Westminster Seminary has a rich and important past, especially in the context of American Christianity. The work of the seminary’s professors, and graduates, has influenced a number of people and churches around the world. (i.e. presuppositional apologetics, redemptive historical hermeneutics, Christian counseling models) For a full list of influential people who have come through Westminster check out the wikapedia page, I’ll only talk about a few here as I am writing about the people and aspects which have influenced me the most.
Westminster was started by J.G. Machen in 1929 when he left Princeton where he was one the main professors of Theology. Princeton at that time, was the flagship seminary for the presbyterian church in America. (Here is a link to a very useful article called “Machens Warrior Children” by John Frame regarding the full story of Machen and the reasons he left Princeton)
The main reason Machen decided to part ways with Princeton, and the denomination of the Presbyterian Church of United States, (known today as PC USA) was the continual liberal bent the denomination was leaning toward. Now it’s easy to read “liberal” and think of politics, but in this context it was theological liberalism. Machen founded Westminster, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, (OPC) to teach and train ministers with a orthodox, confessional, reformed, Biblical theology which was not deconstructed or based on liberal thought. Years later, this goal has been made manifest in my theological training. I would not have considered myself a liberal before I attended Westminster, in fact in God’s provision he gave me a family which raised me with a good grasp of the gospel, and two church’s which built me up in Biblical truth and community. (Central Peninsula Church, Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church) However, now more than ever I see the disintegration that liberal/bad theology has had on the church in America, and in the lives of my friends.
What do I mean by liberal theology? Well Machen saw the authority of reason being shifted to a human autonomy. What he meant is that human reason started to be the understanding of how God acts and how He revealed Himself. This kind of reasoning had come largely, but not exclusively, from Immanuel Kant. #Philosophymatters Without going into specifics, Kant basically concluded that we cannot really know anything, and our epistemology must start with what we can or might reason to be true. This view creeped into the church as people begun to largely reject the Scriptures being the inspired Word of God, and doctrines such as atonement, trinity, resurrection, and miracles/supernaturalism. Of the two general “paths” the Christian church in all denominations took, either increased liberalism or fundamentalism, Machen responded with neither “path” instead maintaing orthodoxy, and a breaking from the main presbyterian church. Westminster has maintained the distinction of remaining wholly committed to a confessional, orthodox, redemptive historical, Augustinian approach to Scripture.
Now if anyone from Westminster reads this, I’m sure they’ll want to fill in all the important details, but what I take away from this story is the importance of guarding my mind, or what I believe. You’ll do what you believe to be true. If I believe something, I will fundamentally act derivative of that belief. What about feelings? The same applies, if I believe feelings dictate what I should do or how I should respond, that is still a belief. Therefore, what Christians believe about what it means to be a Christian, what it means to know God, and how we can know God, is essentially paradigmatic to the living of their life. I will do what I believe, and therefore I need a change of what I believe, because I do wrong. What I have learned as I live Seminary, and I’m sure will continually learn, is that my belief system needs continual overhaul and reorienting around something that is outside of my own ability to define. I, and you, will naturally let wrong thinking dominate our understanding unless we have something outside of ourselves shape how to think and on what to think. This is why learning theology and doctrine matters, not just to a seminarian, but to anyone.
In the founding of Westminster, Machen started a institution that understands the deep seeded need for Christians ministers, like me, to be trained to believe Biblical truth. So that in turn we can proclaim with great proclamation the good news that indeed Christ has believed and has done perfect, for us.
“I believe, help my unbelief” – Mark 9:24
“So How do I decide what to believe?” or a date with Van Til