More on Bible and Confession

This topic came up at the PB the other day. The question arose whether it was right, as has been reported, for someone to tell a former WTS/P prof that if the Bible contradicted the confession that he should follow the confession.

This way of recounting what was said or of stating the problem produced a reaction from those who think that there is a move to place the confession over the Bible and to stifle intellectual freedom at WTS/P. In the words of Thomas Aquinas, “Sed contra.” The question here is not whether the bible is normative. The question is whether one person’s reading of Scripture is normative for everyone else.

To further quote Thomas, “respondeo dicendum:” It’s a little more complicated than Tremper’s quotation lets on.

As I’ve noted here many times (and as I note in the forthcoming book — November, Dv), Recovering the Reformed Confession, everyone thinks that their theology is biblical. In that case the question becomes whose reading of the bible is going to be normative in a Presbyterian seminary that has an established and constitutional confession?

Is Tremper allowed to teach Presbyterian seminary students that the Bible teaches credobaptism? No, of course not. I’m not saying that Tremper was teaching credobaptism but just using this as an example. In this case there is no doubt that the confession trumps what a given prof may think the bible to teach if that conclusion contradicts what the Reformed churches hold the bible to teach.

When Tremper became a prof at WTS he swore an oath before God, the board, and the faculty that he believed the Westminster Standards ex animo – from the soul. If he came to believe that some language or chapter in the standards was unbiblical he was duty bound to take that concern to his colleagues on the faculty and failing to find satisfaction, to take it to the board.

We should not be disturbed to read that someone at WTS thought that the teaching of Presbyterian seminary professors should reflect the Presbyterian reading of the bible. We should rather be disturbed by the fact that a Presbyterian seminary professor thought it odd that someone should expect him to teach like a Presbyterian.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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