Thanks for Dick Gaffin’s Ministry

by John M. Frame

Dick finished his B. D. program at Westminster Seminary in the spring of 1961; I began mine in the fall of that year. He earned his Th. M. in 1962, and then entered the seminary’s Th. D. program. So I saw him often during the early 1960s. I seem to recall that we took one of Cornelius Van Til’s Th. M.-level classes together. We had a lot of discussions in those days. A mutual friend who was studying philosophy at Penn invited the two of us to evening discussions of various theological, philosophical, and methodological issues. One of us described this group as the “Rushmore Club,” because it seemed that if we ever managed to solve the questions before us, we would have belonged on Mt. Rushmore . Now many years have elapsed and, alas, Mt. Rushmore is still devoid of philosophers and theologians.

Dick began teaching at Westminster in 1965, I in 1968, so we experienced together the fun of being junior faculty. In those days, Westminster had only a skeletal administration, and most all business was handled by the faculty through great numbers of committees and in interminable Saturday meetings. Van Til, for example, was for some years the chairman of the “buildings and grounds committee.” I was thankful, however, that most of us saw the humor in all of this. One memorable discussion concerned who should be chairman of the athletic committee, which, I guess, was supposed to organize games and such. I remember the moment when Dick Gaffin, who had held the office before, formally nominated himself to head the committee. Self-nomination was just not done in those days, but we took the athletic committee with somewhat less seriousness than the others, and the discussion had us in stitches. Sadly, I forget who Dick’s opponent was, and I forget who won.

Dick and I disagreed on some things. He thought, and still does evidently, that biblical theology should control systematics. I have always thought that no theological discipline is primary but that all should provide checks and balances for one another. At my invitation, Dick came to one of my Th. M. courses to discuss this issue, and with the students we had a good, thoughtful discussion.

Dick was the very model of graciousness in debate. That was also evident in his defense of Norman Shepherd in various contexts in the late 1970s, when Shepherd was accused of doctrinal error. In a situation where others were flashing swords and hurling epithets, Dick was calm and gentle, always trying to honor the legitimate points made by opponents, and always taking the trouble to make a substantive, persuasive argument.

I wish that we could have continued our close collegial relationship. I know that Dick was disappointed at the departure of several professors including myself in 1980 to plant the new Westminster in California. I saw little of Dick after that, but I did my best to keep up with his writings and inevitably profited from them.

Dick’s writings have met important needs in the church. When we began teaching, it was regularly assumed that Reformed Christians were sabbatarians, and that for them the gifts of tongues and prophecy had ceased. But it was hard to find in the contemporary literature any rigorous arguments for these positions. Dick supplied those needs, with his Perspectives on PentecostCalvin and the Sabbath, his work on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Report on Sabbath Matters,1 and his article “A Sabbath Rest Still Awaits the People of God.”2

In his writings, and in occasional email exchanges, Dick has continued to encourage me. I also hear often from his students and former students that his godly example has influenced their walk with God. I congratulate him on his retirement and on his many theological achievements. I also thank God for the many people who have been drawn closer to Christ through Dick. May God give him the years and the strength to continue this ministry among us, and may there be many others who follow his example in scholarship and in ministry.

1 Recorded in the Minutes of the 39th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Now available online at

2 In Charles G. Dennison and Richard C. Gamble, ed., Pressing Toward the Mark (Phila.: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986).


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