Holding Even Faster to the Confession! A Leading Baptist Theologian Offers Some Help
Matthew Barrett, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Seminary, recently wrote to us with some questions that he verbally asks of seminarians in his classes. As the author of a recent book, None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God, he is rapidly emerging as a leading advocate of historic biblical, confessional orthodoxy on the doctrine of God. We have posted them below as useful additions to the ones we suggested before. It cannot be emphasized enough that in the history of the church mistakes in the doctrine of God have been taken with the utmost seriousness. There is a reason for the precision in the traditional Trinitarian language. Seminaries and denominations – particularly ones which advertise themselves as orthodox and confessional – ought to be very cautious in what they teach and what they expect from candidates on these matters. The doctrine of God is holy ground And those preparing for gospel ministry ought to be as clear possible in what they affirm and deny. Lackadaisical approaches to education and ordination will only foster damaging teaching which church members are then likely to encounter.
Dr. Barrett suggests asking the following questions:
- How extensive is God's immutability, not only ad intra (in God considered in himself) but ad extra (in relation to creation)? How would you respond to the following claim: God does not change in his essence but nevertheless changes in his relations to the world and mankind?
- When God enters into a covenant with his people, does that mean he must himself change in order to be relational with his people?
- Define God's eternality. When God creates the world, does he remain timelessly eternal?
- How does God know all things? Does his knowledge depend on us in any way?
- How can God be simple if he is triune? How can God be triune if he is simple?
- Must God suffer in order to be a God of love?
- Compare and contrast the doctrine of God in the history of the church with how God has been portrayed in the last one hundred years or so.
Again, as we offer these questions to students and their examiners, it is important to remember that confessional ministry is just that – ministry shaped by a confession. And that makes subscription – the commitment by solemn vow before God and the church on the part of the minister to teach in accordance with the confession subscribed – something that must be done with personal, historical, and theological integrity.
Some might object that confessional subscription places the confession above scripture; for those concerned, the argument of Trueman’s book, The Creedal Imperative, might help. And we should all remember that nobody is required to be a minister in a confessional denomination. That is a free and voluntary decision. Those who cannot subscribe to the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity may well be free to minister in other denominations which lack formal confessions or have loose terms of subscription. What they cannot do is give the confessions their own private meaning and thus effectively cross their fingers at ordination or subsequently at the pulpit or lectern. Then the issue becomes not so much theological as moral.
Jonathan Master and Carl R. Trueman are ministers in the Philadelphia Presbytery of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.