Don’t Go Changin’

What seems missing to me from the Dordt oath that Z has cited (and from historical Reformed praxis), is something of the form:

“We promise that, if in the future we discover that that any articles or points of doctrine set forth in the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, or the Canons of Dort in any way disagree with the Word of God, WE WILL CHANGE THEM!”

Practically speaking, the Achilles’ heel of reformed confessions may be that, as originally written, Westminster and the 3 Forms are so close to perfect, that nobody is willing to change them! This could be one driving force behind why the common understanding of subscription has weakened. It’s just easier to subscribe less, than to fix the confessional artifacts so that full subscription is enforceable.

In my Presbyterian (OPC/PCA) tradition, I know of only the one change since the original Westminster, namely the 1789 American revision that scrubbed Theonomy. And has there ever been a change to any of the three forms? How many CRC/URC pastors actually believe that Paul is the author of Hebrews, and are willing to apply the third mark of the church to those who do not?

You may say I am a nitpicker, putting such weight on something so trivial, but isn’t that the point? Do we want full subscription, or do we want subscription to the parts of the confessions that we (individually and subjectively) determine to be nontrivial?

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73 Responses to Don’t Go Changin’

  1. Todd says:


    There is a third option between full subscription and individual subjectivity, and it has worked rather well. It is the church as a body, the Presbytery who examines and ordains, determining if a man is orthodox using the confession as a guide.

  2. RubeRad says:

    Like I said, “It’s just easier to subscribe less, than to fix the confessional artifacts so that full subscription is enforceable.” And anyways, that doesn’t answer the question, which is not about how to determine the orthodoxy of individuals, but how to guarantee the orthodoxy of the confession?

  3. Todd says:


    It depends on your expectations of a confession. If what we are looking for is the summary of biblical truth, we are not so concerned if every proposition and sentece is perfectly biblical. We are speaking of fallible documents written by fallible men. I think one of the problems is that our confessions are too detailed, but that’s another story.

  4. RubeRad says:

    Well, there are some people out there advocating full subscription, which is the same thing as saying that they want to require every ordained man (and confessing sheep?!) to confess that every proposition and sentence is perfectly biblical.

    Obviously you didn’t agree with Clark’s RRC chapter on subscription.

  5. Todd says:


    I think to require every ordained man to suscribe to every proposition in a confession as perfectly biblical borders on Roman Catholicism. Man’s formulations and explanations will always have problems. The answer is trust, trust of the brethren who ordain to know what matters. Trust is scary, and at times messy, but the way to go.

  6. This is a complicated issue and I don’t think a short blog post and a few responses will resolve it. One of my colleagues recently wrote a Th.D. dissertation on this subject. The lengthy history is discussed at length and an attempt is made to provide some direction. You can find it here:

  7. As I argued in RRC, a confession only works if we actually believe what we’re confessing.

    The Belgic has been revised by the CRC to elminate the theocratic elements. BTW, better to say “theocratic” rather than theonomic.

  8. adam says:

    Rube, I think the reason is that in conservative P&R churches the process to change the standards is so difficult that nobody bothers. That even applies to housekeeping type changes that you’d expect wouldn’t be controversial. I think it has two effects, first creating a confession within the confession. Bad. Second, the real action gets shuffled to the level of church order, so conflicts over proceedure become stalking horses for deeper theological issues.

    I think Scott hits the nail on the head. We need to be confessing what we actually believe.

  9. Todd says:


    I don’t think anyone expects to resolve the issue here, blogs are more for providing a place to express opinion and take questions or challenges so as to provoke thought.

    Men in the same denomination look at some Scriptures and come to different conclusions as their meaning. You would hope these are on more minor points. But you do not avoid this dynamic with a confession. Men will still disagree as to the meaning, original intent, etc…of confessional statements just like they do Scripture. Why should we believe our confessions are that much clearer than Scripture?

    Denominations need confessions, don’t misunderstand me. You cannot reinvent the wheel for every church, and you need to stae your beliefs. But strict subscription policies don’t resolve the problems. There is always someone stricter than you, for one, that considers your understanding of the confession too loose.

    Probably more than 90% of OPC ministers believe WCF 21:8 goes too far on the Sabbath. We could call a constitutional convention to amend the language, fight over the actual meaning and intent, and if it is not amended, or is, we will still have those with different views on 21:8. The church body still has to decide what is orthodox or not, using the confession as a guide.

    One problem may be that the WCF is far too detailed; too many detailed statements to find unity, if we are expecting every proposition agreement. The Heidelberg, IMHO, is much better suited as a confession.

    But it still comes down to human beings who know the Scriptures well enough to guard the faith well, and to know the difference between what is important and what may not be (as who wrote Hebrews).

  10. Zrim says:

    I think to require every ordained man to suscribe to every proposition in a confession as perfectly biblical borders on Roman Catholicism.

    Todd, I appreciate your skepticism in this discussion (skepticism is a mark of a good Calvinist). But I think this is a bit of overstatement. Don’t you think there is a difference between saying what we took pains to pen in something as serious as a confessional formulation is “perfectly biblical” and “infallible”?

    Besides, I don’t know that the RRC means that what is formulated is “perfectly biblical” so much as “perfectly discerned through the bishop of Rome (and when we discover that we took a left turn at Albuquerque we’ll address it by talking about development instead of repentance).” The vital formal difference between Geneva and Rome is scriptura versus ecclesia, so I don’t see what’s so wrong with claiming what we confess is perfectly biblical.

  11. Todd says:

    “Don’t you think there is a difference between saying what we took pains to pen in something as serious as a confessional formulation is “perfectly biblical” and “infallible”?”

    Well, the more you write in a confession the more difficult it is to make that statement. I have rarely met any minister in the OP who believed every single statement in the WCF is perfectly biblical. But to require all minsters to make such a statement is granting too much authority to the church and her confession IMO. But what would good blog discussions be without overstatements?

  12. Zrim says:

    I have rarely met any minister in the OP who believed every single statement in the WCF is perfectly biblical.

    So what do you make of the rare ones who do? Are they frustrated RCs?

    Again, I think I understand your posture here. At the same time, it seems to me that if something is doubted as being perfectly biblical then there remain two options: 1) the statement must be unbiblical, or 2) the individual doesn’t get it yet. In other words, the problem lies either with the objective nature of the statement, or the problem lies with the subjective nature of the interpreter.

    As to the second option (which I tend to think epxlains most quibbling), it may not be the best analogy, but I think of paedobaptism. There are members of Presbyterian/Reformed churches who are inclined to stall the baptism of covenant children “until s/he can walk to the font,” AKA “Bapterians.” Instead of submitting to something they don’t quite understand or accept and growing into an understanding and acceptance after the fact, they presume they must have understanding before the fact. Or take marriage. We are asked to take vows that most young people really don’t fully understand (at least, after 16 years, I look back and realize how little I really comprehended). I guess I don’t understand the allergy to confessing a thing to be perfectly biblical (or right, true, good and necessary) even if one doesn’t get it immediately. It seems like taking exceptions to marriage vows or baptismal vows. It seems like a discomfort with discomfort.

    But what would good blog discussions be without overstatements?

    Overstatement is ok, maybe, but I prefer devil’s advocate.

  13. Todd says:


    It is not the agreeing with every statement as perfectly biblical that I said was too close to RC, but the requiring of such for ordination. A statement can be unbiblical in the sense that it goes a bit beyond Scripture but not necessarily anti-biblical. Again, the statement on no wordly thoughts on the Sabbath is an example; it just goes a bit too far IMO. But I don’t know of any Presbyterian churches that stall baptisms as you say so I am unfamiliar with your example. There are certain statements in the WCF that most Presbyterian ministers have scruples with, but that doesn’t negate the value of a confession, and they are fairly minor.

  14. RubeRad says:

    Clark: a confession only works if we actually believe what we’re confessing

    adam: I think Scott hits the nail on the head. We need to be confessing what we actually believe.

    But that’s not what Clark said, he said the opposite. And that’s my point; it’s a two-way street. In order for the confession to work, in order for us to actually believe what we’re confessing, when we no longer believe something we need to stop confessing it.

    So I ask again, why aren’t Clark and his subscriptionist allies in the URC pressing ecclesiastical charges against URC ministers that don’t believe Paul wrote Hebrews? And if Clark doesn’t himself believe that Paul wrote Hebrews — or more to the point, if he doesn’t believe that every pastor and member in the URC must believe that Paul wrote Hebrews, why isn’t Clark working the process to amend the Belgic Confession on this point? It must be because Clark is not a full subscriptionist.

  15. Todd says:

    This may help – here is Charles Hodge on why every proposition subscription cannot work:

    “There are many propositions contained in the Westminster Confession which do not belong to the integrity of the Augustinian, or Reformed system. A man may be a true Augustinian or Calvinist, and not believe that the Pope is the Antichrist predicted by St. Paul; or that the 18th chapter of Leviticus is still binding. 2. Such a rule of interpretation can never be practically carried out, without dividing the Church into innumerable fragments. It is impossible that a body of several thousand ministers and elders should think alike on all the topics embraced in such an extended and minute formula of belief. 3. Such has never been the rule adopted in our Church. Individuals have held it, but the Church as a body never has. No prosecution for doctrinal error has ever been attempted or sanctioned, except for errors which were regarded as involving the rejection, not of explanations of doctrines, but of the doctrines themselves.”

  16. RubeRad says:

    That’s not so helpful. Clark deals with and dismisses Hodge. Besides, the pope/antichrist statement and the Lev 18 sexual proximity stuff was already removed from Westminster with the theonomy stuff in 1789. Hooray for making the confessions suitable for full subscription; let’s keep it up!

    I think I am principially convinced that full subscription is the proper way to go. But not with the confessions as they now stand. And that’s not to say “I’d love to fully subscribe, if only the confession were changed to account for all of my particular exceptions” (which is no different than partial subscription). I mean also that there are statements (such as Pauline authorship Hebrews) that I am in agreement with, but I consider it an optional agreement, and I would by no means want to enforce on others.

    Or here’s a thought; maybe the full subscription position is an example of QIRC?

  17. elnwood says:

    Zrim you wrote:
    “At the same time, it seems to me that if something is doubted as being perfectly biblical then there remain two options: 1) the statement must be unbiblical, or 2) the individual doesn’t get it yet. In other words, the problem lies either with the objective nature of the statement, or the problem lies with the subjective nature of the interpreter.”

    I think this is a false dichotomy. Just because something is not perfectly biblical doesn’t mean it is unbiblical. For example, we cannot say that Pauline authorship of Hebrews is pefectly biblical because the Bible doesn’t say that Paul wrote it. But we cannot say it is unbiblical because it is not inconsistent with biblical teaching.

    I think the same is true for a number of the issues that are debated among the Reformed.

  18. Zrim says:

    Just because something is not perfectly biblical doesn’t mean it is unbiblical.

    I don’t know what the point of putting something into a confession is if it isn’t “perfectly biblical.” If it’s not perfectly biblical then it needs to be removed.

  19. Zrim says:

    Or here’s a thought; maybe the full subscription position is an example of QIRC?

    I was actually thinking this of the partial view.

  20. RubeRad says:

    Why would partial subscription be QIRC? It is full subscription that thinks it is possible to have knowledge of biblical truth that is so certain that it is worth enforcing.

  21. RubeRad says:

    we cannot say that Pauline authorship of Hebrews is pefectly biblical because the Bible doesn’t say that Paul wrote it.

    I’d say that’s a perfect criterion to say that any answer to the question “Who wrote Hebrews” is unbiblical. Thus I agree with Z, let’s get it out of the Belgic.


    If it’s not perfectly biblical then it needs to be removed.

    How can we know if something is perfectly biblical? Wouldn’t that be QIRC?

  22. Zrim says:

    It seems to me that FS is about submitting even in the midst of doubt, which seems to me to be something of the nature of true faith to begin with.

    PS seems to be a discomfort with doubt. I think of my own membership vows. There was plenty I doubted when asked, “Do you believe the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, to be the inerrant and infallible Word of God, and its doctrine, summarized in the confessions of this Church, to be the perfect and only true doctrine of salvation?” I said, “Yes, God helping me” not “Sort of, to the extent that I can wrap my faculties around x, y and z.”

  23. Zrim says:


    How can we know if something is perfectly biblical? Wouldn’t that be QIRC?

    Does it help that I am using “perfectly biblical” as a sort of shorthand for orthodoxy?

    But when the WCF speaks of “an infallible assurance” this is different from “an absolute certainty.” The former sounds like this: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. The latter like this: I know for a fact, Jack, that God created everything and nobody, I mean nobody, is going to tell me otherwise(!). So, I wonder if your question is itself a function of QIRC. My answer is that, if we mean by “know” “absolute certainty,” then we can’t know. But if we mean something closer to faith than sight, then we can.

  24. elnwood says:

    Zrim, I am still confused how we should determine if something is perfectly biblical.

    Do you think that the Pauline authorship of Hebrews should be removed from the Belgic?

    If there is so much disagreement about the Sabbath, Pauline authorship of Hebrews, and other issues among Reformed brethren, should we maintain that these are perfectly biblical?

  25. Zrim says:


    Do you think that the Pauline authorship of Hebrews should be removed from the Belgic?

    Instead of speaking too rashly, I’m more inclined to say that I don’t know how it is essential to biblical faith. Like I just said in the other post, personally I’d be much more inclined to see how eschateology is essential than Pauline authorship.

    If there is so much disagreement about the Sabbath, Pauline authorship of Hebrews, and other issues among Reformed brethren, should we maintain that these are perfectly biblical?

    I think so. Otherwise, it seems to me we undercut the spirit of confessionalism, which is to say catholicity. I realize those notions have fallen on hard times in the modern age, but I think they are worth defending to say the least.

    I have no problem with disagreements within the ranks, but that’s not the same as disunity. So until something can be shown to be perfectly unbiblical, I think it’s in our best interest to maintain that what is confessed is perfectly biblical. After all, if we say this over here is up for grabs then what’s to keep any part of what we confess invulernable to grave doubt?

  26. RubeRad says:

    I am still confused how we should determine if something is perfectly biblical

    elnwood, maybe Z has a different answer, but I think that “X is perfectly biblical” is basically shorthand for “we all confess that it is perfectly biblical.”

    I don’t know how it is essential to biblical faith

    It’s not, so let’s chuck it! If it’s not essential to biblical faith, why should anyone be required to confess it?

    After all, if we say this over here is up for grabs then what’s to keep any part of what we confess invulernable to grave doubt?

    And that’s exactly why Paul/Hebrews needs to go. Paul/Hebrews is obviously up for grabs. So if you leave it in, you open the door for “what else is up for grabs”?

    it’s in our best interest to maintain that what is confessed is perfectly biblical

    And I say that it is in our best interest to maintain the confessions so that they remain in a state that we confess is perfectly biblical.

  27. Pingback: No Doubt « The Confessional Outhouse

  28. Todd says:

    Of course, changing the confessions simply means the majority wins over the minority on any issue – it doesn’t solve the problem of people quibbling with aspects of the Confessions.

  29. elnwood says:

    Todd, you hit the nail on the head. There is a misconception that every part of the confessions were unanimously and heartily agreed upon when it was drafted.

    At least with the Westminster Confession, this is simply not true. The WCF was a consensus statement. There were Anglicans and Congregationalists at the Westminster Assembly who signed the WCF. They disagreed about the form of church government. Since you can only have one form of church government, and since the Presbyterians outnumbered the rest, Presbyterianism is codified in the WCF.

    (Later, the Anglicans went back to the 39 articles, and the Congregationalists revised the WCF to the Savoy Declaration.)

    So to take the statement in the confessions as things that are “perfectly biblical” and should be confessed as such by all is simply not the way the Westminster Divines were thinking when they signed the document. It was majority rules.

  30. Zrim says:

    Of course, changing the confessions simply means the majority wins over the minority on any issue – it doesn’t solve the problem of people quibbling with aspects of the Confessions.

    I’m not sure the point of confessionalism is to put an end to quibbling. In fact, that seems to be the point of Biblicism. Rather, confessionalism’s larger aim seems to be concerned with holding out what is essential to true doctrine and practice (sometimes I wonder if the sense of being missional in our confessionalism is lost in some of this). Whether what it holds out is in fact essential is another question. But confessionalism, unlike Biblicism, seems to bolster theological debate and inquiry.

    As an example, where do we see more theological substance and vigor, amongst the confessionalists (of varying traditions) who treat as virtuous the binding lines, or the evangelicals who see such lines as, at best helpful, and, at worst, divisive and to be substituted with lots of warm fuzzies?

  31. elnwood says:

    I don’t agree with your example. I think you can see theological substance and rigor among both confessionalists and non-confessionalists, and you can see the opposite among both as well.

    For example, of the major scholarly commentaries that are in use today by pastors and scholars (by Reformed and non-reformed, confessional and non-confessional alike), how many of them are written by confessionalists?

    Very few of them. Bruce Waltke on Genesis, Proverbs and Micah. O. Palmer Robertson with a NIC commentary on three of the minor prophets. And that’s about it. Confessionalists have certainly not represented in terms of biblical scholarship.

    Also, missiology is a theological field in which evangelicals have done the bulk of the research and contribution. Very little has been contributed to missiology by confessionalists. If you can think of any prominent confessionalist missiologists, let me know.

    I say this critically, but I also speak in love. I think these are major blind spots in Reformed thinking, and would love to see Reformed and confessional biblical scholarship step up to the plate, and see more Reformed and confessional missiologists.

  32. Zrim says:


    That may or may not be true in the echelons of academia. I’m certainly no expert, but I’m skeptical that Reformed confessionalists haven’t shown up on biblical scholarship. Confessions, as you know, are the result of biblical scholarship. And I’m not sure tallying up who’s written how many commentaries settles much.

    But I can speak from experience. Even if we grant that the Biblicists are doing more scholarly work, it sure seems a long way from the ivory tower to the pew. I don’t recall much doctrinal diet in the evangelical pew. My confessionalist pastor is preaching through the HC, and the point is to make disciples instead of students. If my evangelical past is any measure, the Biblicist thinks this is sort of thing is a good example of bad religion.

    I also don’t have a Rolodex on confessionalist contribution on missiology. But it could be that yours looks scant on confessionalist contribution because it presumes an evangelical outlook on missions to begin with. In other words, the confessions are missiological.

  33. Elnwood and Zrim:

    Missiology is my field of specialization and I can confirm that the number of confessionally Reformed scholars in this field can be counted on two hands or less.

    As for the confessions being “missiological,” my dissertation (to be published in the new year, I hope) deals with this, specifically with the missiological relevance of the Belgic Confession.

  34. elnwood says:


    Thank you for your input. I am interested in your work and will send you an e-mail.


    I don’t want to knock your experience, but it is subjective, and it is simply one person’s experience. From my experience, I know many non-confessional, evangelical churches that teach sound doctrine. Reformed conferences often invite speakers like Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Alistair Begg, Steve Lawson, C. J. Mahaney, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, et. al. because they do preach doctrine in their churches and do it well, and the Reformed community benefits from their teaching.

    Tallying up commentaries that pastors and scholars of all denominations use gives us an indicator as to who are experts in biblical scholarship. It is a more objective measure than your subjective experience.

    Yes, the confessions are the result of biblical scholarship. But they are biblical scholarship that have been done for hundreds of years. Should the Reformed scholars today simply rest on their laurels and churn out book after book, sermon after sermon expositing the confessions?

    When a confessionally Reformed pastor prepares an expository sermon, he certainly uses the confessions as his framework for his theology, but he also makes use of the best in biblical scholarship in consulting commentaries. These commentaries are almost always by non-confessionalists.

  35. sean says:

    “churn out……………sermon after sermon expositing the confessions?”

    How terribly un-Confessional of them.

  36. Zrim says:


    There’s much to said for both new and old scholarship. What I don’t understand is the evangelical hesitancy about the old.

    By the way, Reformed confessionalists may not show up for missiology, but I wonder if that’s because they are busy doing ecclesiology.

  37. elnwood says:

    I don’t understand why Reformed confessionalists can’t show up for both ecclesiology and missiology. It’s not like Reformed ecclesiology has changed in the last few hundred years.

  38. Zrim says:


    For better or worse, I think much of this can simply be explained by the different fundamental outlooks between confessionalism and evangelicalism. It’s not as if confessionalism has no sense of mission, and it’s not as if evangelicalism has no sense of the church. We simply have different ideas about the nature of these things and their relation to each other. When the confessionalist does ecclesiology he reckons that it is also missions. When the evangelical does missions he reckons it ecclesiology. And each thinks his is the superior posture, while the other is inferior.

    The difference may be that the evangelical thinks it’s a matter of himself needing to learn how to do ecclesiology from the confessionalist, and the confessionalist needs to sit at the feet of the evangelical when it comes to missions. But the confessionalist thinks both systems have a necessarily internal and organic consistency such that the cafeteria notion doesn’t work. The “best of both sides” may work well in a modern and pluralistic democracy but not so much when it comes to ecclesiastical mission.

  39. elnwood says:


    I never said that the confessionalist needs to sit at the feet of the evangelical when it comes to missions. I think the confessionalist needs to develop his own theology of mission, and the problem is that to large extent this has been lacking.

    So, what does Confessionally Reformed ecclesiology have to say about how to share the gospel to Muslims? What does it say about how to translate the word “God” in languages that don’t have a concept of an eternal, sinless, all-powerful personal being? What does it say about the priority of unreached people groups? What does it say about how to be all things to all people in order to win some for Christ? What does it say about balancing ministering to people’s physical needs as well as spiritual needs to the destitute in evangelism? What does it say about how to deal with the spiritual climate overseas? What does it say about the differences between “guilt” culture and “shame” culture?

    Missiology and ecclesiology are their own distinct fields, and they answer different types of questions. There’s a reason that, when the Reformed want to read one book on world missions, they are directed to John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad, and not the Book of Church Order.

  40. Zrim says:

    We live in the wake of Whitefield, who had little time for ecclesiology. He may not have nearly the celebrity appeal, but Reformed might do better to reach for Stuart Robinson’s “The Church of God: An Essential Element of the Gospel.” But, I know, harvesting fields is more exciting than discipling people.

    I understand that missiology and ecclesiology are in some manner distinct. But I am saying that they are also, more importantly, organic.

  41. elnwood says:


    Yes, of course missiology and ecclesiology are organic as well as distinct. That is why to neglect either one of these is harmful to the organism.

  42. Chris Donato says:

    Rube wrote: Do we want full subscription, or do we want subscription to the parts of the confessions that we (individually and subjectively) determine to be nontrivial?

    It seems to me that this misses the (historically warranted) third way, Rube: The Westminster Assembly, for example, was not a partisan body within the boundaries of its generic Calvinism, but allowed differing views to coexist (views different from that which were explicitly confessed). This freedom was assumed corporately, not individually or subjectively. Thus it construed “full subscription” a little differently than you do here, and so what may actually be the driving force behind the “weakening” of the understanding of subscription today is less historical ignorance. Maybe I give such folks too much credit though.

    At any rate, the Confession was not fashioned for a particular denomination within a societal context of church-state separation; rather, it was intended to unite the realm (England, Scotland and Ireland) and her church. As such, it’s a lowest-common-denominator Reformed document with the specific purpose of uniting a bunch of different people, and thus various views on a host of subjects (e.g., covenant of works or hypothetical universal atonement) were tolerated.

    It seems to me that same trajectory or spirit ought to prevail today.

    When looking at Letham’s book on the Westminster Assembly, I culled some of his own thoughts on this very matter (and lifted the previous paragraph above from that post).

  43. Paul says:

    “For example, of the major scholarly commentaries that are in use today by pastors and scholars (by Reformed and non-reformed, confessional and non-confessional alike), how many of them are written by confessionalists?

    Very few of them.”

    The interesting flip-side to this coin is the number of major scholarly systematic theologies that are in use today by pastors and scholars and are written by “confessionalists” (scare quotes because, I admit, just what that amounts to is hard to figure out. I’m between hyper-confessional maximalism and confessional minimalism.

  44. elnwood says:


    Yes, there are Reformed systematic theologies out the wazoo. They’ve been cranking them out for years! However, it is difficult to compare systematic theologies across denominations because people tend to use the ones in their own tradition.

    Also, it’s worth noting that in Reformed seminaries, Reymond has eclipsed Berkhof as the most frequently used modern Reformed systematic, and Reymond is despised among the Confessional Reformed.

  45. Paul says:


    It’s also hard to compare systematics across denominations because other traditions don’t really produce many, let alone many of quality. A standard critique of the more confessionaly reformed minded is their weight (some say imbalance) on systematic theology. This probably has something to do with the systematics vs. exegesis debate. Systematics just isn’t as big, or as valued, in non-reformed (and I’ll use that word broadly to get Grudem into the picture) circles. I mean, who does the other side have? Finney? Ryrie? Tillich? Geisler? Maybe Oden?

    I was not aware of Reymond’s text eclipsing Berkhof’s. But the use of a text doesn’t mean an approval of the text either. I know that WSCAL issued many a Finney text for its systematic theology courses. However, be that as it may, I knopw Douglas Kelly is producing a systematic theology series (first volume is out now), and word on the street is that Horton is working on a systematic theology book as well. Those may well replace Reymond (granting your claim about his text vis-a-vis Berkof’s and granting that he is used mainly for positive use).

    But, for what it’s worth, I’m with you on the exegetical commentary point. (Confessional) Reformed theologians have been really lacking in that area, and that’s a problem. In a more narrow area. that’s what I found in my studies on baptism. Though you know I’m a paedo, I can say that my studies showed the baptists to be ahead of the game in terms of exegesis.

    Oh, and speaking of missiology, have you read David Wells’ stuff?

  46. Chris Donato says:

    A word on systematic theologies.

    When I entered sem in 2000 (RTS Orlando) we used Berkhof (thankfully). Reymond was introduced shortly thereafter, however, and was apparently intended to eclipse Berkhof, which I think it did for a few years. But with the publication of Bavinck’s work (and with a changing of the guard), it’s been “Reymond who?” It’s not that Reymond’s work is poor. He’s actually a good writer and exegete, just not the bestest Reformed systematician.

    Horton is indeed working on a systematic theology. And Kelly’s might be interesting if he wrote more of his own thoughts than simply quote a whole bunch of others’.

    I say stick with Bavinck.

  47. elnwood says:

    Chris, you’re absolutely right, Bavinck is getting more use, which is surprising given its length and that it’s a translation.

    I am aware of Kelly’s and Horton’s book, but I have so many STs at home that they would have to be ground-breaking for me to obtain yet another confessionally reformed ST. I try to use a variety of traditions when I do systematics, but I’ve found that to be rare.

    Paul, certainly the Reformed have been the most prolific, historically and presently, with STs. Still, dispensationalists have been very prolific in the last 60 years (Chafer, Ryrie, Thiessen, Paul Enns, Geisler), so I would say that dispensationalists and baptists also value systematics, but to a lesser degree.

    Among broadly evangelical seminaries, the top systematics used are, from conservative to moderate/liberal, Grudem, Erickson, and Grenz, all of whom are baptists of various stripes, and all of which I consider to be very good.

    Re: exegetical commentaries, I’ve always felt that Reformed excel in big picture stuff, and Baptists on small exegetical details. (This explains a lot of the the paedo/credo arguments). Thus it makes sense that the Reformed do more systematics and baptists do more exegesis. The Baptists are playing catch-up to the Anglicans, though, who have set the pace for generations (Kidner, France, O’Brien, P. E. Hughes, Morris, Wenham, etc.)

    Re: David Wells, I heard him speak once, and I think I looked through his “No Place for Truth?” book, but I don’t remember much. Do you have a recommendation of his?

  48. Paul says:


    Yes there have been baptist and dispensational systematics. My point was that it seems, to me at the very least, that the reformed systematicians are “better” (btw, Biola and Talbot use Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology as their text, which serves the point that not everyone sticks with their tradition). I was simply mirroring your comment about exegesis. While the confessional reformed have done some exgesis with a few exegetical commentaries and other works of exegesis have, the better exegetical work has been done by those you list (in general, though there are many good journal artciles of exegesis that stand out, viz., Baugh, Gaffin, Estelle, &c). I find this to be the case in the real of systematics, just with the balance shifted. And, like you can cite some non-confessional systematics that are good, confessionalists can cite those like Murray, Hendrickson, Kistemaker, Currid, Waltke. Also, it is interesting to note that the number of expository commentaries from the confessional camp are far greater in number than their exegetical works and might serve to rival the more broadly evangelical camp in terms of quality. I wonder what an emphasis on systematics and exposition tells us?

    At any rate, it looks like we agree on the exegetical point.

    Re: Wells. Well, he has a four-part series that takes a lot of reading to get through, and I’m sure you’re busy. So, for the likes of people like you and I, Wells did us the favor of summarizing those four books into one, The Courage to be Protestant. I’d recommend that book. In fact, if I know what buttons of yours to push, then mentioning that Piper said of Well’s “Courage” that it was the best book he [Piper] had read in a decade should be more than enough to whet your appetite. 🙂

  49. elnwood says:

    Paul, sorry I didn’t make it clearer, but I agree on the systematic point as well. The reformed systematicians are the pace setters.

    Regarding expository commentaries: only certain groups practice expository preaching, usually reformed, baptists, dispensationals, and Calvary Chapel. Of those, most go one chapter to one passage as a time, which don’t lend themselves to full-length expositional commentaries.

    In contrast, the Reformed (and others, like MacArthur) will go just a few verses at a time. This is in part due to the Puritan heritage (3 volumes on Psalm 119, etc.) It is the latter that lends itself to full-length expository commentaries.

    I consider Boice and Lloyd-Jones to be among the finest reformed expository preachers. Boice was certainly not confessionally reformed, and I doubt Lloyd-Jones was, given his charismatic leanings and that he pastored both Presbyterian and Congregational churches.

  50. Paul says:


    There is some ambiguity between expositiory preaching and writing an expository commentary. I brought up the latter because you asked for contemporary confessional exegetical commentaries. I was just trying to point out that confessionalists have been churning out expository commentaries (besides many individual ones, there’s the whole Reformed Expository Commentery series). I mainly brought it up as an interesting factoid. Just pointing out where confessionalists seem to be doing their work. I agree with you that they lag in exegetical work and that that’s a problem.

    Anyway, it looks like we’re mostly in agreement. 🙂

  51. elnwood says:

    Hey Paul.

    Most Reformed expository commentaries are from expository preaching series. All of Boice and Lloyd-Jones’ expository commentaries were preached in church, and so are all of the Reformed Expository Commentaries.

    There are more full-length Reformed expository commentaries because Reformed preaching tends to be expository, going through a book very slowly.

    I would guess that a typical sermon series through Romans would be about 20 to 30 sermons. Boice preached 239 sermons on the book of Romans over 8 years. His predecessor, Donald Barnhouse, preached 251 sermons on Romans. His successor, Philip Ryken, preached 112 sermons on Luke. (I know, slacker!)

    That there are more Reformed expository commentaries is more a reflection of the content of Reformed preaching rather than the emphasis of confessionally Reformed biblical scholarship.

  52. Paul says:


    No doubt, so the ambiguity. Both Lloyd Jones and, say, Ryken, could go off the same text, yet one could preach it better. That was the ambiguity I was trying to bring up; but it’s a small matter.

    However, I would disagree with your last paragraph. The series itself even boasts for itself a foray into the “scholarly.” To put the point another way, one could now reply to your claim about non-confessional exegetical commentaries by claiming that they are “more a reflection of the content of non-confessional exegetical druthers rather than the emphasis of non-confessional biblical scholarship.”

  53. elnwood says:

    I would dispute that the Reformed Expository Commentary series is a foray into the “scholarly” unless you use it in a very loose sense. One of the editors doesn’t even have a PhD, and only Duguid and Doriani have PhDs in biblical studies. Two biblical studies scholars doing expository commentaries doesn’t make it emphasis of confessionally Reformed biblical scholarship. Where are the others?

  54. Paul says:


    But you claimed that expository commentaries are “preachin'” commentaries, and thus preachers (all of whom have at least MDivs) seem to be more apropos for writting preachin’ commentaries than PhDs.

    However, the editory certainly think the series is scholary

    Each series has a testament editor–Duguid or Doriani–which means a PhD is editing the material in terms of theological content.

    A quick look around online also indicates that not only the commentary, but other sites claim for the series the status of “scholarly.”

    BTW, the BECNT only has “two” editors, so I’m unclear what the problem with “two” is, and one of them is a PCA pastor (which means he supposedly adheres to the WCF).

    For the most part I’ve agreed with you, you’ve got to give a little to get a little too. 🙂

  55. elnwood says:


    I think we are misunderstanding. The problem with “two” is that I thought we were discussing biblical studies, i.e. why are only two NT/OT confessional scholars writing expository commentaries when there are plenty more than two NT/OT biblical studies scholars.

    Tell you what, if you can find a review of any confessional Reformed expository commentary in a scholarly journal (something like ETSJETS), or, if you can find a bibliographical reference for any of them in an exegetical commentary, I will grant you your point that expository commentaries are scholarly. Does that sound fair?

  56. elnwood says:

    The difference between the BECNT and the REC is that only 2 of the 6 authors in the REC have PhDs in Biblical Studies. All 19 authors in the BECNT have PhDs in NT, and this is true of any scholarly biblical commentary series.

  57. Paul says:

    John Currid

    Robert Yarbrough

    Willem A. VanGemeren

    Dan G. McCartney

    Contemporary confessional exegetes

    Galations was reviewed in JBMW Volume 11 No. 2., which is a scholarly, peer reviewed journal. I can do a databased search and surely find more, but this is it for the moment.

  58. Paul says:

    I mean the REC Galations.

    Yarbrough is the editor for BECNT, the others have done exegetical commentaries

  59. elnwood says:

    I wouldn’t consider JBMW to be a scholarly journal, but I I’ll accept that and agree to disagree. Our definitions of “scholarly” will just have to differ.

    I’m surprised you would consider McCartney to be confessional since he was a strong supporter of Peter Enns and voted that Enns was within bounds of the confessions. Don’t know about the others.

  60. Paul says:

    I have high standards for “scholarly.” The JBMW is peer reviewed and open ended, it has a sober, serious look, what do you want?


    Here’s the statement from the seminary he teaches at:

    1.Redeemer Seminary is to form men for the gospel ministry, who shall truly believe, and cordially love, and therefore endeavor to propagate and defend, in its genuineness, simplicity, and fullness, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the inerrant and infallible Word of God and summarized in that system of religious belief and practice which is set forth in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the form they possessed in 2001, and which is integrally related to the fundamental principles of Presbyterian church government; thereby, cultivating and sustaining genuine Christian devotion with sound learning.

    Core Values

    In the pursuit of our mission, we hold to the following core values:

    2.Scripture, as the “very Word of God written,” is absolutely authoritative and without error.

    3.Reformed orthodoxy, as informed by the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Standards, represents faithfully and accurately what Scripture teaches.

  61. elnwood says:

    Regarding JBMW, some of their journal articles themselves I would consider scholarly, but not as a whole. In 11.2, they were simply reviewing gender-related books from the previous year. Note that the two people reviewing books did not have PhDs in any field, nor were most of the books that they were reviewing scholarly. I mean, “Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood” is sure to be a profitable book for their readership, but scholarly it is not.

    I don’t think it is too much to ask that the authors of something considered scholarly have a PhD in the field that they are writing in.

    Re: McCartney, I’m aware of Westminster and Redeemer Seminary’s statements. Those were in place when Enns was teaching at Westminster as well. Do you think Peter Enns’s views constitute a confessionally reformed view?

    I thought we were using Zrim’s narrow definition of confessionally reformed. If we’re changing our definition to those who are at or have taught at a reformed seminary or has been ordained by the PCA, then you need to make that clear. If so, that alters the conversation considerably because non-confessionally reformed scholars like Tremper Longman have done enormous amount of work in biblical studies.

  62. Paul says:


    I wonder what experience you have with scholarly journals. First, seaching a college database you will find many regarded scholarly journals that do not boast PhDs for all their journal articles. Second, the same could be said for many reviews found in putative scholarly journals: the books may seem silly to you and I, but evidentally not the editor of the journal. So, your strictures are false. If you read up on what are the requirements for a journal to be considered scholarly, JBMW meets every single one of the criteria. Find one accepted criteria they don’t meet. There’s a reason why having a PhD isn’t a necessity.

    On the statements of the seminaries: And Enns is gone, McCartney is not.

    Are you suggesting that those seminaries have someone on staff they know is at odds with their core values? That’s a pretty strong and bold claim to make, I’m sure you understand my incredulity.

    Lastly, I am not using Zrim’s narrow definition, I am using confessional for someone who claims to affirm something like the WCF, and has made vows to do so.

    I agree that given Zrim’s definition that there are not any confessional exegetes, that’s because all of them are either historical theologians or bloggers! In fact, last time I counted, i think there were about five who held to something like Zrim’s view. 🙂

    But that doesn’t mean I can’t use the language. I was just talking the other night to a friend getting his PhD at a very prestigious university, he is a WSCAL grad. he agrees with confessionalism, but disagrees with Clark &co, and claims the majority of scholars, both confessional and not, disagree with them too.

  63. elnwood says:

    I’m not suggesting at all that McCartney is at odds with Redeemer. He is not. Enns is not at odd with the PCA either, just Westminster: he’s still a ruling elder in good standing.

    As I said earlier, if we’re going to consider Enns and everyone else in the PCA to be confessional, then I withdraw all my critiques on “confessional biblical scholarship.” My initial discussion was with Zrim, hence I was using his definition. I wish I had known this earlier, and we could have wrapped this up sooner.

    Personally, I would also accept your criteria over Zrim, Clark, et. al. I think Enns is within his confessional vows to the PCA. But hey, I’m a baptist, it’s not my fight.

    Anyway, we can agree to disagree about the JBMW. My point is that just because the REC is reviewed in JBMW doesn’t make REC scholarly, unless you would also consider the Mother-Daughter Conversations book scholarly.

    We’re so far off the topic, that I don’t think this conversation is worth continuing here. Message me if you want to continue this.

  64. Paul says:


    How would I message you?

    I’ve seen some dumb books reviewed in a lot of ostensible scholarly journals, so your argument proves too much.

    I also think it is broad to claim that my view is that “Enns and everyone else in the PCA is confessional.”

  65. elnwood says:

    My argument proves that a review in JBMW does not establish that the REC is scholarly, which exactly what I wanted it to prove.

    You said “I am using confessional for someone who claims to affirm something like the WCF, and has made vows to do so.” As a ruling elder in the PCA, Enns is making vows to affirm the WCF and has never claimed that he does not. The conclusion follows.

    Is “Paul” Paul Manata? If so, then you’ve messaged me before, and I’m sure you can do it again.

  66. Anonymous says:


    Your argument proves no such thing. If it did, we would have to throw out many ostensible scholarly journals as they have reviewed many a “silly” book. Furthermore, apparently the journal thought that book was apropos to issues the journal is concerned with.

    My critieria is based off the generally accepted standards of scholarly, viz., peer review, open ended, look, experts (either PhD or putative), references to sources, etc.

    Again, it is broad to say that “I think Enns and everyone in the PCA is confessional.” If you need help understanidng: first, what does “everyone mean?” Members? but they are not required to hold to WCF. Second, some people are in the process of having their views looed at, that the process takes time doesn’t mean I have to claim they are confessional.” At any rate, Enns was dismissed from WTS for confessional reasons; given redeemer and WTS close connections, one wonders why Mcartney hasn’t also been released. Indeed, you have not even substantiated your charges against Mcartney, and have only made some vague comments about something he said.

    Yes, it is me, and I am not sure what you mean by “message you.” Email? Do I even have your email? Not that i am aware.

    Bottom line: I showed a review of REC in a putative scholarly journal, which meets the very standards for what it takes to be a scholarly journal, and so you must make good on your word.

    I showed that there are confessional exegetes doing commentaries.

    I also hold that one can be confessional and hold to system subscription.

  67. Paul says:

    ^ was me:

    Cornell University’s strictures for what is “scholarly” does not hold that all scholarly journals or books must be authored by PhDs, to wit:

    “Articles are written by a scholar in the field or by someone who has done research in the field.”

    Moreover, your standard for deciphering whether a something is scholarly or not is faulty. ASU sates:

    “Book reviews and editorials are not considered scholarly articles, even when found in scholarly journals”

    So, I have demonstrated that it is “Elnwood” vs. “the World.”


  68. Paul says:

    In fact, what you would note, Elnwood, if you chose to study this issue out, is that REC meets every single criteria for a scholarly book. Every single one. There are no such requirements that a scholarly work requires a PhD, none. That may be a generalization, but it is not a requirement. Furthermore, I just showed that having or not having a review of the book in a scholarly journal doesn’t make or break its status as scholarly. Indeed, the reviews themselves would not be considered scholarly! REC has bibliography, extensive footnotes, technical language, written by PhD or people who have done research in the field, etc.

    Hope that helped!


  69. elnwood says:

    Paul, as far as I know, I still can receive PB messages, which is how you messaged me before.

    I meant “everyone in the PCA” meaning all those ordained in the PCA, not just membership. This would include Peter Enns.

    Apparently you have been ill informed regarding the Peter Enns incident at Westminster. Enns was not dismissed from WTS. He resigned under mutually agreeable terms. It is public record that McCartney voted to support Enns at a faculty vote, and signed a document to support him (Précis to the Board on Theological Tensions on the Faculty). Also, it is no coincidence that all of the professors who moved from Westminster to Redeemer had previously voted to support Peter Enns.

  70. Paul says:


    I do not post at the PB and asked Rich to remove my account.

    Re: what you meant: see why I said what I said?

    Re: Enns: Apparently you are ill informed about how places do things like this, how they dismiss people with “dignity.” You seem to (wrongly) imply to the reader that he could have just stayed if he wanted to. Of course, this “mutual decision” came after this:

    “That for the good of the Seminary (Faculty Manual II.4.C.4) Professor Peter Enns be suspended at the close of this school year, that is May 23, 2008 (Constitution Article III, Section 15), and that the Institutional Personnel Committee (IPC) recommend the appropriate process for the Board to consider whether Professor Enns should be terminated from his employment at the Seminary. Further that the IPC present their recommendations to the Board at its meeting in May 2008.”

    I also point to the unambiguous statements of Redeemer and require more than your mere theories and strings of pearls. Aren’t you a baptist? Don’t you know what happens to strings of pearls? 🙂

    Hope this all helped!

  71. Paul says:

    Oh and BTW, lest we still have doubts about WTS and their position, who replaced Enns? Beale. ’nuff said.

  72. elnwood says:

    I never said nor implied that Enns could stay if he wanted to. You (wrongly) implied that. Suspension does not mean dismissal: last I checked, a person is innocent until proven guilty, and the matter still stands that Enns was never dismissed.

    He is still a PCA elder in good standing, and there are no pending charges against him that I am aware of. Obviously his presbytery believes he is in accordance with the confessions. Tell me, as a presbyterian, who has the God-given right to judge an ordained elder’s confessional convictions, his presbytery, or a seminary with no official ties to any ecclesiastical body? Should you not also judge Enns’ confessional convictions according to the presbytery of your own denomination?

    Regarding REC, one of the qualifications for a scholarly article is “The journal uses the technical terminology appropriate to the discipline and assumes that the reader will have a similar scholarly background.”

    The REC collects sermons given to a church body, so the author is not assuming a scholarly background or that they understand technical language. In fact, when the REC use technical language, it explains it rather than assume it. Thus, the REC does not assume the reader will understand technical language and does not pass this particular scholarly criterion.

    You can e-mail me at my user name @ yahoo com. I will not reply to any more comments here.

  73. Paul says:


    Re: Enns: You’re simply being pedantic now. Trading on technicalities. You seem unable to grasp that the “mutual agreement” is how many places handle things like this so that the party that would be otherwised dismissed, it allowed to leave with dignity.

    Re: Seminary’s rights: Yes, they do have the God given right since the Seminiary’s employees have signed a contract stating they would uphold the WCF. WTS decided Enns was not in accord with the WCF.

    Re: PCA: I am not in the PCA. However, Enns is a ruling elder and not a teaching elder. THis makes a difference. Anyway, we’ll wait and see if charges are made.

    Re: REC: You are simply mistaken, for multiply reasons:

    1. What is scholarly for a journal doesn’t necessarily translate to what is for a book.

    2. The desiderata you listed isn’t *universal*.

    3. The book claims for itself that it is scholarly: why don’t you email Duguid, Doriani, Phillips, Ryken, &co and tell them they they are lying or mistaken. Tell them “Elnwood” is here to set them straight.

    4. You’re flat out wrong. I own many of the commentaries. They use technical language like: redemptive historical, eschatological, biblical theology, docestism, epic of Gilgamesh, Atrahasis epic, communicable attributes, imputation, etc., and do not stop to define them, the majority being just passing references, those who know the terminology can fill in the details.

    So, you’re wrong about REC.

    Hope all this helped!

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