Alumni Interview: Brian Lee Part 1
This week we begin a multi-part interview with one of our alumni, Rev. Dr. Brian Lee. Brian is the Pastor of Christ United Reformed Church, Washington D. C., and is also a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary, where he studied under Richard Muller. His doctoral dissertation, Johannes Cocceius and Federal Theology, was recently published by Vandenhock & Ruprecht this past year. VFT readers, stay tuned! At the end of the interview series we will offer our readers a free copy of Brian's published dissertation, that's an $80 value!!
1. What drew you to study at WSC?
I was raised first Roman Catholic and then broadly evangelical, and only discovered Reformed theology as an undergraduate — I frequently joke that my practical proof for the sovereignty of God is that I became a Calvinist in the Religious Studies department of Stanford University, while studying Soren Kierkegaard with an Episcopalian. Along the way and while studying abroad I was introduced to Michael Horton, who was kind enough to offer me a job upon graduation as an intern at what was then called Christians United for Reformation (CURE), the predecessor of White Horse Media. Little did I know that I’d work with CURE in some capacity for almost ten years.
I had been planning to attend seminary for most of my undergraduate career, and the leading candidates were Fuller or Princeton. My senior year I had read Darryl Hart’s biography of Machen, and visited it while on a trip to visit Princeton. I was immediately drawn to Machen’s story, and the history of the school as the intellectual heir of Old Princeton. I worked at CURE for a year after school before starting seminary, and spending time with Horton and then meeting President Godfrey, my selection of Westminster became something of a no-brainer.
2. What things did you learn at WSC that equipped you for further graduate study?
It seems a bit abstract, but I think I’d have to say a certain intellectual honesty, coupled with a great confidence in the Reformed confessions as a faithful expression of biblical Christianity. I have often reflected on the fact that Westminster uniquely joins together a passion for confessionally expressed Reformed theology and broad-mindedness. This seems backward — that theological coherence and focus could broaden your horizons. But it actually makes perfect sense.
Other seminaries often trumpet the breadth of their faculty’s theological views, while affirming a minimalist core confidence in the authority of Scripture. This has the unintended consequence of undermining confidence in Scripture, because a single text results in a diversity of views on matters that are nowhere near as peripheral as evangelicals like to think they are. Students in this atmosphere grow less confident in the connection between Scripture and the faith professed, and faith becomes more a matter of volition than reason. This kind of theological diversity is the bane of evangelicalism, and particularly of evangelical theological education. It weakens faith, and discourages rigorous engagement with the text, because after all, you never can be quite sure where such rigor will take you.
The confessional alternative encourages rigor. Because you have confidence that the system of thought not only coheres with itself but corresponds with Scripture, the student is encouraged to explore and question one’s tradition. It has, after all, been knocked around by some pretty competent minds and withstood the beating. This creates a positive feedback loop that increases confidence in the system of thought while also expanding awareness of the basis of its foundation. And comparing it seriously to opposing systems is a natural next step.
Intellectual honesty results from this confidence because there is no temptation to cut corners to protect your own profession of faith. You can be bold about confronting the weaknesses and challenges to your own tradition. And, after all, Reformed anthropology does give us good reason to be humble in our explorations, because the confidence comes not from our own rational powers, but from the Word of God which serves as the foundation. And I’d have to say that Westminster’s confessional grounding is the basis of the humility and honesty that is crucial for good scholarship.