We have moved past times when the revolution will be televised. Now itâ€™s happening on blogs. Dueling blogs have recently been created to voice either despair or support for the current administration at WTS (Philadelphia). Saveourseminary.com (get it, SOS) is the outlet for students and alumni who fear that the biblical studies faculty is about to be put on a tighter leash. According to these despondent bloggers, Westminster is about to abandon its commitment to both â€œcutting-edgeâ€ scholarship and â€œhistoric traditions.â€
Meanwhile, dudewheresmyseminary.wordpress.com was created to lampoon saveourseminary. It satirizes the fears of tyranny at Westminster by portraying â€œKarlâ€ Trueman as a fire breathing tyrant, not too many steps removed from the real tyrants that Karl Marx inspired. The impression given is that worries of a palace coup are completely unwarranted. (The site is humourous, but it may not do justice to the seriousness of either the issues the biblical studies faculty have raised about the inerrancy of Scripture or how important holding a job is.)
What is arguably most puzzling about the current flap at WTS is that both sides are opposed to narrowness and smug denominationalism. To be sure, some alumni and students at WTS sound more open and outward looking (read: biblical) than their opponents whom they deem as narrow and inbred (read: creedal). For instance, at SOS Tremper Longman explains why he left WTS to teach at Westmont: â€œone of the reasons why I left in 1998 was my perception that the seminary was beginning to change from the deeply Reformed but outward facing institution that it was from the time that I first knew it in the 1970â€™s to a more inward defensive institution. I remember talking to one colleague, for instance, who told me that if I felt the Bible taught something that the Confession did not that I had to side with the Confession. Thatâ€™s not the Reformed approach to the study of the Bible that I know and love.â€
But Carl Trueman, the one supposedly behind the defensive shift at Westminster, can sound equally outward looking. For instance, at Reformation 21, the on-line magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (hardly an inward Presbyterian group), he explained why he is sometimes critical of evangelicalism while also maintaining his regard for these Christians: â€œI am not in the game of bashing evangelicals and evangelicalism â€“ humanly speaking, I owe everything, almost all my theology, and much of my Christian nurture to such people. It wasnâ€™t the confessional Presbyterians who told me the gospel; it wasnâ€™t the confessional Lutherans who took the time to teach me the basics of the faith; it was the evangelicals.â€ Trueman adds, â€œI refuse the binary opposition which makes me either an evangelical first, last and only; or a denominationalist who sits in his study taking supercilious potshots at those who do their best to share the gospel with those who need to hear it.â€
Apparently what we have here are rival ways of being open to evangelicals, of not being narrowly or parochially Reformed. In effect, WTS is now torn between Scott McKnight, Tim Keller and Richard Mouwâ€™s sort of broad evangelicalism and Al Mohler, D. A. Carson and John Piperâ€™s sort of Reformed evangelicalism.
What is missing from both sides is the understanding of being Reformed that informed the likes of Machen and Van Til, men who were in fact denominationalists first and whose potshots at evangelicalism were not supercilious. Their criticisms of a lowest common denominator evangelicalism and their defense of the grandness of the Reformed faith stemmed not from a love of being narrow or isolated (though holding to the Westminster Standards as opposed to following one OT professorâ€™s interpretation of three books of the Bible is hardly narrow). It stemmed from the real differences that arise once one becomes a member of a church and a theological tradition. To be Reformed for the original WTS faculty meant not being something else.
Wouldnâ€™t it be nice if vows to a wife did not restrict involvement with other women, and wouldnâ€™t it be nice if responsibilities as an adult child didnâ€™t require caring for aging and infirm parents, and wouldnâ€™t it be nice if being a citizen of the U.S. also yielded the benefits that come to those living in New Zealand. And wouldnâ€™t it be nice to live with Homer Simpson in the Land of Chocolate! The problem is, we are situated people, and this situatedness inherently cuts us off from other people. To be open to all people and points of view is the conceit of modernity. It is not human. The ties of church membership and theological traditions are no less situated.