July 23, 2014

A Statement From The Session Of New Life Presbyterian Church Concerning The Retirement Of Dr. Douglas Green From Westminster Theological Seminary

An essay by Steve Smallman

In June of this year, Westminster Theological Seminary announced the “retirement” of Dr. Douglas Green, Professor of Old Testament. This was not a retirement due to age, and the announcement went on to clarify that it was, rather, the result of a decision by the Board of the Seminary, based on theological issues.  Specifically, the Board found certain aspects of Doug’s teaching to be outside the bounds of their theological standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.  The issues were briefly summarized in the announcement.  Further details might have been released, but both parties chose instead to negotiate an agreement that would include Doug’s leaving his position at the Seminary, judging this option to be in the best interest of all involved.

We, the Session of New Life Church, are saddened by this separation, but are satisfied that this mutually agreed solution represents the best outcome, in light of the nature of the disagreement.   However, since the decision of the Board was based on their theological standards, and our church subscribes to the same standards, we concluded that it was our responsibility to conduct our own investigation since Doug has served with us as a Ruling Elder.  Doug himself encouraged us to do so.

It has been the intention of our Session from the beginning to thoughtfully and prayerfully study this matter and report back to you.   Here then, is an outline of our actions and decisions:

Our first step was to ask members of the Session to examine the relevant portions of the Westminster Standards, and a number of documents Doug and Westminster Seminary provided to us that shed light on the questions at issue.    Following this, at our request, a representative of the Seminary met with us to clarify the actions and positions of the Seminary’s Board and Administration in this matter, and to answer our questions.   The representative was forthcoming, though he was not able to provide certain confidential details included in the Board’s discussions.  He also affirmed that the Session of New Life has an independent right to consider and make its own judgment concerning an elder’s adherence to the Standards.

Subsequently, we met with Doug and raised our own questions in light of the presentation by the Seminary’s representative and the documents provided for our study.    He answered our questions, laying out his own understanding of the Scriptures and the Standards, and affirmed for us his support of the Standards, particularly with regard to the unity of Scripture and the presence and centrality of Christ in all of Scripture. He spoke about the value of the grammatical-historical understanding of the text being a “tether” that shapes the way in which we see the truths of the Old Testament point to the fullness that comes through the coming of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom.

As a result of our study and these meetings, we the Session of New Life Church, while fully respecting the right of the Board of Westminster Seminary to determine the bounds under which its faculty may operate, respectfully disagree with its judgment and are satisfied that Doug Green’s teaching does not fall outside the Westminster Standards.

We also wish to affirm how much we value Doug’s presence and leadership as a Ruling Elder and teacher of our congregation.  He has shown us Christ in the Old Testament time and again, in rich and lovely ways.

We find ourselves in full agreement with the statement that appeared on the Westminster website when the announcement of the “retirement” was made. In answer to the question of how he responded to the Board’s action, the following was noted:

Dr. Green maintains that his approach to biblical interpretation and specifically New Testament use of the Old Testament does not violate the Westminster Confession, that his views on this subject have not changed since 2009, and that they are consistent with his teaching throughout his time as a professor at Westminster. Nevertheless, he respectfully recognizes the right of the Board of Trustees to interpret the seminary’s confessional standards and in so doing clarify its theological boundaries. He counts it the highest privilege to have taught close to 2,000 godly and gifted Westminster students over the last 22 years and values both the friendship and scholarly interaction he has enjoyed with his colleagues on the faculty during this period.

[Agreed to unanimously by the Session of New Life Presbyterian Church at its meeting of July 22, 2014.]

Steve Smallman

Steve is an Assistant Pastor and is currently serving New Life as Interim Pastor. Steve has served in pastoral ministry for over 40 years. He is currently a teacher for CityNet Ministries in Philadelphia and has also written several books and booklets. Steve and his wife Sandy live in Dresher, PA. They have four adult children and eleven grandchildren.

Topic: Announcements