Doctrine Without Scripture?

It appears that Mike Bird has offered some criticisms of our May 2004 faculty Statement on Justification. I reply below:


I imagine that you are referring to the statement adopted by the faculty and board of Westminster Seminary California. A bit of context.

1. That statement was adopted in the context of repeated claims by the self-designated “Federal Vision” to be “confessional.” Thus, this statement was only a preliminary injunction, as it were, against this claim. The statement was not intended to be read as an exhaustive or complete response to the FV (and secondarily, in this case, to the NPP).

2. The statement was also appended to and published in a volume that did attempt to make a more comprehensive account of the historical, sociological, theological, exegetical, redemptive-historical, and pastoral questions associated with the FV and NPP movements. That volume was Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.

3. Along with that volume I would also point your readers to Mike Horton’s substantial and thorough interaction with Tom Wright’s project in Covenant and Salvation. The reader should also be aware of John Fesko’s recent volume Justification. Fesko’s book may be said to represent the response of a faculty member ex post facto since John has recently been appointed to the faculty and begins with us in July, Dv. Finally, the statement assumed a good bit of exegetical interaction with the FV and NPP movements that pre-dated the statement. You are well aware of that work by Waters, Stuhlmacher, and others.

Further, the faculty continues to work on these issues. They were certainly afoot and in the background as several faculty contributed to the recent volume The Law is Not of Faith which focuses on the question of the role of the Mosaic law in the history of redemption and in the history of Reformed theology and in contemporary formulations.

4. Let me remind you that, as Richard Muller and others have pointed out, there has always been a place for summaries of exegesis. Calvin did not do a great deal of detailed biblical exegesis in the Institutes but rather used them as a way of harvesting his biblical work published in his commentaries and preached in sermons. No one could safely say that Calvin was not a “biblical” theologian. Different genres have different requirements. Thus confessional documents do not, in themselves, present a good deal of biblical exegesis. They harvest work done by pastors and theologians. So we were simply trying to re-state the confessional doctrine over against the extensive revisions of Reformed theology and practice proposed by the NPP and its FV followers.

5. Finally, it should be remembered that the confessions and catechisms that we cited in that document are not simply mini-systematic theologies. They are public, binding, and authoritative statements of how the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches understand God’s Word. We are men under authority. We are not authorized to re-invent willy-nilly the Reformed faith and certainly not upon what we regard to be a poor foundation marked by generally sloppy biblical exegesis and unsupported historical claims.

Ps. If you’re new to this discussion or if you want to read more here are some resources.


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  1. Just a clarification to what Dr. Clark said in case some take it wrongly…

    “I would also point your readers to Mike Horton’s substantial and thorough interaction with Tom Wright’s project in Covenant and Salvation and to John Fesko’s recent volume Justification”

    Dr. Horton isn’t interacting with Tom Wright AND John Fesko. Dr. Fesko’s book is another resource that is combatting the FV and NPP claims.

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for this clarification. I revised the post above to be clearer. -rsc

  2. Dr. Clark, thank you for your patience here. I was going to say that this must make you pull out your hair, but… well… I’ve seen photos :). What you obviously remember, that many of us are prone to forget, is that people are being newly introduced to these issues all the time. So, thanks for taking this opportunity to direct a new “generation” of readers to helpful correctives for FV, NPP, etc. And thanks for the reminder to the rest of us that we need to be re-pointing-these-out on a regular basis.

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