By J. Parnell McCarter



Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS) plays an important role in the North American reformed community.  It serves as a main North American teaching seminary for a number of conservative reformed and Presbyterian denominations (Heritage Reformed Congregations, Free Reformed Church, Presbyterian Reformed Church, etc.), as well as an important teaching seminary for some of the more conservative elements of other denominations (RPCNA, URC, etc.).  As PRTS goes, so will likely go an important segment of the North American reformed and Presbyterian community.


A number of my concerns relating to PRTS are documented in a letter I wrote to Dr. Beeke which can be found at http://www.puritans.net/news/DrBeekeLetter.pdf  .  With respect to the specific issue of Mr. Ray Lanning (a minister in the RPCNA and a professor at PRTS) mentioned in the letter, it is my understanding that at the current time Mr. Lanning’s service at PRTS is in suspension pending further investigation, etc.  Irrespective of that particular issue, the general concerns I expressed in that letter relating to PRTS abide.


Mr. Ray Lanning has asserted to me that “in adopting the Standards, the Heritage Reformed Congregations were careful to consult the work of other NAPARC churches, and adopt the various exceptions taken by all these churches.”  He went on to assert that “such a course was only consistent with the way in which the HRCs have in the past adopted exceptions to the Three Forms of Unity, and to various parts of the Church Order of Dort.”  I find this baffling in a number of respects:


1.                  The PRTS website http://www.puritanseminary.org/ says "we adhere to the following documents", and then proceeds to show the original forms of these standards.  It does not show amended versions.  It does not list exceptions.  If it does not hold to "the following documents", then truth in advertising demands different wording at the website.

2.                  If it does adhere to revised standards, then how does full time faculty member Dr. David Murray adhere to those revised standards while yet being a minister in the Free Church Continuing, which professes to adhere to the originals? I thought Free Church Continuing officers state their subscription to the Westminster Standards as originally adopted by the Church of Scotland.

3.                  The website of http://www.hnrc.org/pages/Belgic+Confession+Articles+30-37 , etc. indicates no exceptions to the original, and the website http://www.heritagereformed.com/content/about_hrc_2.html indicates agreement with the original Westminster Standards, to the extent of any action thus far.


As noted in my letter, there is reason to question the confessional integrity of PRTS given the professorial staffing of PRTS.  For example, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson is a professor at PRTS.  Let me say at the outset that I am *not* saying that no spiritual good can come from Dr. Ferguson, and I am *not* saying Dr. Ferguson is not a true believer.  Rather, I am saying that if churches are to be preserved as pillars of truth for the reformed Biblical faith, it is necessary that they not succumb to loose confessional subscriptionism.  It never has worked, and it never will work.  It is analogous to "open borders" of a nation, in which a nation lets every Muslim, Hindu, scoundrel, etc to come in that wants to.  Without clear borders and boundaries, churches like nations eventually fall.  With that criterion, any seminary wanting to preserve adherence to the original Westminster Standards and Three Forms of Unity (as PRTS professes) would be ill advised to let Dr. Ferguson be a professor in my opinion.  Dr. Ferguson is a professor at PRTS per http://www.puritanseminary.org/academics/faculty.php :


"Dr. Sinclair Ferguson is Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology..."


Dr. Ferguson currently ministers in an ARP congregation.  The ARP is part of NAPARC, along with Heritage Reformed.  Church officers in the ARP take a vow of subscription to a revised version of the Westminster Standards that is at odds in a number of respects with the original Westminster Standards.  I know because I used to be an elder in that denomination.  Just to take one of many examples, one of their revisions is a statement added to the confession that says public worship with uninspired hymnody is ok.  (A number of church officers in that denomination ridicule the regulative principle of worship.) Or to give just one other example, they added some chapters to their confession which were added when they were considering merger with the PCUSA (the liberal mainline Presbyterian denomination).  The merger did not go through, but they retained the chapters.


But let me move to some sample specifics of Dr. Ferguson.


We had discussed the issue of the critical text, for example.  Dr. Ferguson does not stand with the received text.  That is why we find at http://www.westminsterbookstore.com/?p=499 this statement by Dr. Ferguson:


"Dr. Sinclair Ferguson writes: “The ESV has quickly established itself as a reliable and readable version of Holy Scripture rooted as it is in the historic tradition of English translations..."


The ESV is one of the latest critical text Bibles, and Dr. Ferguson supports it.


Dr. Ferguson participated along with Mr. Mark Driscoll, Mr. John Piper, etc. in the 2008 Desiring God Conference.  See http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/ConferenceMessages/ByConference/41/  . And what does Mr. Driscoll stand for?  I fail to see why any Puritan (which I would think PRTS professors should be) would be co-speaker along with Mr. Driscoll in a conference to help Christians mature in the faith.  Mr. Driscoll often laces his speeches with crude jokes and sexual innuendos.  Mr. Driscoll and Mr. Piper are so called "reformed charismatics", which is an oxymoron and contrary to the reformed standards.  One must ask what Dr. Ferguson believes to be able to join with Mr. Driscoll and Piper in such a conference.  Charismatic continuationism and the critical text are both attacks on the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura that should not be tolerated.


It should be of concern that PRTS has faculty that are critical text advocates.  It is certainly contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Article 8 which reads:


"The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical."


Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary recently came out with a new catalog, and here is what it said was the seminary’s "view of scripture" :


"The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as originally written are God's inerrant Word inspired by His Spirit and therefore are the only, sufficient, and infallible authority for faith and practice."


That statement is suspiciously inadequate for an institution that professes to uphold the original Westminster Standards.  What about their preservation in all ages, so that the church possesses the infallible word of God in all ages?  Have the PRTS faculty that have shied away from the received text view and towards the critical text view influenced the catalog’s stated view of scripture?



Another professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary who is a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Churches is Dr. William VanDoodewaard.  Like Dr. Ferguson, he has taken vows of agreement with the doctrinal standards of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Churches.  But the doctrinal standards of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Churches differ from the original Westminster Standards (see http://www.arpchurch.org/Site/Government.html ).  Full time professor Dr. William VanDoodewaard cannot be expected to uphold the original Westminster Standards if he subscribes to confessional standards which have amended and contradict the original Westminster Standards.


But the errors tolerated on the PRTS faculty do not end there.  For example, the Westminster Confession rightly upholds in Chapter 4, Article 1 this position:


It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,[1] for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness,[2] in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.[3]


There is good reason to believe some of the PRTS faculty reject literal 6-day creation.  For instance, we read at http://www.puritanseminary.org/academics/faculty.php :


Godfrey, W. Robert Dr. Godfrey has taught church history at Westminster Seminary California since 1981. He taught previously at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Stanford University, and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. His M.Div. is from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; his M.A. and Ph.D. are from Stanford University. He is the third president of Westminster Seminary California and a minister in the United Reformed Churches…”


Dr. Godfrey is another PRTS professor from one of the NAPARC denominations. Dr. Godfrey argues that “the days of Genesis 1 are ordinary, twenty-four-hour days,” but then concludes that “these ordinary days are for us as a model for our working, not as a time schedule that God followed”, in his book God’s Pattern for Creation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2003) 90.


Even if its advocates will not acknowledge or admit it, the Framework Hypothesis is an attack upon the perspicuity of scripture, which is another foundational position of Biblical Protestantism.  The Framework Hypothesis is a movement away from the clear teaching of scripture to accommodate certain pseudo-scientific modern theories.  It is contrary to these statements in Westminster Confession, Chapter 1, and its implications upon scriptural interpretation are broader than the first chapters of Genesis:


“IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.[23]  X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.[24]


So herein lies a problem. By failing to require and enforce full subscription to the confessional standards, PRTS appears to be erecting a more loosely confessional seminary.  Satan has used loose confessional subscription at reformed seminaries to overthrow many erstwhile reformed churches, and there is no reason to believe he cannot do it again.  The sad reality is that PRTS and the NAPARC denominations are headed down the same path as the old Free Church in Scotland when it passed the Declaratory Act (see http://www.puritans.net/news/declaratoryact030810.htm ).