WTS & Enns: HOW we handle ourselves is most important!

I am a vested interest by-stander. I am a graduate of WTS (MAR, ’99). I studied under such as Gaffin, Ferguson, Davis, Enns, Green, etc. I have fond affection and appreciation for all the men under whom I studied. I am appreciative of and supportive of the mission of WTS. I pray for God to yet bless it with more success than its great past record.


Full disclosure: I am also persuaded that Enn’s hermeneutic moves in heterodox directions. My point in this post however, is not to debate that or prove it. You see, what I think really does not matter at this point.


After all, I am only a vested interest by-stander.


And so are you a vested interested by-stander: pastor, layman, alumnus, current student. What you think is not as important right now as how  you handle yourself.


As vested interest by-standers, we have more responsibilities than we do rights in these matters. We have the right to expect those responsible to seek the truth and to do so consistent with the high standards of grace and mercy reflecting our Savior full of grace and full of truth.


Yet beyond this we really have responsibilities; responsibilities to behave ourselves in a way becoming the gospel we profess. 


It is wrong for whisper campaigns to be prosecuted against Pete Enns. It is wrong to prosecute whisper campaigns against Pete Lillback, Carl Trueman, et.al. By whisper campaign I am including innuendo, fact-less accusations, etc. Again the issue here is not whether or not the charge of heterodoxy in Enn’s hermeneutic is valid. The issue is how we, as by-standers with vested interests behave.


I too have first-hand knowledge of some of the things going on. I too, like Lane, have sought not to use such information in the discussions here at GreenBagginses, precisely because it would not serve toward achieving the goal at hand. If at the end of the day Enn’s defenders say, “we have evidence of x-y-z sin by his critics” and critics of Enns say, “we too have evidence o x-y-z sin by his defenders,” then we actually are in agreement – such behavior no matter where it is sourced is wrong!


I think we need to realize that these men, both WTS leadership and Enns, by necessity of the matter, must be circumspect in how much they discuss and divulge. Such confidentiality is not necessarily a mark of nefariousness. It is rather (I am persuaded) a mark of wisdom, maturity and humility.


I believe the audio of the special WTS chapel in which WTS’ president and board chairman answered student’s questions give a demonstration of how not to behave. The students whose questions I heard all seemed have an underlying presupposition that Enns’ has been the subject of injustice. Thus, the questioner asked a question intended to evoke an answer that would prove this injustice.


Given the nature of the question, delving into areas that must be maintained in confidence at this point, the president and chairman came across as evasive to those pre-convinced of their bent toward injustice for Enns. Rather than act with maturity and trust for men who have not given reason to not be trusted, this only served to prove the presupposition of the students.


I fully expect the retort, “you haven’t seen and heard other clearly egregious things,” proving that there is a nefarious bent toward injustice. My response is quite simple: I’m not naive and I have done my own research. I am persuaded that there is another valid explanation:


·     Enns’ views in question are problematic for some.

·     There is a certain procedure they must follow; a procedure intended to promote justice, truth and peace for all involved, including Enns.

·     Such a procedure is one which, if acted out in public would unnecessarily harm people involved, Enns and/or his critics.


If you have formed your opinion of nefariousness based on the report of another, I challenge you to not give credence to it. I’ve been through such affairs before. I plead with you; recognize that the one sharing such accusations is behaving in a way not consistent with the gospel of peace and purity. God will not honor such behavior. When you go off and act upon convictions based on such sources, you are setting yourself up for the Lord’s chastisement. Often such chastisement is experienced by God giving you more and more self-fulfilling prophecy, to the end that you destroy yourself. I’ve seen this pattern first hand. By God’s mercy I’ve been kept from it myself.


If you are young in experience as a churchman, that is if you have few years under your belt serving as a elder in a reformed denomination, let me urge you (as one who made such a mistake) to refrain from the foolish sinfulness of assuming that you have wisdom beyond your years. The book learning of seminary is wonderful. It takes the humbling crucible of ministry to move such ministry from head to heart, where real wisdom from Christ is found.


There are always two sides to any story. Even more, when even just a few additional factors are added (e.g., players, events, issues), the sides multiply exponentially. That is the case here with these circumstances.


Far too many (often current students) have in public manners spoken egregiously against Enns’ critics. Such blog sites as Save Our Seminary are sadly full of anonymous comments that publicly defame men such as Lillback and Trueman, in a manner they cannot biblically address even if they were guilty of some of the things laid at their feet.


Enns’ critics believe at least some of his positions are heterodox. Rather than shame him in public manners such as blogdom, they’ve chosen to pursue such convictions consistent with their vows to WTS and to Enns himself. It is a shame to Enns when those who purport to support him contra these men act in a manner that is ungodly. Would that some of Enn’s supporters think about this before they open their mouths.


Men such as Lillback and Trueman, like Enns, are men who leave clay foot prints when walking in the rain. They are also men who have demonstrated a credible profession of faith. When they are vilified by Enns’ defenders we bring shame on the Church and her Lord.


This is not the world, where we debate things in an auditorium packed with hand-picked supporters from both sides, before CNN cameras, ask questions designed to make things interesting, and then try to persuade others through spin that our guy is right. This is the Church. How  we handle such things reflects on Christ’s witness in the world (cf., John 17:20 ff.).


The matters before Enns and the WTS leadership are very important. For them, finding the truth is most important. But for us, merely vested interest bystanders, HOW  we handle ourselves in these matters is more important than the outcome.


Reed DePace


Van Til: A Review With Remembrance

I first met Cornelius Van Til back in 1978. I had, figuratively speaking, fallen off the back of a turnip truck in Chestnut Hill, Pa. and found myself on the campus of Westminster Theological Seminary, still clutching my Scofield reference Bible. Little did I know what lay in store for me. The seminary was at the height of the now infamous ‘Shepherd controversy’ which at the time I was totally unfamiliar with, but would soon find myself taking sides in this controversy which has lingered to this very day. I had come to Westminster at the recommendation of the late S. Lewis Johnson Jr., who had left Dallas Seminary and no longer felt comfortable sending students there, because Calvinism was not warmly embraced nor emphasized at DTS. I had become a five point Calvinist under the teaching ministry of Dr. Johnson at Believer’s Chapel in Dallas, Texas. So, here I was at the bastion of Reformed Theology, vaguely familiar with the name Van Til. Actually I had not read a single thing by him. I knew of Van Til’s name only because of him having been a major influence on Francis Schaeffer, whose works I had devoured as a philosophy major in college. As an incoming student I made my way one hot and humid August night to Van Til Hall for student orientation. The place was packed with people and the hum of voices sounded like a hive of bees. I was standing in front of a bulletin board looking at the class schedules when suddenly I heard this booming voice behind me say “Hello!” I turned around and saw this tall white-haired old man in a three piece blue pinned stripe suit. “I am Van Til,” he said even louder. My initial impression wasn’t all that favorable. He was munching on a white powdered donut and the powder was down his chin and speckled on his lapel and tie. I couldn’t help but notice his facial stubble and thought to myself, “I hope when I am that old somebody will make sure I shave properly before letting me out of the house!”

But that first impression would change as I got to know and love this verbi divini minister– V.D.M – a Servant of the Word God, a title that Van Til used to describe himself. Over the next few years, I made a number of walking trips with him around the spacious grounds of the seminary campus, had him over for meals in our home, and even took him to hear Gordon Clark lecture at Faith Theological Seminary in the early 1980’s. I also spent many an enjoyable evening in his home. On Thursday nights Van Til would open his home to students. We would drink hot chocolate and listen to him lecture extemporaneously on a wide variety of subjects: Aquinas, Calvin, Kant, Barth, Machen and Old Princeton, Gordon Clark, Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism. He might not remember your name from time to time, but he was a master teacher with a commanding knowledge of all these subjects.

All of these memories came rushing back to me in the pages of John Muether’s newly released Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman (P & R, 2008). This is the third installment in the American Reformed Biographies issued under the careful editorship of D. G. Hart and Sean Michael Lucas (Lucas did the one on Robert Lewis Dabney and Hart did one on John Williamson Nevin).

Muether is uniquely equipped to write this work. He served on the faculty of Westminster while Van Til was still living, and in addition to his theological education holds a masters degree in Library Science. I will forever be grateful to John for the course I had with him on Theological Bibliography and Research, where he taught us how to use and evaluate primary and secondary sources.

The subtitle of Muether’s book is most significant, Reformed Apologist and Churchman. In fact Van Til the Churchman, in many ways defines the man and his work apart from which, as Muether argues, Van Til can neither be properly understood or appreciated. Muether put it this way, “Without the ecclesial context of Van Til’s passion, his content becomes confused and even anemic. If Van Til considered it schizophrenic to establish Reformed theology on a non-Reformed apologetic, the situation today, twenty years after his passing, may be reversed. Van Tilian apologetics are often employed by apologists who are less than fully committed to what he would have regarded as a full-orbed Calvinism. In this way today’s church is expressing another form of incoherence: a Reformed apologetic is servicing a theology that is more generically Protestant. This de-contextualization eclipses the Reformed distinctiveness at the heart of Van Til’s system. (18)”

Every aspect of Van Til’s labors in the field of apologetics, and polemics are framed in this Sitz im Leben. Over the next two installments of this review, I will examine the individual chapters and weave into this review some personal reflections on Van Til as well as some cautionary observations that both Muether and I see with Van Til’s legacy and influence with his critics as well as his self proclaimed followers.

Gary Johnson

A Book Review by Barry Waugh

James E. McGoldrick. Luther’s Scottish Connection. Cranbury: Associated Universities Press, 1989. Reprint, Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007. Paperback. 141 pages including a bibliography and an index.

The idea that Martin Luther had anything to do with John Knox or Presbyterianism will at first appear odd. After all, Knox was influenced by John Calvin and his Geneva, and then he planted the seed of the Presbyterian Church in his dear Scotland cultivating it into the Kirk that would become identified with his homeland. Before the seed could be planted, the soil had to be prepared, and James E. McGoldrick contends that the ground was tilled by the ministry of those who were influenced by Martin Luther. The author’s purpose is “to identify the most prominent Scottish Lutherans and to relate the roles they played in the first phase of Scotland’s Protestant history” and give church history aficionados a single source for the story of early Lutheran influences in the land of tartans, kilts, dirks and haggis (5).

The book is attractively packaged with a slick cover bearing a reproduction of Lucas Cranach’s color image of the German monk painted in 1527. The body of the book is brief occupying ninety-one pages, with an additional thirty-four page appendix containing Patrick’s Places, while the annotated bibliography and index fill the remaining leaves. Following the prefaces to the first and second editions and the author’s acknowledgements, there are five chapters titled as follows: “Scotland in the Middle Ages,” “Scotland in the Renaissance,” “The Rise of Scottish Protestantism,” “Scotland’s Earliest Protestants,” and “Conclusion.” The book is handy, brief and provides the basic information one might like to obtain for an introduction to the early work of Protestantism in Scotland.

Dr. McGoldrick’s earlier book, Luther’s English Connection, 1979, followed the influences of Luther in England with particular emphasis on the contributions of Robert Barnes and William Tyndale. With respect to Barnes and Tyndale, Dr. McGoldrick concluded that they conveyed Luther’s thought to England while incorporating some variations of their own. For example, one variation the author mentioned is that both Barnes and Tyndale held to the “didactic use of the divine law in the Christian life” (199). The import of this for Luther’s Scottish Connection is that the author also finds Tyndale to be a significant influence in the early years of Protestant thought in Scotland. Tyndale’s English New Testament, says Dr. McGoldrick, was read by literate, educated Scots and by the middle of the sixteenth century there “were no major obstacles in written communication between Scots and Englishmen” (20). Thus the wee man Tyndale, who was one of the early beacons of reforming illumination, was able to influence Scotland with Lutheran ideas as well as thoughts of his own. Maybe Dr. McGoldrick should consider taking the English and Scottish connection books and fuse them into a single more substantial volume that would follow the influence of Tyndale in both lands and provide a more unified picture of the extent of his influence.

Luther’s Scottish Connection dedicates a considerable portion of its text to the brave and tragic reformer, Patrick Hamilton, who died at the young age of twenty-eight and became the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation. Hamilton had spent time on the continent where he was influenced by Erasmus and John Major, but most important for the purposes of Dr. McGoldrick’s book was the influence of Martin Luther. Through the encouragement of Francis Lambert, Hamilton wrote his Dyvers Frutful Gatheriges of Scrypture, which John Frith translated into English as Patrick’s Places. Dr. McGoldrick’s book provides a copy of Patrick’s Places, which is helpful because a reading of Hamilton’s text shows the influence of Luther’s thought. Dr. McGoldrick believes that Luther’s The Freedom of the Christian, 1520, is particularly present in Patrick’s Places, along with Philip Melanchthon’s Loci Communes, 1521, and Tyndale’s The Parable of Wicked Mammon, 1527 (49).

Patrick left the continent and returned to Scotland where he married and then after brief time was tried and found guilty of heresy by Archbishop James Beaton of Glasgow. Patrick Hamilton was burned at the stake February 29, 1528.

James McGoldrick’s book accomplishes its purpose in providing the reader with a succinct and handy telling of the influence of Luther in Scotland and the background leading up to the entry of John Knox. When George Wishart entered the Scottish Reformation picture, around 1544, Dr. McGoldrick contends that Scottish Protestant thought began its turn from the teaching of the Wittenberg monk to that of Calvin and Zwingli (87). McGoldrick believes it could well be that Wishart’s translation of the First Helvetic Confession of Faith into the Scottish dialect in 1536 aided the supplanting of Lutheranism and the propagation of Swiss reforming ideas (87). Those interested in learning about the Scottish Reformation, before John Knox and his Presbyterian polity came to dominate the scene, will find Luther’s Scottish Connection a helpful, brief and easy introduction to this forgotten aspect of the Scottish Reformation.

Two helpful reference books for the study of Scottish history are the Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland, edited by John and Julia Keay, 1994, which provides general information about Scotland and its history, while church historians will appreciate the indispensable Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology, edited by Nigel M de S. Cameron, David F. Wright, David C. Lachman, and Donald E. Meek, 1993. David Daniell’s book, William Tyndale: A Biography, Yale, 1994, is very helpful for learning about the life and work of this highly influential personality.