Dr. Tremper Longman has opined, along with Dr. Sam Logan, and Dr. Clair Davis about the supposed decline and fall of Westminster Theological Seminary. In their taxonomy of eras at WTS, there is a beginning era, a middle era, and a new era. For them, the middle era is the golden age. It is characterized by names such as Dillard, Longman, Enns, Groves, Kelly, Fantuzzo, Clowney, etc. In Clair Davis’s rather sweeping dismissal of the beginning era, the target is E.J. Young, who, according to Davis, relinquished pursuit of understanding the meaning of the OT in favor of crushing liberal arguments (I am sure Davis means this as a generalization, not an absolute statement).
I find it interesting that Van Til is not mentioned, who was certainly part of the beginning era. I also find it interesting that Gaffin was not mentioned much, who is really a bridge figure in some ways, having studied under Murray, and taught during most of the “middle” era, and having quite a large presence in the “new” era as well, given that Tipton and Garner are quite thoroughly cut from the same cloth as Gaffin. No one could conceivably learn about Paul from successors to Gaffin, could they? But then, the post is really about the OT department, isn’t it?
I find it sad that the generalized opinion is that WTS students really won’t learn much about the Bible from such (impliedly) pitiful scholars as Iain Duguid and G.K. Beale. I consider both of these men to be successors to Geerhardus Vos, and I can offer no higher compliment. I have learned immensely from them, about what the Bible means.
In my time at WTS, the OT department was Groves, Kelly, Enns, and Green. I learned from all of them. A lot, in fact. But I have also learned from Duguid, one of my very favorite OT commentators. I do not think that WTS has declined.
The real issue is whether the OT department respects systematic theology or not. In the “middle” era, I would say that the relationship of the OT department at WTS to systematic theology was ambivalent at best, antagonistic at worst. I heard many stories of “debates” between ST professors and OT professors where cardinal points of orthodoxy were challenged by OT professors, points such as the ultimate sovereignty of God over all creation, and the very validity of ST itself (if some OT profs were to be believed, then Gaffin, as professor of biblical AND systematic theology, ought to have been highly schizophrenic). To put it mildly, I never experienced any such schizophrenia from Dr. Gaffin, from whom I took five classes.
The publication of Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics could not come at a better time. Vos was a generalist theologian. He could do biblical theology (NO one better!) and exegesis, systematic theology (I have read the first three volumes, and am now in volume four of a truly masterful systematic theology), historical theology (his treatment of the history of covenant theology makes him look a lot like Richard Muller), and he could preach! The successors to Vos today are men like G.K. Beale and Iain Duguid. They, like Vos, respect the claims that systematic theology has to put a boundary around exegesis. The loss of the “creativity” that such boundaries supposedly stifle is, in my mind, what folks like Longman, Davis, and Logan mourn. Others like myself will consider the newfound respect for ST in the OT department to be a gain, not a loss. Creativity with regard to the boundaries of orthodoxy is not a virtue. We need to dig deeper into the Word, not shift sideways. True creativity comes in the context of boundaries that are clear and, yes, small, as any true artist knows.