3 questions with Peter A. Lillback, President of Westminster Theological Seminary
What lessons have you learned from George Washington?
Three aspects of Washington’s leadership are models for my leadership at Westminster: character, concern for the good of the whole institution and self-denial. First, Washington’s life showed that character matters. Honesty, humility, perseverance, conviction for and adherence to core values were all aspects of his renowned leadership that emerged from his character. Those qualities are timeless for leaders and are aspirations that I long for in myself and my community. Second, Washington consistently asked what was best for the “good of the great whole” when making a difficult decision. As I’ve led Westminster, I’ve tried to consider not just what’s good for the professors, or the students or the staff, but what’s best for Westminster Seminary as a whole. Third, Washington’s self- denial is seen when he refused to become king, as he was urged to do by his officers. A leader who leads to serve others creates the healthiest and most stable institution humanly possible.
How do you see the seminary serving the local church?
The seminary is never an end in itself. Seminary narcissism is a death knell for the churches it serves and for the relevance of the seminary itself. When the seminary sees itself as a servant to advance the health of the church, it assures the survivability of both. Another way to express this is captured in the words, “What’s whispered in the seminary classroom in one generation will be shouted from the pulpits in the next.” The biblical truth or lack thereof in a seminary’s curriculum and instruction will be reproduced by the students that the seminary trains. The seminary serves the local church best when it assures that the church’s future pastors are taught to honor Christ, to proclaim his word and to live by his life-saving gospel.
If you could host George Washington and John Calvin for dinner, what conversations do you imagine would transpire?
I think the conversation would begin with a deep and common commitment to the absolute sovereignty of God’s providence. Providence, of course, was a core doctrine in Calvin’s theology. Moreover, Washington referred to providence more than 270 times in his writings. They probably would also have a good discussion of how religious liberty should work its way out in a free nation. Calvin was shaped by the idea that the state should oversee the religious convictions of individuals, whereas Washington was convinced of the full religious liberty of conscience. Finally, I think Washington would express his gratefulness to Calvin for all the Presbyterian support for the American Revolution. After all, Presbyterians historically have tended to be a rather contentious group. Whether that’s true of Southern Baptists, I’ll leave to the reader to decide.
Peter A. Lillback serves as president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is also the author of George Washington’s Sacred Fire.