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Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone

Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone

Posted: Thursday, May 6, 2010 3:48 pm

The Messenger, May 6, 2010
Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone

Thinking God’s thoughts
after Him

Special to The Messenger
Founded in 1812, Princeton Seminary in Princeton, N.J., was one of the most influential institutions of Reformed theology until around 1929. At this time, it was re-organized and many men left to form Westminster Theological Seminary. For our purposes today and in coming weeks, we will label the seminary of this early period, Old Princeton.
Scholar-professor Charles Hodge boasted that during his years at Princeton the school “never brought forth a single original thought.” Princeton theologians sought to learn from the giants of church history who had gone before them. What if they did have a new idea that set them at odds with the traditional understanding of the church? Why would a little originality terrify them so? What is so wrong with being “outside the box?”
Old Princeton’s Calvinistic understanding of the Bible, consistently applied concerning theological innovation, is the heart of Reformed theology. A pastor once said, “The first principle of theology is: there is a god. The second principle is: you are not him.” This was Old Princeton’s understanding of the biblical doctrine of man. Even in his original estate of innocence, man was limited in his ability to know and understand. Only God has all knowledge and can see all angles.
After Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, every human being is not only limited in knowledge, but hostile toward God in his thinking. This belief stopped Old Princeton from whole-heartedly embracing every innovative idea that came from both the secular and contemporary Christian culture of the day. “Should we uncritically adopt assumptions from a world that is hostile toward God and actively trying to suppress His knowledge and subvert His purposes?” they reasoned.
But what about Old Princeton’s trust of Old Princeton? After all, weren’t they God-fearing Christians? It appears they also had a healthy distrust of themselves. They believed that even in an estate of grace, or salvation, man has a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17) has remnants of the old patterns and habits, “the flesh” in Romans 7. Man must be aware of this flesh and must contend with it.
This battle will not end until King Jesus returns and throws His enemies, the devi and death itself, into the lake of fire. Finally, our dead patterns of thinking will be completely removed and there will be no more sin.
Until that day, let us commit to Old Princeton’s biblical theology of mankind. Let us foster healthy skepticism toward our own innovative tendencies. Not because new is necessarily evil; it is not. But because we are born evil (Romans 3:9-20) and even in Christ we can think according to the evil pattern of the world (Romans 12:1-2).
Old Princeton’s men were not fuddy-duddy traditionalists. It was Old Princeton’s biblical worldview which allowed them to be great in transcending their cultural moment. For instance, they didn’t uncritically buy into the American myth of the power of the self: “You can be anything you want to be.”
Following one’s self has never been wise, but is a sure path to hell according to the Bible.
Following God means never teaching an “original thought”; it means, as Cornelius Van Til said, “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” The scripture of the Old and New Testament is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. When it appears to be saying “new thoughts,” let us test those new thoughts with “old thoughts.”
Sadly, Old Princeton did start teaching “original thoughts” and the church in America is worse off because of it.
(A great resource for any Christian home is Philip Schaff’s “Creeds of Christendom,” a collection of the church’s best attempts at understanding God’s thoughts. Also, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, you can learn the “old thoughts” of Old Princeton.)
Editor’s note: Justin Westmoreland is campus minister for Reformed University Fellowship at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He, his wife Meredith, and their three children — Knox, Owen and Grace — attend Grace Community Church in Union City.

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