New Calvinist Exceptionalism

After the recent controversies surrounding Darrin Patrick, C. J. Mahaney, and James MacDonald, I was surprised to see Jeff Jue be so positive about the New Calvinism. He even appeals to the spirit of J. Gresham Machen and Westminster Seminary:

It is committed to the Reformed tradition.

The theme of this year’s T4G was “We Are Protestant: The Reformation at 500,” and the theme of TGC’s 2017 National Conference will be “No Other Gospel: Reformation 500 and Beyond” (April 3 to 5 in Indianapolis; browse list of speakers and talks, and register here). Reformed theology is at the heart of WTS, and it’s what we’ve been teaching since J. Gresham Machen founded the seminary in 1929. So it’s a great encouragement to partner with others who share our commitment to the Reformed tradition.

In 2014 John Piper gave a series of lectures at WTS on the New Calvinism. At one point he stated, “There would be no New Calvinism without Westminster Seminary.” He was referring to the numerous influential books written by WTS faculty members. Perhaps it was an overstatement, but Piper’s comment reminded me of the historical connection between WTS and the New Calvinism.

To Serve the Local Church

Just as WTS is an independant organization with a confessional identity wanting to serve the church, the same is true of sister ministries like T4G and TGC.

And while we have some differences among us, the New Calvinist movement—as represented this week by T4G—is an opportunity to share the rich truths of the Reformation with yet another generation of pastors and churches.

I would have thought that Carl Trueman’s jab on the Gospel Coalition’s “Machismozing” was more typical of that Old Westminster spirit.

But what do I know? It is the season of spin.

Westminster II

Looks like (and we’ve known this for some time) that Protestants have as much trouble with hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity as Roman Catholics. Something funny happened in the 1960s. Bishops met in Rome — was it hard to get a cab, a table at a trendy Italian restaurant? And at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia) the second generation of faculty came along, most of whom had studied with the first generation. But the second generation decided it wouldn’t color within the lines drawn by the original faculty. Sounds like Vatican II, doesn’t it?

Evidence of the challenges of historical and institutional continuity comes from a post on Facebook at Tremper Longman’s page (made available at Greenbaggins). Tremper calls it Middle Westminster, an odd phrase if you think in historical categories of the West. Weren’t the Middle Ages also the Dark Ages? That surely is not what Tremper means to communicate since for him, Middle WTS is the good WTS. For support, he includes comments by Clair Davis:

The history of WTS divides itself naturally into three great epochs: before me, during me, after me. I came on faculty in 1966 at the same time that Ed became the first president, and retired as Sam was taken away as our leader. So Middle WTS is the same as My Time! Ed had a broader agenda than showing up liberals, so closely related to his own powerful work with the Word. He got around in the broader evangelical world and appreciated what we could give them. I give him so much credit along with Ed Clowney Redivivus George and Sam for broadening us up to look at the Bible itself, but I suspect that growing evangelical desire for more than the old WTS offered also played a large part.

Especially after Meredith moved on Ray Dillard became our leader, in OT and also in godly theology for life generally. The OT people had the only departmental prayer meeting! I am so glad they had room for Erik Davis too. Al led them and us all on after Ray’s early death. But what an amazing crew: add on Tremper Longman, Peter Enns, Bruce Waltke, Doug Green, and Mike Kelly, and so many great grad students.

It was all about learning more and more about God’s Word, with all that learning other Semitic cultures could provide. I hope my Church History big picture way of thinking doesn’t blur the uniqueness of our OT—but the rise of Jay Adam’s and David Powlison’s and Ed Welch’s biblical counseling was going on at the same time. Then add in Harvie Conn, with his provocative questions and deep answers. I see our Old Testament department leading the way, but so many “cultural” things were happening at the same time! We all knew our God-given calling was to be “relevant,” to push the evangelical and Reformed world to think bigger than it ever had, to go far beyond hassling liberals and getting the grammar right. I believe myself that we succeeded mightily. To God be the glory, with credit to Ed Clowney and George Fuller and Sam Logan and Harvie Conn and CCEF (the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation) and those amazing students, asking better and deeper questions of us and demanding answers.

Clair’s reflections come at the conclusion of Doug Green’s teaching career at WTS. As Tremper explains, Green’s departure is one more piece of the “Westminster Diaspora.” I agree with Clair and Tremper that it is sad to see Doug leave WTS. I consider him a friend, thanks in part of the placement of the coffee maker in the work room outside my office in Montgomery Memorial Library which allowed him and me to talk about any number of things. At the same time, I’m pretty sure Doug would concede that WTS in the 1990s was a shaky place where confessionalists like myself and envelope-pushers like him (and Tremper, and Pete Enns, and Clair Davis) co-existed but rarely found themselves on the same page.

The question I had then is the same question I have now: why did administrators and board members think you could sow the fabric of continuity onto the inherent discontinuity between Old School Presbyterian types and New Life folks who were in awe of Tim Keller (the elephant in this historical room)? As if TKNY would bring us all together.

If Clair can lament the loss of Middle Westminster, can’t folks who think as Machen did that the Reformed faith is grand bemoan the loss of Early Westminster? What exactly happened to make the convictions of the original faculty either wrong or irrelevant? And did anyone actually make a case for changing course, pointing out where the older generation was wrong or shortsighted, and chart a better way based both on Reformed heritage and biblical teaching? Of course, John Frame has picked his winners and losers among the original faculty and derided those (like mmmeeeEEE) who still see merit in Machen’s founding vision for Westminster and his forthright defense of Reformed Protestantism. But Frame was not at Westminster Philadelphia in the 1990s. He didn’t need to be. The clear sense was that the Machen thing was passe.

And as I often said to friends and wife during the 1900s, the Machen thing may well have been irrelevant. But that requires an argument especially at an institution that prides itself on intellectual achievement. And an argument requires some awareness of what Machen tried to accomplish, and the context in which he tried.

Above all, shrugging off Machen and the original faculty of Westminster required a degree of loyalty for those whose work took place in places like Machen and Van Til Hall. I mean, if students at Princeton University can insist on removing Woodrow Wilson’s name from all associations with the institution, can’t Westminster faculty and administrators come up with a way to rid themselves of the bad parts of their institution’s past (Machen was after all a racist by today’s standards and even a family friend of Wilson)?

Or could it also be that the same sort of candor that Machen demanded of liberal Presbyterians has been in short supply among those Middle Westminster types who benefited from the institution’s reputation but failed to acknowledge it — even worse, disparaged it?

I wish Doug all the best. But the history of Westminster demands more scrutiny and awareness than those from the Middle period have been capable of producing.

Why Westminster Is Independent (even if Scotland isn't)

From Mr. Murray’s own typewriter (included in the OPC Report of the Committee on Theological Education, Minutes of the General Assembly, 1945, 79-80)

The conclusion at which we arrive, therefore, is that certain phases of a seminary curriculum fall quite properly into the category of the theological education conducted by the church an: that other phases of such a curriculum are no part of the church’s responsibility.

It is highly important to remember, however, that though the church is obligated to teach the whole counsel of God, it does not follow that the teaching of the whole counsel of God may be given only under the auspices of the church. There are other auspices under which it is just as obligatory to teach and inculcate the Word of God. Such teaching should be given by parents in the instruction and nurture of their children. But the life of the family is not conducted under the auspices of the church. Such teaching should also be given in the Christian school in all of its stages and developments. The Christian world and life view as set forth in Scripture is the basis of the Christian school, and so the whole range of Scripture truth must, in the nature of the case, be presented if the education given is to be thoroughly Christian in character. But the Christian school, whether at the elementary or the secondary or the university stage, should not be conducted under the auspices of the church. The teaching of the Word of God given in the family and in the Christian school will indeed, as regards content, coincide with the teaching given by the church, but this coincidence as regards content does not in the least imply that such teaching should be given under the auspices of the church.

In like manner a theological seminary should teach the whole counsel of God. A great deal of the teaching must therefore coincide with the teaching given by the church, and, furthermore, a great deal of it is the teaching that may properly be conducted by the church and under its official auspices. It does not follow, however, that the teaching of the Word of God given in a theological seminary must be given under the auspices of the church. The mere fact that, in certain particulars, the type of teaching given is the type of teaching that may and should be given by the church and may also properly be conducted under the official auspices of the church does not rove that such teaching must be conducted under the auspices of the church. This does not follow any more than does the-fact that the teaching of the Word of God given in the home and in the school is in content the same as may and should be given by the church prove that the family and the school should be conducted under the auspices of the church. A theological seminary is an institution which may quite properly be conducted, like other Christian schools, under auspices other than those of the church, and a great deal of its work is of such a character that the church may not properly undertake it.

It is highly necessary that the theological discipline preparatory to the discharge of the Gospel ministry be as comprehensive as that provided by the curriculum of theological seminaries. But the church may not properly undertake the conduct of such comprehensive, theological education. In the interest of the most effective instruction, however, it is well that the comprehensive course of study be conducted under unified auspices. Since comprehensive theological education may not be conducted under the auspices of the church and since it may properly be conducted under auspices other than those of the church, it follows that a theological seminary, affording comprehensive theological education under
non-ecclesiastical auspices, is not only highly proper but also promotes the interests of effective theological education and guards the principle that the church must limit itself to those activities which Holy Scripture defines as its proper function.

Let’s see the anti-republicationists and pro-hymn singer deal with that.

What A Difference A Day Makes

If Westminster Seminary were hoping for a media bump from its decision to sue the federal government over the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Affordable Care Act, they couldn’t have picked a worse day. The seminary’s press release did reach at least one Roman Catholic website, but events at the Vatican absorbed most news coverage. A small Protestant seminary was no match for God’s new vicegerent.

Publicity tactics aside, Westminster’s decision to sue the federal government is an odd twist in the institution’s long associations with the spirituality of the church and biblical theology. The suit comes in the form of a protest against federal policy but it masks a chance to make a public pronouncement against abortion:

The Complaint, submitted to the federal district court in Houston, Texas, states federal agency defendants are violating Westminster’s rights under the First Amendment, and related statutes, to the free exercise of religion, by requiring the Seminary to provide health insurance to its employees that covers, and thereby promotes, their use of abortion-inducing drugs. Westminster believes this is in direct violation of one of the most basic tenets of its religious foundation – the sanctity of life – the understanding that every human life is created in the image of God.

So instead of explaining how Obama Care will hurt the Seminary, its president, Peter Lillback, uses the podium to protest abortion:

“It is indisputable that every human embryo, formed the moment a human egg is fertilized, has a unique human identity,” said Westminster President Peter Lillback. “That is a human life the Affordable Care Act we are challenging would destroy. In Westminster’s view, this mandate is the antithesis of the federal government’s solemn responsibility ‘to promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty’ for its citizens.”

Declaring the sanctity of human life is fine, but taking the government to court (or jumping on a case already before the courts) is another. Paul’s example of going to court in Acts 24-26 would hardly be the model for such litigiousness. His motivations were first of all self-defense and evangelistic. Posturing does not come to mind. (And if some think “posturing” is too cynical a read, how exactly do they think the editors at the Philadelphia Inquirer are looking at it — if they noticed?)

Equivocation on the politicized nature of this decision — and the press release to publicize it, mind you — comes in the responses supplied at the WTS website:

Q: Does filing the lawsuit involve Westminster in a political cause?
A: Westminster is not a partisan institution. Joining this lawsuit is an expression of our deeply held religious beliefs. We are united in this action with many other religious institutions that are standing for religious freedom unrelated to any partisan cause.

That is not an answer.

Q: Shouldn’t Westminster concentrate on its core mission?
A: Teaching the whole counsel of God is at the core of our mission. Westminster’s commitment to the whole counsel of God includes matters of public theology. Thus, when necessary, the Board and faculty must be prepared to speak and to act our deeply held Biblical convictions that from time to time require appropriate civic engagement.

Westminster already does plenty of speaking and acting. It teaches, holds conferences, its faculty and board members preach, and I am sure many of these people take actions in the civic realm that testify to their convictions. But a law suit? Isn’t 1 Corinthians 6:7 part of God’s whole counsel? “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong?” If you want to say that Paul is only talking about lawsuits by Christians against fellow believers, then what about 1 Timothy 2:1-2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

Wherever you look in the New Testament, Christians were not trying to rock the boat aside from the God-appointed means of preaching the word of God and worshiping the author of that word. And that was a different kind of boat-rocking, not one so close to show-boating.

Good and Necessary Consequence?

Mike Horton often laments that the evangelicals who become excited about confessional Protestant theology often do not realize that the new teachings and practices they adopt are at odds with older parts of their born-again devotion and conviction. Mike likens this to a notebook in which the student puts in new pages but neglects to take out the old and erroneous pages. In which case, someone might insert a page for worship that is formal, liturgical, and reverent, and fail to remove the page that says it’s okay to go home after the service and watch professional football.

To Rabbi Bret’s credit, his intellect is keen enough to see the tensions among pages in his notebook. He recently posted his disagreement with J. Gresham Machen on the pastor’s responsibility to master and minister the Word of God. In his convocation address for Westminster Seminary, Machen asserted:

We are living in an age of specialization. There are specialists on eyes and specialists on noses, and throats, and stomachs, and feet, and skin; there are specialists on teeth—one set of specialists on putting teeth in, and another set of specialists on pulling teeth out—there are specialists on Shakespeare and specialists on electric wires; there are specialists on Plato and specialists on pipes. Amid all these specialties, we at Westminster Seminary have a specialty which we think, in comparison with these others, is not so very small. Our specialty is found in the Word of God. Specialists in the Bible—that is what Westminster Seminary will endeavor to produce.

But Bret thinks this is too narrow a reading of Scripture or the work of ministers.

The idea that being alone a specialist on what is in the Bible is enough to successfully minister in our current culture is just not true unless included in that idea of Bible specialty is also the ability to take what’s in the Bible and apply it every area of life.

For example, what’s in the Bible will never tell us about existentialism or post-modernism, or communism but can any minister really be of any value if they have no understanding of how these philosophies are impacting the people he is seeking to minister God’s word from?

If ministers are to specialize what ministers need to specialize in is integration, or inter-disciplinary studies. Is a minister prepared if he specializes on what is in the Bible, while along the way, discovering that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, if the minister doesn’t know what that might begin to look like in family life, the law realm, or the educational realm?

Ministers simply have to understand that Christian theology is the integrating point that gives unity to all the differing specialties. The Bible is that integrating point and because it is that integrating point what the Bible has to say between its covers, covers all areas that aren’t explicitly between its covers. If we do not believe that God’s word is the integrating point that gives unity to diversity then the world we live in will not be a Universe but a Multi-verse where all the particulars (specialties) can find no relation to one another.

So again, to Bret’s credit, he sees that he needs to take the Machen page out of his notebook to accommodate his biblicism and world-view pages. We appreciate the clarity and honesty.

What deserves attention, though, is that the Bible nowhere says that the ministry needs to be the integration point for all specialties. Somehow I missed that in Paul’s instructions to Timothy on ministering the word (2 Tim 3:14-4:4). Paul is fairly clear about ministering the word and the sufficiency of Scripture. The apostle himself knew a thing or two about Greek philosophy but he doesn’t tell Timothy to master Epicureanism or Stoicism – as if your average first-century or twenty-first Christian is trying to implement the ‘ism’s of the mind in his everyday activities; even the mental people – academics or pastors – are never so self-conscious.

Also questionable is Bret’s belief that someone could actual be the master of all specialties in order to integrate them. Given Bret’s own reading of economics, politics, or history, I’d say he might spend a little more time with the experts before thinking that he is the master of all intellectual insights and capable of definitive judgments. Ironically, it seems that Bret follows Machen in thinking he is an expert on the Bible and because the Bible speaks to all of life, the good Rabbi is an expert on all of life. Again I say, huh?

Bret’s comments are another important reason for 2k – which is to reign in excessive interpretations of the religious meanings of culture, not to mention the pride that generally comes with such assessments.

But to Bret’s credit, he does sense that he needs to give up Machen to retain Rushdoony. We continue to be amazed and amused that he keeps the CRC page.

Talk About Justification Priority

Peter Leithart has posted an excerpt from his Reformation Day sermon. I suppose I should find this encouraging to see a man who does not wear tradition readily, but enjoys the “creative tension” that he learned at least while studying at Westminster Seminary, affirm the blessings of Protestantism. But like so much that Leithart writes, the points that lead to agreement are cheek-by-jowl alongside matters of serious contention.

So first for the encouraging bit. To the question, “Is the Reformation dead?” Leithart responds without hesitation:

We don’t believe so. We believe that the achievements of the Reformation are still worth defending, that the work of the Reformation is still worth preserving. The Reformation recovered biblical truths that had either been rejected or buried in late medieval Catholicism. In themselves, the Reformation slogans are just slogans, but they get at central biblical truth.

But then comes the contentious part. Standing for the Protestant Reformation may not mean maintaining the doctrines of the sixteenth century in a dogmatic way:

If defending the Reformation means nothing more than repeating the Reformation slogans or assenting to (or claiming to assent to) the Reformation confessions; if defending the Reformation means we carry on with business as usual, carry on in the way the Reformation churches have always carried on; if being Protestant means we stay still – then the Reformation has become a kind of tribalism.

If that is what being Protestant means, then the Reformation has been turned upside down and inside out. It began as a protest against fossilized and distorted tradition, and it will cease to be genuinely Protestant if it becomes another kind of traditionalism. The Reformers called for a reform of the church according to the word of God, but the Reformers knew that the work of reforming the church would not end in their generation, or ever.

If being Protestant means simply trying to preserve or recapture the sixteenth century, then the Reformation is already dead and deserved to die.

This hostility to tradition evokes similar words from John Frame with whom Leithart studied at Westminster. In his defense of biblicism, Frame wrote that “The notion that Scripture addresses, to some extent, every important human question, produced at Westminster a high quality of theological creativity. We often associate orthodoxy with stagnancy and traditionalism. But at Westminster, the commitment to sola Scriptura propelled it in the opposite direction.” Frame added:

During my student years, I was never asked to read any of the Reformed confessions, or Calvin’s Institutes, except in small bits. I never read any official standards of church government or discipline, not to mention Robert’s Rules of Order. We used Hodge and Berkhof in our systematics classes, but for the most part we were graded not on our reading but on our knowledge of Murray’s lectures. After graduation I became ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and I confess I was rather surprised at the seriousness with which my fellow ministers took the Confessional Standards and Presbyterian traditions. Eventually I became more like my fellow Orthodox Presbyterian (and later Presbyterian Church in America) elders, but not without some nostalgia for the openness of theological discussion during my seminary years.

Would Leithart say the same of his years at Westminster? The answer is anyone’s guess. But the idea of theological creativity is one that links Leithart to Frame and Westminster Seminary of a certain era. As valuable as questioning and creativity may be in Reformed theology, the Federal Vision is not a very good way to carry on the tradition of the Reformation. I would assume that Frame agrees with that assessment. Leithart obviously does not (though I am not sure that even the Federal Vision capture and tame the footloose and highly original Leithart).

The oddest and least successful part of Leithart’s sermon comes in his paean for justification by faith:

For Paul, justification is not only a work of God but a work of all of God, a seamless work of the Father, Son and Spirit, like all God’s works.

When we do that, we find that justification by faith includes or implies everything that we want to say about a twenty-first century Reformation.

Justification means being made right with God through Christ, through the faithful death of Christ.

Justification by faith means that righteousness is given to us, not through the law but through the cross, which we receive by faith.

Justification means that Christ lives in me, and I no longer live and the life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God.

Justification means that God has created a community of the justified, a community united without division of Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, Lutheran or Methodist, Baptist or Catholic.

Justification means that righteousness has come, the righteousness by which God will restore the world.

Justification means that God’s promises to Abraham have been fulfilled, and that we are swept up in that fulfillment.

Justification means that God is blessing the families of the earth through the seed of Abraham.

Justification means that the Spirit has been given to those who hear with faith, the Spirit that fulfills the promise to Abraham, the Spirit of righteousness and justice, the Spirit of life and renewal.

Justification, finally, means that this is all God’s work, and that all of God has done all this. The Father sent the Son whose death brought righteousness, which is the gift of the Spirit. The Father counts as righteous those who are in the Son, and shows His acceptance of us by giving us the Abrahamic promise, the Spirit. Justification means that the Triune God is God, Just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.

Justification means that in Christ’s death and resurrection, the Triune God has revealed His righteousness, the undying commitment of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit to their own eternal communion, the eternal, undying, triumphant commitment to incorporate us, the seed of Abraham, into that communion.

Maybe, but why can’t justification simply mean an act of God’s free grace wherein he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us and received by faith alone?

That is a whole lot clearer than Leithart’s list of meanings, and it indicates why some of us still prefer the era of Reformed orthodoxy to the one of Reformed biblicism – it’s just better.

Now He's Channeling Glen

Not Glen Beck but Uncle Glen, that is.

Carl Trueman is on a roll and a recent post gives his objections to celebrity pastors. A friend told Trueman about an inquirer who came to him with a doctrinal question because the inquirer’s own pastor was too busy on the speaking circuit to meet with his congregant.

To which Trueman responds:

What was interesting was that this person was a member at one of the flagship Reformed evangelical churches in the US where the pastor is seen as one of the great hopes for the spread of gospel churches in the post-Christian world. In fact, this church member had actually tried to speak to this pastor about the issue, but had not been able to get an appointment. The church leader was simply too busy, with countless external demands on his time; and now, presumably protected by a praetorian guard of personal assistants and associate pastors, he was essentially as unavailable to the masses in his large congregation as the average rock star is to the punters who buy his concert tickets. . . .

I am immensely grateful that I have only ever held membership in churches of a size where the pastor has always been accessible and available. Indeed, my pastors have always even known my name, my wife’s name, my kids’ names, and even what sports they play (this latter may seem trivial but it has been peculiarly important to me: my kids may not always enjoy going to church; but they have never doubted that the pastor actually cares for them; and that is something for which I am more grateful than I can articulate). Indeed, each of my pastors has cared about his people, not as a concept or a good idea or as an indeterminate mass, but as real, particular people with names and histories and strengths and weaknesses; and this surely reflects the character and love of God who, after, calls his sheep by name and cares for us all as individuals. If I gave you the names of said pastors, few reading this post would ever have heard of them: they have written no books; they have never pulled in huge crowds; and they have never spoken at megaconferences. But they have always been there when even the humblest church member has called out for advice, counsel or even help with bailing out a flooded basement.

This sounds a lot like the point that avuncular Glen made in the pages of New Horizons to his nephew James:

The problem with your attraction to Pastor Strong’s church is that you may be succumbing to unhealthy standards for a pastor. Yes, this man does much of what a minister is supposed to do, and he does it in a much more visible way than most. He studies Scripture, expounds and applies it, leads worship, and apparently assumes his responsibilities as a presbyter both in his session and in his presbytery. I say “apparently” because someone who travels the way he does, especially when he is in book-promotion mode, is not going to be available for some regularly appointed session and presbytery meetings, not to mention any committees on which he might serve. He is also an effective speaker, and I have heard a number of recordings that attest to his powers of delivery (though I am not as sure that he preaches as much as he “gives a talk”).

As I say, Pastor Strong does the things that pastors are supposed to do in a very visible or public way. This means that he is ministering the word to a wider audience than that of his congregation. But when folks read his books or listen to his online sermons, Strong is not acting in his capacity as a minister because he has no relationship to the reader or listener. They are not members of the congregation that called him. They did not take vows to submit to him in the Lord, and he has not made promises ratified by real people to minister the word faithfully to anyone who picks up his book in a bookstore. In other words, he has no personal, and therefore no pastoral, relationship to remote listeners and readers.

Granted, you say you would like to become a member of his congregation, and this would put you in a real relationship to Strong. But then comes the flip side of the problem I have just described. How can a man who is as busy as he is have time for a personal relationship with his congregants? What generally happens in situations like Strong’s is that he is at the top of a large pastoral staff in which the pastors without star power have the day-to-day responsibilities of shepherding the flock. At least that accounts for the pastoral oversight that Christians need. I can well imagine the disappointment you will experience if you move to Boston only to discover that you had more access to Strong during his visit to Rutherford than you do in the place where you worship.

Think of it another way. Have you ever heard of a celebrity dad? Well, of course, there are dads who are celebrities because of their work outside the home (Brad Pitt might qualify). But do you know any dads who are celebrities because of their activities as a father and husband? Bill Cosby’s character on his hit television show comes to mind, but that still isn’t the real thing. We do not know what Bill Cosby was like as a father because most of the duties of fathers are hidden from the public eye—taking out the trash, cleaning up after a child’s upset stomach, praying over the family meals. These are not tasks that create celebrity because they are unexceptional and do not attract publicity.

Some might argue that I am simply setting into motion a set of expectations that tolerates average or even mediocre men in the ministry—those without the ability to attract large audiences. Perhaps so, since I believe what Paul writes about God using earthen vessels to accomplish his purposes. The skills of the pastor are not what make his ministry effective; rather, it is the power of God that saves. My point, though, is not to deny the value of excellence. It is rather to underscore the quiet and routine ways in which the pastoral ministry transpires. Pastoral ministry is not flashy, but we need it in the same way that we need fathers and mothers to be in the home, not on speaking tours about parenthood.

It is good to know that Westminster Seminary has someone who understands the personal and routine nature of the pastoral ministry. Back in the day when I was at WTS, a certain transforming pastor in a large metropolis had a reputation at the seminary so large that he not only walked on water but hovered over it. Now, perhaps, sanity about the work of a pastor is reemerging at Machen’s seminary.