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Bryan Estelle and The Character of Faith

18 August, 2008

Every prof at WSC is my favorite prof. However, I have heard many students refer to Dr. Bryan Estelle as their personal favorite (eg. superstud Matt Barker). I don’t know if it’s his contagious smile, his humble demeanor even toward knuckleheads like myself, his captaining of the ultimate frisbee games on thursdays, his part fisherman/part mountaineer/part scholar/part pastor personality, his passion for all things reformed, his godly and pastoral counsel as an ordained OPC minister threaded throughout his lectures during class, or his godly example of what it means to be a family man. Who can say? Maybe all of the above. The following was taken from an article on the Westiminster Seminary California site. (permission is cited below)

~chaos

What is Faith
by Bryan D. Estelle

Bryan D. Estelle
Dear Friends,

Yesterday I was rereading Machen’s What is Faith and came across the following quote:

“At the present time it is the fashion to ignore this aspect of faith: indeed faith and knowledge, as we have already observed, are often divorced; they are treated as though they belonged to two entirely different spheres, and could therefore never by any chance come either into relation or contradiction.”1

What Machen said over 75 years ago was not only timely and true then, it is true and timely now as well. Examples of this symptomatic rot of anti-intellectualism with respect to faith abound. Sadly, however, those who are genuinely seeking answers about the nature of faith want knowledge that they may consider. How can one separate knowledge from faith? You may not. If the reader will allow a personal allusion, I think that I may be able to illustrate my point.

A couple of years ago I was flying home from the East Coast where I had been attending a Presbytery meeting and preaching on the Lord’s day. It was also the end of a Semester and so I had many exams with me that I was grading. I took my seat and began working as I usually do on these long flights. I was sitting in an aisle seat, the seat next to me was empty and a young man whom I guessed to be about 18 or 19 years of age occupied the window seat.

After working for about an hour, I put my tray table up and took a break. The young man sitting next to me asked me if I was a teacher (he had been watching me do my grading). I said yes and explained that I was a Professor at a Seminary that trained prospective ministers in San Diego. That was the end of the conversation for then and I went back to my grading.

When I took my next break from grading, the young man asked me politely if he could ask another question. I said, “Of course.” He said, “If you are a Professor that trains prospective ministers, are you a minister yourself?” I said, “Yes, I am.” Then he proceeded to ask his question. He said, “What is faith?”

I told him that I was returning from a Presbytery meeting – I explained to him briefly what that was – and that we had just asked a prospective minister that was taking his ordination exams that very question as well. I told him if he didn’t mind me taking about 10 minutes of his time, I would explain to him the kind of answer we were hoping to receive from that man. In the next 10 minutes I explained to him that true saving faith includes elements of knowledge, assent, and trust. I told him that faith was outward looking not inward looking. I took great pains to explain very carefully to him that we need to look for righteousness outside of ourselves and that righteousness can be found in none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

At the end of my brief description of faith he thanked me and said that was the fullest and best answer he had ever received to his question. I proceeded to ask what he was doing on the plane, where he was traveling from and to? He then told me that he was a bare-knuckled boxer who was returning from an “underground” and “black market” fight that had been held in Vietnam. He had won and had $20,000 in his pocket as a consequence. This is how he made his living. I asked, “Have you ever seen anyone get killed?” He said, “No, but it happens.” He had grown up in Compton, California and lived with his uncle since his Dad was in prison for dealing crack cocaine. He was only 18 or 19 years old. Then he asked me if I had children. I said I that I did, three of them. Then he told me he had a daughter that was 6 years old! Yes, do the math. His daughter and the mother of his child also lived with his uncle in Compton, California.

Over the next couple of hours we had a very fine conversation. As our conversation drew to a close, I encouraged this young man to go to school and get an education since he would not be able to box forever. I left him with my card and told him to call me if he ever thought I could be of help to him. I’ve not heard from him since.

That day I was very thankful for my Westminster education. I never solicited or expected that question. But when it came, I was glad to “give an account of the hope that is in me” (1 Peter 3:15). I was glad that Dr. Strimple had taught me about the extraspective character of faith. I was glad that Dr. Kline had taught me about Christ’s penalty paying substitution and probation keeping merit. I was glad for Dr. Godfrey’s unmoving stand on the active obedience of Christ and the imputation of that righteousness to those who by grace through faith believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. I was glad for all those Westminster professors and all my pastors that have taught me to speak plainly to people the truths of the gospel when we are given the opportunity.

Now I begin to ponder the number of Westminster graduates like yourself that are equipped to give knowledgeable answers to the question, “What is faith?” There is a vast sea of humanity looking for informed answers to that question. That thought only causes me to redouble my efforts as a minister and a professor. I have utter confidence that Westminster graduates will not mistakenly divorce faith from knowledge when they preach the gospel. I hope that you will have many opportunities inside and outside the church to answer the question, “What is faith?”

Cordially,

Bryan D. Estelle
Associate Professor of Old Testament

Footnotes

1 J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith? (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1925), 230.

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6 Comments
  1. 18 August, 2008 6:04 pm

    Why not at least include Scripture to answer the question: “What is faith?”? “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1. Then, the rest of the chapter gives examples of faith.

    As a frequent commentator, I have often said how I love the creedorchaos blog. So, I will use up whatever favor that I have and ask a simple question. As a layman in a seminary blog world, it amazes me of how little I read of Scripture in these blog articles. I read a lot of what seminary students, Professors, and other theologians, living and dead, write. I even read a lot of the Reformed Confessions. But, there is so little Scripture in these blog articles. It is not just creedorchaos. It seems to be true of all of the blogs.

    Why?

  2. 19 August, 2008 6:09 am

    As I was taking my dog Sam for a walk this morning, thankful that God steered the brunt of Tropical Storm Fay away from my Tampa Bay area, Sam and I 🙂 came up to a possible answer to my question why there seems to be so little Scripture in Reformed doctrine blogs maintained by seminary Professors and students.

    “Every heretic has his text.”

    In other words, Reformed preachers and teachers may have reacted to such bad doctrine spouted by those who think they can support any doctrine just by quoting Scripture. So, Reformed preachers and teachers want to emphasize Reformed confessions and other sound teaching by seminary students, Professors, and other theologians, living and dead, write, rather than just quote Scripture to support their teachings.

    Is this a possioble answer? Am I just wrong in my observation that there is so little Scripture in Reformed doctrine blogs maintained by seminary Professors and students? Is there another answer out there? Thank you.

  3. Joshua permalink
    19 August, 2008 1:51 pm

    Bill,

    I think that you’re on to part of the answer, although in theory Reformed theology would never want to divorce the two.

    Another part is that solid exegesis takes a lot of work, often too much time required for the usual blog. It’s really easy to throw verses around. Blogs haven’t yet replaced scholarly journals, and most readers don’t (or at least shouldn’t)look to blogs for definitive answers. Often blogs serve as teasers to more substantive texts or arguments. As such, bloggers don’t feel as obligated to support their arguments with the usual proof from Scripture that it would take to pass a class or heavy criticism.

    Another part is that some blogs are intended to be more conceptual and historical than explicitly scriptural. It really depends on the genre of the blog. Sometimes a blog can have a historical perspective (descriptive), sometimes a cultural-critical perspective (descriptive and prescriptive), sometimes a systematic perspective (prescriptive), or sometimes an exegetical perspective (prescriptive and descriptive). In both the latter cases, biblical support is utterly necessary, although few bloggers will put in the time it takes for outstanding work. They probably will save that kind of work for the publishers or the pulpits. As far as our blog is concerned, our arguments usually have some scriptural proof lurking in the background, if there isn’t explicit reference to verses.

    Hope this helps.

    Joshua

  4. Joshua permalink
    19 August, 2008 2:09 pm

    One last point: Reformed theologians believe(d) that the confessions accurately describe the Bible’s teaching. Thus, in some sense–when we cite the confessions–we are citing the Bible. This might contribute to the lack of explicit, biblical citations.

    Joshua

  5. 20 August, 2008 3:03 am

    I’d like to add that I try to be careful to ground the posts I do that are exegetical or systematic in scipture, usually explicitly (though certainly not exhaustively). And not always successfully, mind you — but that’s the goal.

    ~B

  6. 22 August, 2008 8:08 am

    Bill,
    This was an encouragement from our prof to his students. This particular prof is one of the most amazing exegetes I’ve ever come across. It was a sheer delight to sit in his Prophets class because he was such an incredible exegete. He like the other profs just broke open the Scriptures powerfully to us day in and day out. This post was just a reflection on some event that had taken place in his life. He doesn’t need to do exegetical acrobatics in order to share his experiences.
    If you want Reformed exegesis go to a Reformed Seminary, like WSC.
    One thing the Reformed blogs and the tradition itself are gettting a reputation for is constant criticism and self-exaltation. We raise ourself up as the ‘knowers’ at someone else’s expense.
    Laymen and scholar alike want to be known for knowing rather than for serving. However, I’ve seen a refreshing difference among the faculty at WSC. They are very knowledgebale servants. So I’m not understanding your criticism of our prof’s very encouraging anechdote.

    There is a confessionally Reformed tradition that is to be defended but a tree is known by its fruit. If all we are known for is needless criticism, and that’s our constant response for absolutely everything, then we are seriously misrepresenting our Lord of Glory who stooped down to kneel down in service before sinners like us.

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