Before the Federal Vision, there was the Norman Shepherd controversy, which shook Westminster Seminary in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Though repeatedly exonerated, Shepherd was ultimately dismissed for the good of the seminary.

It was a convoluted and intensely personal and political battle, and fortunately we now have Ian Hewitson’s Trust and Obey (Norman Shepherd and the Justification Controversy at Westminister Seminary) to help us sort through the mess and learn some lessons.

The seminary’s board, Hewiston concludes, “acted on the basis of expediency, not because of doctrinal errors, or any other errors, on Shepherd’s part” (223). But “at its heart, this struggle was over theology,” not so much this or that formulation but over the task of theology per se. As Hewitson notes, Shepherd “believed that the church can and should continue to learn from the Bible and the church must always be examining her teachings in the light of Scripture,” while his opponents “were convicted that these matters had been settled at the time of the Reformation” (220). This debate is certainly far from resolved.

Hewitson aims not only to describe and explain what happened but to clear Shepherd’s reputation and to expose an injustice. With meticulous research and dispassionate analysis, his book accomplishes all that and more.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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