20 October 2004

thanksgiving service at westminster

This evening I attended Westminster Theological Seminary's 75th anniversary service of thanksgiving. It was a great worship service, with Sinclair Ferguson delivering a powerful homily based on 1 Timothy 3:1-4:8. The time together was a wonderful tribute to the Seminary's ongoing ministry and witness over the past 75 years.

Growing up in Reformed circles in the Philadelphia area, Westminster Theological Seminary has always occupied an important place in my world and theological outlook, a continual part of the furniture of my world for my whole life.

Not only were many of my pastors and teachers Westminster grads, I went to elementary and high school with with the Gaffin and Conn kids, the extended Stonehouse family, and many others with long ties to the Seminary. Clothes I owned that had "JOEL" emblazoned on them I passed along to Ray Dillard's son by the same name. I remember running into Dr. Gaffin in the Flourtown grocery store on a number of occasions after school as my mother and I stopped to pick up some items before heading home. In 9th grade I sat in "Uncle" Sam Logan's living room while he gave me an oral quiz on James Joyce's Ulysses so I could get credit for our school reading program. I'm told that Philip E. Hughes' wife brought me home from the hospital when I was born. And on it goes.

Indeed, with regard to my education, Cornelius van Til was instrumental in founding the elementary day school that eventually grew into the Christian academy I attended from kindergarten through 12th grade. I can remember Dr. van Til occasionally visiting the school and coming to various school functions, always eager to talk with students and, in person, a paragon of humility and warmth, despite the sometimes prickly texts he produced. I remember him as a wispy haired elderly man who, as a child, I knew to be important in some way, though it wasn't until around 8th grade that I began to fathom the nature of his work as I read his Introduction to Systematic Theology in the old, somewhat yellowed, photocopied version my Dad owned from his seminary days.

I remember first obtaining special patron privileges to use Westminster's library over 20 years ago now, when I was in middle school and working on a theology paper for which I needed resources that went beyond what my school library and my father's library could provide. Ever since then I've spent many hours in the Montgomery library, browsing through books and digging up old texts, sometimes running into faculty and having good conversations with them.

And throughout my life I've heard lectures and sermons given by many of the Seminary's always top-notch faculty, too many lectures and faculty to list.

In many ways Westminster has profoundly shaped the theological world I live in and, I feel, has been instrumental in forcing my theological roots down deep into Scripture and the Reformed tradition. Gaffin's handing on of Vos's redemptive-historical outlook, Van Til's trinitarian ontology, and Murray's outlook on issues from imputation to divorce are virtually axiomatic in how I think theologically, even when I find I must disagree with them on matters of detail.

For all these things I am grateful for Westminster Seminary, its faculty, and its witness, and pray that God may continue to enlighten by his Holy Spirit those there who teach and learn, so that, rejoicing in the knowledge of his truth, they may worship Christ and serve him for generations to come.