The Rev. Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr.: Sancti Libri Theologicus Magnus Westmonasteriensis

Peter A. Lillback

Ordained Servant: October 2011

KJV 400

Also in this issue

The King James Version in the Church: Past, Present, and Future

KJV 400: The Enduring Influence

Inspired with Errors: An Oxymoron: A Review Article

BibleWorks 9: A Review

Passing Away, Saith the World

While Scripture forbids us to venerate any mere mortal (Rev. 19:10), Paul in Romans 12:7 declares, “Pay to all what is owed to them…respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” There are many reasons that warrant a tribute to the Rev. Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. in 2011, the seventy-fifth year of his fruitful life. These reasons include his godly and gentlemanly character, his extensive academic contributions, his faithful and scholarly churchmanship, and his gracious humility that permeates his productive writing. Here we honor Dr. Gaffin in the spirit of Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

A Summary of the Impact of the Ministry of Dr. Gaffin

Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr.’s ministry is interwoven with Westminster Theological Seminary[1] and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.[2] Indeed, 2011 is the seventy-fifth birthday of both the OPC and Dr. Gaffin. Further, 1965 is the year of Dr. Gaffin’s ordination in the OPC as well as his first teaching year at Westminster. And January 1, 2012 is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the death of J. Gresham Machen,[3] the founder of Westminster[4] and the moving force for the establishment of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.[5]

Dr. Gaffin was born in 1936 in Peiping, China, modern day Beijing, to parents serving as missionaries with the Independent Board of Foreign Missions and soon thereafter until their retirement with the Committee on Foreign Missions of the newly formed Orthodox Presbyterian Church.[6] His father-in-law was the accomplished Westminster Old Testament professor Dr. E. J. Young.[7] As a Westminster Seminary student and the twenty-second professor to have signed the faculty book at Westminster, he knew five of the original faculty: Van Til, Kuiper, Stonehouse, Woolley, and Murray.[8] Wilson and Machen had died; MacRae and Allis had resigned. Gaffin knew Kuiper when he was a student at Calvin College and Kuiper was President of Calvin Seminary. The young Richard Gaffin also encountered Westminster’s other early faculty members that preceded him (Young, Skilton, Kline, Clowney, Knudsen, Shepherd, Adams, Davis, Sloat). Beyond these, he has known all of the fifty-four professors whose signatures follow his.[9]

His focus on biblical theology has enabled him to excel in New Testament biblical exegesis as well as systematic theology. He occupied the Charles Krahe Chair of Biblical and Systematic Theology until his retirement. His forty-five years of teaching at Westminster have impacted some 3,000 students. He has been honored as an emeritus professor by the Richard B. Gaffin Lectures on Theology, Culture, and Missions that have been endowed in perpetuity. His teaching has taken him around the globe to numerous academic institutions and missionary centers. His students, friends, and colleagues have honored his vast and important contributions to their lives and to Reformed theology with the publication of a festschrift, Resurrection and Eschatology: Theology in Service of the Church.[10]

His service as presbyter in the OPC has been faithful, extensive, and marked by high standards of quality, setting a record in length of committee service that will not soon be matched. He was elected as moderator of the Fifty-first General Assembly of the OPC in 1984 and has served well over twenty times as a commissioner. He has been a longstanding member of both the OPC’s Committee on Foreign Missions and its Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations.[11]

Dr. Gaffin has written over one hundred published articles and written or edited ten books.[12] His teaching and writing have been marked by an extensive integration of orthodoxy and Reformed confessionalism with a thoroughgoing biblical theology and rigorous exegesis. His appreciation for the importance of historical theology is seen in his studies of Calvin and the Dutch theologians Kuyper, Bavinck, Ridderbos, and Vos. He has been a perceptive critic of liberal theology in the arenas of hermeneutics, Gospels and Paul studies, systematic theology, biblical theology, and New Testament introduction. His theological contributions have touched a wide range of theological concerns including union with Christ, justification, the Holy Spirit, the Sabbath, resurrection, and eschatology. He has sought to apply biblical theology and Reformed theology to the Christian life, to the church, and to missions. He has been a vigorous participant in the theological debates that have made an impact on Westminster, including the controversies over the doctrine of justification, theonomy, and the doctrine of Scripture.

The Ministry of Dr. Gaffin in the Context of Westminster Seminary

There are ten distinct phases of Dr. Gaffin’s career at Westminster Theological Seminary from his student days to his retirement. Each of these will be briefly considered.

1. Gaffin’s Student Years at Westminster, 1958–61

In 1958, Gaffin arrived on Westminster’s campus just as the faculty’s writings had begun to add to Machen’s substantial legacy.[13] Stonehouse in 1941 had written the Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ, emphasizing the inseparable authority of Christ with the authority of the Gospels themselves.[14] Woolley and Stonehouse had edited the Infallible Word in 1946. Van Til had written Why I believe in God in 1948. Young’s Old Testament Introduction had appeared in 1949. The scholarly works continued to flow: Murray’s Baptism (1952) and Divorce (1953), Stonehouse’s Biographical Memoir of Machen (1954), Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied (1955), Van Til’s Defense of the Faith (1955), Murray’s Principles of Conduct (1957), and Young’s Thy Word is Truth (1957). Also in 1958, the young Gaffin married Jean, Professor E. J. Young’s daughter. By 1961, Gaffin had completed his BD.

But central for the young Gaffin was the theological impact of Geerhardus Vos, the Princeton professor who had taught both Murray and Stonehouse. Vos did not join the new seminary, but retired from Princeton in 1932, two years after Murray left Princeton to join the newly formed Westminster faculty. Vos’s relationship with Westminster deepened through the years. When Vos died in 1949, Westminster apologetics professor Cornelius Van Til preached at the graveside gathering.[15] Vos defined biblical theology as the history of revelation or the history of redemption that was to be expressed through careful biblical exegesis.[16] This became the hallmark of Murray as he developed the Vosian perspective.[17] This became the methodological commitment of Gaffin as well.[18] In 1962, shaped by the theological perspectives of Vos, Murray, and Stonehouse, Gaffin completed his Th.M. thesis “Calvin and the Sabbath.”

In 1962–63, Gaffin went to study at Georg-August Universität in Göttingen. Gaffin’s years at Göttingen solidified his agreement with Van Til’s critical assessment of liberal theology and neo-orthodoxy.[19] Professor Stonehouse died suddenly in 1962 creating a position for a New Testament scholar that the young Gaffin would eventually fill. In 1963, Gaffin’s lifelong friend and many year Westminster colleague, Professor Norman Shepherd joined the faculty at Westminster. Gaffin also published his first scholarly piece.[20]

In 1964 Professor Edmund Clowney’s Called to Ministry was published. It was also the year when Meredith Kline resigned as a voting faculty member, although Kline continued to teach a course or two each academic year as a visiting faculty member until 1977. And the young Gaffin published his first study on the doctrine of Scripture, an area of lifelong theological concern, entitled Review of The Inspiration of Scripture, by D. M. Beegle, (Westminster Theological Journal [WTJ] 26 (May 1964): 230–38). Gaffin began his career as a teaching fellow in New Testament the following year.

2. Gaffin as Teaching Fellow, 1965

1965 brought two important first steps for Gaffin, his ordination in the OPC and the beginning of his teaching at Westminster, as a teaching fellow. This year also saw the formation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod. Teaching Fellow Gaffin continued to publish, authoring two reviews: Review of The History of the Synoptic Tradition, by R. Bultmann. (WTJ 27 (May 1965): 172–77); and Review of Between Heaven and Earth, by H. Thielicke. (WTJ 28 (Nov. 1965): 99–105).

3. Gaffin as Instructor of New Testament, 1966–68

The early years of Gaffin’s teaching saw several generational shifts in the Westminster context. For thirty-seven years Westminster had followed a faculty governance model and operated without a president. As Edmund P. Clowney became Westminster’s first president in 1966, the legacy of faculty leadership as had been provided by Machen and Van Til gave way to a shared faculty and administration governance under the guidance of a president. President Clowney led the seminary, and thus Instructor/Professor Richard B. Gaffin Jr. from 1966 to 1982.

There were other dramatic changes as well that shaped and made an impact on Gaffin’s experiences at Westminster. During these early years, R. B. Kuiper died, Clair Davis became a faculty member, and C. John Miller began teaching at Westminster. The year 1967 saw the retirement of Gaffin’s exegetical and theological mentor John Murray. In 1968, Karl Barth died, and faculty members and teachers Cornelius Van Til, John Frame, Norman Shepherd, and Dick Gaffin attended his memorial service at Princeton.[21] But more personally, 1968 saw the sudden passing of Gaffin’s father-in-law, E. J. Young, stalwart Old Testament professor and defender of the inerrancy of the Scriptures.[22]

4. Gaffin as Assistant Professor, New Testament, 1968–72

Dr. Gaffin signed the Westminster Faculty Signature Book in 1968, becoming an assistant professor of New Testament. In 1969, he earned his ThD from Westminster with his Dissertation entitled “Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Pauline Eschatology.” During these years, he also published articles on topics that would become key emphases of his scholarly work: hermeneutics, Paul, New Testament theology, and the Sabbath.[23] And noteworthy is his first study of his guiding theologian: “Geerhardus Vos and the Interpretation of Paul.”[24]

During these years, Gaffin encountered several major changes in relation to his faculty colleagues. Thus immediately following his signature in the Faculty Book are Cecil John Miller, Robert B. Strimple, and John M. Frame. In 1971, Ray Dillard came to Westminster. In 1972, a faculty sea change in terms of personality occurred in that founding faculty member and de facto seminary leader Cornelius Van Til retired and the energetic Harvie Conn fresh from the Korean mission field became a member of the Westminster faculty.

During this period, Dr. Gaffin’s leadership as a presbyter manifested itself. As a current Westminster professor, OPC minister, and successor of Dr. Gaffin to the Charles Krahe Chair of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Dr. Lane Tipton explains, “Dr. Gaffin is, first and foremost, a churchman. His service to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is astounding, especially in light of his numerous seminary responsibilities. He has the longest continuous presidency of a standing committee in OPC history (Committee on Foreign Missions, 1969–present; president 1971–76, 1981 – present).”[25] During these years, Dr. Gaffin began his service on various OPC special study committees as well.[26]

5. Gaffin as Associate Professor, New Testament, 1972–78

In 1972, Assistant Professor Gaffin was promoted to associate professor. The following year, founding faculty member Oswald T. Allis died, and the Presbyterian Church in America began. In 1975, Gaffin’s friend and theological mentor John Murray died in Scotland, and C. John Miller left the faculty. It was also the year that the Shepherd controversy erupted over the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith. The controversy that engulfed the seminary and the OPC attracted the interest of many theologians. The controversy lasted in the Westminster context until 1982.[27]

In 1976, Vern Poythress joined Westminster’s faculty, teaching New Testament alongside Dr. Gaffin. The year 1977 saw the retirement of founding Professor Paul Woolley. Gaffin wrote five articles in this period, one of which was his contribution to the definition of the relationship between systematic and biblical theology.[28] He also wrote “The Holy Spirit and Charismatic Gifts.”[29] This was the first of what would total by the end of his career some twenty-two articles and books on the theme of the Holy Spirit. Dr. Gaffin continued to provide his scholarly insights to the OPC on these same topics, as he also served on the Committee on Baptism of the Holy Spirit (1975-76) and the Committee on Baptism and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (1977). During this period, Gaffin also began his service on the OPC Committee on Reformed Ecumenical Synod Matters (1973–87; chairman, 1986).

6. Gaffin as Professor, New Testament, 1978–86

In 1978, Dr. Gaffin was promoted to full professor. The years of 1978–86 may well have been his most prolific period. In 1978, he published his first book, The Centrality of the Resurrection.[30] The following year, he published Perspectives on Pentecost: Studies in the New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.[31] In 1980, Gaffin published Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos.[32] In 1982 and 1983, he published his two-part influential articles entitled “Old Amsterdam and Inerrancy?”[33]

This epoch of Dr. Gaffin’s career also had several dramatic changes in faculty relationships that each in differing ways impacted his ministry and his teaching. In 1979, Dr. Samuel Logan joined the Westminster faculty, and Dr. Strimple departed to California as Westminster California opened. Dr. Robert Godfrey and Professor John Frame also shortly thereafter joined the new faculty in California.

In 1980, in spite of the theological support and friendship provided by Dr. Gaffin and several other members of the Westminster faculty, Norman Shepherd was removed as a professor by the Westminster Board of Trustees as the controversy raged over faith and works in the Reformed doctrine of justification. A number of the Westminster faculty and staff supported the termination of Professor Shepherd’s position, including board member/Adjunct Professor W. Stanford Reid, Professor Robert Godfrey, Professor O. Palmer Robertson, and seminary librarian Arthur Kuschke. Shortly thereafter Professor Shepherd transferred his credentials from the OPC to the Christian Reformed Church. Despite theological differences between them that subsequently emerged, Gaffin and Shepherd have remained in conversation through the years.

In 1981, Leslie Sloat retired, Dr. Moises Silva joined the faculty to teach New Testament, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church began. The year 1982 was the last of Dr. Clowney’s service as Westminster’s president and the beginning of George Fuller’s service as president. President Fuller’s years of leadership were 1982–91. Dr. Sinclair Ferguson joined the faculty in 1982 and served until 1998. The beginning of the PC (USA), the arrival of Dr. Dan McCartney to teach New Testament, and the departure of Professor Jay Adams from Westminster all occurred in 1983. Dr. Clowney left Dr. Gaffin’s beloved OPC for the PCA in 1984, which was also the year when founding Westminster faculty member and OPC minister Paul Woolley died. In 1985, Old Testament professor Dr. Bruce Waltke joined the Westminster faculty.

In spite of the theological controversy, the many faculty changes and his extensive publications, Dr. Gaffin remained steady in his service to the OPC. During this period, he served on the Committee on Principles of Diaconal Ministry (1980); the Committee to Study the History and Development of the OPC (1982); the Committee on Hermeneutics (1984); the Committee on the Hermeneutics of Women in Office (1985–87). He also moderated the Fifty-first OPC General Assembly in 1984.

7. Gaffin as Professor, Systematic Theology, 1986–90

In 1986, Dr. Gaffin changed field committees at the seminary, moving from New Testament to systematic theology. If one keeps in mind his interest in biblical theology as a discipline, this is an understandable transition. Moreover, the departure of Norman Shepherd from the systematics department and Gaffin’s recent intense reflection on justification, union with Christ, the history of salvation, and the ordo salutis emerging from his biblical-theological engagement with the scriptural teaching on justification by faith made this move reasonable. During this period, he had some twenty publications, including the republication of The Centrality of the Resurrection as Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987.

Significant faculty changes again occurred during this time. In 1987, Dr. Gaffin’s deeply respected teacher and friend Cornelius Van Til died. Dr. Gaffin preached the memorial service at the seminary. His sermon was entitled “The Scandal of the Cross” from 1 Corinthians 1:18–25.[34] Dr. William Barker joined the faculty in 1987 to teach church history and later to serve as dean, and in 1989, Dr. Bill Edgar joined the faculty to teach apologetics and to carry on the extraordinary legacy of founding faculty member Cornelius Van Til.

Dr. Gaffin’s remarkable service to the OPC was evident again in this period as he served on the Committee to Study the Involvement of Men and Women in Places of Leadership in Worship Services (1988–89); and the Committee on the Involvement of Unordained Persons in the Regular Worship Services of the Church (1990–91). He also resumed service on the OPC’s Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (1989–2004).

8. Gaffin as Professor, Biblical and Systematic Theology, 1990–99

In 1990, Dr. Gaffin’s title changed from Professor of Systematic Theology to Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology. The change in title only made explicit what was the reality. During this time, Dr. Gaffin published over twenty articles as well as the book Calvin and the Sabbath, released in 1998.[35]

Dr. Gaffin again saw important changes in the Westminster community that he had now served for thirty-five years. In 1990, Dr. Scott Oliphint began to teach apologetics. In 1991, Professor Bruce Waltke left the faculty, President George Fuller concluded his leadership, and Samuel T. Logan began his presidency. The Logan years were 1991–2005. In 1992, Dr. Douglas Green joined the Old Testament faculty. In 1993, Old Testament professor Dr. Ray Dillard died. In 1994, Dr. Peter Enns joined the faculty. The year 1995 saw the retirement of Dr. Knudsen. In 1996, Professor Steve Taylor joined the faculty to teach New Testament. In 1997, long serving New Testament professor and model of diaconal service John Skilton retired, and professor of practical theology Dr. Tim Witmer joined the faculty. In 1998, Professor Harvie Conn retired, and Professor John Leonard joined the faculty. In 1998, Dr. Ferguson resigned to return to pastoral ministry in Scotland, although he has continued from time to time to teach courses at the seminary. Dr. Gaffin’s scholarly service to the OPC continued as he was elected to the Committee to Study the Method of Admission to the Lord’s Supper (1991–93).

9. Gaffin as Charles Krahe Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, 1999–2008

In 1999, Dr. Gaffin assumed the title of the Charles Krahe Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology. The first holder of the Krahe Chair had been Professor of Systematic Theology Sinclair Ferguson. During this final active decade of his service, Dr. Gaffin published over thirty articles and two books. The first book was entitled By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation[36]; and the second, God’s Word in Servant Form: Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck and the Doctrine of Scripture.[37]

Faculty changes again swirled around Dr. Gaffin whose service would reach forty-five years by the time of his full retirement from the Westminster classroom and faculty meetings. The year 1999 saw the death of Harvie Conn as well as the arrival to the faculty of Old Testament professor Mike Kelly. Dr. Carl Trueman joined the faculty in 2001 to teach church history with the retirement of Clair Davis after thirty years of teaching at Westminster. In 2002, Professor Moises Silva left the seminary, and Dr. Jeff Jue joined the faculty, as well as Sandy Finlayson who entered the faculty as the seminary’s librarian. In 2003, Dr. Lane Tipton was added to the faculty in systematics, as the successor to Dr. Gaffin in the Charles Krahe Chair of Biblical and Systematic Theology. In 2005, the seminary’s first president, Dr. Clowney, died. This same year, Dr. Sam Logan’s presidency concluded, and Dr. Peter Lillback became president. Lillback’s leadership years have been 2005 to the present. In 2007, David Garner joined the faculty in systematic theology. In 2008, Professor Steve Taylor departed the seminary.

During 2006–8, controversy again broke out, centered on the writings of Old Testament Professor Peter Enns. Once again, Dr. Gaffin, Westminster’s historic and stalwart defender of the Reformed doctrine of Scripture, took a leading part in the controversy that centered on Professor Enns’s approach to hermeneutics and doctrine of Scripture. After lengthy discussions, debates, and board and faculty votes, Professor Enns resigned in 2008. As a means of clarifying where Westminster Seminary and its board of trustees stand on the hermeneutical and doctrinal issues that emerged from this controversy, the “Affirmations and Denials” on the doctrine of Scripture were composed, debated, and adopted by board and faculty.[38] This document was proposed by President Lillback and written by Professors Gaffin and Poythress. It was engaged by the board and faculty and edited at length and ultimately adopted by the Westminster faculty and board. Thus even during his final year of full-time service, Professor Gaffin played a pivotal role in the life of the seminary.

His service for the OPC continued as he labored on the Committee on the Doctrine of Justification (2004–6).

10. Gaffin as Professor Emeritus, Biblical and Systematic Theology, 2008–Present

As Dr. Gaffin became Professor Emeritus of Biblical and Systematic Theology in 2008, he continued to teach part-time, offering his much beloved course, Acts and Paul. So although retired, he was still not retired. Dare we say he was already retired, but not yet?

In 2009, the Westminster faculty saw the departure of New Testament professor Dan McCartney and the arrival of the accomplished biblical scholar and biblical theologian Dr. Greg Beale. And in 2011, the seventy-sixth name was added to the Faculty Signature book when Dr. Brandon Crowe joined the faculty. Both Dr. Beale and Dr. Crowe join Dr. Poythress in the area of New Testament studies. The biblical theology and systematic courses taught by Dr. Gaffin continue to be carried by Dr. Oliphint, Dr. Garner, and Dr. Tipton. Thus the Gaffin legacy rests safely in these professors’ careful commitment to Scripture and the great Westminster legacy that descends from Vos, Murray, and Gaffin to themselves. Moreover, I am confident that Dr. Gaffin’s service to his church and to his seminary will continue until the Lord calls him to glory.

There have been several key emphases in the life work of Dr. Gaffin.[39] These are impossible to explore here. However, a careful reading of Dr. Gaffin’s writings mark out twelve primary emphases: 1. The Doctrine of Scripture, 2. Union with Christ, 3. Hermeneutics, 4. Biblical Theology, 5. Salvation and the Work of Christ, 6. The Ordo Salutis, 7. The Holy Spirit, 8. Resurrection, 9. Eschatology, 10. Sabbath, 11. Ecclesiology, 12. Christian Ministry. For example, Dr. Gaffin consistently emphasizes the divine origin of Scripture. He writes,

The basic thrust ... is plain: Scripture, like Christ, is both truly human and truly divine. Yet in the case of Scripture, as for Christ, these two factors are not equally ultimate; the priority and originating initiative belong to the divine, not the human. Specifically, the Word, in his antecedent identity as the Word, became flesh; and God is the primary author of the Bible, in distinction from the secondary human authors.[40]

Personal Reflections on the Ministry of Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Sancti Libri Theologicus Magnus Westmonasteriensis

I have had the joy previously to celebrate Dr. Gaffin’s long and fruitful career, as contributor to his festschrift and as a planner of the endowed Gaffin lectures that actually took him by surprise, thanks to the help of Jean. But having been asked by Ordained Servant to write a tribute for Dr. Gaffin, it is my privilege to do so more fully here. I write in honor of Dr. Gaffin with deep personal respect and sincere gratitude for his ministry to the seminary, to the church, to his students, and to me.

On a personal level I am truly grateful for the many ways Dr. Gaffin has aided me in my call to serve our Lord. I’ve had the privilege to know him as my teacher, as an administrator of a PhD area exam, as a fellow member of a Sunday School class, as a counselor and consoler in the midst of some very tense moments in my Presbytery exams, as a preacher at my ordination, and the first person I recognized at Abington Hospital many years ago on a Sunday in September 1981 who rejoiced with me when my first daughter was born.

I’ve known Dr. Gaffin as a faculty colleague, as a supporter in the seminary’s development efforts, as a moderator of the OPC general assembly, as a fellow seminary representative at the World Reformed Fellowship, as a fellow stranded professor with Dr. Garner and Dr. Jue as we fellowshipped for a week in the United Kingdom waiting for a volcanic cloud from Iceland to clear.

He has been a wise theologian in the midst of community-shaking theological controversy, an author I’ve read and from whom I’ve learned, a co-author with whom I have labored, as well as a theological conversationalist on some long car rides, not to mention a fellow Phillies fan.

Finally, I thank God for the way that the Gaffin family has been an encouragement to so many in word and deed through their own personal suffering and grief. A moving witness to the Gaffins’ faithful love for our Lord and his church was reported by those who saw Dick and Jean quietly setting up chairs for the congregation on the first Sunday after the funeral of their daughter. Dr. Gaffin’s personal and godly impact has been multiplied thousands of times more through family care, students taught, articles and books published and read, sermons and lectures given and heard, and wise decisions reached and counsel given to church, seminary, and Christians worldwide.

All of this helps us to understand how Richard B. Gaffin Jr. has practiced what he has taught and what he has written:

The pressing and promising task before the church today is to demonstrate unambiguously, in practice as well as proclamation, that at its core the gospel concerns not only the free and full remission of sin but the present reality of a new creation and eschatological life in Christ, the present renewal and transformation of the believer in his entirety, according to the inner man, and the redirection and reintegration of human life in all its aspects. The gospel is the gospel of the exalted Christ, the life-giving Spirit. This is one perspective on Pentecost the church cannot afford to lose.[41]

Thank you, Dr. Gaffin, for making sure the church has not lost sight of the gospel of Christ’s life-giving Spirit on your long and faithful watch at Westminster.

As it is my privilege as the President of Westminster Seminary to confer the graduating students’ degrees in Latin, the historic language of theology in the West, I would also like to confer this title upon you: Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Sancti Libri Theologicus Magnus Westmonasteriensis, which translates as Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Westminster’s Great Theologian of the Holy Scripture. We all congratulate you on your successful completion of this ministerial program, even if it has taken forty-five years to complete!


[1] For a brief survey of the history of Westminster Theological Seminary, see The Orthodox Presbyterian Church 1936–1986 (Philadelphia: Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986), 321–24.

[2] For a summary of the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church see ibid, pp. 7–16.

[3] Marsden writes, “Machen died of pneumonia in the winter of 1937 while singlehandedly attempting to rally handfuls of supporters in the Dakotas—an ironic end to a life dedicated to bringing Christianity to the centers of culture.” George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870–1925 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 192.

[4] Machen’s entry into theological conflict with “liberalism” or “modern theology” began with his address on November 3, 1921, to the Ruling Elders’ Association of Chester Presbytery which was published by The Princeton Theological Review 20 (1922): 93–117, entitled “Liberalism or Christianity.” Machen explains in his preface to his subsequent book, Christianity and Liberalism, “The interest with which the published address was received has encouraged the author to undertake a more extensive presentation of the same subject.” Westminster Theological Seminary Dean Carl Trueman writes in his foreword to the New Edition of Christianity and Liberalism, “Machen summed up his thesis in a letter to The British Weekly, September 11, 1924: ‘The truth is that the manifold religious life of the present day, despite interlocking of the branches and much interaction, does not spring from one root but from two. One root is Christianity; the other is a naturalistic or agnostic modernism which, despite Christian influences in detail, is fundamentally hostile to the Christian faith.’” J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, new ed., 2009), ix. Also see D. G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).

[5] See Robert K. Churchill, Lest We Forget: A Personal Reflection of the Formation of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: The Committee for the Historian of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1987).

[6] The Independent Board of Foreign Missions was the issue that ultimately forced the break between Dr. Machen and the Presbyterian Church. See Churchill, Lest We Forget, 73ff; D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, Seeking a Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterianism (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2007), 198–202; Hart, Defending the Faith, 151–57, 163–64; Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 192; Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 482ff, 497ff.

[7] “Dr. E. J. Young [was] professor of Old Testament from 1936 until his death in 1968. He had a command of more than thirty languages and wrote a three-volume commentary on Isaiah. His Thy Word Is Truth (1957) was perhaps the most significant book upholding the inerrancy of Scripture to that date because he insisted that Scripture define its own character. He believed we have in the Bible a history of the work of redemption, a single, ever-unfolding story, and all passages in all books of the Bible must be understood in light of this fact.” From Westminster Theological Seminary: The Whole Counsel of God (Philadelphia: Westminster Seminary Press, 2006), xii.

[8] For the beginnings of Westminster Seminary, see J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, 446–68.

[9] The Westminster Seminary Faculty Signature Book is signed by each new faculty member at the Board of Trustees Meeting at which the member is elected to the faculty. A facsimile was recently printed for Seminary use. For an introduction to some of the early faculty of Westminster Seminary, see Westminster Theological Seminary: The Whole Counsel of God (Philadelphia: Westminster Seminary Press, 2006). While many faculty members of Westminster are named in this article, it is not possible to include them all. No slight is intended thereby.

[10] Resurrection and Eschatology: Theology in Service of the Church, ed. Lane G. Tipton & Jeffrey C. Waddington (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2008).

[11] Cf. “Introduction: A Tribute to Richard B. Gaffin Jr.” in Resurrection and Eschatology, xi–xii.

[12] For a comprehensive bibliography of Dr. Gaffin’s writings, see Resurrection and Eschatology, 577–86. Included in this count is the forthcoming book co-edited by Richard B. Gaffin Jr. and Peter A. Lillback, Thy Word Is Still Truth: Westminster Seminary’s Doctrine of Scripture in Historical Context, to be published by P&R. Derek W. H. Thomas’s endorsement of the festschrift for Dr. Gaffin is relevant here. He writes, “These chapters reveal the esteem with which Dr. Gaffin is held. Those of us in the Reformed community, particularly ‘professional’ theologians like myself, are indebted to Dr. Gaffin in ways that would probably embarrass him. It hasn’t been his written output so much (though crucial and indispensable, this has been relatively small); rather, it has been his quiet, resolute defense of orthodoxy rooted in enviable exegetical skills that continues to challenge us. He is a quiet giant in a theologically Lilliputian world to whom we owe an immense amount of gratitude and respect. Without him we would be immeasurably the poorer.” This article and its listing of the many writings of Dr. Gaffin do not reference the reports that he may have authored as a member of the ecclesiastical committees on which he served.

[13] “A climactic event in Machen’s earlier career—occurring not long after the fortieth anniversary of his birth—was the publication of his brilliant book on The Origin of Paul’s Religion in the year 1921. Though the designation opus magnum has to be reserved for The Virgin Birth of Christ published in 1930, the book on Paul, in the judgment of the biographer, excels in some respects even that volume whose preparation was a principal concern for about twenty-five years.” Stonehouse, Machen, 315.

[14] “For good or ill the momentous issue of the authority of Jesus Christ is bound up with the decisions which are reached regarding the authority and truth of the canonical gospels. Although many efforts have been put forth to discover a Jesus other than the divine Christ of the gospels to whom men might pledge fealty, the history of that search appears more and more clearly to have demonstrated its futility.” Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of the Synoptic Gospels to Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), xiii.

[15] John R. Meuther, Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2008), 131.

[16] “The first feature characteristic of supernatural revelation is its historical progress. God has not communicated to us the knowledge of the truth as it appears in the calm light of eternity to His own timeless vision. He has not given it in the form of abstract propositions logically correlated and systematized. The simple fact that it is the task of Systematic Theology to reproduce revealed truth in such form, shows that it does not possess this form from the beginning. The self-revelation of God is a work covering ages, proceeding in a sequence of revealing words and acts, appearing in a long perspective of time. The truth comes in the form of growing truth, not truth at rest…. As soon as we realize that revelation is at almost every point interwoven with and conditioned by the redeeming activity of God in its wider sense, and together with the latter connected with the natural development of the present world, its historic character becomes perfectly intelligible and ceases to cause surprise.” Geerhardus Vos, “The Idea of Biblical Theology” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1980), 7–8.

[17] John Murray wrote, “Systematic theology is tied to exegesis. It coordinates and synthesizes the whole witness of
Scripture on the various topics with which it deals. But systematic theology will fail of its task to the extent to which it discards its rootage in biblical theology as properly conceived and developed ... . The fact is that only when systematic theology is rooted in biblical theology does it exemplify its true function and achieve its purpose.” “Systematic Theology. Second Article,” The Westminster Theological Journal 26 (November, 1963): 44ff.

[18] “If it is fair to view Geerhardus Vos as the father of Reformed biblical theology, then we are now at a point several generations later where we can begin assessing something of the lasting impact of that theology….Among pastors, teachers and other interested persons more or less conversant with Vosian biblical theology, it’s fair to say, a fairly sharp difference of opinion presently exists. On the one side are those enthusiastic about biblical theology (or redemptive-historical interpretation of Scripture) and who see themselves in their own work as building on the insights of Vos and others (like Meredith Kline and Herman Ridderbos). Others, however, question the value of biblical theology, if they have not already concluded that it has introduced novelties detrimental to the well-being of the church. …I would certainly include myself among the first group just mentioned, the ‘enthusiasts’….” In Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “Biblical Theology and the Westminster Standards” in The Practical Calvinist: An Introduction to the Presbyterian and Reformed Heritage, ed. Peter A. Lillback (Fearn: Christian Focus Publications, 2002), 425.

[19] Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman, 135.

[20] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Review of The Work of Christ, by R. S. Franks, WTJ 25 (May 1963): 231–35.

[21] Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman, 191.

[22] E. J. Young wrote, “The Church is indeed at the crossroads. Shall she listen to God or to man? Will she receive what the Spirit says concerning inspiration, or, turning her back upon Him, will she cleave unto man? This is the choice to be made. Sad is it, however, that many do not realize the necessity for making a choice. Having their vision obscured by the dense fog that modern theology is casting over the way, many do not realize that there is a crossroad. They are not aware that they must decide which road they will follow. Unless something is done, they will travel on, taking the wrong turning, until the road leads them at last into the valley of lost hope and eternal death.” Edward J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth: Some Thoughts on the Biblical Doctrine of Inspiration (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 35.

[23] “Contemporary Hermeneutics and the Study of the New Testament” WTJ 31 (May 1969): 129–44; “Paul as Theologian [review article]” WTJ 30 (May 1968): 204–32; Review of Grundriss der Theologie des Neuen Testaments, by H. Conzelmann. WTJ 32 (May 1970): 220–28; and “The Sabbath: A Creation Ordinance and Sign of the Christian Hope” Presbyterian Guardian 40 (March 1971): 40–42.

[24] In Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til, ed. E. R. Geehan (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971), 228–37.

[25] “Introduction: A Tribute to Richard B. Gaffin Jr.” in Resurrection and Eschatology, xi–xii.

[26] Committee on Sabbath Matters (1969–72); Committee on Scripture and Inspiration (1969–72; chairman); Committee on Proof Texts for the Shorter Catechism (1971–78).

[27] For discussions of the Shepherd Controversy, see Muether, Van Til, 221–23; A. Donald MacCleod, W. Stanford Reid, An Evangelical Calvinist in the Academy (McGill-Queens University Press, 2004), 257ff.; Ian Hewitson, Trust and Obey—Norman Shepherd and the Justification Controversy at Westminster Seminary, (Minneapolis: NextStep Resources, 2011).

[28] “Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology” in WTJ 38 (Spring 1976): 281–99.

[29] In The Holy Spirit Down to Earth (Grand Rapids: Reformed Ecumenical Synod, 1977), 3–25.

[30] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., The Centrality of the Resurrection, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978).

[31] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost: Studies in the New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979).

[32] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., ed., Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980).

[33] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “Old Amsterdam and Inerrancy?—I,” WTJ 44 (Fall 1982): 250–89. “Old Amsterdam and Inerrancy?—II,” WTJ 45 (Fall 1983): 219–72.

[34] Reflecting on what seemed to be Dr. Van Til’s penchant to go it alone, Dr. Gaffin explained, “But we should not miss his intention. His desire is not to turn the Reformed tradition into a sect, nor a ghetto mentality that wants to cut off Reformed believers from other believers and churches. The point is not that the Reformed tradition has found some kind of perfection and can no longer grow. Nor that Reformed Christians have nothing to learn from other Christians and other traditions. Rather, he is concerned for what by God’s grace the Reformed tradition has received, and the burden and the responsibility that it places upon us.” Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman, 227.

[35] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Calvin and the Sabbath (Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor), 1998.

[36] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation (Milton Keynes, England: Paternoster, 2006).

[37] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., God’s Word in Servant Form: Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck and the Doctrine of Scripture (Jackson, MS: Reformed Academic, 2008).

[38] The Affirmations and Denials can be found on the Westminster Theological Seminary webpage at http://www.wts.edu/about/beliefs/statements/affirmationsanddenials.html.

[39] In the full version of this paper, which is anticipated to be published subsequently in another context, there is at this point an extensive section that provides selections from Dr. Gaffin’s writings to illustrate the primary emphases of his theology. An extensive listing of his published writings is also given along with each of these foci of Dr. Gaffin’s writings.

[40] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “Old Amsterdam and Inerrancy?—I,” WTJ 44 (1982): 267.

[41] Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost: New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979), 122.

Peter A. Lillback serves as president and professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant Online, October, 2011.

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Ordained Servant: October 2011

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