Recently, Pastor John delivered the Gaffin Lecture on Theology, Culture, and Missions at Westminster Theological Seminary near Philadelphia. But the night before was a gathering at the seminary where Pastor John also spoke. The short message to the small gathering was not officially recorded, but a few guys in the room did record from their iPhones, and Jared Olefant was one of them. Here is one clip from the message I want to share, and although the audio quality is not great, the excerpt is interesting because here Pastor John recounts his seminary days at Fuller in 1968–71 and coming face to face with Reformed theology. Here’s what he said to the small gathering.
I didn’t learn my Reformed theology mainly from John Calvin or even Jonathan Edwards whom I esteem as highly as one can possibly esteem a non-divine being.
Learning Reformed Theology from the Bible
I learned it from Romans 9, and Romans 1–8, and Galatians, and the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians with Dan Fuller pushing my nose down in the nitty gritty of the conjunctions and the connectors — in order that and because and so that and although and so on. And to this day, I find the theology inescapable in the Bible. Well, as I looked around as I was discovering these things and said, “What am I getting into? Where is this? What is this?” there was this bastion called Westminster on the other side of the country that had solidity about it.
“I learned Reformed theology from Romans 9, and Romans 1–8, and Galatians, and the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians.”
It wasn’t like somebody woke up and said, “I think we’ll believe in the sovereignty of God now.” I mean, those of you who do historical theology will regard this as utterly naive because it goes back further than Westminster. But for me, casting about as a Southern Baptist kid, suddenly discovering that his mind was being dismantled, to have anything that looked solid on this felt very reassuring. One of the reasons this institution has the staying power that it does is because of how long some of you and some of them taught. So there’s Van Til: 43 years; and John Murray: 37 years; and Ned Stonehouse: 33 years; and Paul Woolley: 48 years; and Ed Clowney: 40 years; and Dr. Gaffin, here associated now at least for almost 50 years with the seminary.
Staying Power of Westminster
And I looked at this institution, and I thought, this is not a fly-by-night thing. These people have been thinking about this for a long time and have been teaching it for a long time. And then, of course, you discover, Well yeah, and there are dead people who’ve been thinking about it for five thousand years. So in my early days, Romans was the key watershed document to turn my world upside down.
“Romans was the key watershed document to turn my world upside down.”
And do you know who it was, who guided me through Romans? John Murray. That is the most beautifully written commentary on the planet. People who write commentaries are not generally good writers. They just patch things together. But I read a sentence in Murray’s commentary, and I just want to go back and memorize it because his eloquence is phenomenal. The work that must have gone into the way he says what he says about the glories of Romans 5 or Romans 8 is amazing. So, I thank God for John Murray. So I thank you for staying power and solidity and symbolic existence: It’s just always there. Westminster — the very name signifies the standard that is raised.