Norman Shepherd vindicated?

Discussion in 'Federal Vision/New Perspectives' started by discipulo, Apr 1, 2011.

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  1. discipulo

    discipulo Puritan Board Junior

    Anyone who has read my posts on this Forum knows that both
    I have quite a lot of sympathy for several Theologians that are teaching or taught at WTS, and
    I've never advocated on the theological side of the Federal Vision, quite the opposite.

    Now that I’ve just read, thanks to Lynnie's post (btw thank you so much for posting it), the great article – report – by Professor Edmund Clowney on Norman Shepherd’s Controversial and Distinctive Theology and I even mailed it to a good dutch friend and reformed brother,

    Yes, right on this moment, I find this Book, that is creating quite a shockwave troughout the reformed spectrum and blogosphere.

    Ian Hewitson - Trust and Obey - Norman Shepherd and the Justification Controversy at Westminster Seminary

    It was just recently published, so I didn’t read it, but it puzzles me to realize its aims:

    1st a kind of vindication of Norman Shepherd’s Theology


    2nd a strong censure, to say the least, of those who dismissed him from Westminster Theological Seminary.

    What is this after all? Anyone read it? Anyone knows?

    I am in shock! :candle:

    Would not eventually make me so concerned if it didn’t come with the highly transversal endorsements listed below.

    I got started reading ... and couldn't put it down. I believe [Hewitson's] conclusion to be inescapable." - Revd. G. I. WILLIAMSON; Retired Orthodox Presbyterian Pastor and author

    "Indispensable ... the best historical account of the controversy to date." - JOHN M. FRAME (less of a surprise on this list) Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary

    "Full of stunning revelations ... Highly recommended!" - CORNELIS VAN DAM; Professor of Old Testament, Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary

    "The potential benefits to the clarity of gospel proclamation are immense." - Revd. Professor DONALD MACLEOD; Principal, Free Church College, Edinburgh

    "I enthusiastically recommend this book ... to all serious theological thinkers."
    TREMPER LONGMAN; Professor of Old Testament, Westminster Theological Seminary (1980-1998), Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College (1998-present)

    "From this point forward, only the person who has read Ian Hewitson's study deserves to speak and be heard ... The Ninth Commandment requires nothing less." –
    NELSON D. KLOOSTERMAN; Ethics consultant and Executive Director, Worldview Resources International

    From the Review posted by Chris Van Allsburg (he is just a reader I guess, but seems well informed) Customer Reviews: Trust and Obey (Norman Shepherd and the Justification Controversy at Westminister Seminary)

    Time after time, Shepherd was exonerated from Westminster Theological Seminary. He was never found guilty of error. He was never found guilty of heresy. Ever. In fact, he has to this day to receive a letter of dismissal from WTS. Readers will find this book not a little damning toward those who opposed him. Hewitson even indulges readers with personal interviews and letters of Shepherd's main protractors.
    Believing that Norman Shepherd is heterodox, unorthodox, or a heretic is impossible after reading this book. That is, unless the evidence is dismissed, disbelieved, or counted as insufficient. But the evidence that Ian Hewitson provides in this tome is overwhelming. First, Hewitson reveals with meticulous detail, the history behind the justification controversy at Westminster Theological Seminary in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The amount of documentation from various meetings (Board of Trustees, Faculty and other committees) is as high and interminable as a WWII pillbox on Omaha beach. Second, Hewitson covers the theological debate in a clear, outlined format that shows exactly what the controversy covered concerning Shepherd's views, namely on covenant, election, baptism, and justification (with a discussion on the phrase, "justification by faith alone"). He shows from Shepherd's own writings, those of the Westminster Standards, and of the Reformers as well, that Shepherd's theological thought was well within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy, and in fact reflected much of it, including the likes of Calvin, Turretin, Bavinck, and John Murray, Shepherd's predecessor.
    Hewitson's chief aim in this book is to "rise to the defense of a man [he] h come to believe was being unjustly slandered" (p.15). After reading the story of what happened to Shepherd, and how a few, bold, men opposed him--after reading the account of the witch hunt that went secretly behind the authority of the seminary--after reading the personal letters of those who opposed and supported him, it is difficult to read the book without gasping at the activity of Christian men who sought the destruction of a brother after being exonerated by the seminary countless times. Of course, Hewitson is so fair-minded in his history, and so objective in his retelling, that one reads this story from the perspective of receiving just the facts. But, as John Frame tells in the forward, that fact is this--that after all the controversy, the seminary came to an impasse: Shepherd's opponents were causing a stir that was "injuring the seminary's reputation, enrollment, and financial stability.... There is no way in which the seminary could have silenced Shepherd's critics; it had to choose between Shepherd and them. And so they perpetrated an injustice" (p.11).
    This book should be read by all. This isn't just playing games with theological skirmishes. Anyone who wants to understand how faith and works correspond to one another will be edified. Most importantly, they should learn from Norman Shepherd what sound, exegetical theology looks like, and they should honor his name.
  2. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    I have read about half of this book so far. The first section consists of a detailed history of all the events up to and including his dismissal from the seminary. The second section consists of a theological defense of Shepherd's teaching. I have started (but not finished) this second section. So far, I would agree with Hewitson that WTS did not do a very good job of handling the issue. I disagree that WTS should have kept Shepherd as a professor of theology. I have read at least half of Shepherd's output, and I do not believe that Shepherd's teaching lies within the boundaries of orthodoxy. I was dismayed indeed to see some of the names endorsing this book.
  3. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    What I find interesting about this controversy is that in many ways Shepherd sounded orthodox in 1980. What tipped people off to his departure from orthodoxy was his students who were denying justification by faith alone. Now, as one reads his more recent talks and books (such as "The Call of Grace") it is much clearer how his theology undermines the doctrine of justification. So a book that tries to exonerate Shepherd may have worked thirty years ago but it is difficult to take this serious now.

    On another note, O. Palmer Robertson wrote a book about this whole issue already. I wonder if Hewitson has read it and interacts with it his book. Lane?
  4. brianeschen

    brianeschen Puritan Board Junior

    If this book is attempting to vindicate the teachings of Norman Shepherd on justification and good works, then it is promoting heresy. For a good summary of the history relating to Shepherd, you can look at the RCUS Special Committee Report (2004)

    I would also highly recommend the book by John Otis called Danger in the Camp: An Analysis and Refutation of the Heresies of the Federal Vision for a thorough and fair treatment of Shepherd's theology. If anything, Shepherd has been treated too leniently. It would have been better for all involved and the church in general for the Presbytery of Philadelphia of the OPC to have followed through with a trial and judgment instead of just transferring him to the CRC.
  5. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Hewitson has read Robertson, and does interact with him on several occasions in the book. Like I said, I haven't read the entire theological section yet, so I don't know how he critiques Robertson's theological analysis, though I would assume that he disagrees with Robertson.
  6. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Graduate

    That Clowney essay pretty much absolves NS on the technicalities of justification by faith though. Hits hard on other doctrinal error.

    To be really fair here- and I don't have links but maybe the book covers this and I'm sure my hub will read it, and I am also saying this from the perspective that after reading Clowney I think he makes an airtight case that Shepherd's theology is destructive to the doctrine of perseverance and is not Reformed-....

    ...having said that, if you were in the middle of the fray back then ( hub graduated in 77 and I took a Doctrine of God class with NS in '80 at WTS, and the subject was so huge in the geographic area)......

    ....some of the leading detractors and accusers, not to mention names but I could, were so antinomian in their charges that it was like polar opposite heresy going on at WTS. I mean, the justification by faith they were trying to defend seemed to be some sort of totally dead faith without union with Christ and resulting sanctification/obedience. And I've said this before, they were not lawless men as far as I know, but their reaction was so bad and so poor that it was like the pot calling the kettle black when it comes to bad doctrine. And I know R S Clark defends his buddies about this publically, but the fact is the accusers were talking antinomian talk at least for a while if you were actually there and talking to people there. (And no I don't have links). Some repentance from that side on bungling it might be nice.

    Thanks for the post by the way. Longman, sadly, used to be a staunch defender of Enns, is that still the case?
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2011
  7. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    I haven't read the book, but I find it hard to resist pointing out that the question of what WTS did is quite logically distinct from the question of what Norm Shepherd said. Shepherd's orthodoxy or unorthodoxy does not rest on whether he was treated absurdly well or abominably ill, but solely on what he affirmed. It sometimes seems to me like in our day it's considered sufficient in defending a person to prove that his opponent was mean; yet that has nothing to do with whether or not the defendant's views align with Scriptura. More broadly, whether with regard to ideas or to conduct, the fact that the other side is wrong doesn't mean that you're right.
  8. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Graduate

    Ruben, I didn't read the book and you were obviously typing two minutes after I posted. But it was more than just being mean spirited and conducting yourself poorly. The antinomian talk on the other side was abominable, and there are very good reasons why Gaffin supported NS well into the 90s. Even green baggins/Lane acknowledged that NS in his vague at times book, had some strong statements about 100% of our merit before God being entirely the work of Jesus Christ and no works of our own. It wasn't so simple as some folks today make it out to be. Frankly I think that the Clowney essay really portrays the true non reformed essence of NS ina way nobody else did, and even there you could make a case that it is more Arminian than heresy exactly. And Clowney was so gracious that it lends crediblity. Vindictive people lose credibility.
  9. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Lynnie, that's true, and that's certainly one among many reasons to avoid vindictiveness; but ultimately, in doctrinal matters, it's the content of the charge rather than the character of the accuser that is relevant to the question of someone's orthodoxy or lack thereof. And in my view, that is something that we need to reiterate consistently; not because character is unimportant or as a way to justify bad behaviour on "our" side, but because bringing in matters that are strictly irrelevant obscures the issue even further. For instance, the fact that it's possible to criticize Rome ignorantly, unfairly, unkindly, or even sinfully doesn't mean that there aren't criticisms that are truthful, just and necessary.
  10. Marrow Man

    Marrow Man Drunk with Powder

    I thought this was an April Fool thread. :rolleyes:
  11. discipulo

    discipulo Puritan Board Junior

    Pastor, you've just remind me of the date. Well...I wish it was.
  12. Mark Hettler

    Mark Hettler Puritan Board Freshman

    As Lynnie's aforementioned husband, I studied under Shepherd in the 70's and watched the situation closely in the early 80's. There are really two issues here: (a) Shepherd's theology and (b) the conduct of his some of his opponents. Regarding Shepherd's theology, I have my opinion but I have nothing new to contribute to the discussion. But the conduct of those opponents who launched a public campaign after not getting their way in the initial decision, was clearly wrong, and Clowney openly said so in his report. To this day I have never understood why no disciplinary action was ever taken, particulary regarding the faculty members who blatantly circumvented the orderly processes in defiance of the seminary authorities.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2011
  13. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Graduate

    Ruben, you are entirely correct, but does one oppose the bad doctrine in Rome by saying opposite error? Do I say that Mary is not the co-redeemer, she really is a fallen angel? Do I say that Rome is wrong about transubstantiation, because modalism is correct and there is no trinity so Jesus can't be dead on the altar? Dumb examples, but for people new to this, it is only fair to point out that the original NS opponents sounded very antinomian.

    We don't just get justified by a legal imputation, declared righteous by the judge and get out of jail, and go back to a life of crime in dark alleyways. No, through justifying faith we are born again, regenerated with a new heart as a new creation united to Christ, and we start to love God and the bible and people, and change and get convicted of sin and so forth.

    Shepherd was trying to put it all together, and as Clowney so eloquently writes, by the time he was done with his covenants and old Adam and new Adam, the doctrine of perseverance was lost. So do you oppose that by trying to tell the WTS students that somehow we get justifed by a stand alone justification, apart from being in a new covenant and what that means about living faith and works? Do you criticize Shepherd for how he explained it, by coming up with an opposite explanation that is antinomian? No.

    A lot of time has gone by and as far as I know, people have tried to approach it with far more balance in later years. Guys like PB's Lane, guys like Piper. People are more careful to try and explain the place of obedience. But back then in the heat of the conflict, the accusers were just plain wrong and off the rails too. It was difficult for students to try and understand confessions when it seemed like some folks were trying to rewrite obvious commands to obey. Like I said, Gaffin defended NS for a very long time.

    Like I said, I agree with you, but it isn't about the WTS accusers being doctrinally correct, and mean spirited even though correct. It was about a conflict that had bad doctrine being spouted by the NS accusers. And like I said, RS Clark will probably get on with a list of links to try and explain why they really were not being antinomian after all, and that my charges are false. But if they were not antinomian, then at best they were as vague and confusing and poorly teaching students as NS was accused of being. And a bit of apology from that side for the antinomian confusion, for presenting even temporarily a faith without works that is dead, would be nice to see.
  14. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Of course not. And while overreaction has often been a feature in ecclesiastical controversies, when it comes to analysing each person's statements for truth or error the reactions or overreactions of other people are also logically irrelevant. I'm not arguing for anyone's rightness or wrongness here; just trying to point out that issues are clouded rather than made plain when different questions are turned into a controversial stew.
  15. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Graduate

    Ruben- yeah, "when it comes to analysing each person's statements for truth or error the reactions or overreactions of other people are also logically irrelevant."

    It was a mess. But yeah, bad doctrine by some guys at the time does not validate NS.

    Back to my other the men who wrote supportive blurbs also line up with affirming Enns? Just kind of curious. I know there is a NS- Wright-FV linkage with who hangs out together and writes nice little blurbs for each other's books, but is there any doctrinal Enns connection at all these days with NS or FV? (Other than that Enns was denied due process at WTS, but don't want to derail the thread with that).
  16. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    I don't know of any FV people who are not regular six day creationists, and I have yet to see any committed YEC who have anything but scorn for Enns.

  17. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Most endorsements come from published authors. It is in their interests to take part in the publishing circuit (circus?). Some take it seriously, e,g., Joel Beeke, and you will often find something significant in their comments; but most of them are a waste of time and paper.
  18. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    For what it's worth, almost all the endorsements seem to be about the controversy itself. Is it possible to commend the man for a historical treatment of how the controversy what handled leaving aside his own theological defense of Shepherd's views? As an analogy, there are some very good Civil War Histories written by people sympathetic to the Southern cause. I might read them for the quality of their historical content and commend the book on that level without agreeing with all the conclusions drawn.

    Go back and read the endorsements and you'll see what I'm talking about. Assuming the best reading of them it appears that most are focused on the actual events.
  19. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    The Donald Macleod one sticks out like a sore thumb.
  20. JonathanHunt

    JonathanHunt Puritan Board Senior

    It is certainly odd.

    Enough said.
  21. beej6

    beej6 Puritan Board Sophomore

    Unless someone tells me that Hewitson's book is superior to Robertson's, I'll stick with the latter.
  22. ADKing

    ADKing Puritan Board Junior

    Granting the most charitable interpretation of the endorsements one still has to question if they do not have the tendency to mislead or give the appearance of evil. How many average Christian readers who have benefited from popular works by authors such as Williamson are going to be making these fine distinctions?

    Furthermore even granting the work limited itself to the controversy (rather than the issues) what positive value would this have? If someone writes a book contending that Arius was treated poorly by the council of Nicaea it is hard to see how this serves the purposes of orthodoxy.

    And yet, from the publisher's description it is even more clear that this book is not limited to the controversy alone but has a serious theological axe to grind:

    About the book:

    There are those in the Church today who are fearful about anyone who raises a question concerning the ambiguities associated with the formula "justification by faith alone." The exclusive particle sola introduced by Luther has undoubtedly performed a valuable service in signalizing the distinction between the Protestant and Roman Catholic doctrines of justification and in preventing the intrusion of merit on the part of man as a criterion of acceptability before God. The long and cherished tradition that lies behind "justification by faith alone" as a theological formula would make it appear to be an act of ingratitude, if not impiety, to raise the question of its adequacy as a summary of the thrust of the biblical doctrine of justification. Even so, it was the Reverend Professor Norman Shepherd's examination of the Scripture alone that gave him the courage to raise precisely this question.

    After all, there is the fact that neither the Apostle Paul nor any other biblical author uses the expression "justification by faith alone". It is true, of course, that Paul does use the expression "justification without the works of the law," and it is in these words that the theological warrant is traditionally found for defending the formula "justification by faith alone." It is true that the theology and the confessions of the church are not bound to the precise wording of Scripture, and the formula "justification by faith alone" appears to be a reasonable rendering of the sense of "justification without the works of the law". Traditionally, the matter has rested at this point with this explanation and it could remain here were it not for the fact that the text of the Bible expressly rejects justification by faith alone. James writes (2:24), "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." It was to Scripture-not tradition, and to James 2:24 that Professor Shepherd turned his attention. The consequence of his enquiry into the book of James and the sufficiency of the formula "justification by faith alone," was a controversy that shook Westminster Theological Seminary; the tremors of which are felt even today.


    nless the documents cited in this study can be challenged as inaccurate, I believe this conclusion to be inescapable.
    G. I. Williamson,
    Author, and retired Pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church
    Trust and Obey

    We should be very careful, especially as ministers of the gospel, what we "endorse".
  23. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    I've read many of the major original documents from the first phase of the "Shepherd Case" (c. 1974-80). He was NOT orthodox until 1980. He was flatly contradicting God's holy Word as confessed by the Reformed churches. Shepherd taught explicitly justification "through faith and works" in 1974-75. He modified his language to justification "through faithfulness." His students and disciples were only parroting and reflecting what they learned from him. His defenders, of which John Frame was one, defended his right to use this language.

    People tend to forget the the Shepherdites were in the majority on the faculty during the entire crisis. It was a minority that defended Reformed orthodoxy on justification. The minority will tell you (and the majority as well) that the administration did not do a very good job of handling the crisis. They should confronted Shepherd immediately. They and the faculty should have recognized the obviously and profoundly erroneous nature of Shepherd's doctrine and they should have demanded that he repent and recant of denying his vow as a faculty member at WTS or face dismissal. They didn't. They dithered. Much of that was Ed Clowney's fault (and I say this a a friend of Ed's). He didn't understand the issue for some time. He was also committed to the idea of "diversity" in Reformed theology, an idea that had roots in his support for Gordon Clark's right to hold and teach his ideas in the OPC. Ed says that he didn't really understand what Shepherd was saying until very late in the crisis, when he began hearing more student preachers in homiletics class preaching Shepherd's doctrine of justification through faithfulness. The tipping point, however, was probably the pressure brought to bear on Ed by folks in the PCA who were telling him that they would not support WTS if they sent out grads who sounded like Shepherd. Ed probably changed his view regarding toleration for a complex of reasons that even he didn't fully understand.

    At WTS the president had a lot of authority. He reported directly to the board and once Ed changed his mind the board produced a mixed report (but with sufficient evidence to warrant Shepherd's dismissal). It was clear to the orthodox (on justification) minority that much of the rest of the faculty had a shocking ignorance of the confessional doctrine (WCF ch 11, Belgic articles 22-23, HC 21, 56, 60) and of the Reformation and orthodox Reformed doctrine of justification.

    I served as an assistant and associate pastor with a WTS board member, who ultimately voted to dismiss Shepherd, but he said later that he was quite conflicted. Looking back on our conversations it's clear to me now that his own struggles reflected a significant lack of clarity about some Reformed basics. Why? One of the major contributing factors was (and remains) "biblicism" or "just' the Bible ma'am." This the notion that "we're going to read the Bible as if no one has ever read it before" or in isolation from the historic Reformed church and confessions. This wasn't intentional. The old WTS faculty knew the WCF and Mr Murray taught a course on it but many of the faculty by the 70s had embraced an ethos that cut them off from the resources that had been assumed in earlier decades. How that happened is a long story, one that needs to be told someday, and it's one with which the Reformed world is still struggling. It's the ethos (and hermeneutic) biblicism that explains Tremper's endorsement as well as Frame's.

    After his dismissal from WTS, Shepherd taught his course on soteriology at MARS in its early years and those lectures later (heard on tape I think) captured the attention and imaginations of several young men, among them John Barach, who later became one of the leading federal visionists. Several years my friend Cornel Venema's issued a strong and unequivocal renunciation of Shepherd's influence at MARS. In 2004 MARS published a strong statement repudiating Norm Shepherd's errors. You can find it here along with a lot of other resources on these questions. In light of these things Nels Kloosterman endorsement is disappointing to say the least.

    As a historical matter, the only thing that Hewitson adds to the discussion is an appeal to Shepherd's private correspondence (note the number times that Hewitson cites "correspondence" from a personal collection in MN). Some of this is sometimes necessary but typically what happens is that one establishes an archive in an academic setting and the material organized and catalogued and examined by professionals. It's time consuming but necessary in the pursuit of the truth. The methodological problems inherent in this project are many.

    His thesis is that WTS lacked the grounds to dismiss Shepherd.

    It's relatively easy to refute the thesis:

    1. The WCF teaches justification sola fide
    2. Shepherd denied justification sola fide
    3. Justification sola fide is an essential doctrine of the Reformed faith
    4. Denial of justification sola fide is grounds for dismissal from WTS
    5. WTS had grounds for dismissing Shepherd

    The key premise here is that Shepherd denied justification sola fide.

    WCF 11 says:

    Contrast the WCF with Shepherd's thesis:

    None of the orthodox minority in the faculty (Robertson, Godfrey, Knudson, W. Stanford Reid come to mind) ever said anything other than what WCF 11 teaches: truth faith necessarily issues fruit. What they did rightly deny is that true faith consists in trusting AND obeying for justification.

    Shepherd, in contrast, argued "When the call to faith is isolated from the call to obedience, as it frequently is, the effect is to make good works a supplement to salvation or simply the evidence of salvation." (The Call of Grace). He was never satisfied with sanctification as fruit or evidence. He wanted more. Tragically he has never understood the context in which the Reformation worked out its doctrine or why it said what it did. Rome is not satisfied with sanctity as fruit or evidence. There's a reason why some of Shepherd's disciples have poped.

    This is why the Reformed say that faith, in the act of justification ONLY rests, receives, leans upon, and trusts Christ and his finished work for us. Those are the confessional terms summarizing Paul's doctrine that we are justified by faith alone and not by the works of the law (i.e., obedience or even Spirit-wrought sanctity). If one says that it is the accompanying graces that MAKES FAITH JUSTIFYING one has apostatized from the biblical, confessional, and historic Reformed doctrine of justification. If one says that these graces (rather Christ as the object) make faith what it is, then one is teaching the medieval and Roman doctrine of "faith formed by love." This is precisely what the Westminster Divines were rejecting. On this see Bob Godfrey's chapter in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.

    For superior accounts of the Shepherd controversy you should also see the chapter in W. Stanford Reid: An Evangelical Calvinist In The Academy Mcgill-Queen's Studies in the History of Religion (Toronto: McGill-Queen's University Press, November 2004) and Guy Water's chapter on the history and development of Shepherd's theology in the festschrift for Palmer Robertson.

    Finally, since the endorsements above might be taken for support of Shepherd's doctrine remember that Roger Nicole, RC Sproul, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, O Palmer Robertson, George Knight III, W Stanford Reid, Morton Smith, W Hendrickson among others all repudiated Shepherd's doctrine of justification.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2011
  24. Wayne

    Wayne Tempus faciendi, Domine.

    Slightly off-topic, but taking that publisher's blurb to task -- Do people go to school to learn to write like this, or does it just come naturally? That description is a classic piece of propaganda. To parse it a bit:

    Is this what it takes to sell some books?
  25. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Graduate

    None of the orthodox minority in the faculty (Robertson, Godfrey, Knudson, W. Stanford Reid come to mind) ever said anything other than what WCF 11 teaches: truth faith necessarily issues fruit.

    I appreciate your long addition to the history and is good to give the other side in any debate, but I have to say, from the perspective of students caught in the crossfire and trying to figure out who were the good guys and who were the bad guys, the opponents sometimes didn't come off like they believed "truth faith necessarily issues fruit". There were contemptuous cracks being made by profs in class against NS, and talk in the halls and talk at churches, and the opponents at times were antinomian. I don't have old secret recordings to back this up, and it's water over the dam now, and I know you already elsewhere have defended them as not antinomian, and I don't think they ever really were, but the point is that at least for a while in the heat of the mess they sounded antinomian and it didn't help with clarifying the issue. Something for all of us to learn from- my kids will sometimes parrot me back in the heat of conflict and I realize how unbalanced my opposite statements can be. Human nature, and it happened at WTS. Maybe hard for you to believe, but it happened.

    I notice you left Gaffin saying he is guilty of the "biblicism" too? So Gaffin also thinks "in isolation from the historic Reformed church and confessions" too, huh? That's a serious charge to level at Gaffin and he stood by NS for a couple decades, and the respect he held at WTS and beyond was enormous. I don't think it is obvious as you are trying to make it.

    You say: This the notion that "we're going to read the Bible as if no one has ever read it before" or in isolation from the historic Reformed church and confessions. This wasn't intentional. The old WTS faculty knew the WCF and Mr Murray taught a course on it but many of the faculty by the 70s had embraced an ethos that cut them off from the resources that had been assumed in earlier decades.

    Thats not how Clowney saw it: Edmund Clowney on Norman Shepherd’s Controversial, Distinctive Theology « Johannes Weslianus

    It must be recognized that Professor Shepherd does present, in the areas of debate, much that must be described as classical Reformed doctrine. He was a diligent student of Professor Murray and is widely read in Reformed theology. Few theologians, in this country at least, have his knowledge of the Latin theological works of the Reformation and post-Reformation periods. His aim is to present a position that is true to the Scriptures as our primary standard as well as to the Confession and Catechisms, our secondary standards.

    His statements have been challenged by some who are unaware of elements in classical Reformed doctrine.

    Even if you forget justification, NS loses the doctrine of perseverance with his views and did not belong at a Reformed Seminary. But to say that his supporters (esp Gaffin) were into "just believe the bible" is a sweeping generalization not true for all, and to say that his opponents clearly articulated the correct position (instead of an antinomian position at times) was also sometimes untrue. It was a mess with doctrine on both sides.

    Edit to add that Van Til supported NS too, and there people who claim he was getting old and feeble minded, but plenty of folks talked to him who said he was as sharp as ever. Sharp enough to know if he was hearing heresy- or non Reformed teaching. And he didn't. It just was not that simple.

    I am glad Clowney wrote that paper, he absolves NS of works righteousness charges while clearly showing how his teachings lead to the loss of perseverance. Soooo helpful.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2011
  26. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    I omitted Dick because I've been accused of being too hard on him but, in fact, Dick did support Norm's views, in detail, for decades. He wrote white papers in defense of Norm's earlier formulations. He's repented of that, praise God, but yes, there's a good bit of biblicism is his method and that contributed to the way he approached the issue. Because that was so, when he went back to the tradition it was using the hunt and peck method--like Shepherd. Norm's defenders didn't go back to find out what we had said and why, they went ransacking looking for vindication for their views that they believed MUST be the Reformed view. There was a good bit of Reformed Narcissism: I am Reformed, I think X, ergo X is Reformed.

    My account of the biblicism of WTS in the 60s and 70s comes, in part, from my reading of Norm Shepherd's MA thesis. The fact that was sustained is remarkable. The best explanation for it is biblicism. John Frame has also testified ("In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism") to a biblicistic spirit in those decades. I'm not saying that there was no appeal to past but I am suggesting that there was a spirit, an ethos, if you will, that wanted to rebuild Reformed theology from the ground up, without engaging the tradition seriously. I saw it at WSC in the mid-80s when I was there. To be sure, it was more difficult then than it is now to access classic Reformed theology but nevertheless they weren't doing it. Yes, Mr Murray engaged the tradition but read Van Til (whose work I support strongly). I documented this in RRC. He almost NEVER refers to the classic Reformed theologians. He refers to Voetius once and gets him wrong.

    My understanding of what Ed did is partly determined by what he told me. Ed was wrong when he absolved Norm, who did and does teach that our sanctity is not only fruit and evidence of our justification but an instrument of it. That's justification by works. He's continued to say that consistently ever since. Norm's doctrine is a denial of the gospel.

    As to whether Norm's critics were antinomian, well, that's what the moralists always say isn't it? How does a sinner defend himself from that charge? I've known Bob Godfrey since 1984. He's a sinner but he's a godly man and he's not an antinomian! I met Norm Hoeflinger about 1981 or so. Palmer Robertson is a godly man. So was Stanford Reid. As Shepherd's defenders have been known to say, "They were never charged by their presbyteries (classes)."

    The orthodox men consistently, in their White Papers and in their arguments in faculty meetings, advocated the third use of the law. The problem is that, for Norm Shepherd, the third use is not enough. If Shepherd's view is the standard, then, yes, the critics were "antinomian" but of course Norm's aberrant views are NOT the standard. God's Word as confessed by the churches is the standard and, e.g., the Heidelberg Catechism teaches the moral, logical, and evidentiary necessity of sanctity as fruit in the third part of the catechism but Norm and his followers reject that as "second blessing," as one WTS prof told me a decade ago.
  27. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Graduate

    Let me be clear that I did not say-nor do I think- that the critics were really antinomian on any sustained basis personally. I am merely trying to say that in heated arguements that spilled over into other classrooms at WTS, among the multitude of cracks and comments and statements made by profs, things were said that were antinomian, and I have no doubt some of them regret hasty words that did not carefully explain to students the relationship of faith, justification, works, fruit, obedience, living faith/dead faith, etc in a clearly articulated way, and left Shepherd looking like both the confessional and biblical good guy, and certain others looking like contentious bad guys. I can't prove my charge so I suppose I had best drop it. The only reason I even care is that my life is filled with young adults and their friends, and my church has scores of ex catholics and former nutzy (Osteen, Hagin) charismatics slowly coming into fullness of truth, and I have become so aware of how fast folks can turn off to Calvinism by hasty unbalanced glib statements. I think in the NS fight some WTS guys got too careless. I have been far too careless myself. We all should be very careful around students and young folks. The blogs are full of anti-Calvinists who heard abberations. It is a tragedy.

    our sanctity is not only fruit and evidence of our justification but an instrument of it. That's justification by works. He's continued to say that consistently ever since. No, actually he has continued to say that inconsistently. :) His book has quotes about no merit of our own before God and 100% of our merit coming from the finished work of Jesus Christ. But, as Gaffin points out, he then says something vague (that indeed sounds the the way you take it.) Inconsistency is not OK for a Reformed Seminary prof, but I don't know that he is as consistently bad as you say. One gets the impression he is not settled in his own mind but still in process. Just my opinion.

    I personally try to read and submit my thinking to the great minds and hearts of the past, but I find that around people with an evangelical bent, or a pastoral bent with young believers, the biblicist approach has a very good place, indeed a primary place. Many people never even heard of confessions or Calvin or Owen or anybody else, they have no idea what Arminian or Amillenialism is; they just want to know what the bible says. They would turn off if you start anywhere else. I love the way John Murray drilled into his students a need to back up everything with systematic thorough biblical teaching, and not just appeal to confessions to make a point.

    I think perhaps profs called to teach future pastors Reformed theology of necessity have different approach than a pastor with some brand new barely saved people who hardly know the books of the bible. The era of the 60s and 70s was a time of wonderful revival, with multitudes of us college kids getting saved and wanting to know the bible. I have no doubt that affected WTS. Jack Miller was leading hitch hikers and bar drinkers to the Lord, and I understand the move to biblicism. When my hub started WTS in 74 his class had a decent share of Dispensational Pentecostals. They needed to see from the bible what was wrong, not appeals to confessions, they were not instantly ready for confessions. I had Bavinck with NS and NS did all bible as I recall; it was just amazing to me how the bible taught the sovereignty of God over everything. I never got that in charismania, we were busy fighting the devil. The 60s and 70s were a unique time of revival in America, with seminary students with poor church backgrounds, so I would cut WTS guys some slack on their approach.

    Must sleep, getting late on the east coast.
  28. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    Thanks to everyone with first hand knowledge of this. Especially Dr. C, for the above quote. Even a contractor can see that obedience is either necessary to justification or it isn't. Slick talking, whining about not understanding us, mistakes and distortions of those who disagree and everything else doesn't change the fact that the guy came right out and said if I'm not obedient I am not justified, and as far as I'm concerned the guy can go to hell in every possible meaning of the phrase.
  29. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I certainly agree. I hadn't seen the publisher's description and, at the very least, it would not be wise to endorse a book without qualification (even if one was limiting their endorsement to the "historical material"). I hadn't read the book but was simply trying to provide a way to read at least some of the endorsements in the light that they were limiting their comments to how the specifics were handled.
  30. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    Both your posts were fantastic. Thank you. I really like the note above and see it as a plague that is slowly eroding the foundations of our Reformed Churches. Justification is but one of the doctrines that is crumbling as men have rejected Reformed hermeneutics and a thorough understanding of our forebears in the faith.
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