Rome and Westminster Seminary California (Updated)

27 November 2010

I continue to receive queries about this topic because of an anonymous YouTube post. So, I re-post what I wrote in July, 2008. In what follows I am not speaking in any official capacity nor am I speaking on behalf of Westminster Seminary California. I’ve updated the older post to reflect publications since July 2008.

Originally Posted July 28, 2008

In February of 2008 I became aware of an insinuation about Westminster Seminary California made by someone who should know better. Incredibly, I’ve been contacted about this more than once and again today. The insinuation is that, because some of our faculty did their PhD research at Roman Catholic institutions the Roman Catholics now have secret influence over WSC. The name of the latest correspondent is omitted to spare him embarrassment.


What you saw was originally an insinuation found on the website of Robert Morey (the original links no longer work. I can find no site for the “California Biblical University and Seminary.” Its Wiki page has been taken down. The last entry in the Wayback Machine dates to June 2008). He alleged that, because some of our professors took their doctoral work at Roman Catholic schools that somehow there is Roman Catholic influence at WSC.

A few facts (not that should get in the way of a good rumor):

1. Westminster Seminary California is confessionally, constitutionally, heartily, and morally committed to the inspired, inerrant Word of God and to the Reformed faith as confessed by the Three Forms of Unity (the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort) and the Westminster Standards (i.e., the Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms). All our faculty members swear an oath before God to uphold heartily and teach the Reformed faith and to refute contradictions of the same.

2. Our founding president, the Rev Dr Robert Strimple, did his PhD on a contemporary Roman Catholic theologian, was a member of a Catholic Theological Society, and was nevertheless chosen by Prof. John Murray to succeed him at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. Either Mr Murray was also a Roman Catholic spy or he didn’t agree with this sort of logic. Of course, anyone who knows anything about John Murray would know how ridiculous it would be to think anything but the best of Mr Murray. We might as well suggest that Mr Murray had a glass eye because he traded an eye in a deal with the pope. (Before the rumors start, he lost it in battle in WW I)

3. If, because some of our faculty did research at Roman institutions it means that, as one person put it, “the Jesuits have a man” on our faculty, then on that reasoning so do the pagans, the latitudinarians, the evangelicals, and other groups since our faculty members have taken PhDs from institutions from a variety of backgrounds.

Of course to write out such stuff is to expose its fallacy: guilt by association. If I attend a fantasy baseball camp does that make me San Diego Padre? Gasp, they’re the “Padres“! Get it? More secret Roman infiltration into Major League Baseball—though judging by their performance this year (2008; they did better in ’10 though they collapsed at the end of the summer), maybe they ought to consult the Vatican to find a new pitching rotation and hitters who fit Petco Park? I did my BA at the University of Nebraska, but that does not make me a running back. If a student studies with conservative Baptists, does that make him Tim LaHaye? Does listening to Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers make me Mario Andretti or an MIT physicist?

Where one takes a PhD does not determine his theology. Those faculty who did doctoral research at Roman Catholic universities did not learn their theology there any more than  John Calvin learned his theology at the University of Paris, which was a “Roman Catholic” (speaking anachronistically) institution when he studied there. They did research in those institutions. There’s a difference between learning one’s formative theology and doing historical, theological, or exegetical research.

4. The most bizarre thing about this insinuation is that there may be no more staunchly and confessionally Protestant seminary in the USA. Our faculty is completely committed to the Protestant Reformation. Michael Horton and Bob Godfrey are well-known for the advocacy of the Reformation. Dr Horton edits a magazine called Modern Reformation Horton and Godfrey were leading critics of Evangelicals and Catholics Together in 1994 and following. They participated in a 1995 debate, to defend the Reformation, with leading Roman Catholic apologists. When the Evangelical Theological Society needed someone to come to defend the Protestant Reformation in Orlando, they called on Bob Godfrey to do it. Most recently Mike Horton was at the 2010 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society to defend the Reformation doctrines against the NPP.

5. Not long our entire faculty published a book in defense of the Protestant doctrine of justification: Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry. Before that we published a Testimony on justification. Most recently Mike Horton and Ryan Glomsrud (who joins our faculty full-time in July) just published a collection of essays in defense of the Reformation. David VanDrunen, who did his doctoral research on a medieval theologian at a Roman Catholic University, was on the committee to help the OPC write their report on the doctrine of justification. He has also criticized Norman Shepherd’s doctrine of justification as inconsistent with the Reformation doctrine.

6. There are 186 HB posts on the doctrine of justification. There are 31 HB posts on law and gospel. There are 160 posts under “Reformation Resources.” There are 256 posts touching on some aspect of the covenant theology and justification sola fide.

7. One might suppose that all this literary and electronic defense of the Reformation is part of a giant conspiracy to throw the dogs off the scent, to allow us to be more effective in seducing the naive into becoming Romanists. The universe as we know it might also be the product of the imagination of a cosmic red beetle. Neither is very likely.   Look, according to our FV/moralist critics we’re crypto-Lutherans and now, according to this conspiracy theory we’re crypto-Romanists. We can’t be both. Maybe our critics should get together and decide which we’re supposed to be?

8. If anyone has questions about what our faculty teaches, he is welcome to actually read for himself what we write (Here is a fairly complete list of faculty publications). If, after actually cracking open a book or even clicking on a website, questions remain, anyone is welcome to contact the seminary.

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  1. As a formerly raised Papist, I do understand Morey’s claims against WSC, since it is the goal of the Papist to take control of any society, in this case America.

    However, I do appreciate the clarification and I do understand that those Popish institutes are only used for academic research. Heretical teachings are to be found within and without reformed schools, unfortunately, since by nature we are all papist.

  2. Gil,

    You understand his “claims against WSC” or you sympathize with his paranoia?

    There’s a difference don’t you think? His “claims” are patently absurd, false, and fallacious. How can one “understand” something that is beyond understanding?

  3. R. Scott Clark, (for future reference, do we call you Scott, or?)

    Isn’t it relevent though that Jesuit money is involved in publishing and promotion? It sounds like Morey is saying that Van Drunen’s book is not only written on a Jesuit subject, but also financed by Jesuits and dedicated by Van Drunen to a Jesuit priest. All of this seems to build Morey’s case in addition to Van Drunen’s PhD [Jesuits: Loyola]. I don’t think he has said that a man ontologically “is” based on where he was educated, but I admit to not have read the books (Grabill, Van Drunen) so I can’t comment on the doctrines in them.

  4. John,

    Dr VanDrunen’s first book, on Thomas Aquinas, (cue more spooky music), was published by Peter Lang. The booklet to which you refer, A Biblical Case for Natural Law, was published by the Acton Institute. There are both Protestants and Roman Catholics involved in this socially and economically conservative think tank.

    His most recent book is to be published by P&R, so I guess, that, judging by who his publisher is, he must be P&R now.

    So, Protestants should not make common cause on social issues with Roman Catholics?

    Does Morey check the religious affiliation of every donor who sends him money? If a Roman publisher wanted to publish my book and pay me royalties, I shouldn’t take the deal? How far are we willing to take this sort of separatism? So there is no such thing as common life together?

    We can’t have Roman Catholic friends? We can’t learn anything from Roman scholars? We shouldn’t read Roman books?

    I won’t be a party to that sort of deliberate ignorance and bigotry.

    Look, if there’s a Roman conspiracy afoot it’s a failure. There are about 60 million Roman Catholics in the USA and they’re not very faithful at all. The papists have a too much worry about in their own house, how can they expect to infiltrate WSC? As far as I know there are a handful of (visible) Bishops in the Catholic Conference who are traditionalists. Most of them oppose the current pope. Many of them aren’t very good Catholics themselves, judging by the Catholic Catechism.

    Are you suggesting that Dr VanDrunen can be bought? If so, I think he must be a wholly owned subsidiary of WSC since we pay him a lot more than the Acton Institute ever did!

  5. Dr. Clark,
    Would that all of the Protestant Seminaries act as Protestant as WSC! By the way, one of the best things I ever heard was the debate by Dr. Horton, Dr. Godfrey and Rod Rosenbladt vs. Sungenis and Hahn. A Debate with Rome is not a good thing to do if you are (Pro-Rome)…

  6. Dr. Clark,

    I understand Morey claims NOT from what he has said, but as a former Roman Catholic.

    Do any of the papist come to our schools to get a PhD or “do research studies?”

  7. John Murray never had an PhD! Do we need are seminary professors to have one, no matter if it is from a Roman Catholic School?

  8. I am aware of Randall C. Zachman (I don’t know if he is reformed, that is, I don’t know if he belongs to a NAPARC church) but I know he wrote a book about John Calvin and he teaches at the University of Notre Dame (Our Lady).

  9. Do any of our schools have the money, resources, and faculty of a Notre Dame? Do we have any major research universities? No. We have seminary PhD programs which do not have the same resources or faculty as university PhD programs. The problem is one of history and demographics. There are 500,00-600,000 confessional Reformed folks and 60 million Roman Catholics. There is a lot more money to support major RC research institutions than there is to support a handful of Reformed seminaries. There was an attempt to set up a Reformed research university in the 40s but the money disappeared with the treasurer and the treasurer later ended up back in the PCUSA making his mea culpas for having sided with Machen and the conservatives.

  10. There are several good Protestant scholars at ND. Until recently Mark Noll and George Marsen and Nat Hatch all taught at ND. George is retired. I’m not sure if Mark is still there and I don’t know about Hatch.

  11. I don’t think we need our professors and pastors to go to a Papist University in order for us to do research and/or to know what they are teaching!

    If they have gone to papist schools and have come out of popery after becoming protestant now that is another question, this is what happen to me.

  12. I should take of advantage of my Roman Catholic family (I have priests, nuns, 1 bishop, and 1 cardinal) and go to Notre Dame.

    Free scholarship as a Mexican-American, confused R. Catholic according to my family, maybe I will become one of them, family inheritance, etc. more can be said, but it is personal between me and my large Roman Catholic family.

  13. Dr. Clark

    Do any of our schools have the money, resources, and faculty of a Notre Dame? Do we have any major research universities? No

    With all due respect, the question is do we need them?

  14. The same way Michael Horton feels about fundamental Evangelicals since, he was raised as one, is the same way I fell about Roman Catholics since I was raised there, the difference is that I don’t have a PhD and a radio show. But do I need one to reach the lost , NO!

  15. If Moses could benefit from the learnings of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22), or if Paul could quote the Greeks (in Scripture, no less), surely we can discerningly benefit from the resources and learnings of those who aren’t reformed (yes, even from Roman Catholics).

    I’ve learned a lot from professors at UC Berkeley. I doubt that makes me a radical left-wing anti-establishment tree-hugger.

  16. John,

    I deleted your most recent comment because there are limits to what I will let people promote and your post exceeded those boundaries.

    Gil, one cannot simply walk into just any university and announce, “I will be a PhD student.” One has to apply and be admitted. It’s long, difficult process just to get in. One has be admitted to a place that has the resources to support research. One has to have access to experienced and qualified faculty members/scholars/experts in a given field. Sometimes, because of a the field of study or the topic or other restrictions, a Roman school is the best option.

    To say that one cannot study with Roman Catholics because they are Roman is anti-intellectual. There is a good lot of excellent Roman scholars with whom one would want to study. Some of the better Reformation scholars have been or are Roman Catholic.

    As a confessional Protestant I’m quite critical of the Roman communion but I’m not a bigot.

  17. I know that Bryan Estelle studied at Catholic University under Doug Gropp who is a fully-committed Reformed Evangelical Christian, an absolutely phenomenal Hebrew scholar, and current professor at WTS-Dallas. Just because its a Catholic University doesn’t mean everyone that teaches there is a Catholic.

  18. Darren and Elliot,

    We can even learn from Joel Osteen and the FV advocates, right?

    Dr. Clark,

    I appreciate you removing John’s comment.

    I will repeat myself from my first comment above;

    I do appreciate the clarification and I do understand that those Popish institutes are only used for academic research. Heretical teachings are to be found within and without reformed schools, unfortunately, since by nature we are all papist.

    I really do appreciate your comments and I thank you for you patience and your Christian virtues toward me via your responds.

  19. First, I don’t think WSC has a secret agenda, nor do I agree with the assertions by Morey.

    However, your argument is not convincing. Surely a professor’s guilt is not determined by association. In the same way, neither is a professor NOT justified by association. You plead your case on the basis of other professors (Horton, Godfrey,) or on institutional grounds, but not on particular grounds of this professor.

    Just my two cents. 🙂

  20. RSC,

    Is #4 worded correctly? It appears that the word “more” was inadvertently omitted between “no” and “staunchly.” Shouldn’t the first sentence read as follows: “4. The most bizarre thing about this insinuation is that there is probably no MORE staunchly Protestant seminary in the USA”?

    Perhaps I’m missing something.

    RFW, thanks. fixed it. – rsc

  21. Steve,

    This is a “when did you stop beating your wife” approach! So, when did you stop beating your wife?

    So Estelle and VanDrunen are to be suspected until we prove they are orthodox? Have you read a syllable either one has written? Have you even looked at the WSC website? Have you bothered to ask their sessions or presbyteries about them?

    Does it matter that they are ministers in the OPC? Does it matter that their presbyteries are quite aware that they did doctoral work at Catholic and Loyola? Does it matter that the seminary board is aware, that the seminary faculty is aware? Does it matter that these men are staunch adherents to the Protestant Reformation or they wouldn’t be on our faculty? For heavens sake! I’ve heard them preach. I’ve prayed with them. I’ve seen them with their families. I’ve seen them in church.

    As someone pointed out, VanDrunen was chairman of the OPC justification committee. Read the report here. He and I co-wrote two pieces for CJPM. If he wanted to subvert the Reformation he missed his chance.

    I recall when we interviewed Bryan Estelle for a faculty position. I’ll never forget when he said that faith is “extraspective.” That’s beautiful and from a biblical studies guy (Bib studies guys are not always known for their theological precision). That signaled to me that this is a fellow who is thoughtful about systematics and making good distinctions. I remember thinking, “this guy gets justification.” He does indeed.

    I guess Bryan and Dave should have done their PhD work at that unaccredited bastion of scholarship Louisiana Baptist University like Bill Gothard, Chuck Missler, Grant Jeffrey, Thomas Ice, and “Dr” Robert Morey, who did a PhD in “Islamic Studies,” even though they offer no degree in such. That’s quite a trick. The “exhaustive” PhD dissertations they require? About 30 single-spaced pages judging by one such “dissertation” I saw in 1995 or so.

    I’ve had enough. Comments closed.

Comments are closed.