Editor’s Note: This article was first posted in December of 2004.
Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) is today one of the most well-known seminaries in the world. When J. Gresham Machen proposed a new seminary in 1929 (see Gary North’s analysis of Westminster’s history in his book : Westminster’s Confession: The Abandonment of Van Til’s Legacy ) few believed it would be as recognized as it is today. However, since Machen’s death on January 1st 1937, his followers have found many ways to keep themselves busy in intra-mural debates. At first it was the serious matters of debate (inerrancy vs. German Higher Critics), but then when that was over they found ways to entertain their warring spirits (some of these men were and are still gracious and humble theologians; but it is my contention that their involvement led to more confusion than biblical resolve). Machen’s influence in Reformed denominations has led to a host of debates that have afflicted the Reformed church for over 60 years.
In his magnificent article, Professor John Frame (RTS/Orlando) lists with clarity the many debates that have occurred as a result of Machen’s legacy. The article is called: Machen’s Warrior Children. In this extensive article Frame traces the 22 most heated discussions in Reformed circles in these past six decades. Some, of course, are more heated than others–such as Theonomy vs. Westminster Seminary– but Frame’s prayer (see the end of the article) is what he calls an “unrealistic dream;” a dream that there may be peace in the church and that the body of Christ would unite for the sake of the kingdom.
All debates in theology are debates that necessitate discussion, but not all debates necessitate division. Herein is the problem for theologians and for those who desire to be theologians (myself included): we do not have the wisdom to decide what debate is worthy of discussion or division. Perhaps Frame’s article will instill a bit more caution and discernment in these matters. After all, Paul’s prayer was that “our love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God” (Phil.1:9-11).