have everything within yourself to be who you want to be and do what you want to do and overcome whatever life throws at you.” Because when the going gets tough, the tough
I think it’s refreshingly honest to admit: “Life is tough.” get going. When you get knocked down, you just get back up again. Life is tough—sure it is—but so are you. Right? Let’s read Psalm 121 and see what it has to say: Psalm 121. A Song of Ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. One thing this Psalm does for us is that it affirms the first part of the tweet, but denies the second part. This is a Psalm concerned with normal, everyday life: The reference to our foot in verse 3 speaks of a journey we’re on. Verse 8 speaks of goings and comings—that’s our life, our normal, everyday life. But the Psalm also affirms that that this normal life is tough: our feet slip (v. 3), the elements can be against us (v. 5), and there is evil all around us (v. 7). 5
So this normal, under-the-sun-and-moon everyday life is difficult, dangerous, and tough. This Psalm affirms that. But the response of the Psalmist and the response of our culture are polar opposites. Our culture says: “Yes, life is tough, but so are you.” This Psalm says: “Yes, life is tough, but our help is in the Lord.” Our world tells us to be self-sufficient, selfdependent. This Psalm tells us to be God-sufficient, God-dependent. The Psalm tells us this in a number of ways. Interpretations of verse 1 vary. Some people think the hills here have an ominous tone to them. Hills were places of danger where thieves and robbers would lie in wait. Hills were also places of idolatry, where idols were worshipped at the high places. But I don’t think the hills carry that connotation here. The hills in Israel, and especially around Jerusalem, had a far more positive connotation. John Calvin thought that the hills symbolized might and strength. The logic here might suggest a contrast: Where does my help come from? Well, not even from something so great and mighty as the hills, but from the Lord, the Maker, not just of hills, but of the earth itself and heaven. That’s definitely a possible reading. But I don’t think that the hills are meant in a contrastive sense here. I think it’s better to view them in a complementary sense. Just take a look at the heading of this Psalm. Psalm 121 is part of a group of 15 “Songs of Ascent” (Pss 120–134). The songs of ascents refer to the regular pilgrimage of God’s people going up to Jerusalem for different festivals. These Psalms were sung as they ascended to Jerusalem. If you have ever been to Israel you know that Jerusalem is set on top of a range of mountains. When you fly into Tel Aviv on the coast, and travel to Jerusalem, the capital, you travel up a steady incline, up and up and up and up. Your eyes are lifted up towards the hills of Jerusalem.
This is the reason why God can help us with anything: Because he made everything. 6
Now, think about what that gaze-lifting signified for an Old Testament Israelite. As they walked up to Mount Zion, what did they look up toward? They looked up toward God’s home—his temple on top of the hills in Jerusalem. The psalmist is saying, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? From the God who lives up there, in the hills, in his temple.” The hills of Jerusalem have a positive sense again a few Psalms later: As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore. (Ps 125:2) The hills here carry that positive, complementary connotation. Our help is in the hills, in the God who lives in the hills. But in order to make sure we don’t domesticate God to the hills of Jerusalem only, as if he’s just a local deity, Psalm 121 adds that the God of the hills of Jerusalem is “the Maker of heaven and earth.” The phrase “heaven and earth” is what’s called a merism—two parts that speak of the whole. “Heaven and earth” denotes “everything.” This is the reason why God can help us with anything: Because he made everything. The reason why the gods of all other religions cannot help people is first and foremost because they have never created anything in their life, never mind the heavens and the earth. The gods of the nations are created not Creator, they are made not Maker. They cannot help people because they were made by people. But the great claim of this Psalm is that the God of Israel, the Christian God—whose name is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is able to help people for this one basic, fundamental reason: He made everything. God is our helper because he is our Creator. Whatever happens in our lives, whatever life throws at us, whenever life gets tough, our help is in the Lord who made everything. When life gets tough, it’s easy to look inward to ourselves, or outward to others. It’s easier to turn to Google before we turn to God when we experience difficulty. But this Psalm says to us today, “Don’t look inward to yourself or outward to someone else, look out and up to God.” Look to God the Creator, because that is where real help is found. Life is tough, but the LORD is our helper. When the going gets tough, the Creator gets going.
And that’s what we see happening in the next section (vv. 3–8). Now, it’s important to note that these verses are not a prayer for protection. None of this Psalm is directed to God. Did you notice that? Psalm 121 is not a prayer for protection but a promise of protection. The promise is made sure by the Lord who is our keeper, our guard, our protector. That’s the key word flowing through these verses. “Keep” or “keeper” occur six times, in verses 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8. Life is tough, but the Lord is our keeper. And we can see that the Lord is our keeper in four ways: The Lord is Our Personal Keeper
n this section (vv. 3–8) the Psalm shifts from the first person to the second person. Some think this is a case of antiphonal singing: verses 1–2 sung by one group of pilgrims, verses 3–8 sung by another. Others suggest that verses 1–2 were sung by the king, and verses 3–8 were sung by the priests or by the people to the king. I think this second interpretation is likely, and I’ll come back to it, but for now just note that the Psalm is deeply personal. The repetition of the words “your” or “you” emphasizes that God is our personal keeper. The words occur 10 times in just 8 verses. This is a deeply personal Psalm. It reminds me of that great kids’ song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The first line is like verse 2 that speaks of God as the “Maker of heaven and earth.” And then the other lines are like verses 3–8, “He’s got you and me, brother, in his hands. He’s got you and me, sister, in his hands.” The Creator of the universe has got you and me in his hands. That’s how personal this Psalm is, which should be a great comfort to us. Life is tough, but the Lord is our personal keeper.
The Lord is Our Persistent Keeper
salm 73 speaks of God setting the wicked in slippery places so that they are swept away and utterly destroyed. The promise in this Psalm is that this will never be the case for the Christian (v. 3) because the Lord is our persistent keeper. He does not slumber or sleep. There is perhaps a progression in the verbs here. Perhaps slumbering is like dropping off for a wee nap after a heavy meal, and sleep is like the deep sleep at the end of the day. Or this might be more repetition. In either case, God’s protective care of us never stops. It covers day and night. God never nods off. He never has a micro sleep. The reference to Israel (v. 4) indicates God is not just Creator but also Redeemer. God redeemed his Son Israel out of Egypt. But the reference to corporate Israel does not take away from the personal nature of God’s protection of us. He is the keeper of Israel as well as the Israelite. He keeps the whole Church and each Christian in it. Indeed, the nation Israel finds its fulfillment in his own son, Jesus Christ. So we should not draw too sharp a distinction here between the corporate and the individual. Both are personal. The Lord is our persistent keeper, as a church and as a Christian, just as he was for Christ. And this is why as a Church and as Christians we can enjoy our sleep— just like Jesus did in the boat during the storm on the Sea of Galilee. He knew his Father was not sleeping or slumbering over him, and so he slept well. Our sleep can also be sweet because God does not slumber or sleep over us. Alexander the Great, the King of Ancient Greece, was once asked why he slept so well while on military campaign. In those days, for a King to sleep in his
Our world tells us to be self-sufficient, self-dependent. This Psalm tells us to be God-sufficient, God-dependent.
tent in the midst of a war was a great risk. He replied, “Because Parmenion does not sleep.” Parmenion was Alexander the Great’s personal bodyguard. Because he never slept on duty, Alexander could sleep. And it’s the same for us. Our sleep can be sweet because God, our personal bodyguard, does not sleep. Our anxiety about life in general can be lessened, knowing that God does not sleep on duty. Life is tough, but the Lord is our personal and persistent keeper.
So, we have three interesting roles for God in this Psalm: Creator, Redeemer, Companion. We might say that Psalm 121 presents us with the Holy Trinity incognito, since God the Father creates, God the Son redeems, and God the Spirit comes along side. And it’s this latter aspect of God’s companionship, as our ever-present keeper, which is highlighted here. Life is tough, but the Lord is our personal, persistent, and present keeper.
The Lord is Our Present Keeper
The Lord is Our Perpetual Keeper
he reference to sun and moon in verse 6 are intriguing. Obviously, the sun and moon aren’t known for dropping out of the sky like some meteorite and striking people on the head. So we must read this symbolically, like we do with the references to the hills and the foot. The sun is a picture of danger, given what it could do to someone fully exposed to it in the Ancient Near Eastern climate. Perhaps the reference to the moon was simply added to complete the parallelism indicating danger at night as well as day. Or it could refer to “moon stroke,” imagined danger from a person’s unstable mental state. Perhaps those who suffer from anxiety or panic attacks or paranoia can identify with this. But whatever it means, we get the idea. The Psalmist’s point is nothing can strike us. Whether during the day or at night, nothing can deal a deadly blow. And why? Because God is present with us. God himself is our shade. Not an angel, or a messenger. But God himself. If you’ve ever tried to chase someone else’s shadow and stand in it, you know the only way is to get close to the person. And when you are close to them and the sun is shining bright in the sky, you’re protected because they are standing between you and the sun. That’s what God does for us. He comes and stands between us and the sun. He comes and stands by our side, so that we can hide in his shadow. He becomes our shade from the sun’s dangerous rays. But the only way that he can do that is if he comes and stands right beside us. Which means that for this verse to be true, we must live and function in God’s own shadow. He must be close to us, like a friend is close. If in verse 2 he is our creator, and if in verse 4 he is our redeemer, here in verse 5 he is our companion.
n verses 6–8, the totality of the Lord’s care continues to keep us from all evil. The “all” encapsulates two merisms: “day and night” which means the whole day, and “going out” and “coming in”, which means everyday wanderings, all our comings and goings, from womb to tomb. In other words, God’s care of us is total. But it is also perpetual. God’s keeping does not end with this life in this world. It continues into the next. When we get to heaven, God’s protecting care over us is not over. You could say, it’s only just beginning. The Lord is our total keeper, “from this time forth and forevermore.” In other words, the Lord is our perpetual keeper. Life is tough, but the Lord is our personal, persistent, present, and perpetual keeper. So these are four ways we see the Lord as our keeper in Psalm 121. Our culture says to us, “Life is tough, but so are you.” This Psalm says to us, “Life is tough, but the Lord is your helper, and the Lord is your keeper’.”
o, what exactly does it mean for God to be our keeper? What does the Lord keeping our goings and comings actually look like? What does it mean for him to keep us from all evil, and to keep our life? What does it mean that the sun and moon will not strike us? What does it mean that our foot will not slip? Is this some kind of health, wealth and prosperity gospel, as if the Christian life is the trouble-free life? Well, no. We walk along the same paths in life as unbelievers do. We live out our lives under the same sun and moon. Life is tough whoever and wherever you are, and being a Christian doesn’t make it less tough. The answer to what the Lord’s keeping means lies in the final words of the Psalm: “from this time forth
and for evermore.” Let me unpack those words by telling you about a Vietnamese pastor and translator called Hien. In the 1970s Hien was captured by the Vietcong and imprisoned and tortured. His captors beat him continually. They forced him to clean the latrines and brainwashed him with communist material. After some time, he cracked. He stopped praying and became an atheist. But one day, on latrine duty, he saw a piece of paper that had been used as toilet paper. At the top of the page he noticed a single word, “Romans”. He rubbed off the human excrement, folded it up, and put it into his pocket. That night, in the darkness of his cell, he switched on his torch and read these words: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are
regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:28–39) He began to cry and said, “Lord, you would not let me out of your reach for even one day.” The next day Hien asked if he could do latrine duty again, and, over subsequent weeks he recovered the whole Book of Romans. His faith was restored, and he later escaped and became a pastor to Vietnamese Christians here in America. This is the kind of keeping Psalm 121 is talking about—it’s about spiritual preservation. We’ve heard about the perseverance of the saints. Well, Psalm 121 is about the preservation of the saints. It’s about the preservation of God’s people in relationship with him, both now and for eternity, come hell or highwater. Psalm 121 is to Old Testament saints what Romans 8 is to New Testament saints. It is the reassurance that nothing in this life or the next can separate us from the God who has redeemed us in his Son, Jesus Christ. Those are the key words—“in Christ Jesus”—because the help and protection promised in Psalm 121 first finds its fulfillment in Christ. Every benefit we receive in this life, including protection, comes to us through Christ. Only when we are united to Christ do we receive the benefit, and these benefits are only ours because they were first Christ’s.
It’s easier to turn to Google before we turn to God when we experience difficulty. 9
If we are united by faith to his Son, then we can sing with Augustus Toplady: We are “safe in the arms of sov’ereign love.”
arlier I said that one way to read the shift from the first person in verses 1–2 to the second person in verses 3–8 is to see the first part as sung by the king and the second as sung by the people or priests to the king. If this is the case, and I think it probably is in the first instance, then the Psalm was first meant for the king and then, through him, for the people. In other words, Psalm 121 is for Christ and then for the Christian, because Christ sang and experienced Psalm 121 first. The Lord was his help. The Lord did not let his foot slip. The Lord watched over him. The sun did not strike him by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord kept him from all evil. The Lord kept his life—he raised him from the dead. The Lord kept his going out from heaven and his coming back in. Christ experienced Psalm 121 as the faithful Israelite and as Israel’s faithful king. Verses 1–2 may well be his statement of faith, with his people then speaking the promise of protection over him. And because he was kept, he can now keep us. He is after all the Good Shepherd who said, “My sheep are in my hands, and none shall pluck them from me.” (John 10:27–29) And that is where our trust should lie: Not in ourselves but in the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Life is tough, but. . .we are not. When life gets tough—and it will get tough at times—we do not get 10
tough. Hien, the Vietnamese pastor, demonstrates this. When he got knocked down, he did not get back up again. When life got tough, Hien did not get going—God did. God did not slumber nor sleep over him, because God never slumbered or slept over his Son Jesus Christ, even in his death. And that’s why God will not slumber or sleep over us, if we are united to his Son. When we get knocked down, we do not get back up again. When life gets tough, we do not get going—God does. When life gets tough, “our help is in the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” The Lord our keeper gets going as our personal, persistent, present, and perpetual keeper—and all because he was first a helper and keeper of his Son Jesus Christ. If we are united by faith to his Son, then we can sing with Augustus Toplady: “are safe in the arms of sovereign love.” It’s just as the Vietnamese pastor Hien said after he read Romans 8 in his cell that night, “Lord, you would not let me out of your reach for even one day.” This is what it means for God to he our helper and keeper in Psalm 121: Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” Jonathan Gibson is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is co-editor and contributor to From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, and Reformation Worship, and the author of a children’s book, The Moon is Always Round.
HOW VAST THE BENEFITS DIVINE Augustus Toplady How vast the benefits divine which we in Christ possess! We are redeemed from sin and shame, and called to holiness. ‘Tis not for works that we have done, these all to him we owe; but he of his electing love salvation doth bestow. To thee, O Lord, alone is due all glory and renown; aught to ourselves we dare not take, or rob thee of thy crown. Thou wast thyself our Surety in God’s redemption plan; in thee his grace was given us, long ere the world began Safe in the arms of sov’ereign love we ever shall remain; nor shall the rage of earth or hell make thy sure counsel vain. Not one of all the chosen race but shall to heav’n attain; here they will share abounding grace, and there with Jesus reign.
REFORMING C HRISTIANS IN A TIME OF
P L A G U E To d d M . R e s t e r
lessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, which comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any affliction by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation aboundeth in Christ.” - 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (1599 Geneva Bible)
The Fifth Plague of Egypt J. M. W. Turner, 1800.
year ago, outside of the conclaves and conference rooms of historians, epidemiologists, and public health officials, not many of us were terribly interested in discussing plagues. What better way to kill a dinner party (remember when we had those?) than to broach early modern mortality rates, disease transmission, plague diffusion, disease vectors, and medieval and early modern public health policy? After all, plague pandemics lay in the dark, distant corners of our corporate memory, somewhere in the gloomy umbral shade of the 14th Century, far from the bright urgency of modern demands. Plague, and what life felt like in the midst of one, had to be imagined. Now it is our sense of normal life that has to be imagined. Perhaps now that masks, social distancing, self-quarantining, and “flattening the curve” are part of our immediately foreseeable future, we no longer need to use our imagination alone, and perhaps we can learn more easily. In times like these—times of change, uncertainty, and loss of control in a season of disease, death, and dying—it is right to reflect on pastoral and biblical wisdom for Christian living and Christian ministry through the plague writings of pastors and theologians from a former age. Yes, plague literature is a real genre. Plague writings are a society’s multifaceted literary response to plague. They broadly include everything from public policy and medical treatises, to poetry, plays, or theological literature. Given the literary responses to the plague from various disciplines and layers of society, it is no surprise that theologians and pastors participated in the genre. Their contributions included prayers, hymns, theological treatises, and Protestant “art of dying well” tracts (ars moriendi), which were common pastoral responses to the plague, and important aids of early Protestant piety. Frequently composed in the global academic language of the period, Latin, to publicize their work 13
internationally, they offered biblical exposition, doctrinal applications, and practical exhortations in particular crises. A quick side-note for us modern Reformed folk: Although Latin is a “dead language,” these plague writings are just one example of why pastors and scholars interested in modern resources to enrich their perspectives and congregational life from their own Reformed heritage should support the study and translation of Latin in our seminaries and colleges. After all, Latin was used by Christians, including the Reformers, for at least 1,800 years. Many of these works have yet to be translated, and yes, Westminster is a place that trains the willing for the work. So, how should a Christian respond to a pandemic? The plague writings of the Reformers give us a rich repository from which to draw answers to that question. I’ve highlighted just a few that show us how ministers, theologians, and church leaders in a prior age addressed the question of the plague, what theological resources they reflected on, and which doctrines, practices, and insights they drew on in ministering to their congregants. Plague in the Early Modern Period
llow me to paint a landscape for you of plague in Reformation and postReformation Europe. In addition to the more than 330 wars, armed conflicts, and rebellions between 1500 and 1700, plague also was a common event. Always a frightening occurrence in early modern Europe, due to its virulence and contagiousness, the plague, or the range of diseases included under the term, had a mortality rate on average of about 25% in this period. Viewed grimly, this mortality rate represents some improvement over the 14th Century outbreaks, which had a mortality rate of 70–90%. During the 17th Century, the percentage of population lost to plague was still staggering, whether in Italy (30–43%), the Low Countries, Rhineland, Alsace, and Switzerland (15–25% on average), England and Wales (8–10%), Spain (18–19%) or France (11–14%). If you lived between 1560 and 1670 in southwest Germany, eastern France, or Switzerland, for example, you may have experienced any number of at least ten instances
of plague that affected over 30 communities in each outbreak. In one particularly virulent outbreak over 150 communities were affected. Plague did not only affect large cities or densely populated localities, but spread throughout rural regions along trade routes, in the wake of marching armies, and along the escape routes of refugees. The frequency of the plague was about every decade or so, sometimes lasting months, even years in both urban and rural communities. In the town of St. Gallen, Switzerland, a town of about 5,000 people (sizable for this period) there were outbreaks in 1610–11, 1629, and 1635 that claimed at least a fifth of the population each time. Plague varied in severity; in some years there was a relatively low mortality rate, in others it was devastating. In just Spain, for example, the outbreak of 1599 accounted for approximately half a million deaths. In London, during the outbreaks of 1592–93, 1603, 1625, 1636, and 1665–66 the death rate due to plague ranged from 4% of the population in mild instances up to 21% in severe ones. For a simple comparison, the mortality rate of COVID-19, as of this writing in the summer of 2020 according to international, regional, and national reporting agencies such as the UN World Health Organization, the USA Center for Disease Control, and the EU European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, ranges globally from less than 1% in a few countries to 12% in others, with most countries hovering somewhere between 4–8%. Out of approximately 25 million cases reported globally, approximately 850,000 have died so far; a global average mortality rate slightly higher than 4%. Our modern society chafes under the inconvenience of almost six months of intermittent shutdowns of public marketplaces and social life. Yet, if you lived for any stretch of 75 years between 1500 and 1720—a big if by the way—you would probably spend 1/5–1/3 of your life under plague-related civil ordinances and restrictions, implemented in halfyear and years-long stretches. These restrictions were met with varying degrees of success and were accompanied by discord, civil unrest, and economic disaster as farms and markets faltered. Either due to a simple lack of medical professionals, or their reluctance to expose themselves, the scholarship is clear that the burden
of care for plague victims largely fell to religious orders and pastors in this time period. In 1641 in London, for example, Parliament entertained a novel European proposal to appoint a corps of doctors specifically to handle the plague in London. But as a matter of frugality, only 2 doctors and 2 apothecaries were to attend plague victims in a city with an estimated 400,000 people. The proposal stalled and died in continual parliamentary debate. By comparison London was comprised of at least 113 parishes within the city walls at the time, which coordinated pastoral and congregational outreach efforts with modest success. Further examples of pastoral care from the Reformers on this count are not difficult to come by. In 1519, the Swiss reformer of Zurich, Huldrych Zwingli (1484– 1531), was away from Zurich when the plague broke out, but he rushed back, like a fireman to a fire, to serve his flock, even as mortality rates in that city reached 25%. It was not long afterwards that he contracted and almost died of the plague. Zwingli’s “Plague Hymn” (Pestlied) is a vivid written personal response to that experience. We learn from a lament of John Calvin (1509–1564) in a 1551 letter to his colleague Guillaume Farel (1489–1565) that Theodore Beza (1519– 1605) had contracted the plague while ministering in Lausanne. Later, in 1588, Beza’s first wife of forty-four years would die of the plague. Franciscus Junius (1545– 1602), a Bible translator, pastor, theology professor, and editor of the Belgic Confession, would die from plague during an outbreak in Leiden in 1602. Plague and disease deeply shaped the ministries of pastors and the congregational life of the early modern churches. A faithful pastor in this context needed a solid theology of God’s providence, the dignity of every human being, especially of the sick
and the infirm, a deep love of neighbor, a strong commitment to the duties of pastoral vocation, and a robust Christian prudence to navigate the physical and spiritual needs of his family, congregation, and community. As we can all attest to, plague tends to reveal the seams and tensions within a society. It was no different in the 16th Century. In one city, we have municipal and ecclesiastical records complaining that the undertakers and the cleaners were price gouging. Medical practitioners were overwhelmed, and hospitals were short staffed. People fled their homes and jobs for a season to the countryside and protested their civic obligations. Ministers, weighing their pastoral obligations to preach and care for their congregations, frequently declined municipal requests to supply chaplains to minister to the afflicted in the city’s plague-house and hospital. Even doctors were not agreed on how infectious the plague was or how it was transmitted, increasing uncertainty about how risky the plague actually was. Why did it strike some and not others? How exactly does one remedy miasma (that is, “bad air” or better translated, “polluted air”)? Additionally, it was exceedingly difficult to track cases of plague. Medical doctors and practitioners did not agree on which deaths were plague-related or due to some other cause. Strangers and travelers were suspect. Even the water supply was unreliable and just as likely to spread the plague as assist in its remedy. Those tasked with cleaning and disinfecting houses and public buildings did not always handle medical waste well, and infected bedding and straw was frequently dumped, out of convenience not regulation, on the banks of the local river, a source of the city’s water supply.
It was trials of this sort that concretized and personalized Reformed doctrines and approaches to pastoral ministry.
What pleading by the magistrates could not accomplish, sometimes force did. Plague spreaders, who spread the disease either in gross disregard of the magistrate’s plague ordinances or who intentionally contaminated others, were prosecuted (115 cases), fined, imprisoned, sometimes tortured (flogging and amputations of the hand), and even executed (44 executions). Some Christians disregarded all concern for secondary causes invoking God’s sovereignty. Others, paralyzed by fear of secondary causes, refused to fulfill duties to their home, church, and society. Many wavered between the extremes of indifference and anxiety. Basic life was constantly strained if not totally disrupted, and if the normal bonds of human and Christian fellowship were not yet snapped, they demanded constant maintenance. This was the case in Geneva, Switzerland. That renowned city of Calvin’s and Beza’s pastoral ministry was struck by the plague at least five times between 1542 and 1572. Beza’s own brother succumbed after fleeing the plague elsewhere only to meet his death by it in Geneva in 1570. In September of 1571, the academy that trained ministers was almost shuttered by civil authorities, but Beza’s persuasion managed to keep it open, if only because he was its sole professor, with only 4 students enrolled. While endeavoring to hold regular church services in 1572, the people often absented themselves. The magistrates and ministers of Geneva encouraged and pleaded with the people to seek the Lord in corporate repentance and prayer with mixed success. Plagues, like the one that struck Geneva, tested and shaped the character and identity of Christians in hundreds of similar outbreaks. But it was trials of this sort that concretized and personalized Reformed doctrines and approaches to pastoral ministry among congregants. Plague and Theology
heological questions among the Reformed in this period tended toward three primary categories. First, what is God’s relationship to the infliction of a temporal evil? (Is God the cause of evil?) At the root of this question is a moral challenge to the character and goodness of God: Can God be good and still inflict evils as they are considered in themselves? In one sense, this is not too far afield from questions regarding predestination and reprobation. But in another 16
sense, it is a much more poignant and practical application of God’s goodness to real and present suffering. Second, if temporal evils can result in spiritual goods that have value in this life and the next, should the plague be avoided? And, related to this, if the plague is God’s judgment of the wicked or chastisement of the good, is it permissible to seek to avoid it? Third, can a Christian physically leave their city and community in time of a plague outbreak? What of the duties of magistrates, ministers, and citizens? After all, how can someone love their neighbor and shun them at the same time? In A Treatise on the plague, or A spiritual antidote for the plague (Tractatus de peste seu pestis antidoto spirituali), Gijsbert Voet1 (1589–1676), the Dutch Reformed theologian and pastor at Utrecht, explored the issue of the plague theologically, first with respect to God as sovereign over the plague, and then with respect to man and his duties in the plague (both to God and neighbor). Voetius differentiated between efficient causes: A primary cause, that is God; secondary causes, like fevers, flies, and bad air; and meritorious causes, such as human sinfulness. So, while one might speak of the efficient causes of disease as natural, physical, and proximate; the meritorious causes are those that elicit God’s wrath. The spiritual antidote that Voetius recommended for the plague can be divided into private and public aspects. First, the private remedy is that signal measure of the grace of God in the heart of the believer that must be prepared in daily doses “with a renewed faith by believing it, by watching carefully with a firm hope, by desiring it with a kindled love, by demanding it with devoted prayers.” Second, that spiritual remedy requires “fighting against the fear of death through Christian faith and fortitude.” Indeed, “so that you may find a faith and heart fortified in Christ against death, exercise yourself in preparation for death and meditation upon the brevity and vanity of this life.” Third, “there is the consideration of the fatherly divine providence on which, like a couch of heavenly security, we may recline our hearts.” We can do so because there is no chance or fortune that befalls our health or life, since nothing happens that is not for our good. Fourth, there is the renewal and stirring up of our repentance through a careful scrutiny of our inmost parts, for the practice of repentance and the exercise of new obedience. “Only
PLAGUE HYMN Huldrych Zwingli Help me, O Lord, My strength and rock; Lo, at the door I hear death’s knock.
Lo! Satan strains To snatch his prey; I feel his grasp; Must I give way?
Uplift thine arm, Once pierced for me, That conquered death. And set me free.
He harms me not, I fear no loss, For here I lie Beneath thy cross.
Yet, if thy voice, In life’s midday. Recalls my soul, Then I obey.
My God! My Lord! Healed by thy hand. Upon the earth Once more I stand.
In faith and hope Earth I resign. Secure of heaven. For I am Thine.
Let sin no more Rule over me; My mouth shall sing Alone to thee.
My pains increase; Haste to console; For fear and woe Seize body and soul.
Though now delayed, My hour will come. Involved, perchance. In deeper gloom.
Death is at hand. My senses fail. My tongue is dumb; Now, Christ, prevail.
But, let it come; With joy I’ll rise, And bear my yoke Straight to the skies.
1566 map of Zurich and surroundings Jodocus Murer, 1566.
here we advise, on the occasion of a plague, to stir up all the public and private exercises of godliness, especially even for sympathy and charity towards our brethren and especially to a neighbor destitute of other help.” The public remedy included the frequent celebration of fasts, the removal of scandal, the repression of sins, such as extravagance in banquets, clothing, buildings, funerals, theatre, and the pursuit of righteousness and justice where there had been violence and oppression. The spiritual antidote, according to Voetius, especially centered on the public preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. With respect to God and natural causes, Johannes Hoornbeeck2 (1617–1666), a practical theologian and mission-minded pastor who served in Germany and the Netherlands, authored A theological treatise on the plague (Dissertatio de peste theologica), in which he emphasized that God can act with, without, or contrary to natural causes. If God can create life and inflict death with or without means, then why not disease and pestilence? Second, Hoornbeeck puts plague in perspective by asking if it is the worst punishment God can inflict. It is certainly among the gravest afflictions in this life as it spreads secretly, despite the best efforts of men and their doctors. His third question is a more pastoral and spiritual issue, as there is an important theological point as to whether the plague should be considered a punishment or a chastisement. A punishment would be the result of God’s wrath as a judge, whereas a chastisement is a display of his fatherly discipline. Hoornbeeck responds that materially and objectively the plague is a general punishment upon mankind, but subjectively, that is in the experience of individuals, it depends. Here Hoornbeeck leans directly on Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215 AD): “Like children are chastised by their tutor or father, so are we by providence. God however does not punish, because punishment is a retaliation for evil. He chastises however for good to those who are chastised, collectively and as individuals.” (Stromata, 7.16) Hoornbeeck elaborates, “so often what is a good in itself becomes evil due to the wickedness of the subject, whether bodily blessings, like food and drink, or spiritual ones, like the Word of God. So conversely evils tend to the good when they fall upon 18
The spiritual antidote... centered on the public preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. good people.” Here Hoornbeeck reminds Christians that the trials and tragedies that enter into a Christian’s life are catalysts both to form Christlike character as well as reveal it. With respect to the plague considered on its own, the Reformed emphasize that it is an evil in itself, and as an evil it must not be wished for or desired. Therefore, just as in the case of any evil, a Christian must intercede against it in prayer and intervene against it with all appropriate and lawful means. Hoornbeeck, in the late 17th Century, pointed out that we avert and avoid other evils—famine, war, and disease, which plague frequently accompanies—with lawful means, why would we not avoid plague too? Furthermore, if one were to neglect the lawful means of avoidance, it would be imprudent, rash, and even ungodly, as it tests the Lord God. Not all means of avoiding the plague are lawful: Christians do not abandon the poor, sick foreigners are not driven out of the city, the sick cannot be slain or starved or ignored. Plague calls for intentional prudence and wisdom through love of God and neighbor. There was not always agreement among the Reformed on what the plague was biologically or what the proper civic policy was. But there were those who sought theological consensus. André Rivet (1572–1651), a professor of theology at Leiden, in his 70 page Letter to a Friend (1636), considered how to think about God’s sovereignty and goodness in the face of secondary causes like the plague, as well as practical considerations for pastors: Certainly there are quite a few godly men who fear God and question whether one ought to take [any] precaution for that malady, either
by withdrawing or abstaining from visiting those who have either been infected or who have visited infected places. Others, who are likewise godly and prudent men, assert that taking precaution can be done, and even must be done, yet with many requirements put in place and suitable distinctions observed. I am not the one who thinks he can compose a case in favor of or in dissent from either side, such that everyone should follow one view . . . But first and foremost I would require from you and all good men that we all agree on this, that these deadly epidemics and that plaguebearing pestilence, which has caused such ruin and in these times causes many flourishing cities to have been miserably depopulated, has been inflicted by God who has ravaged us for our sins. And, there is no more outstanding and ready remedy than earnest and sincere repentance among all members of the commonwealth, public and private. And in this regard, Rivet urges not only words, but deeds. Plague, according to Rivet, is an opportunity for widescale deep repentance, publicly and privately, individually and corporately, for offending God through disobedience to both tables of the Law, for sins against God and against neighbors. Rivet observed that the “sons of the doctors teach—with not one excepted that I know of—that the plague is contagious and spreads like some kind of poison, which infects the air that we breathe.” Furthermore, argues Rivet, since from the beginning of the world every animal has been granted the right to protect itself, its body, and its life, “one must not think that God has granted less to human beings, who can predict what will harm them, so that they can take precaution by all lawful means.” Some in Beza’s time in Geneva had argued that the plague was not infectious or grave, as not everyone was affected equally and to the same extent. Furthermore, some argued theologically that “if the plague results in the punishment of sins, testing our
faith, driving to repentance, and the uncovering of hypocrites, who. . . can deny that they that flee, flee something good when they flee the plague?” Others even argued that avoiding the plague caused people to forsake Christian duties to their neighbor; namely, whatever you would want people to do for you, so you should do for them. To the first point, Beza, in his De peste quaestiones duae explicatae from 1579,3 responds, it has not been proved that the plague is not infectious nor that avoiding infection is without exception to be condemned, since avoiding infection is one of the chief natural remedies and provisions against infectious diseases, which Reason and Experience itself teach . . . What would someone say then, that they therefore do not avoid other dangers and perils? Therefore, ought we scoff at, as pointless, not only medicine but also all prudence and wisdom, which is employed in avoiding all kinds of dangers? Then there would be no difference between temerity and discretion, between bravery and audacity. But the matter is far otherwise, because just as God by his everlasting and unchangeable decree has appointed the course of our life, so he has also ordained mediating causes, which we should use to preserve our lives. Rivet cites Calvin, from during a prior plague in Geneva. In his usual direct way, Calvin answered the question of whether one can change their residence in order to flee the plague: This question seems to arise from the stupidity of those who have not been endowed with even a bit of humanity. Therefore, will it then be impermissible to choose healthy air? Therefore in tenement buildings will it also be impermissible to prefer an opportunity for health? Therefore will it be impermissible to watch out for noxious excrement? Therefore one ought not fear any contagion? 19
Thus they hand us paradoxes, the result of which is to strip us of all sense. Meanwhile, our counsel is not to indulge the cowardice of those who abandon their calling at the first hint of danger... Provided no duty is neglected one can flee the contagion of the plague no less than the danger of fire or sword. On one side of the issue, some claimed that love of neighbor would preclude avoiding plague in any circumstance, since that would leave the most vulnerable forsaken, rupturing all human, natural, civil, and Christian ties. Beza noted that the commandment “You shall not murder” means “that one’s own life, or the lives of any who belong or depend on them, are not to be rashly put in danger of deadly infection.” One must take all wise precaution. On the other side, Beza said “let those who intend to flee the plague know that no one ought to have such great regard either for himself, or his family, that he forget what he owes his country and fellow citizens; in short, what he owes to another, whether they are bound by the common bond of humanity and society, or by any other kind of friendship, for love does not seek its own.” In a similar way, according to Rivet, provided that masters did not abandon their servants, but made provision for their health and livelihood, private persons could withdraw from the company of those infected by plague, or they could withdraw from even the city itself that was being ravaged by plague. Regarding the duties of love of neighbor, Beza asserted that within the duty of love, there are degrees of obligation. “Everyone must have regard to their station and calling; for some serve in public offices, either civil or ecclesiastical; the rest are private persons.” Those in positions of authority and service then have a greater duty to perform their offices on behalf of others. Magistrates, especially Christian ones, have a duty, according to Beza, to provide “that those things which either breed or nourish the plague, so far as they can, be removed, and that there is consideration for those that are visited with this sickness.” Magistrates ought to provide by all lawful means the prevention of the plague, and see to it that “those sick of the plague lack nothing needful.” 20
Rivet echoed this point. The Church advances and must advance, even in time of plague. The lawful means included the response of the lawful authorities, that is, the magistrate and minister: “I do not think it lawful for anyone in a public vocation, whether in the commonwealth or in the church, to cast off all care for those suffering, and leave them writhing in danger to their body and soul, devoid of all necessary help. The public authority must take care, lest those groaning under the hand of God, however infected they be, lack the necessary aid.” Here Rivet leans on another Reformed exegete, Jerome Zanchi’s interpretation of Philippians 2:30. Zanchi had stated, “not even due to pestilence is the work of Christ to be deserted, and flight to be sought for oneself.” In the case where duty called pastors to minister to the sick, but none responded willingly, Rivet suggested a gathering of pastors where, after calling upon God in prayer, lots would be cast for who would minister word and sacrament to the healthy, and who to the sick. Of course, this would only work in places like Geneva, where there was an ample number of pastors. A different tactic might be needed in a region with fewer pastors. Rivet still suggested to his Dutch friend that this Genevan custom should be considered for the Dutch in time of plague. This would protect the large majority of pastors and their families, and limit the spread of infection, he argued. Furthermore, he pointed out that Zanchi’s instruction should not be taken simply for the individual pastor but must be taken in coordination with other pastors in the region. “For since ministers and magistrates are debtors to the strong and the weak, and to their own families, and they are devoted to the commonwealth and the church, the infected are neither the whole nor the largest part of the commonwealth or the church, why would they devote themselves entirely to only that part which suffers?” The duty and burden of the pastorate is shared in times of health, so also in times of plague. This is so that the body of Christ though divided by plague, would be united spiritually. Beza noted that even private citizens have a duty to be good citizens in the promotion of the public good, which includes supporting the magistrates in their efforts for the common good, and the efforts themselves. Then there are the bonds of families: Husbands are not free to abandon
Will this time of testing prepare us for more intentional and faithful service, or will we grow cold in the things of God?
their wives, nor wives their husbands; nor parents their children, nor children their aged parents, so the citizen is not free to abandon a plague victim devoid of any and all support. Beza even including the relations of masters of households and their servants in this paradigm. It is times of trial and challenge that elicit from the Christian not only the maintenance of all their ties and duties, but demands intentionality, even while exercising all good and godly measure. “I do not see how any who serve in a public civil office may flee their charge in the time of plague; and for faithful pastors to forsake but one poor sheep at that time when he most of all needs heavenly comfort, it is too shameful, indeed too wicked to even consider.” Whatever measure one takes in time of plague, it must be done out of diligent love of God and neighbor, in consideration of one’s duty and one’s dependents, with a clear conscience. Plague victims and those who care for the sick have a duty of love of neighbor as well, Beza observed. The sick must take heed that “they do not abuse the love of their kindred and friends, while they desire to provide for themselves.” The caregivers must “while continuing in their duties, not cast themselves rashly into the danger of infection, which is done by some out of reckless audacity, rather than true and Christian judgment.” Beza even gives a glimpse of his own experience of the plague, when he recounts that, out of love for them, he forbade his friends to visit him, friends who were eager to show love and kindness, because he refused to be the cause of their death.
For pastors and ministers, Beza offered this counsel in a time when there was great debate about the plague, its causes, its treatment, its infectiousness, and all manner of other questions: “but this especially must be agreed upon, that as our sins are the chief and true cause of the plague, so this is the only proper remedy against it: if ministers would not debate about its infectiousness (which belongs to physicians), but by their life and doctrine, stir up the people to earnest repentance and love, and charity to each other.” Conclusion
n the heels of a devastating time of plague between 1567 to 1572, Geneva held out open hands of hospitality to religious refugees in the weeks following Sunday, August 24, 1572, when the Catholic League, aided by royal consent and the mobs of Paris, butchered about 2,000 French Protestants in the city during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, irrespective of age, sex, or station. The religiopolitical violence spread to roughly fifteen other major cities and towns in France, bringing the number of the slain up to about 10,000. French Huguenot refugees streamed into Geneva and the surrounding area. So generous were private citizens that it was a full month before the city councilors needed to assist with the public purse. Where did the city of Geneva and its people learn such hospitality? I wonder if it was precisely through the time of plague after the ties of family, church, and state were tested almost to the 21
breaking point. How else can one comfort, except with the comfort with which they have been comforted (2 Cor 1:3–5)? I wonder if Christians today will respond in a similar way through this global pandemic and beyond? Will this time of testing prepare us for more intentional and faithful service, or will we grow cold in the things of God? Will we grow or slow in the things of God? Will we reflect on God’s sovereignty and arrive at a greater sense of God’s faithfulness and care? Will we ponder and perform our duties or neglect and ignore them? Will Christ’s cause advance, by God’s grace, through you and with you?
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation aboundeth in Christ.
Todd M. Rester is Associate Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the translator of a number of works for the Acton Institute and the Dutch Reformed Translation Society, including Petrus Van Mastricht’s Theoretical-Practical Theology, projected to cover 7 volumes. 1 Pronounced “High-sbert Foot”, or, in the Latinized Voetius, “Foot-sy-us”, with just the softest touch of guttural on the G in Gijsbert. 2 Pronounced “horn-bake.” 3 While Beza’s work does provide some insight into the medical thought of his day regarding the idea of infection, its greatest value is in his pastoral contemplation of God’s sovereignty in relation to secondary causes, and, in light of these, the nature of Christian duty and love. This work was later translated during a 1665 plague in England as A learned treatise of the plague. Bibliography Alfani, Guido. “Plague in seventeenth-century Europe and the decline of Italy: an epidemiological hypothesis” in European Review of Economic History, vol. 17, issue 4 (Nov. 2013), 408–413. Naphy, William G. Plagues, Poisons, and Potions: Plague-spreading conspiracies in the Western Alps c. 1530-1640. Manchester University Press, 2002. Baird, Henry M. Theodore Beza, the Counsellor of the French Reformation, 1519-1605. New York, 1899. Beza, Theodore. De peste quaestiones duae explicatae: una sitne contagiosa, altera an et quatenus sit Christianis per secessionem vitanda. Geneva: Vignon, 1579, 1655. Beza, Theodore. A learned treatise of the plague wherein the two questions, whether the plague be infectious or no, and whether and how farr it may be shunned of Christians by going aside are resolved. London: Thomas Ratcliffe, 1665. Brockliss, Laurence and Colin Jones, The Medical World of Early Modern France. Oxford, 1997. Clavier, Henri. Théodore de Bèze, un aperçu de sa vie aventureuse, de ses travaux, de sa personalité. Cahors, 1960. Eckert, Edward A. “Boundary Formation and Diffusion of 22
Plague: Swiss Epidemics from 1562-1669”, Annales de Démographie Historique, (1978), 49–80. Jouanna, Arlette. The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre: the mysteries of a crime of state. Manchester University Press, 2007. Kingdon, Robert. Myths about the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacres, 1572-1576. Harvard University Press, 2013. Manetsch, Scott M. Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609. Oxford University Press, 2013. Poynter, F.N.L. and W. R. LeFenu. “A Seventeenth-Century London Plague Document in the Wellcome Historical Medical Library: Dr. Louis Du Moulin’s Proposals to Parliament for a corps of salaried plague doctors” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, vol. 34, no. 4 (July-August 1960), 365–72. Wallis, Patrick. “Plagues, Morality and the Place of Medicine in Early Modern England” in The English Historical Review, vol. 121, no. 490 (Feb. 2006), 1–24. Wright, Shawn D. Theodore Beza: The man and the myth. Christian Focus Publications, 2015. Wright, Shawn D. Our Sovereign Refuge: The Pastoral Theology of Theodore Beza. Paternoster Press/Wipf & Stock, 2004/2007. Beza, Theodore and André Rivet, Johannes Hoornbeeck, Gisbert Voet. Variorum Tractatus Theologici de Peste. Leiden: Johannes Elsevier, 1655.
Biblical Guidance for Ministry and Fellowship During Crisis A new collection and translation of Reformation writings for pastors, leaders, and Christians ministering to each other in times of uncertainty.
Visit the Westminster Bookstore to sign up to be notified when Faith in the Time of Plague becomes available. Translated by Todd M. Rester Edited by Stephen M. Coleman Introduction by Peter A. Lillback Foreword by Dr. Greg Poland, M.D. (Mayo Clinic)
Arriving Spring, 2021 Reserve your copy now at wtsbooks.com/faithandplague
Dr. Coleman practicing virtual pedagogy. 24
CLOSING THE DISTANCE The Vision for Westminster’s Online MDiv If this issue goes to press as planned—just as Westminster’s 92nd academic year gets into full swing—it will be more than six months since our best laid plans for the first issue of Westminster Magazine went the usual way of best laid plans. On March 13, students and employees received an ominous text message: “As of 11:00 AM today, the WTS campus (including the library) will be closed. Prayer group and remaining classes for the day are cancelled. More information will be forthcoming. Please be on the lookout for a communication from our Academic Dean and Dean of Students.” In the hours and days that followed, international travel was halted, the President of the United States declared a National Emergency, churches canceled worship services, gun sales skyrocketed, and the once obscure website a of freeze-dried food manufacturer crashed due to unprecedented demand. Suddenly, nothing felt certain. Yet, as faculty and students scrambled to complete the semester via Zoom, Westminster’s leadership team was already holding late-into-the-night meetings, working to prayerfully discern how to pilot Westminster through uncharted waters into the next academic year. Along with other of institutions of higher learning around the United States, Westminster decided in early summer not to hold in-person classes through the 2020–2021 academic year. While necessary, the decision came with challenges: There was no question that Westminster’s MDiv would have to be offered online, but in ideal circumstances this would take years. The online team had fewer than six months to create a world-class online degree, nearly from scratch. As you receive this magazine, the fall semester at Westminster is already well underway. The grass is growing back from 2019’s campus revitalization project, but there aren’t many loiterers to shoo off it. Somehow, through an astonishing effort by a small team of talented and committed men and women,
Westminster’s students, though they aren’t returning to Glenside, aren’t returning to the emergency video conference classrooms of the Spring semester either—they’re returning to a state-of-the-art theological learning space, accessed via homes and churches around the world. Now that the initial challenge of launching the program is passed, we had the chance to sit down with Peter Lillback (President), David Garner (Academic Dean), Iain Duguid (Dean of Online Learning), and John Kim (Senior Director of Online Learning), and discussed the seminary’s vision for its new online MDiv. Our conversations have been lightly edited for clarity. Can you tell us just a little bit just about your background in online education, and how your interests have developed there? Iain Duguid: My interest in online learning was really sparked when my son, Wayne, did an Executive MBA through Temple University. And as I watched over his shoulder and looked at the educational experience he was getting, it was clear that my perception of online education was way out of date. . . I suddenly realized we could do this in a theological setting. And if we could, then we could really serve the kingdom in a tremendous way. John Kim: I have very little formal background in online education, but I have been an interested observer and participant in online learning for over a decade. Those who know me know that I love learning and exploring new technologies. As a missionary kid, a WTS alumnus, and former Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the seminary, I was particularly excited to see us expand our online programs and make Westminster accessible to a new group of students.
David Garner: My experience with online education was actually born out of longing for it not experience. I was on the mission field, and paid a visit back to Philadelphia, had lunch with Pete. This was probably 15 years ago, maybe more than that. And I said, Pete, I cannot tell you how badly they need Westminster’s education in Eastern Europe. What are we going to do to get Westminster to Eastern Europe? We’ve got to figure out a way. And so that was the, the kind of the early discussions of, okay, how does Westminster really become global? Peter Lillback: And so, I said, that’s something we need to dream about and trust the Lord to be able to have that come about. I remember that I met with various groups that were starting to do online education to try to understand what they were doing. I met with representatives of Gordon-Conwell, also Covenant Seminary, and RTS, trying to understand what they were seeking to do with online education. And so I was always hoping the day might come. That was part of the backdrop, but it never really became a viable opportunity for us because the technology requirements were high, and the personnel skills were not present at that time. Garner: My wife had, some years ago, worked on a degree at a university online. The platform and delivery mechanism were. . . well, I just thought there’s got to be a better way to do it. And, through a convergence of factors, including the arrival of people with the expertise, with the will, with zeal for excellence. . . It was through the work of John, Laura Leon, Iain, and Mike Halpin, and others in the IT department. This online MDiv is reaching a threshold that I never envisioned when I sat with Pete 15 years ago for lunch. Take us back to March of this year. How did the seminary leadership come to this decision, to greenlight an Online MDiv for the 2020–2021 academic year? Garner: The first point of conversation on the Online MDiv was actually not March. March was an accelerator. It was not an innovator of a month, as it were. . . We had already been discussing ways 26
that we can expand Westminster’s influence. We began in serious discussions about that in January, as a senior team. Lillback: I remember telling our faculty then why I didn’t envision a Master of Divinity online happening at Westminster in my Presidential time. I said I would be prepared to move forward with it to preserve our faculty in an economic downturn. But I didn’t envision that happening because there’s not a real sense that it’s the best way to do theological education at this time. I didn’t see it as a pressing opportunity. We were doing the other programs. Well, that was all said about six weeks before COVID-19 hit the stage and we were forced to shut down. So I was suddenly facing the reality: We’re going to have to go online. We’re going to protect the very scarce national treasure of Westminster we call our faculty. Two-thirds of them are in the high-risk zone, either because of preexisting conditions or age. It is an utter miracle that Westminster—we’re not quite a Luddite school, but we’re nearly one— we’re in the vanguard of delivering the world’s best MDiv online. God let us do that. Duguid: Because of my experience with online education, I’ve been convinced for a long time that there were people around the world who we would be able to serve on an online capacity who were not able to serve residentially. But, yeah, that was really spring-boarded with the COVID-19 crisis. We had the immediate sense that we have students who are here in the US, or need to need to return to their countries, and we’re going to need to provide support for them. Garner: Recent data indicates that, in the United States, there is one theologically trained pastor for every 230 Americans. Outside of the United States, that number can jump to 450,000. That’s the difference. And as you look at the field of global mission, the number one challenge on the field is a lack of training of pastors and leaders in the church and where they get any sort of training at all. There are increasing numbers of students who know English, but know not grace, know not Christ, and ministers who know English, but are only able to get the resources they get from a search on Google.
What did the first online courses at Westminster look like? Lillback: As I recall, there came about the opportunity about four years ago or so. A grant given to the seminary that was intended to begin to help us to do online education. It was proposed to be a matching gift. It was a $500,000 gift, and I was thrilled with that. And I had an opportunity to share the vision of this with another international donor who instantly saw the wisdom of it and said, “I will match that $500,000 gift.” That meant we now had a million dollars to work with. So, we began the process and unbeknownst to me, two or three months later, the international donor decided to make another gift. He called me up and said, you know, if you have a vision for a Mandarin language version of an online degree, I will give another $500,000. So, from a grant, from within the board, and then two grants from outside the United States, we had enough funding to begin to dream about doing an online degree program of some sort. Duguid: The first foray into online learning was an MA in Counseling, and that was triggered by a certain level of frustration, I think, at CCEF, that they weren’t reaching the kind of people that they really wanted to help. They really wanted to help people serving in churches who needed counseling training. Whereas in the residential program, often the people that were coming were younger and inexperienced— not equipped in life experience to handle a couple 25 years into a dysfunctional marriage. So online, I think, gave us a chance to reach out to people have been actively involved in ministry for 7 to 10 years, and realizing that counseling is a lot of what they’re doing and that they weren’t equipped properly for it. So now realizing that they really needed the training, but don’t want to quit their jobs and their churches. That was sort of a 1.0 version. It gave us a chance to get started and see what it would look like to start to do online theological education.
Are there strengths inherent in the technology behind online learning, pedagogically or otherwise? Duguid: Oh, absolutely. Think of the notorious hour-after-lunch class. That’s famously hard to teach because it’s just downtime. Or students who come from working at UPS from 4:00 AM until they show up in a class at 9:00 AM, exhausted. That’s not ideal. Whereas with a recorded class online, you get to pick [your class time]. One of the challenges that some of our residential students have is that they’re pulled in so many different directions. They’re involved in ministry in their church, they have families, and they’re trying to study. So it’s really hard for them to juggle all of those roles. Kim: Our goal is to leverage innovative online learning tools and thoughtful pedagogy to deliver Westminster’s biblically grounded, theologically faithful, and rigorous training to those committed to staying in their local contexts. We are not watering down our curriculum nor making courses easier simply because it’s online. At a basic level, students can expect to experience Westminster’s distinct and rigorous programs online. So, our online programs are for students who are serious about their theological education and training but can’t uproot their lives, jobs, and ministries to relocate to Philadelphia. We’ve also designed our courses to maximize scheduling flexibility. Most lectures are pre-recorded and available on-demand. Live, faceto-face meetings are typically reserved for small group interactions. This is particularly helpful for international students living in different time zones and for part-time students who need to juggle their studies along with other responsibilities. How has the launch of the new Online MDiv program compared to the start of that first MAC program? What kind of challenges did you face? Kim: The task of launching a new online program in four and half months, in the midst of a global pandemic, has been incredibly challenging. Since the project began toward the end of April, we not 27
only had to restructure our teams and hire for gaps, but we had to learn new ways of working and communicating. Thankfully, we had most of the tools we needed to be effective, and many on staff had some experience working from home. I’d say we are still learning and figuring out more effective ways of doing our work. The key has been to stay adaptable, to not be surprised by the challenges, and roll with the punches. Duguid: I think languages are one of the hardest pieces of an online MDiv to do. You know, there are a million-and-one programs out on the internet that claim to teach you any language you want. And there are a million people who started one of those programs, and after a week they’ve quit. Language learning requires a lot of handholding in the beginning, a lot of encouragements, a lot of direction, a lot of help. It’s much more interactive than a classic lecture class. And I think it’s fair to say it proved to be one of the biggest challenges for us. But we’re really blessed with Libbie Groves as a Hebrew instructor, who is a constant fountain of innovation and inspiration. She has taught us a lot. The second challenge is just that the sheer scale of the MDiv. That’s a lot of classes to roll out in a relatively short time. And when working with, in many cases, faculty who’ve never done an online class before, we have to provide the supports and help to them to take the things that they know that they’re familiar with and turn that into an online class. One of the things that we’ve been forced to think through is what does a good online class look like? You know, it’s not simply a professor talking for 35 hours. And maybe in a good residential class the professor isn’t talking for 35 hours either! Garner: Then there’s a larger philosophical question— one of the things we’re thinking about is if people take our MDiv online, there’s a certain necessity for them to be under the mentorship and tutorship of a local church and pastor for the life-on-life training, the assessment of sermons. Is there a way that we can, for example, do some homiletics training on the ground with people. And there may be certain things we learn from online, about the successes of using that technology, that will actually make our residential program better. I think there’s going to be mutual learning there. 28
One criticism of online education is that it can lack tactile and intangible learning opportunities—going out to a pub with a professor, relationships with other students, etc. How does Westminster’s Online MDiv address that? Kim: I think that’s a fair critique of online education. For many people, online education means watching recorded lectures by yourself with very little support and minimal engagement with students and faculty. But that’s a far cry from what Westminster is doing. Our faculty do an amazing job substantively engaging and supporting students in their courses. I’d argue that the level of engagement and support is superior to what students experience in most residential programs. And students meet synchronously in small groups. We require face-to-face small groups because learning is richer in the context of relationships and community. Duguid: We can idealize residential education and imagine it to be this idyllic setting. One of the reasons I know this is because my four-year MDiv here was divided into two. The first two years I was here, my wife was working full-time. I was not working. I was able to be a full-time student and take advantage of all of those opportunities. Then we had a child, and in order for my wife to stay home with our child, I worked full-time and I studied full-time, and I had no time to, you know, to go out the pub with a professor or to have lunch with anybody. I was just frantically trying to get through it. And I think for some students it is wonderful that they are able to spend time with professors and with each other and really get that great experience. Residential is absolutely the way to go. But there are a lot of students for whom their residential experience is different. They are juggling family, ministry, work, and they’re not having those experiences. Some of those students would be better served with an online program. So then, to the question you actually asked, is, okay, how do we, how do we facilitate relationships in an online program? Well, relationships are multifaceted to begin with. We haven’t disrupted students’ home relationships. So those relationships continue in a way that isn’t the case for the residential
students. In some of our classes there’ll be small groups where students will meet together in a chat room with other students working on assignments together. We have coffee houses where professors will be available for an hour and a half or whatever, in the course of a semester for students to drop in and ask questions. One thing I haven’t talked about so far is the quality of our adjunct professors. That’s a key part of the design. A lot of programs aren’t willing to spend much money on adjuncts, and so your adjuncts are basically people who don’t know much more than you. We’ve chosen to really raise the bar on our adjuncts—typically people who have PhDs or are getting PhDs or doctoral ministry degrees. They’re involved in ministry. They’re involved in churches. What are your future hopes for Westminster’s MDiv program as it grows in the coming years? Lillback: Once once we made that decision [to pursue the Online MDiv], we also had the concern of how to renew our residential program. While we’ve said there will be no residential programs this year, next year we will be residential again, and also online. So I’m very honored that our board leader, Dr. Harry Reeder and the head of our Pastoral Theology program, Dr. John Currie, have teamed up to create a task force to develop the renewed residential MDiv program.
now with this [Online MDiv] that are historically unprecedented. We have some pathways to that end. Many, many, many Middle Eastern ministers have no theological training, but do speak English, and to be able to involve them into our program now. . . what a thrill to be able to reach the world in ways we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I think of Latin America too, with its growing longing for rich Reformed, theological teaching. It’s absolutely incredible what’s happening in Central and South America in that regard. Kim: I’m most excited that students across the globe, committed to staying in their local church and ministry contexts, are now able to access Westminster’s distinct curriculum. I think it will have an amazing Kingdom impact and be instrumental in bringing many people to Christ. So my earnest hope and prayer is that the Lord would use these programs to equip hundreds and thousands of saints for gospel ministry. To learn more about Westminster’s online and residential offerings, visit wts.edu, or email admissions@ wts.edu today.
Duguid: I’d love to see the global reach of the program really develop and the potential that has for providing networking experiences among students. Obviously an online program can easily support hybrid elements. Either students coming to campus here in Philadelphia, or potentially us taking classes to different parts of the world. Whether that’s the UK or Korea or Australia, so that we can offer those hybrid elements close to where students are. I’d love to see us be able to do that. And supporting students who are actively involved in ministry, who could never afford to come residentially to Westminster to receive the benefits of a Westminster education. Garner: I would love to see our ministry expand into places like the Middle East. There are opportunities 29
Online Degree Programs: • • • •
Master of Divinity (MDiv), General Ministry Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC) in partnership with CCEF
To learn more about Westminster’s online and residential offerings, visit wts.edu, or email firstname.lastname@example.org today.
A PRAYER FOR PRESERVATION Peter A. Lillback
Shared with the Westminster community, March 21, 2020
e pray today through the mighty strength of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness and confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation. Grant O Lord that we may hear Your voice since we have hoped in you. Show us the way in which we should walk, since we have lifted up our souls unto You. Deliver us from our enemies, O Lord, we have fled unto You. Teach us to do Your will, for You are our God. Heavenly Father, we come to You today because Your mercies are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness! We approach Your throne of Grace today in America through united prayer as we have been called to do so by the President. We honor his call for prayer, affirming that prayer knows no political parties and is not the provenance of Republican or Democrat. We pray for our President, his cabinet, and health officials, as well as the honorable Congress and all leaders throughout our land. We pray earnestly to You during this season of great crisis because You are the Giver of Life and Health. Please hear the prayers of Your people! O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, You are our only sure hope in this time of need. We humbly beseech You to visit and relieve each one who calls out to You in their afflictions. Please look upon them with eyes of mercy; comfort them with a personal sense of Your goodness; preserve them from the temptations of the evil one and the fear of death. Please give them patience in their loneliness and sufferings, particularly for those who are alone, shut off from others whether in their homes, quarantined, or hospitalized. In Your sovereign and perfect time, we humbly ask that You restore them to health, and enable them to lead each day of their lives thereafter in holy gratitude to Your glory. And if this should be the time that You have chosen to call them to Yourself, please grant that they may dwell with You in everlasting life through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ whose death, resurrection and perfect life have merited the forgiveness of our sins and assure to every believer eternal blessings in Your presence. All this we ask in the exalted name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
FACULTY NEWS & UPDATES For 92 years, Westminster has been blessed with an incomparable history of incredibly gifted faculty to spearhead our mission of training church leaders in the whole counsel of God. This unprecedented season of online learning is no exception, and we are pleased to announce some exciting new faculty additions, promotions, and updates. Please join us in giving thanks for these scholars and praying for their efforts on behalf of Westminster students this upcoming year.
NEWS Vern Poythress With appreciation for his faithful service at Westminster, the Board of Trustees has appointed Dr. Vern S. Poythress as Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Biblical Interpretation, and Systematic Theology. The addition of systematic theology aligns with Dr. Poythress’s decades-long practice of integrating exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology. Beginning with this academic year, Dr. Poythress will teach core courses in the Systematic Theology department, including both Doctrine of God and Doctrine of Man. He will continue to teach New Testament and hermeneutics courses. Dr. Poythress’s new book, The Mystery of the Trinity: A Trinitarian Approach to the Attributes of God, (P&R, 2020) is now available. He has been teaching an adult Sunday school class (via Zoom) at Lansdale Presbyterian Church (PCA) and will contribute several talks during the rescheduled Westminster Conference on Science and Faith. His Thinking about History: A GodCentered Approach (Crossway, 2021) is due out next year.
Brandon Crowe The Board of Trustees is pleased to promote Dr. Brandon Crowe to Professor of New Testament. Dr. Crowe has served Westminster for more than a decade, and has edited, authored, and contributed to many notable publications. Dr. Crowe also serves as the Book Review Editor of Westminster Theological Journal. In recognition of this transition, Dr. Crowe will deliver a special lecture via livestream on October 14, 2020. Dr. Crowe’s The Path of Faith: A Biblical Theology of Covenant and Law (IVP, 2021) is due out this spring. He has articles forthcoming in Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Reformation 21, and elsewhere. This winter he will present a paper, “The Kingdom of Heaven and Baal-Perazim: New Light on Matthew 11:12” at the Society of Biblical Literature’s annual meeting. Sinclair Ferguson The Board of Trustees is pleased to appoint Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson as the Herrell Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology this academic year. Dr. Ferguson previously occupied the Charles Krahe Chair for Systematic Theology. He resumed teaching at Westminster in 2020, and will continue to provide instruction in our residential and online degree programs. To mark this appointment, Dr. Ferguson will deliver the Roger and Genie Herrell Lecture via remote means. Dr. Ferguson recently contributed a Foreword to J. Gresham Machen’s Things Unseen (WSP, 2020). His newest book, Devoted to God’s Church (Banner, 2020) will be released this winter.
Stafford Carson Westminster is pleased to welcome back Dr. Stafford Carson, who has been appointed by the Board as Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Pastoral Theology. Dr. Carson previously served as Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster. He has pastored for many years in Northern Ireland. Brian Mattson
Iain Duguid, Dean of Online Learning, has played a significant role in the debut of Westminster’s online MDiv program this summer (see our interview elsewhere in this issue). Beginning this spring, he plans to publish lessons on Exodus, Isaiah, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Hebrews, James, and 1–3 John, in The Quarterly, a publication of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
The Board of Trustees is pleased to appoint Dr. Brian G. Mattson as Adjunct Professor of Systematic and Public Theology. A Senior Fellow of Theology and Culture for the Center for Cultural Leadership, Dr. Mattson was appointed Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology in 2019. You can read Dr. Mattson’s article, “Take Heart,” elsewhere in this issue.
William Edgar’s long-awaited Strength to Climb: The Aesthetics of Jazz is forthcoming from IVP. He recently contributed to The History of Apologetics (Zondervan, 2020), and will publish a handful of articles in Unio Cum Christo, Jakarta Theological Review, Journal of Biblical Studies, and elsewhere in the coming months. His Boyer Chair Lecture Are We Really Secular? will be published by Westminster Seminary Press in early 2021.
Rob Edwards will speak at Reformed University Fellowship’s UGA 20 Year Reunion in Athens, GA on October 17. Additionally, he is co-editing and contributing to the upcoming Theology for Ministry (P&R, 2021).
Gregory Beale recently published a highlyacclaimed new commentary on Colossians and Philemon. Earlier this fall, he presented a course on “The New Testament use of the Old Testament” at Reformed Theological Seminary in Dallas, TX. David Briones will deliver two talks during “Seminary on Saturday” on November 7th. He recently contributed an article to Desiring God: “Already Not Yet: Living in the Last Days.” He is currently working on forthcoming articles, as well as a commentary on Philemon. Steve Carter is the Senior Pastor of Swedesford Road Church (formerly Calvary Fellowship) in Wayne, PA, where he preaches most Sunday mornings. John Currie will preach at Rutgers Community Christian Church November 1st, 8th, and 15th, and speak at Briarwood’s Presbyterian Church’s Global Ministries Conference (Feb. 19–23). He has contributed a Foreword to R. Kent Hughes’s The 34
Heart of the Pastor and the Pulpit (WSP, 2021), due out in the New Year.
Sandy Finlayson has completed a new biography of Thomas Chalmers, Chief Scottish Man: The Life and Ministry of Thomas Chalmers (Evangelical Press, 2020). His wife, Linda, has written God’s Bible Timeline: The Big Book of Biblical History (Christian Focus, 2020), due out in November. Chad VanDixhoorn, in addition to several upcoming publishing projects, recently contributed to The Oxford Handbook of Reformed Theology (Cambridge, 2020). He was awarded a continued Honorary Fellowship with the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. Dr. VanDixhoorn began serving as Ministerial Advisor to Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Ambler, PA, earlier this summer. For regular updates about Westminster faculty, visit faculty.wts.edu
“Like discovering a diamond mine.” –R.C. Sproul
Introduction by Timothy J. Keller | Foreword by Sinclair B. Ferguson Preface by Stephen J. Nichols | Afterword by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. In 1935, J. Gresham Machen determined to try something radically innovative for his time—teaching Reformed theology over the radio. Things Unseen collects all 50 of those talks for the first time in one volume. Comprising a crystal-clear articulation of the basics of the Christian faith, Machen’s systematic writing unfolds into an exceptional and persuasive explanation of Reformed theology. Printed and bound in Italy. 496 pages.
AVAILABLE DECEMBER 2020 Reserve your copy at wtsbooks.com/thingsunseen
AS THE LORD GIVES US STRENGTH Faculty Interview: Vern S. Poythress
Dr. Vern S. Poythress has served Westminster for more than 40 years. His many books include The Returning King, Interpreting Eden, and Theophany. His newest book, The Mystery of the Trinity, will be released this month by P&R Publishers. Earlier this year he was appointed as Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Biblical Interpretation, and Systematic Theology. Westminster’s Director of Alumni Engagement, David Owen Filson, interviewed Dr. Poythress at the beginning of this semester. They spoke for more than an hour about Dr. Poythress’s books, his love of Scripture, the current state of hermeneutics, and his ministry at Westminster. We encourage you to enjoy the full recording of that interview online at wm.wts.edu. The transcript below has been condensed and edited for clarity. David Owen Filson: This may not be the most technical question in the world, but would you tell our readers about your love for the Bible, your walk with the Lord, and how you came to sense God’s call to a lifetime of devotion to studying and teaching and writing in the Word? Vern S. Poythress: Well, I made a commitment to Christ at a church summer camp when I was nine years old. I can remember getting interested in reading the Bible and getting—as a youngster would—getting somewhat serious about following the Lord and finding out what that meant. I love mathematics. But by the time I was in grad school in mathematics, I saw a real shift in my heart gradually. Nothing spectacular. But that first love was no longer mathematics. It was the Lord. So 36
I decided, I think I should not only go to seminary, but I’ll spend my life in things related to the Bible, theology, and helping God’s people. Filson: What were some of like your early influences, hermeneutically, that lit a fire of interest in hermeneutics at a technical level? Poythress: I know when I was first hired at Westminster, Dr. Gaffin was actually the chairman of the New Testament department. He asked, What do you want to teach? And I mentioned hermeneutics. I can’t remember why I was interested in it, although I was. Again, one of the elements was the Lord’s Providence. I ended up studying at the Summer Institute of Linguistics in the summer of 1971, and then again in ‘72 and ‘74, because I was wondering whether God was calling me to be a Bible translator. But at the end of the summer, I realized Bible translators spend about 90% of their time with the target language. I wanted to spend 90% of my time with the source. It was the Bible that really drew me. Filson: What drew you to do meticulous work in Genesis in particular? Poythress: That’s a very different story because of my background in science. . . At the end of 30 years of teaching, I had about three different key ideas that were related to biblical theology. And that supplemented, deepened what had for a long time been taking place, because in the church this is not new. One of the messages to convey, I think, to the average believer is these issues and these questions
[about Genesis 1–3] did not start yesterday. I tried to give a general framework deeply influenced by Reformed theology, which I think is the theology of the Bible. Anyway, I began to see that the hermeneutics of Genesis as a whole and the hermeneutics of Genesis 1–3 were absolutely crucial. If we call a spade a spade, a lot of fishy stuff was being done with hermeneutics, which people would use to excuse what I thought were irresponsible interpretations of Genesis. They were trying to get Genesis off the hook, I felt, in terms of possible conflict with modern science. Well, you know, there were some good people out there too. I don’t want to pay to too bleak a picture, but I thought this is an area of immense turmoil. So, I decided to write a book specifically focused on the hermeneutical issues of Genesis 1–3. And now maybe I’m done again. I don’t want to, you know, spend all my time on there. And really after you’ve said a bit on these things in part it’s a matter of diminishing returns. You can write and write, but if people have heard what the basic things are and they’re not convinced, they probably won’t be convinced by five more articles. Filson: Can you tell us a little a bit about the development of your book, The Shadow of Christ and the Law of Moses? Poythress: Right. Well, there’s two things. One is the influence of biblical theology through Edmund Clowney, subordinately Richard Gaffin, and Meredith Klein. Westminster has been really strong on that. Vos of course, you know, deeper back in the past. And so that gave me a real appreciation for the presence of Christ and the pointing forward to Christ in the Old Testament, but particularly in the law of Moses. When I was about 17 years old, I was at a conference and they happened to give rewards to people who had read the whole Bible through in one year. Well, I had. Afterwards an older woman caught me and said, How did you get through the book of Leviticus? That’s stuck with me. I never forgot that question, because I had just sort of plowed through, right? I knew what she meant. Genesis has stories, right? The first part of Exodus has stories. People have good intentions to read the whole Bible through, and then they’re in the wilderness themselves. And I thought, I want to write a book about, as it were, the hard parts of the Bible, to help people see the glory
of Jesus Christ, how much Christ is proclaimed in those books. The other thing was that theonomy became a controversy about that time, particularly in Reformed churches. I don’t like controversies. I wish we could just have peace. But the reality is, you know, in the fallen world, there’s going to be such things from time to time. And the people who were representatives of theonomy by and large were deeply influenced by Van Til, and Van Til had influenced me. And their message was that the Bible itself is our ultimate standard for justice and for ethics and for law, even in the area of this civil state. And one of the responses to the theonomists was, You’re taking this all too far. And I thought that will never do. If anything, the problem is that you’re not taking it far enough, in terms of seeing the Christocentric character of the Old Testament, if you haven’t seen every one of those laws in all their massive detail as fulfilled in Christ. As a churchly application of some of the severe laws in the Old Testament, if we haven’t taken it all through Christ, then we haven’t done our job yet. So I wanted to write a book about Old Testament law, but to set that law in the context of the entire redemptive history of the mosaic period. Because if you don’t do that, then the law tends to be atomized. It’s just all these statutes. And my wife helped me too. She said, Don’t write a critique of theonomy, write a positive book about the law of God, because theonomy will eventually be gone. These controversies come and go. The Bible remains forever. That advice was really helpful to me. And the result is that the details about the controversy with theonomy ended up in the appendices. Filson: You’ve written maybe more than 30 books, countless substantial articles and reviews. How have you remained so productive over the years? Poythress: It’s hard to answer because it’s hard to look at your own life and be objective about it. I think the main thing I can say is that the Lord, I think it’s the Lord. He gives me ideas. . . I like to read and think about the Bible, the Bible, the Bible, the Bible. When people ask, What are all the things I should read? I say, Read the Bible. It’s easy to get distracted by the sheer volume of academic stuff that’s coming out. Filson: Years ago, Westminster Bookstore had faculty recommendations of books. Obviously there 37
was a good number of faculty members listing Murray and Vos and Turretin, Gaffin, and Bavinck. You recommended a Greek New Testament and a Bauer and Danker Greek-English Lexicon. Tell us a little bit about just how crucial the languages are for the task of hermeneutics. Poythress: Well, if there’s anything that’s even more crucial, it’s simply general knowledge of the Bible. And one of the things that you begin to learn as a student, if you study Hebrew and Greek and you get to a certain level of competence, is that the English translations say what is there in the original. . . There’s an element of spiritual growth and spiritual power that is there in the Word of God in translation. Many of these older people, especially, have really digested the Word of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, into their lives over decades and decades. So I want to respect that. But also to say, We need some people, in particular among our ministers, who are well-trained, not just, Oh, I know the Greek alphabet and I can look things up in a lexicon, but are welltrained in the original languages. Partly so you can head off the things that are irresponsible. We respect the diversity of gifts in the body of Christ. I believe that there’s room for some ministers who, whom the Lord gifts as shepherds of the people, but who just don’t have any gifts where the original languages. But those people have to know their own limitations too. They have to realize, if I have a detailed question I’ll phone up my fellow minister. Filson: What do you think of the state of, and the importance of hermeneutics and systematics in light of the fact that we are awash in critical theory today? Poythress: One of the things that’s happening this year is that I’m teaching Doctrine of God. I’ve only done it three or four times in my whole career, but it seems to me particularly relevant now because it’s the ultimate anchor. Not the teaching, but the Bible itself and who God is. It’s the ultimate anchor in times of trouble, in times of disruption. And you’ve got to feel like the culture is in a maelstrom, and that you’ve got to address this and this and this. And partly, I want to say to pastors, I understand, you want to meet your people where they are, and many of them are hanging on the news and that kind of thing. But you also want to tell them who God is. You want to remind them of the greatness of our Savior. 38
Filson: How could we pray for Westminster Theological Seminary? And how could we pray for you and your ministry, and your family? Poythress: That’s so kind of you to ask. Pray that the seminary will be what it’s supposed to be . . . It’s very easy to fall short of what I think Westminster aspires to be. As we aspire to be orthodox thoroughly; as we aspire to submit ourselves across the board, maximally, to God’s written word. And we aspire to be intellectually engaged. Those two, it seems to me, are like a razor’s edge you can easily fall off. I’d rather you fall off in the direction of orthodoxy, but then you become sort of ghettoized. And you cease to appear to have answers to people who are coming from outside of your circles. The basic answer is: Who is God, how do we get redemption? They’re the same answers that we’ve always given for centuries and centuries. But people don’t perceive them. They perceive that the whole thing is outdated. Well, God can overcome that. Ultimately it has to be the work of the Holy Spirit. But people growing up in a church like that can also get disillusioned. And likewise, if you’re intellectually engaged, then you’re likely to swallow things that are absolute poison and so, in the next generation, the seminary becomes liberal. Pray for us, because I don’t think it’s easy. It’s impossible in the end, apart from the grace of God. For me and my family, my wife and I, we have the pleasure of having two married sons who are following the Lord. That’s the grace of God. We are just so grateful. So I think we’d pray thanksgiving certainly. But also we would, as the Lord wills and according to our days being written in his book, pray that he would give us continuing physical and spiritual health. Neither of us are of the mentality to retire, but when you get to my age then you have to be serious about human mortality. Well, everybody should be serious about it, but you’re more aware of those kinds of things. Pray the Lord would keep us faithful in our remaining years, and active as we have strength, because we see the needs out there. We are excited about the gospel of crisis—the only hope for people who are in darkness and under the wrath of God. So, we believe that we should exert our energies as the Lord gives us strength.
EXPOSITORY EXALTATION Preaching in Worship
October 21, 2020 www.wtspreachingconference.com
John Mur ray
n April of 1942, Westminster Theological Seminary hosted “The Christian World Order Conference,” just a few short months after the United States had officially entered World War II. It was a time of great uncertainty in the world. The goal of the conference was to contrast a biblical view of the world with fascism, communism, and nationalism, which had taken root in Europe, Asia, and beyond. It was a conference dedicated to applying the riches of the Reformed theological tradition to public societal issues. The conference’s success was evidence of a need for wider distribution of this content. The Presbyterian Guardian, a newspaper founded by J. Gresham Machen, and loosely affiliated with Westminster and the OPC, published nine articles in a series under the heading “The Christian in the 20th Century World” with the same goal as the conference. The content of these articles is striking and, in many ways, as relevant to the 21st Century world as it was for readers in the mid-20th century. Westminster Magazine will be republishing each article, in print and online, over the next year. The first of the articles is John Murray’s “The Christian World Order.” Murray is best known for his penetrating and technical exegetical-centric method of systematic theology. His greatest strengths were precision and depth. In this article however, he turns that precision toward public and social issues. Though a true Scottish Presbyterian, he is not shy about making use of the theological system of “sphere sovereignty” popularized by his Dutch Reformed colleagues. In this way, the article serves as a testcase of the Westminster tradition of melding together the best of American, Scottish, and Dutch Reformed theology, and turns our attention to the scriptures as be the lens by which Christians view and measure all things—in the sphere of the family, the church, or the state. –B. McLean Smith, Archival Editor
y the term, “The Christian World Order”, I take it that what is meant is a world order that in all its aspects and spheres is Christian, an order so conformed to the principles of Christianity and so pervaded by the forces that are operative in Christianity that the whole of life will be brought into willing captivity to the obedience of Christ. Are we justified in entertaining the conception of Christian world order? Or, at least, are we justified in entertaining such an order as an ideal towards
A Christian world order. . . means an order in which the principle of redemption and restoration is brought to its complete and all-pervasive expression and fruition. which we should work and strive? Do we have any assurance that such a world order is attainable? And, if we have no assurance that it is attainable, are we not mocking ourselves and others by framing the conception and, particularly, by working towards the achievement of it? Should we not rather descend from the clouds and deal with more practical and sensible matters? We shall have to acknowledge frankly that we do not have the right from God’s Word to believe that a Christian world order in the purity and completeness of its conception will be realized on this side of that great and momentous event towards which the history of this world is moving, namely, the appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, the visible glorious advent of the Lord Himself. For a Christian world order, in the purity and completeness of its conception, is a world order that has brought to complete and perfect fruition the redemptive, regenerative and restorative forces that are embodied in the Christian redemption and revelation. Such an order would mean the complete elimination of sin and of all its effects and the full attainment of righteousness and holiness. To whatever school of eschatological persuasion we belong, we cannot 41
believe that such an order will antedate the advent of the Lord. It is true that the postmillenarian believes that before Christ comes the world will become Christian. But even the most consistent supernaturalistic postmillenarian cannot hold that, even in that period of unprecedented prosperity for the kingdom of Cod upon earth which he posits as antedating the Lord’s coming, the world order will be so completely conformed to the divine will that all sin will be eradicated and righteousness and holiness be allpervasive. He, with other supernaturalists, believes that such an order will have to wait for the new heavens and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Pet 3:13). A Christian world order, if the word “Christian” is applied with consistency, means an order in which the principle of redemption and restoration is brought to its complete and all-pervasive expression and fruition. So a Christian world o rd er, i n t h e pu r ity and completeness of its conception, will not antedate that manifestation of power and glory when Christ will come again without sin unto salvation, when He will bring to naught all rule and all authority and power and when all his enemies shall have been made His footstool. Our dilemma would seem to be indeed perplexing. If we have to wait for the supernatural forces that Christ’s advent will bring in its train before the order of absolute right and holiness will be ushered in, is there any sense in speaking of a Christian world order except as an eschatological hope? Particularly and most practically, is there good sense in working toward the establishment of a Christian order when we know that, in the completeness of its conception, it is not attainable in what we generally call this life?
We must be bold to say that the Christian revelation does not allow us to do anything less than to formulate and work towards a Christian world order in the life that we now live. It is not difficult to demonstrate the validity and even necessity of this thesis. The standard of thought and the rule of conduct for us are divine obligation. The rule and standard for us are the irreducible claims and demands of the divine sovereignty, and these irreducible claims are that the sovereignty of God and of His Christ be recognized and applied in the whole range of life, of interest, of vocation and of activity. That is just saying that the demands of the divine sovereignty make it impossible for us to evade the obligation to strive with all our heart and soul and strength and mind for the establishment of an order that will bring to realization all the demands of God’s majesty, authority, supremacy and kingship. And this, in a word, is simply the full fruition of the kingdom of God wherever we are and in the whole compass of thought, word and action. But, since we have fallen and since the only way now whereby the claims of the divine sovereignty can even begin to be realized within the compass of our responsibilities is through the redemptive and mediatorial work of Christ, then there rests upon us, with like universal and unrelaxed stringency, the obligation to bring to bear upon the whole compass of life the supernatural and redemptive forces that are inherent in the Christian redemption and revelation. And this is just saying that the ideal and goal imposed upon us by the kingship and kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is nothing less than Christian world order. To recede from this conception and aim is to abandon what is
[A]las! we have to deplore the fact that the professing church has to a lamentable extent become the habitation of dragons. . .
implied in the prayer Christ taught His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). And it is to renounce what is overtly expressed in the words of the apostle, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:3–5) . What Is the Christian Order?
o the concrete question of what constitutes Christian world order, we may now address ourselves. It is necessary at the outset to premise any discussion of this practical question upon the fact of human sin and depravity. Any attempt to erect Christian order upon the ruins of human depravity must end in dismal failure. Indeed, it would be an inherent contradiction. For Christian order is order that is Christian and, if Christian, it rests upon the supernatural and redemptive foundations of Christianity. Christian order is order brought into existence by the deliverance from sin and evil wrought by redemption and regeneration. The principles and forces that must be at the basis and centre of Christian order in any of its forms must be the principles and forces of God’s regenerative and sanctifying grace. Any idealism or reconstruction that proceeds upon a program that is congenial to fallen human nature or that is readily adjustable to the impulses and passions and principles of fallen human nature has denied the very genius of Christian order. There is, therefore, something drastic about the transformation that Christian order effects. This is why we are so reluctant to entertain a Christian program of procedure in some of the most practical spheres such as those of education and industry. We are so often content to have a few amendments and corrections that give a Christian veneer to certain institutions. Without question these corrections may have, to a certain extent, a salutary influence, but these amendments do not change the basically nonchristian character of the principles and methods by which these institutions or orders operate. The Christian principle as applied to every order is radical and revolutionary in the
true sense of these words, radical and revolutionary because it is organically regenerative. It deals not by half-measures nor by indirection but by honest, thoroughgoing effectiveness with the reality of human sin and with the all-pervasive corruption it has brought in its train. Three Divine Institutions
hat then is this order that Christianity contemplates? There are three basic divine institutions in human society—the family, the church and the state. All of, these institutions are social in character; in each of them there is a plurality of individuals. That plurality, it is true, may sometimes be the minimum of plurality. The family, for example, is constituted first of all by two individuals. But in each case there is plurality. This is such an elementary, obvious fact that it may seem puerile to mention it. But, elementary though it be, the implications for Christian order are of profound importance. When we say that these basic institutions comprise a plurality of individuals, we must not forget that it is a plurality of individuals, and we must not overlook the importance of each individual in his singularity. This has too often been the bane of social theories and movements. The individual is the ultimate unit in every social organism and organization, and Christianity never overlooks the individual person. In dealing with Christian world order there is no concept with which Christianity has furnished us that is more expressive and comprehensive than that of the kingdom of God, and it was none other than our Lord Himself who said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5), “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). The kingdom of God begins its reconstruction with the individual. It never submerges the individual in the social mass. It never suppresses or blurs the needs, the interests, the obligations and the destinies of the individual in his relations to God or to men. Christian world order in its zeal to renovate and reconstruct the orders of society must insure that the needs of the individual are fully met and his interests fully guarded and promoted. 43
t is, nevertheless, true that when we are dealing with order we have principally to do with the organization of individual persons. The first is the family; it is the fundamental ordinance of divine institution. The family existed prior to the fall. God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen 2:18). Implanted in the very nature of man is the necessity for, and the instincts towards, family life. But sin has brought ruin into the family institution. And perhaps no instinct has been more abused and no sanctity more desecrated than the instinct that is related to, and the sanctity that finds its basis in, that ordinance of marriage with which the family begins. The history of this world is strewn with the wrecks caused by the abuse and distortion of the sex impulse. The family is the primary social ordinance. When sin wreaks its havoc here, when the sanctities that guard and ennoble family life are desecrated and when family honor is laid in the dust, then all social order is out of joint and degradation reigns supreme in every realm. The history of our generation and the commanding facts of developments in science, economics and politics, the exigencies arising from the close interdependence of all nations, are compelling us to give more attention to the question of world order than ever before in the history of our era. We are all aware of the
If the distinction of spheres is once blurred or obliterated, then good order is impossible and Christian principles are negated. 44
urgent concern that the leading statesmen of all countries are entertaining with respect to this question. As Christians we are compelled to face the responsibility of Christian world order. Let us not camouflage the issue. Until the family, the basic social institution, the institution through which also the individual as the ultimate unit of society is brought into being and through which he receives the heritage, the nurture and the training that will fit him for every social responsibility and function—until the family is redeemed from its sin, whether it be the sin of coarse immorality or the sin of refined godlessness, and until it is renewed and rehabilitated by the grace of God, it is a moral, psychological and social impossibility for Christian world order to be instituted. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph 5:25). “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph 5:22). “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:1–4). “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints” (Eph 5:3). These are the affections, instincts and principles that must regulate marital and family life, and only then can any Christian foundation be laid for that social organization that can be called Christian. The Christian program is radical, and we see how grave the responsibility and colossal the task when we face the dismal fact that the rarity of the Christian family makes it as precious as diamonds. The Church
he second basic divine institution is the church, the visible church. It might seem that, since the church is an ordinance of redemption and preeminently the institution of God’s redemptive grace; since it is the company of the faithful, renovation and reconstruction would not have to be applied to the church as to the individual and to the family. It might seem, rather, that from the church would radiate the
influences and forces of renovation. But alas! we have to deplore the fact that the professing church has to a lamentable extent become the habitation of dragons and the scene of abominations. If the church had been unfalteringly faithful to the principle of its origin, constitution, witness and operation, then the situation would simply be that it should have to continue to unfold and apply with ever-increasing perseverance the principles upon which it rests. But the sad fact of our situation today is that judgment must begin at the house of God and the church must have applied to it the same radical, revolutionary and reconstructive principles and forces which we have already found to be indispensable to Christian world order. The church is the church of Christ. It is subject to Him, derives its faith from Him, owes obedience to Him, performs the functions prescribed by Him, restricts itself to the sphere appointed by Him and advances His glory. Faith, testimony, worship, government—these four words sum up the function of the church. It is faith absolutely faithful to the Word of God. It is worship in accordance with the prescriptions of His will. It is government directed by the ecclesiastical order instituted by Christ and His apostles. It is testimony to the whole counsel of God to all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues. Truly it is not the function of the church to put Christian world order into effect. The church must occupy its own sphere of operation and limit itself severely to that sphere appointed to it by Christ. When the church attempts to become totalitarian then it has violated Christian order. But it is the function of the church to establish and promote Christian order within its own divinely instituted domain, and it is the function of the church to proclaim the world order to which God’s sovereignty and Christ’s headship obligate in every sphere. O how crushing is the shame that rests upon the church! Christian world order is an impossibility when the institution that is preeminently the instrument of testimony to Christ is itself the chamber of abominations. It is surely mockery and hypocrisy for the church to point the way when she herself has committed whoredom in the sanctuary of God. Judgment must begin at the house of God, judgment that will issue in purification of faith, of
“[T]he Bible is the only infallible rule of conduct for the civil magistrate in the discharge of his magistracy just as it is the only infallible rule in other spheres of human activity. testimony, of worship, and of government. Purified and renewed, sound in faith, steadfast in testimony, pure in worship and faithful in government, the church will become the channel of redeeming light and grace to a world lost and staggering in the confusion that the rejection of the counsel of the King of kings has brought upon it. “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea” (Isa 48:18). When the church puts on her garments of glory and beauty, then under the captaincy of Him who is Faithful and True, the King of kings and Lord of lords, she will go forth, fair as the moon, clear as the sun and terrible as an army with banners. Then it will be said again, “In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel. In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion. There brake he the arrows of the bow, the shield, and the sword, and the battle. Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey” (Ps 76:1–4). Humiliating indeed is our reproach. But by God’s grace and Christ’s power, how glorious our vocation and responsibility! 45
A Christian world order will embrace every department of life—industry, agriculture, education, recreation. The State
he state is the third basic divine institution. It might be thought that, while the redemptive and regenerative forces of Christianity have an obvious bearing upon the individual, the family and the church, yet the state cannot be regarded as coming in any direct way under the demands and influences of the Christian revelation. The state has to do with civil order, the preservation and promotion of civil righteousness, liberty and peace. It will be said that the civil magistrate in the discharge of his official functions has no religious obligations and therefore should not and cannot be regulated in the discharge of his office by the Christian revelation, in other words, that the Bible is not the rule of conduct for the civil magistrate as it is for the individual, for the family and for the church. This position embraces a strange mixture of truth and error. There is truth in this position insofar as it recognizes the limits of civil authority. Civil authority is not totalitarian. Civil authority must never trespass the sphere of the family, or of the church, and it must guard the Godgiven rights and prerogatives of the individual. If the distinction of spheres is once blurred or obliterated, then good order is impossible and Christian principles are negated. It is also true that those in whom is vested the right of civil government must exercise that government in accordance with the laws of the commonwealth. If they are not able to do this in accordance with conscience, then they must abdicate their office or seek by the constitutional means provided by the commonwealth to change those laws. Especially is this the case with believers who recognize that their supreme obligation is to God and to Christ. But a fatal element of error inheres in this position, if it is thought that the Christian revelation, 46
the Bible, does not come to the civil authority with a demand for obedience to its direction and precept as stringent and inescapable as it does to the individual, to the family and to the church. The thesis we must propound as over against such a conception of the relation of the Bible to civil authority is that the Bible is the only infallible rule of conduct for the civil magistrate in the discharge of his magistracy just as it is the only infallible rule in other spheres of human activity. God alone is sovereign. His authority alone is absolute and universal. All men and spheres are subject to God. The civil magistrate derives his authority from God. Apart from divine institution and sanction, civil government has no right to exist. “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom 13:1). Since civil government derives its authority from God, it is responsible to God and therefore obligated to conduct its affairs in accordance with God’s will. The infallible revelation of His will God has deposited in the Scriptures. It will surely be granted that there is much in the Scriptures that has to do with the conduct of civil government. And this simply means that the Word of God bears upon civil authority with all the stringency that belongs to God’s Word. Furthermore, the Word of God reveals that Christ is Head over all things, that He has been given all authority in heaven and in earth. The civil magistrate is under obligation to acknowledge this headship and therefore to conduct his affairs, not only in subjection to the sovereignty of God but also in subjection to the mediatorial sovereignty of Christ and must therefore obey His will as it is revealed for the discharge of that authority which the civil magistrate exercises in subjection to Christ. Christian world order embraces the state. Otherwise there would be no Christian world order.
To recede from this position or to abandon it, either as conception or as goal, is to reject in principle the sovereignty of God and of His Christ. The goal fixed for us by the Christian revelation is nothing less than a Christian state as well as Christian individuals, Christian families and a Christian church. And this just means that the obligation and task arising from Christ’s kingship and headship are that civil government, within its own well-defined and restricted sphere, must in its constitution and in its legislative and executive functions recognize and obey the authority of God and of His Christ and thus bring all of its functions and actions into accord with the revealed will of God as contained in His Word. We thus see how radical and reconstructive is a philosophy of Christian world order, if we are to face that conception frankly and address ourselves to the responsibility it entails. It is, of course, true that all of life is not exhausted by the family, the church and the state. These, however, are the basic divine institutes of society. A Christian world order will embrace every department of life—industry, agriculture, education, recreation. But since these institutions are basic, it is inevitable that the Christianizing of every other department of life will proceed apace with the Christianizing of these basic institutions. When we contemplate such stupendous responsibility as that arising from the sovereignty of God and of Christ’s supreme kingship and lordship, we may well be crushed by the sense of our own insufficiency. How weak we are and how formidable are the enemies of God and of His kingdom! Who is sufficient for these things? We are indeed totally insufficient and the task is overpowering. But this overpowering sense of our weakness and inability is no reason for faintheartedness. It is rather the very condition of true faith and perseverance. The responsibility is ours: it is stupendously great. The insufficiency is ours: it is complete. But the power is God’s. The grace is of God. The promise is His. “Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand: Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face” (Ps 89:13–14). How necessary it is to remember that Christ has spoiled principalities and powers,
triumphing over them in His death, and that He is now exalted far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named not only in this world but also in that to come! Being by the right hand of God exalted and having received the promise of the Father, He hath sent forth the Holy Spirit. We must do honor to Christ and to His kingly authority and might. We must also do honor to the Holy Spirit who convicts the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. We have not only an almighty advocate in heaven at the right hand of God but also an almighty advocate upon earth. How puny and helpless are the powers of evil when they are set over against the irresistible grace and power of Him who is Himself God, possessing with the Father and the Son the totality of Godhood, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son! And how shameful and vile is our faintheartedness and unbelief! “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). It is the peculiar prerogative of the Holy Spirit to take of the things of Christ and show them unto us. It is His to glorify Christ. Let us lay hold upon the promise, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him” (Luke 11:13), and let us in His strength go forth to claim every realm for Him who must reign until all His enemies shall have been made His footstool. John Murray (1898–1975) was Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. Among his best known works are Redemption Accomplished and Applied, and his commentary, The Epistle to the Romans. A collection of his sermons, O Death, Where is Thy Sting? was published in 2017.
. K. Chesterton wrote with characteristic wit that Original Sin is “the only part of theology that can really be proved.” I believe what he meant to say is that it is the only thing that doesn’t need proving. It is everywhere an obvious fact of human existence. I thought of this while reflecting on Jesus’ words in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.” This, too, seems a self-attesting truth, especially in The Year of Our Lord, 2020. But for those who need empirical verification, consider that ours is a time of extraordinary anxiety and tension, cultural and political conflict, protests and riots, a viral pandemic, and even a sudden invasion of “murder hornets” in Washington State! Moreover, the ground more broadly is shifting underneath our feet. In a nation long characterized as broadly Christian, vast numbers of people now identify as religiously unaffiliated. They mix, match, and re-mix a host of strange and diverse ideas as they self-curate their own bespoke pagan sensibilities. And, as a result, Christian virtues are widely viewed as fearful (phobic) and bigoted. Before our eyes history seems to be lurching into reverse, taking us all the way back to the second century when Christ-followers were labeled haters of humanity. But Jesus’s warning about trouble comes not as a truism or to stir us to anxiety, but as an exhortation to be comforted. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” In other words, whatever it is in the world giving us trouble, whatever the obstacle or challenge, Jesus has overcome it. This declaration is nothing less than the objective foundation of all Christian comfort: in his death and resurrection the Lord has overcome the world, which, in the context of John’s gospel, means the domain of darkness, Satan, sin, and death.
No doubt these words made an impression on all the disciples, but they seem particularly meaningful to John. In his first epistle to the church he writes as though explicitly recalling these words from the upper room, only he gives them a startling twist: “[E]veryone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 Jn 5:4). Wait! Didn’t Jesus say “I have overcome the world”? Why is John saying that we—and “our faith”—have overcome the world? Hasn’t John turned a wholly Christcentered promise into a human-centered one? There is no linguistic confusion to help us here. John is using the same word for “overcome” that Jesus did, the root of which is very familiar to us: Nike, or “Victory”! I suspect John remembers something else in Jesus’s words recorded in John 16:33 that we are very quick to overlook: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.” There is something more than the bare objective reality of Christ’s victory over the world. His empty tomb is not just his empty tomb. We are invited into Christ, to be united to him, to have all of his blessings overflow to us, to have what is true of him become true of us, and we are thereby invited into his victory and into his peace. It is so easy to forget, but the Nicene Creed reminds us that “for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” Jesus did not undertake his earthly work for himself, to win himself victory, as though to dwell alone in the house of the Lord forever while wistfully hoping that someone else might join him. He did it all as our substitute and representative. He did it for us! The objective reality of his work finds its necessary fulfillment in God’s people experiencing the Son’s blessing through
We are invited into Christ, to be united to him, to have all of his blessings overflow to us, to have what is true of him become true of us, and we are thereby invited into his victory and into his peace.
the Spirit as a subjective corresponding reality. John is so bold as to seemingly alter Jesus’ words: “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” It is by faith that we are “in him,” by faith that we find peace there, and by faith that we are made participants of Christ’s victory over the world. John gets this idea too from the very words of Jesus. This entire train of thought in John 16 begins with Jesus exclaiming: “You believe at last!” (John 16:31) 1 John 5:4b, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” was the favorite sermon text of Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck, and, indeed, the text for the only sermon he ever published. In it he surveys the scope of world and all its treasures, identifying all the things in which people put their hope and trust in a world of danger and distress, and he is left with the horrifying reality that sin has corrupted everything. There is no ultimate hope in political power and coalitions, the beauty of art, or the brilliance of intellect or the academy: And precisely through this, sin taking all of God’s creations and gifts into its service, the world forms such an almost limitless power. Who is equipped to stand against its domination, to break free from its influence? Could a creature, walled in on every side by the world and bound in its snares, do that? Could a person, who belongs to this world with all his body and soul, with all his thought and desire, do that? After all, this world is not only external to us; it lives within us in the highest place, in our hearts, in our understanding, in our will, in all our affections.1 There is thus no escape from the power of the world in its sin-corrupted dimensions. So, Bavinck, following the Apostle John, points the way: See, beloved, as we people stand desperately and vainly look to creatures for salvation, John, the apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, comes to us and holds God’s word before our eyes: this is the victory that has overcome the world—namely, our faith. Faith, the victory over the world!2 Bavinck knows how foolish that sounds in an age where faith is understood to be something like an opinion or uncertain hope. But, Bavinck suggests, 50
Before our eyes history seems to be lurching into reverse. . . biblical faith is something else altogether:But it is firm certainty, unshakeable conviction, ineradicable confidence, not of blood or of the will of the flesh, not of the will of a man, but coming from God and worked in the heart by his Spirit. It is the bond that the soul binds to the Mediator and holds fast to him as seeing the Unseen. It is the power that transfers the person from darkness to the Kingdom of the Son of God’s love and gives him a point of support and rest in the world of immovable realities. It is the firm ground for the things that he hopes and the irrefutable proof for the things that he does not see. It is the courage by which he faces up to the whole world and rejoices: If God is for us, who can be against us?3 In a world of tumult and turmoil, the gospel message of hope remains. “Take heart,” says our Lord, for “I have overcome the world.” And John tells us that by virtue of our union with Jesus Christ through faith—“You believe at last!—we have. Brian Mattson is Visiting Adjunct Professor of Systematic and Public Theology at Westminster, and Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center for Cultural Leadership. He is the author of Cultural Amnesia: Three Essays on Two Kingdom Theology and A Smith River Journal: And Adventure of Faith, Fatherhood, and Friendship. He also publishes a weekly newsletter, The Square Inch. 1 Herman Bavinck, On Preaching & Preachers, James Eglinton, trans., ed. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2017): 73-4. 2 Ibid., 74. 3 Ibid., 78.
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The first graduating class at Westminster.
YOUR POINT OF CONTACT Greetings Alumni, As we write to you, the current lay of the land is best described with one word: distant. And, unless you’re a middle school dance chaperone, it’s hard to feel good about a mandated six feet of separation. But through the wonders of technology, we’ve been able to stay connected. Granted, it’s not perfect (Shoot us an email if you’ve figured out how to gracefully exit a Zoom meeting!), but here in the virtual offices of Westminster’s Alumni Department, we’ve refused to settle into a long winter of navel-gazing. Our seminary is utilizing the connectivity provided by the internet in order to maintain the relationships between professors and students, so why shouldn’t we do the same to stay connected with our beloved alumni. In that spirit, we want to take advantage of this first issue of Westminster Magazine to share some ways that you, as alumni, can stay connected with your alma mater via the wonders of the worldwide web. The best way to stay in touch with what’s happening at Westminster is through our monthly email newsletter, Point of Contact. In that email you’ll find updates on school news, interviews with fellow alumni, helpful book reviews, and obituary information on Alumni whose faith has become sight. Point of Contact will also provide you with ways to update your contact info with Westminster. All we need is your email address (email firstname.lastname@example.org), and we’ll add you to the list. Through Point of Contact, you can also access the alumni Facebook page, where hundreds of Westminster alumni are in dialogue, sharing life updates and prayer requests. The alumni page also keeps you up to date with links to chapel services, and the latest videos produced by Westminster. And don’t forget, when you join the Point of Contact mailing list, you can request a special, hardbound copy of J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity & Liberalism: Legacy 52
Edition that includes faculty essays and photographs. We only ask that you cover $10 in processing and shipping charges. Beyond the digital connectivity, we like to keep things traditional too (this is Westminster after all)—if you’d like to get snail mail from us or connect over the phone, let us know where you live and how best to reach you. But we’d like to know more about you than just where you live. We frequently get calls or emails asking where to find Westminster-trained pastors, or churches that teach the whole counsel of God. So, let us know where you’re worshiping. Are you teaching or preaching on Sundays? Tell us about it. Even just knowing that a Westminster alumnus attends a church can be a helpful endorsement. Knowing where you are isn’t just about mailing appeals and cards—it helps us serve as a connecting and fellowshipping resource to the kingdom. If you receive the newsletter, check out the Facebook page, or provide a mailing address or phone number, we’ll keep you up to speed with our future plans. Also keep an eye on wm.wts.edu and future issues of Westminster Magazine for information about future events when we can at last meet again in person. In the meantime, we look forward to connecting with you during events like the Herrell and Gaffin Lectures, the Preaching Conference, and more. Finally, please stay involved through prayer. The faculty and staff meet regularly in order to bring the prayer requests of out ministry partners before the Lord, and we want to know how we can lift you up. Please share with us your life updates, causes for celebration, and struggles. We want to hear about weddings, we want to celebrate children, and we want to know when our fellow alumni pass on from this life—”Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (Psalm 116:15). Wherever you are, Westminster wants to prayerfully partner with you. It isn’t enough for our school to be rigorous, or technologically savvy. It isn’t enough to have newsletters and social media strategies. For Westminster to succeed, we need your prayer. We are appealing to you that you would appeal to the Lord for Westminster’s future, and for the student body. To that end, we have initiated a prayer partnership for alumni and a first year student to pray together each semester throughout that student’s time at Westminster. If you’d like to pray together with a student for that student, and for the school, please get in contact with us. The best way to contact the alumni office is by reaching out to Joel. You can reach him by email at email@example.com, or by phone at 215-935-3877. We love to get phone calls and emails from alumni, so please reach out to us and share your life updates. You can also get ahold of David at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please get in touch with us anytime. In Christ,
DAVID FILSON, DIRECTOR OF ALUMNI ENGAGEMENT & JOEL RICHARDS, ALUMNI ASSOCIATE 53
MEET THE SZTOS:
A Multi-Generational Legacy of Biblical Education at Westminster
From top to bottom: Clarice & Paul Szto, WTS graduation, 1950; Van Til and Paul; Rev. Szto preaching in the early 1960s in New York.
The Szto family has a remarkable history with Westminster—perhaps even one of a kind. Reverend Paul Szto studied under Cornelius Van Til, and graduated from Westminster in 1951. In the years since, all four of Rev. Szto’s children followed in their father’s footsteps, attending and graduating from Westminster. In fact, Irene, the oldest sibling, was one of the first women to graduate from Westminster. Peter is now a professor of social work at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. Mary teaches law at Syracuse. And John is an architect and musician. Earlier this summer, Westminster Magazine’s Joel Richards sat down (virtually) with Peter, Mary, and John Szto to talk about their late father, Reverend Paul Szto, and the family’s legacy of education at Westminster. The interview has been lightly compressed, and edited for clarity. Joel: Tell me a little bit about your father and his story at Westminster. Peter: Well, my father became a Christian when he was in China studying at university, and missionaries from the university were connected with Westminster. So when he had the opportunity to leave China at 47 or so, he was looking at Westminster because of those missionary connections, so then of course he came and very much enjoyed his theological education. Mary: It was transformative for our father. My father’s generation, but also many, many generations of Chinese people, were trying to solve the question of how China was once a great civilization militarily, but fell behind technologically in the 1800s. So my father, like many others, was trying to see whether or not Christianity was key to some of that development. When he came to Westminster, he was affirmed in his Christian faith and he was taught the treasures of Scripture, but he was also given tools to understand how Christianity and culture relate to each other. From day one, he was in awe of professor Van Til’s analysis of Scripture and philosophy. From then on, Professor Van Til became our father’s favorite professor.
Joel: How did your father’s experience here influence your decision to attend Westminster? How did that impact your personal occupations or ministries? Peter: We all were taught to believe in God’s divine plan and in his sovereignty, but I think in terms of our experience at Westminster, it kind of happened haphazardly. I don’t think my parents whispered to each other or planned that we would all go there, but with the influence of their lives on us, as we watched them and saw how they interacted with other people, the impact of Westminster was very significant. I never felt pressure from my father or from my mother to go there, it was just what I wanted for my life. I thought, “I need to take some time out to study Scripture to reflect more about life and then my career.” So that’s my journey. Mary: I feel like we grew up in a seminary. Our father became a pastor around 1957. His original plan was to go back to China to start a seminary, but that didn’t happen because of the communist takeover of China, and so our father did student ministry in New York City in the 1950s, and then started a Christian Reformed Church in New York City. So I thought our family was a seminary because whether it was in the morning, noon, or evening, or whether it was in the church or at home, our father was constantly teaching us theology and teaching us how to apply Scripture to all realms of life. He was constantly training church members, Chinese students, and other students, and urging them to go to Westminster. He was sending dozens of people to Westminster throughout his life. However, he never told us to go to Westminster. It was something that we wanted to do because we saw the value of a theological education. Joel: How has Westminster’s education served you in your lives and work today? Peter: I have several graduate degrees including a doctorate, but I found Westminster to be the most rigorous as far as giving insights into all areas of life. I ended up going into social work and getting a doctorate in social welfare, but the Westminster way of thinking, in its analysis-driven nature, alongside Van Til’s presuppositional critique, really gave me
The parsonage in Queens: 143-55 84th Drive, Jamaica, NY 11435.
a framework to look into my area of social work, both on a theoretical level and also as far as social services and social work practice go. Actually, next week I’ll be teaching a summer course on spirituality and social work. The insights from Westminster have grounded me so that I can look at other faith systems and other spiritualities with no fear, because of the truth claims that I embraced at Westminster. Mary: Our father taught us, and then we learned ourselves about the absolute truth of Scripture when we got to Westminster. We learned to study Scripture rigorously, and our father really encouraged us to apply that truth—the systematic theology, biblical theology, and other disciplines. That’s something I really admire in my father. That’s what he did, whether it be in his preaching or in his teaching. Moreover, he was always getting people to apply scriptural truth to various disciplines, in addition to getting church members to do so. When we were growing up, we would have scientists stay with us, along with businessmen, artists, and historians, and our dad would talk to them in the middle of the night. Our house was like a YMCA. He would always go into the airport, picking people up. They would stay in the house, some for months at a time, and he would teach them into the wee hours of the night, but he would constantly challenge them to think about science, history, and art differently, depending on what field they were in. So when I got to seminary I really loved my training there. Eventually I went to law school, and the way I read Scripture was very helpful when I started reading legal texts, and now I’m teaching law. I try to bring that scriptural approach to 55
my understanding of law, and especially to my understanding of policy. Today we’re facing a lot of issues in our country about race relations, and that’s something that God has called me to work on. Right now, I’m working on a restorative justice project. My theological training is directing me in this way—to bring God’s truth and his grace to racial reconciliation through restorative justice.
New York was a natural attraction. When he was ordained in the Christian Reformed Church, they encouraged him to do traditional pastoral ministry. He moved from the upper West side, leaving a student ministry based at Columbia, to Jamaica Queens, and then started the first Chinese congregation to have its own building outside of Chinatown. So from a church history point of view, it’s historical, but at the same Joel: John [using Zoom’s time, the movement to the chat feature] wrote that suburbs was happening in your father was the the sixties and the seventies, first Chinese man to be along with immigration. God foreknew that Queens ordained in the Christian would be a very strategic Reform Church in Queens. location for the Chinese. It’s Could you tell me a little bit currently the most ethnically about that? diverse county in the United Peter: I can talk a little States, and maybe the world. about that, but I want to So it continues to be of high just mention one other value for ministry, as far as Top: Van Til, John Frame, Paul Szto, during a special memory that I had regarding location goes. He would do lecture at Westminster Theological Seminary, 1964. Westminster. I remember I everything possible ministryhad orientation, and Sam wise: he would visit the Logan, the president at that Chinese restaurants and the laundromats, and then time, was telling us the nuts he also reached out to the and bolts about registration intellectuals. and things like that, but he It never was a problem for also mentioned something him to develop the ministry. I will always remember. He The church in the sixties and said that even though classes seventies that I grew up in haven’t started yet, because was predominantly Chinese of the academic rigor of earlier on, but later on, it was Westminster, we’re already multiethnic and contained two weeks behind in our people from all over the Bottom: Van Til, Paul Szto, Eric Sigward, & Clarice reading. Szto at Van Til’s birthday celebration. neighborhood. It was quite phenomenal. When I look Joel: That’s how I feel every back on his life in relation to semester. my own, I go, “Oh, I could Peter: God created my father as a Chinese man, never do that.” He just had so much energy. Of and so what comes along with that is food habits, course, it was his dependence on the Holy Spirit that ways of thinking, and of course, language. He enabled him to deal with ministry and our family. was fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese, English, and Living in New York City, he was really faithful. Greek, and Hebrew. New York City was the place to be at that time because of his Chinese-ness. Joel: Could you tell me a little bit about If he was in other places like Omaha, maybe it how you saw his gospel ministry change would’ve been more challenging to use his gifts. So Queens, or how the church in general 56
helped make some changes in Queens? Peter: That’s a great question, both in terms of my father’s ministry and how he did it, and also how that could be a model for the future. One of the ideas that he hung on to dearly was the notion of the covenant. God created us—the creator/creature distinction— but he created everybody. He really embraced that concept. It wasn’t just theoretical. He was open to all people because of this idea of the covenant, present throughout church history, throughout Scripture, and into the modern age. He was also steadfast in systematic theology. We want that intellectually, but how do you put that into practice in a ministry context that’s so diverse, such as New York City? That was his vision: to be principled in applying Scripture because there were so many things going on. Think back to the sixties—counter-cultural attitudes, with Woodstock, the space age, race riots, and civil rights—all of that was going on. But he maintained a focus on the scriptures, reaching out to the Chinese so that they could hear the gospel in its purest form, maintaining that we’re all made in the image of God as a bedrock principle because that’s what Scripture teaches. Scripture has a lot to say about diversity, as it pertains to race relations. There is a trend that churches have, say, a middleclass model of ministry, that doesn’t always work across cultures. But I think my father knew that and he was encouraged by Dr. Van Til. They maintained a close relationship and then he was able to develop that, manifest it, and make it visible in Queens. Mary: Well, I think our father was really a pioneer because he was establishing the first Chinese church outside of Chinatown, and possibly in the United States at the time, and then he was still working with students and immigrants. So he was working with people from all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. He was able to reach intellectuals. He was also able to reach people who were mainly laborers, like restaurant workers and laundry workers. He was also teaching at Queens college, so he was reaching out to the scholarly community too He was part of the Reformed Pastors Fellowship, and for a period of time, there were only two CRCs in New York city—it was our church and a church in Harlem. He was also doing a lot of church planting
Rev. Szto, retired, July 10, 2016.
in New York City. But what was so wonderful was that he was connected to all sectors. God gave him a ministry to all of New York City, but then to all the world. He was in contact with people starting seminaries in Asia, and then he was planting CRCs throughout the country. God gave him his grace to do so. It’s just exhausting to think about all he was doing while raising us. Our home was a church and a seminary without walls. It was just so inspiring how he took Scripture so seriously. He took his community, different countries, and the world so seriously, and God just gave him the energy to be doing ministry on a global level. Joel: John just wrote that your father “took the Great Commission seriously to the ends of the earth,” and that your father’s apologetics were “to become all things to all men.” I think it’s so cool, especially in this crazy time, to have the gospel be the center of the interactions we have with people around us, especially people who are culturally different than us. You mentioned a little bit earlier about the parsonage, and last time we spoke you mentioned plans to honor your father’s life and ministry. Tell me a little bit about that vision you have. 57
Peter: Well, in one sense, it is to honor our father, but it’s really to honor God—how God used him and how his faith in Jesus Christ continued to compel him to share that with other people. But even in that, in one sense, it’s just a space. We feel the space has made a unique contribution to church, life, church history, and ethnic ministries. It’d be nice to get the story out, to get the narrative out, in terms of how all the things that we just talked about happened there. We used to joke that we had theology for breakfast, and then we’d go downstairs and there would always be these new guests sleeping in our house. We are hoping that we can continue to use this space for God’s glory, so other people can hear the story and see that it’s just not artifacts, and then wherever they are, they can be inspired to do the same thing. It should be like a living history; a living example of how well God used one individual to do so many things, and how you too can do the same thing wherever you are. Also, he was a voracious reader, and so he accumulated a library at one point that contained maybe fifteen thousand volumes. So we grew up in a little library, and our house was just full of books, which we would like to preserve. He gave many away, but there’s still a lot left, so we’d like to share those. I’m also a photographer and we have a lot of photographs of the sixties, seventies, and the eighties, so we’d like to use those within the space. Joel: What are ways that we at Westminster can be of service to you in this project? Mary: I’d like to see if there are any people out there who are interested in helping out with the digitization process, and with organizing archives. Our father has amazing pieces of past correspondences. We have letters from Westminster faculty. We have letters from all the Christian leaders from the 1950s to the 1960s that our father was corresponding with. His reach was so broad and so wide, but he was very humble in that he didn’t go around promoting himself. He didn’t have a PR machine, and so very few people know about our father. People met him, they appreciated his ministry, but no one was writing about him. No one wrote a book about him. No one wrote articles about him. So I think that if there are people out there who 58
did have contact with him who want to write about their experiences with him, and if there are also people out there who are interested in helping with the digitization, we would want their help, because I believe he’s a very important historical figure in the history of the church, but he’s like a well-kept secret. Peter: Well, I think another important question is how Westminster can help the situation in Queens right now. It’s a joint ministry between the Queens Christian Reformed Church, which is CRC, and the Covenant of Grace Church, which is PCA, and so there you have a very unique situation where you have a CRC and a PCA congregation doing something mutually beneficial. Basically, it’s a merged congregation, but if you know anything about church ecclesiastical relations, they shouldn’t be doing that. But that’s maybe the genius of reformed thinking, in that everything’s possible under God. So, there’s a lovely ministry going on there. We should think and pray about how other people can go and help in different ways, by preaching and by taking part in a summer internship, coming alongside us and doing some of the archival digital work, but also, in terms of curriculum, how some of the content of my father’s thinking can be studied, so it could impact urban ministry curriculums and our global ministry. If you have a Westminster story you’d like to share, please contact our Alumni Department at email@example.com.
Biblically Faithful Books, Kindergarten Through MDiv.
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Bookstore IN THE LIFE & HEALTH
OF THE CHURCH.” wtsbooks.com 59
First Stop: Emmaus
HEARTS AFLAME A Guided Tour of the Legacy of Precision and Piety in Presbyterian Preaching, Pt. 1 David Owen Filson
ne of the loveliest stories in all the Bible has to do with the heart. A couple of dejected, fearful hearts, actually. The risen Jesus encountered two men on the road to Emmaus and asked, “What are y’all talking about?” (quoted straight from the MSV: the Mid-South Version). One of the men, Cleopas, explained to this sudden traveling companion their sadness at the recent loss of the One whom they had hoped would deliver Israel. Their messianic hopes had been crushed. As the story goes, Jesus, the Great Physician, prescribes the right medicine for their slowness of heart—he opens the Old Testament and gives them a course in Christ-centered biblical hermeneutics. In a sense, from the Garden of Eden all the way to the village Emmaus, the story of God’s pursuit of the heart of his people through the person and work of Christ is on display. Our first parents ate that which was forbidden, promised that their eyes would be opened and they would see that they were their own epistemologically self-asserting gods. To be sure, their eyes were opened. But what did they see? Only what pathetic excuses for gods they turned out to be. So began the pursuit of their hearts. God, calling Adam to account, preached the seminal form of the gospel of the Seed who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15), and clothed them with garments of skin, prefiguring the need for atonement (Gen 3:21). From the earliest pages of the Bible, the story is of Christ. Then, having reached the village, and bidding them eat, Jesus, the Last Adam, opened their eyes. And what did they see? What a stunning God the risen Lord turned out to be! “They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’” (Luke 24:32). Second Stop: Theology and the Heart
ince the Emmaus road, Christian theology has always been about the heart. An Westminster Theological Seminary stands in a historic stream of ministerial training that nurtures the marriage of precision and piety¬— theological studies and affection for Christ. Augustine set the trajectory of his Confessions this
way: “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”1 The deeply held meaning of John Calvin’s famous motto—“My heart I offer to you Lord, promptly and sincerely”— is apparent in the letter he sent from Strasbourg to William Farell in Geneva. At the latter’s urging, the reluctant Reformer agreed to return to Geneva, writing, “When I remember that I am not my own, I offer up my heart presented as a sacrifice to God.”2 In fact, the seal Calvin originally used on his personal letters was simply an image of a hand holding a heart, with no text.3 And this tender surrender of the heart continued all the way through Calvin’s final edition of the Institutes, thus cementing the significance of the heart in Reformed theology, on both sides of the Atlantic. Even John Newton’s heart-stirring corpus of letters, Cardiphonia or Utterance of the Heart, would not have been possible without a tradition of Puritans like William Ames, who defined theology in his architectonic Marrow of Theology (1623) this way: “theology is the doctrine of living unto God.” Indeed, this was a sentiment adopted in the developing trans-Atlantic context by none other than Northampton’s Jonathan Edwards—Ames’s Marrow was foundational to his own theological formation. The Christological implications, certainly assumed by Ames, but also explicit in the work of Dutch Reformed theologian, Petrus van Mastricht, also impacted Edwards’s Christology a great deal. From the Garden to Emmaus, to Hippo, to Strasbourg, to Northampton, even to a colonial town, Princeton, the Lord pursued restless hearts. In Princeton, a battle was fought for the heart of a new
nation. And it is here that I want to focus on the ongoing story of Reformed theology’s commitment to an informed mind and enflamed heart. Third Stop: Old Princeton
ur next stop is at a yellow house. It looks like many other 18th century homes in the area. This house, declared a National Landmark in 1971, sits on the edge of the property of Princeton University, facing Nassau Street. This is the President’s House, but not because George Washington briefly called it home (which he did), but because this house was home to the early presidents of the College of New Jersey. The relationship between this house, old Princeton Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary is not only geographical and institutional, it is theological too, as the College’s third President, Jonathan Edwards lived there for a brief period. Edwards’s massive corpus of sermons, treatises, letters, and other papers reveal that, at its center, his affectional theology was a theology of the heart wherein the things of God become for believers, “the cream of all their pleasures.”4 Continuing our tour of old Princeton, we travel down Mercer Street to another significant house, less imposing than the President’s house, at what is now Princeton University. The story of our occupant begins with two Presbyterian ministers, Ashbel Green (1762– 1848), and Samuel Miller (1769–1850), who had, by the early 1800s, become convinced of the need for a seminary that would focus exclusively on the preparation of ministerial candidates in ways that the College of New Jersey was not designed or equipped to do. They envisioned their seminary as a destination for college graduates, ensuring that
Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?
Presbyterian ministers were as well educated as possible before they met the growing demand for ministers in Post-Revolutionary America. At the core of their plan was a desire to recapture the heart and fire of the experiential Calvinism of the old Log College, where William Tennent had tutored Presbyterian ministerial candidates from 1727 to his death in 1746. During this period, two significant events occurred. In 1805, Harvard appointed a Unitarian to the chair of its divinity department. In response, New England Congregationalists formed AndoverNewton Theological Seminary in Andover, MA by 1808. That same year, at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia pastor Archibald Alexander (1772–1851) preached a sermon calling upon the denomination to establish seminaries that would keep its pulpits well-stocked. By 1811, at the behest of the typically Presbyterian course of overtures and committees, the General Assembly approved The Plan for a Theological Seminary, as a “Nursery of vital piety, as well as of sound theological learning.” It was, in many ways, the renewal of that seedbed of precision and piety that had been sown in the old Log College almost a century prior. An arrangement was reached with the College, such that the two institutions would be separate but cooperative. Alexander’s sermon proved something of a selffulfilling prophecy. In 1812, the General Assembly approved a board of directors who knew exactly who they wanted to be the seminary’s president. The Philadelphia preacher had preached himself into a new job! Ruddy in appearance, and ready of heart, Alexander moved his family to Princeton and assumed the task of planting a seminary. On July 29, 1812, Alexander, his wife, and four children moved into this modest house on Mercer Street.5 He was inaugurated President of Princeton Theological Seminary the next month. In this house—“not very large or commodious” as Alexander described its suitableness for a seminary—Princeton Theological Seminary began its first day of class. The new President/Professor had three students. Six more came the following spring. Five more joined in the summer of 1813. This house was classroom, library, administrative office, student cafeteria and chapel. The students took their meals with the 62
Alexanders and were, by everyone’s estimation, family. As students quickly learned, doing life with Professor Alexander only added further seminary training to their seminary training, and not only in learning theology from his lectern, but from Professor Alexander’s heart. Alexander dearly held together precision and piety. Jonathan Edwards, who had lived just up the street a little over half a century earlier, preached a sermon in Northampton, entitled “The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth,” in which he recalled reading Petrus van Mastricht’s definition of theology as “the doctrine of living unto God by Christ.”6 —a definition also rooted in Edwards’s readings of Petrus Ramus, William Ames, William Perkins, and others. Alexander, known for his heart-felt, affective preaching during Sunday evening worship services, was in good company with his fellow Princetonian. He delivered riveting sermons week after week. People from all over the area, as far as Philadelphia, would make their way to hear him preach. It became more than this little house could hold. So, Alexander moved the chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary to a new temporary location in Nassau Hall. As the founding President and Professor of Theology, Alexander established the precedent of precision and piety that tethered old Princeton to Calvin’s resistance to overly speculative theological methodology, and paved the way for Westminster Theological Seminary’s unwavering commitment to a “radically non-speculative” theological method. Alexander, as Andrew Hoffecker writes, distinguished two characteristics of fundamental doctrines: 1. “That the denial of them destroys the system. 2. That the knowledge of them is essential to piety.”7 In a stirring summary of Alexander’s commitment to the hearts aflame approach to seminary education, Hoffecker continues: The sermon best illustrating Alexander’s preaching on experience is on Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you the hope of glory.” The biblical passage admits of a certain mystical element, and the meaning of “being in Christ” or “abiding in him” is only fully apprehended in the experience of it.
The union of the believer and Christ is “intimate, spiritual, mystical, and indissoluble.” This union result sin communion with Christ “such as that which is experienced in the living human body, between the head and the members, which are so united, as to be animated with one common principle of life.” Union with Christ not result from orthodox opinions alone, which can be likened to a speculative knowledge. This knowledge is “correct as far as it goes,” but it fails to reach that knowledge resulting from seeing “the King in his beauty.” Those who have experienced this vision sense the barrenness of mere speculation. The true believer embraces Christ “by the full consent of the will, and supreme attachment of the affections.” Alexander even goes to the extent of saying that “it is peculiarly and eminently in the affections that Christ dwells. Here is his throne in the human heart. Here he reigns as King, and he must have no rival.”8 Fourth Stop: The Philadelphian
ne young Philadelphian, enrolled as a freshman at the College in 1812, never missed an opportunity to sit under the kind of preaching that enflamed his heart. This young man would later recall his “memorable days” of sitting under Alexander’s preaching in Nassau (after the little house on Mercer St. had been outgrown): Dr. Alexander soon began to preach regularly every Sunday evening, at first in the junior recitation room, the southern half of the basement of the Old Library building, (now Treasurer’s Office), which is still standing. That room is to this day sacred in the eyes of the old students of the College. It was then, and for forty years afterwards, the birthplace of many souls We were thus brought under the influence of a man, who, as an ‘experimental’ preacher was unequalled and un approached. It was said of him, that while most other ministers preached about religion, he preached religion.
Alexander’s impression on this college freshman is central to the story, not only of old Princeton, but a little seminary about an hour’s drive south of Princeton that would eventually seek to bear the mantle of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, precision and piety. In part two of Hearts Aflame, we will continue the story of the mysterious young Philadelphian, and this fire for faith that burned hot at old Princeton. It was a fire that burned in sermons and systematic theology lectures—a fire that continues to kindle a flame in the hearts of students training for ministry at Westminster, where the risen Jesus continues to cause hearts to burn, where the Christcentered Scriptures are meticulously studied, where specialists in the Bible are shepherded, where the call to theological precision and pastoral piety is an offering of our hearts promptly and sincerely, that fans the flame from Geneva to Glenside, to every tribe, tongue, and nation. Read part 2 of Hearts Aflame online at wm.wts.edu David Owen Filson is Adjunct Professor of Church History and Director of Alumni Engagement at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the Pastor of Theology and Discipleship at Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Nashville, TN. 1 Augustine, “Confessions” in The Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, 2 Vols., Whitney Oates, ed. (New York, Random House Publishers, 1948, rprt., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992), 3. 2 John Calvin, Letters of John Calvin, ed. Jules Bonnet, 1858, vol.1, p. 99. 3 Cf. Marcel Cadix, “Le calvinisme et l’expérience religieuse”, in Société de l’histoire du protestantisme français, 84 (1935) p.172. 4 Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2: Religious Affections, John E. Smith, ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 249–50). 5 The house was relocated in 1893 from 29 Mercer Street to its current stand at 134. This house was one of around 200 that were relocated, as that end of Mercer and Nassau Streets was undergoing development. 6 Jonathan Edwards, “The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth,” Sermon on Heb. 5:12, in Works of Jonathan Edwards, 22:86. 7 Andrew Hoffecker, Piety and the Princeton Theologians, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1981), 33. 8 Ibid., 34. 63
THE SEA OF GLASS Rob Golding The pond without wind glass it seems But it dances with joy in sun’s beams Immobile and active, one in the same Unchanging yet changed when light came Oh, dark night of the soul, don’t you know Your wrinkles in time will one day smooth Light comes down but not like rain It is free to flow in life and sooth Halcyon wrought by woe and tears They run down cheeks in restless spate They fall on feet like rays of sun They touch the toes that water placate The sea of wrath, its raging breakers A buttress for Destruction’s fleet Allayed by those small drops Now sea of glass beneath his feet Spirit over my soul Bend every knee and knoll Deliver from fangs of wrasse Make my heart a sea of glass
“Sea of Glass” is the 2020 winner of the Edgar Creative Writing Prize, awarded annually at Westminster.
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A Publication of
This is the first issue of Westminster's Magazine. It contains articles written by Westminster faculty, students, and alumni.
Published on Nov 12, 2020
This is the first issue of Westminster's Magazine. It contains articles written by Westminster faculty, students, and alumni.