To my friends who care about the controversy at Westminster Theological Seminary (the rest can safely ignore):
As some of you may remember, I wrote Peter Lillback a couple of weeks ago telling him of my intention to draw attention to a publicly available transcript of a conversation about thirty years ago between him and Cornelius Van Til. Though taking place a long time ago, to me it indicated a plan of action concerning the seminary which continues until today. I wrote him first and it elicited a response from him that addressed that issue and went far beyond, presenting rationales and defenses of more recent actions.
It was then I realized that indeed we should focus in on the more recent actions at the seminary and since President Lillback said it was perfectly appropriate to make his email public (as long as I included the entirety of his letter), I am now going to use this letter as a basis for comment.
I wrote President Lillback a response to his letter to me approximately ten days ago, but have not heard from him since. Since then, I have thought further about the issues, talked to some people who are closer to the ground than I am and have decided on the following course of action.
Today I am going to post the letters with no following comments. Starting tomorrow (Monday) I will begin a series of responses to the statements that he makes in his letter. I will begin tomorrow with a challenge to his description of the Fantuzzo departure. After that I anticipate addressing other points of his letter approximately every three to five days. Toward the end of these future posts I will specifically address some of the comments that he makes toward me personally. Also I will be more specific about what I hope to see come out of my actions here.
I encourage everyone to share this post with others on their Facebook page (and I hope people make this available to current students and faculty). I will be sending personal copies of all my posts to Peter Lillback, Jeff Jue, Carl Trueman, and Charles Dunahoo (head of the Board).
My intention here is to focus on what I perceive to be theological and political issues at Westminster Theological Seminary. I want to avoid ad hominem arguments, but of course to speak to the political and theological issues requires me to throw into question the competence and motivation of the present leadership. It is my opinion that every institution and every person needs to be accountable for their actions especially as they affect the life of others and their families.
Again, tomorrow I will be posting on his comments concerning the departure of Chris Fantuzzo.
Here is Peter Lillback’s letter to me which includes my letter to him:
Thanks for your recent email to me! The email I’m responding to is the following:
I have to assume you are keeping up with my posts on Facebook critical of your administration at Westminster and the harm it has done to people I know and love. I am sure you have what you think are good intentions, but I and many others seriously question that. If for some reason you have not followed my posts I will send them to you as I have sent them to Charles Dunahoo. But from what I hear and from the responses I have been getting from people on campus it would be surprising to me if you did not know about them.
In any case, I am writing this time because I am thinking of posting the transcript (or part thereof) of a conversation that you had with Van Til about forty years ago. In one sense it is old news, but in another it shows a trajectory of thought of trying to undermine the Seminary in the eighties that I and others think lead to your actions today. This transcript is readily available on the web and I would simply point to the link with my commentary probably. My reading of this conversation is that you are badgering a resistant Van Til, who apparently did have reservations about the seminary but did not want to undermine the seminary, into supporting your efforts. It is clear from the transcript and my memories of Van Til at the time that he was shall we say "not at the top of his game," but still you kept after him.
I assume since you made this transcript (or at least that is what I was told) you are not ashamed of it, but I could be wrong. I wanted to give you an opportunity to comment or to tell me why I shouldn't post it.
You may be wondering about my motives. I certainly have no personal problems with you or the seminary. I even think it is perfectly fine to take the seminary in any way you might want to go, though I disagree with your direction and will make sure people know what they are getting into. I also have no confidence that Westminster is a place right now that can form men for the Gospel ministry and certainly not for graduate studies. But what bothers me more than anything are the strong arm tactics that your administration has used to accomplish its purposes and this, I believe, needs to be brought out into the open.
Also, I should point out that if you use my friend Bruce Waltke for political reasons I will expand my efforts to expose you. Yes I am seeking to undermine the present Westminster. The difference between you and me is that I am transparent in my efforts and you and Carl and others work in secrecy and with misdirection.
Since you all have chosen not to respond to our public and private approaches to you, I will give you till Thursday to respond or I will assume that you accept my assessment of this situation and will proceed with my post. Plus I may also post this letter to you as an open letter on Facebook and comment that you have chosen not to respond to me. Tremper
So first, yes, I’ve heard of your Facebook postings over the last few weeks and wondered why you decided not to come to me directly with your concerns until now. Having now heard from you personally, I wanted to respond. But in the midst of my many duties I've also participated in a funeral service today for the father of a beloved founding member of the congregation I served for twenty years in Bryn Mawr. So I apologize that I have not been able to respond within the very short time frame in which you demanded that I respond. Let me hasten to add, that here I am not speaking officially for the board, the faculty, or the administration. This is, as you noted by addressing me as “Pete”, a personal email.
Your not communicating directly with me seemed strange to me, especially since we’ve known each other well enough that I sought your counsel on a couple of occasions, had you speak once or twice at my church for an OT conference (with our mutual dear friend, Dr. Bruce Waltke as well, as I recall), and you even at least once worshipped at Proclamation Church before we built our building.
So it’s good to be addressed personally, even though you have asserted many things with which I obviously very much disagree. I’m grateful that you affirm your differences are not personal. That was not initially apparent to me when I heard that you were criticizing me publically without having spoken to me. It was rather painful to learn that you used a question I brought to you several years ago (from one my congregants about archaeological pictures and reports that he had received and shared with me) as an example of my incompetence as a leader and a manifestation of WTS being a “toxic” seminary. In counseling classes, I’ve been taught that divulging a personal and private conversation to undermine another, without discussing one’s intent to do so first and seeking their permission and clarification, is potentially a misuse of authority. But I leave that to your own conscience. Nevertheless, I also wish to assure you that I do not hold this against you, instead accepting your steady posts as an expression of your passion about Westminster.
So I appreciate the fact that you approached me about the interview with Dr. Van Til. However, it did seem strange that you would ask me about this and yet not about the personal matter that you chose to make as your example of my poor qualifications for leadership. For as you note, this article has been in the public domain for a long time. It also seemed unusual that you would resort to a sort of theological extortion or ultimatum to make your point.
This dated interview—you note it may be as much as 40 years ago—at least reflects that I do understand how hard it is when a beloved professor is asked to leave a school where one has studied and has grown to love. While you have characterized me as non-transparent and hostile, this interview coupled with my history at WTS suggest that my spirit was able to overcome my former discontent with WTS. Through these many years, I have sought to serve my alma mater whenever and however I was asked (particularly under Dr. Logan’s presidency, even serving on his Philadelphia council and speaking at the dedication of the Andreas Academic Center). I am glad that I’ve been able to become a friend to Westminster, even though WTS and I have not always agreed with one another.
Like Chris Fantuzzo, I was passed over for a faculty position. In fact, this happened for three positions that I was asked to interview for at WTS. However, unlike Dr. Fantuzzo I had not had the privilege of competing for these positions with a three year written and mutually agreed upon contract behind me. In regard to this matter, I’m sure you know that I believed we needed to hire an experienced senior scholar to lead our OT department. To that end, I used my presidential constitutional prerogative to nominate Dr. Iain Duguid, one of your former students here at Westminster and a Cambridge PhD with many years of seminary and college teaching experience. This nomination was next supported by a faculty vote with no negative votes and two abstentions. This then became the faculty nomination that went to the Board where it unanimously carried. I am grateful that Westminster is now strengthened with an OT scholar who studied under you and has achieved his doctorate from such a world renowned institution as Cambridge. I believe Dr. Duguid is also your successor as senior editor of an OT commentary series that you helped launched with our distinguished deceased professor, Al Groves. As you know, the world famous Westminster Hebrew Institute that Al started still operates here on our campus and has been named in honor of Professor Groves.
So given my experience through these many years, I never could have imagined I would serve as President of WTS. But I was asked to do so, and when I accepted the call of the Board of Trustees, I had no awareness of the massive theological challenges that confronted WTS when I came. My desire had only been to restore a campus plagued by years of deferred maintenance and a reputation of functioning at too large a distance from the ministries of the local church. And these circumstances were complicated by a board that was deeply divided in the midst of an administration and presidential transition.
At any rate, please know that you have the full right to post and to interpret my 40 year old interview as you wish, as I deeply believe in the First Amendment. As I recall, Dr. Van Til actually therein accepted my final proposal that someday there might be an endowed chair in his honor. I now have the privilege to be working on that, and am pleased that we are about a quarter of a way toward a $2 million endowment for that purpose. Given your interest in the interview, I thought it would be interesting for many to have it made available without comment. It is an important piece of history. And as incompetent as you believe me to be in my role as leader and as an historian, I do agree with you that it has historical value. So if you choose to post it, I have long understood it to be a matter of public record that may or may not reflect my views today. In view of all this, I made it available yesterday by way of a Tweet.
Tremper, in the spirit of Christian brotherhood I wish to let you know that I am praying for you. My prayer is that God will spare you from a bitter spirit that forgets or overlooks the cross and grace of Jesus Christ. And along with these prayers, I am praying that our Professor Waltke event will not be used for political ends. Perhaps you did not know, but Dr. Waltke has been a personal friend for many years. He preached at all three of the churches I pastored. I had him speak at a men’s retreat. He taught with you at my church for the “Streams in the Desert” seminar. I asked him to deliver my presidential inaugural keynote address here at WTS, which he did. I asked him to deliver the first Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. lecture, which he did. I’ve visited him several times after he left RTS and moved to Knox Seminary in Fort Lauderdale. I’ve actually been close enough to him that he discussed with me his decision years ago to leave WTS, as well as his difficult media experience that prompted his leaving RTS, and then even his decision to retire from teaching so he could better care for his wife. I’ve also republished several of his articles in recent months. My gratitude to Dr. Waltke is due in large measure to his trenchant teaching many years ago as well as his ongoing writing and teaching, that delivered me from a descent into the unbelief that too often seems to follow the embracing of higher critical methods.
You apparently are so concerned about our honoring of Dr. Waltke that you claim to know my very motives even though we have not communicated for many years. Dr. Waltke was invited by me to come to WTS, as the above recitation shows, out of a career long love that a student has for a godly and significant professor. It is the same kind of love that motivated me to interview Dr. Van Til so long ago when he was deeply distressed in the final years of his long and fruitful life in the aftermath and uncertainty of the Seminary’s long theological battle. I saw the same sort of wounds in my esteemed professor Bruce Waltke in the aftermath of the Biologos interview, particularly given the fact that his dear wife could no longer fully support him due to her challenging condition.
The plan to honor him emerged when I met with Bruce and his wife many months ago, long before there was any awareness of what would ultimately become Professor Doug Green’s decision to take an early retirement from the faculty, rather than confront the weighty and likely personally painful public theological battle that so many seem to wish to have. The idea to have some of Bruce’s cherished friends and former students from Dallas came to me early on as well. This was because I believed that Dallas Seminary, due to its dispensational commitments, would not celebrate Dr. Waltke’s career and retirement even though his contributions to the study of the OT and the Scriptures are immense. In this context, I encourage you and others to set aside what to me seems to be an apparent and/or expressly published “disappointment” with Dr. Waltke and seek to honor him as a father in the faith and a giant in your discipline. Your criticisms of Westminster in this context, whether intended or not, seem to have the tendency to dishonor him. To honor Dr. Waltke, even if he’s controversial to many in your circles even as he is in mine, clearly is the right thing to do. So I did not invite Bruce to WTS to use as a political football. Dr. Van Til and Dr. Waltke will be remembered for their positive contributions to the study of Scripture and the defense of the Christian faith. It is my prayer that this will be what you will be most remembered for as well.
Although you profoundly disagree, it is my desire to treat Doug Green with utmost respect. He was and continues to be a valued person and professor. He is still teaching Aramaic with us. Although he could not in good conscience support the commitments of Westminster’s faculty and board and thus chose early retirement instead of entering a process of theological review or taking the route of a reconsideration of his exceptions to the Seminary’s views, we endeavored to honor him in several ways. The first was by allowing him to co-write the announcement of his retirement, supported by clarifying FAQ’s that he approved. We honored him by posting his Psalm 23 paper at his request, a paper that had never been judged by the board or faculty. We have provided him a fully negotiated and thoughtful severance contract drafted and reviewed by his own legal counsel that honors him and protects his family. We are pleased that he has secured a new position in his homeland of Australia. In fact, members of our faculty that you have criticized in your posts helped him secure this position. And so we will steadfastly continue to honor him by keeping our mutual legally binding agreement with him. Theology, of course, deeply matters to us. We will continue to teach, declare and defend our historic biblical and theological beliefs in many positive ways in the days ahead.
Lastly, I do not reciprocate your declaration to undermine the work of WTS. Instead, may our Lord deign to graciously bless you and the school that you serve, even though you have apparently chosen to dismiss foundational elements of the Reformed theology that you once shared with us here at WTS, a theology to which you once gave an ex animo vow to support and to teach.
Sincerely, and certainly unworthily, in the Gospel hope of our Lord Jesus Christ,
PS. Inasmuch as you wrote that you intended to make your email to me public, please know that you have my permission to make this email to you public. All I ask is that you print it in its entirety. I promise to afford you the same courtesy. As you can see, I’ve also copied Carl Trueman as you’ve mentioned him by name.