Should Seminaries Be Theologically Distinct?

April 16, 2024

Westminster Theological Seminary is committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism (i.e. The Westminster Standards). Each of our full time professors must subscribe to the Westminster Standards “ex animo” or “without exception.” This means that we are unswervingly committed to the Reformed tradition as it is defined in these documents.

A necessary consequence of this commitment is that, because we are a Protestant, Reformed, Presbyterian seminary, (though without any formal denominational affiliation) our curriculum is going to be set apart from seminaries that do not share these theological convictions. However, Westminster’s six key theological distinctives set us apart from even seminaries that do share our Protestant, Reformed, Presbyterian tradition.

Now, some might ask why a seminary that is committed to the historic Reformed tradition as expressed in historic creeds and confessions would champion theological distinctives that set us apart from other schools that also are committed to said creeds and confessions. In this article we’ll answer that criticism and others, first by laying out our theological distinctives. We’ll then show how these distinctives aren’t historical or theological novelties, but rather, are consistent with our confessional subscription. Then we’ll explain how our desire is not for theological distinction for distinction’s sake. We’ll finish by showing how Westminster’s distinct curriculum prepares our students for ministry.

Westminster’s Theological Distinctives

At Westminster, our commitment to theological distinctives stems from a deep-rooted understanding of our Reformed heritage and a desire to equip our students with a robust theological framework for ministry. These distinctives, while complementary to our confessional subscription, serve to sharpen our theological focus and enrich our educational experience.

Covenantal Apologetics:

We advocate for a robust defense of the Christian faith grounded in the covenantal relationship between God and humanity. Covenantal apologetics emphasizes the coherence and validity of truth claims within the framework of God's covenantal revelation, providing a solid foundation for engaging with unbelievers and defending the Christian worldview.

Biblical Counseling:

Our approach to counseling is deeply rooted in Scripture, recognizing the sufficiency and authority of God's Word in addressing the complexities of life and relationships. Biblical counseling seeks to apply the timeless principles of Scripture to contemporary issues, offering hope, healing, and transformation through Christ-centered counseling.

Redemptive Historical Hermeneutics:

We interpret Scripture through the lens of redemptive history, recognizing the unfolding drama of God's plan of salvation throughout the pages of Scripture. Redemptive historical hermeneutics highlights the unity of Scripture and the centrality of Christ in God's redemptive purposes, guiding our interpretation and application of biblical texts.

Biblico-Systematic Theology:

Our approach to systematic theology involves examining theological topics through the lens of rigorous exegesis. It emphasizes analyzing Scripture's original languages, historical contexts, and literary genres to derive theological principles directly from the biblical text, ensuring doctrinal formulations remain faithful to Scripture's authoritative message.

Church History/Historical Theology:

We study the history of the Christian church and the development of Christian theology with a view toward understanding our theological heritage and learning from both the insights and the mistakes of the past. Church history and historical theology provide valuable understanding of the life of the church, the struggles of faithful Christians throughout history, and the ongoing relevance of the Holy Spirit’s work amongst his people.

Christ-Centered Preaching:

Our approach to preaching is centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ, recognizing Him as the focal point of all Scripture and the ultimate fulfillment of God's redemptive purposes. Christ-centered preaching seeks to exalt Christ, proclaim the gospel, and call hearers to faith and obedience in light of His saving grace.

Harmony with Confessional Subscription

Our theological distinctives harmonize seamlessly with our confessional subscription to the Westminster Standards. These distinctives are not extraneous appendages but rather integral expressions of the timeless truths encapsulated in our confessional heritage. Our commitment to covenantal apologetics, biblical counseling, redemptive historical hermeneutics, biblico-systematic theology, church history/historical theology, and Christ-centered preaching finds solid ground within the foundational documents of the Reformed tradition. Each distinctive emerges organically from the theological soil cultivated by the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Far from deviating from tradition, our theological distinctives deepen and enrich our understanding and application of the Westminster Standards. By embracing these distinctives, we affirm our commitment to the historic Reformed faith while also demonstrating its relevance and vitality. Our theological distinctives are not innovations, but faithful expressions of the enduring truths enshrined in our confessional documents, guiding our academic endeavors and shaping our mission as a seminary dedicated to equipping men and women for faithful service in the church and the world.

The Purpose of Theological Distinction

Our pursuit of theological distinction is driven not by a desire for mere uniqueness but by a deeper commitment to theological clarity, doctrinal integrity, and academic excellence. Our distinctives serve as guiding principles that inform every aspect of our educational mission, from curriculum design to faculty hiring practices.

By maintaining distinct theological emphases, we ensure that our students receive a comprehensive theological education that is rooted in the historic Reformed tradition and grounded in Scripture. These distinctives provide a framework for theological inquiry, enabling students to engage critically with theological ideas and traditions while remaining firmly anchored in the truth of God’s Word. Moreover, our theological distinctives serve to cultivate a vibrant intellectual community characterized by robust theological dialogue and rigorous academic inquiry. By fostering an environment where theological distinctiveness is celebrated rather than stifled, we encourage students to wrestle with challenging theological questions and to develop a deeper understanding of their own theological convictions. Thus, Westminster, though deeply traditional, is on the cutting edge of theological discourse.

Ultimately, the purpose of theological distinction at Westminster is to continue unfolding the truth of God, learning more and more of what he has revealed of himself. By providing students with a solid theological foundation and a clear sense of theological identity, we prepare them to serve faithfully and fruitfully in a variety of vocational contexts, whether in pastoral ministry, missions, academia, or the workplace.

In this way, theological distinction at Westminster is not an end in itself but a means to a greater end– namely, the equipping of men and women for faithful service to Christ and his kingdom. It is our prayer that,  through our distinctives, our students will be better equipped to proclaim the gospel, make disciples, and advance the cause of Christ in the world. Ultimately, because we wholeheartedly believe these distinctives to be true, we long for the day when Westminster is no longer theologically distinct… because all of God’s people believe them as well.

The Impact on Ministry Preparation

The distinctive curriculum at Westminster is designed to cultivate theological depth, spiritual maturity, and practical competence in our students. Through rigorous academic training, experiential learning opportunities, and pastoral mentorship, we prepare graduates who are well-equipped to serve faithfully and fruitfully in various ministry contexts. Our alumni's impact bears witness to the effectiveness of our distinctive approach, as they contribute to church ministry, global mission endeavors, and cultural engagement worldwide.


Westminster's embrace of our theological distinctives reflects our unwavering commitment to the Reformed tradition and the Westminster Standards. These distinctives, far from being arbitrary, serve as pillars of strength and sources of blessing in our educational journey. As we navigate the ever-changing landscape of theological education and ministry, may we continue to uphold these distinctives with humility, conviction, and gratitude, trusting in the faithfulness of God who has called us to this sacred task.

If you would like to hear more about these theological distinctives or would like to apply for a program with us, please feel free to reach out to an admissions counselor. Our Office of Admissions stands ready to assist you.

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