The Theology of the Westminster Standards by J.V. Fesko
J.V. Fesko, professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary in California provides for readers a thorough understanding of the aims, intents, and theology of the Westminster Standards in his The Theology of the Westminster Standards. With an eye toward history, theological debates within the Reformed world, and the emphasis that such Reformers such as John Calvin had upon the Westminster Divines (see pg. 50), Fesko’s book is a delight to read and investigate.
What makes Fesko’s book so unique? For one, Fesko does not fail to provide objections to his theological statements and set forth arguments against objections with sound research and historical context. In writing about the Holy Spirit convincing a person of the Divine authority of the Scriptures, Fesko writes (67),
“Some have argued that this list of proofs for the divinity of the Word represents a turn toward rationalism, a departure from the simple faith of the earlier Reformation.59 But such a characterization fails to consider three key points. First, one must consider the Confession’s insistence upon the necessary and prerequisite work of the Spirit: “Yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and Divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witnesse by and with the Word, in our hearts” (1.5). The Confession rests the belief in the Scriptures not upon reason but upon the internal witness of the Spirit.”
The work of the Spirit is primary to convincing a person of the divine nature of Scripture, yet rational proofs corroborate the testimony of the Spirit. Fesko mentions Calvin and William Whittaker as also providing rational proofs for the divinity of the Scriptures, while holding these proofs as secondary in nature to the Spirit’s work (68). Why is this so important? For one, Fesko brings out the Confession’s proper emphasis that the Spirit’s work to convince people of the Scripture’s true nature coincides with the way the Scriptures speak of the Spirit’s work. Reason is used by Paul at Athens to convince the Athenians of their need for salvation, yet when the Scriptures are spoken of, they are written in the context of the Spirit’s work in convincing men and women of the their truth. Not only does the Confession seek to be consistent with the way in which the Spirit works in the lives of people, but the Confession also emphasizes the veracity of the Scriptures by bringing out the logical way the Spirit’s work is portrayed in those same Scriptures.
Secondly, Fesko zeroes in on the discussion the members of the Westminster Assembly had regarding the moral law and the covenant structure of the Bible. Instead of offering a view that emphasizes two covenants of grace, the Confession promulgates one covenant of grace, differing in substance. This answer was in objection to the thinking of Tobias Crisp, who although accepting the twofold covenantal scheme (covenant of works and grace), nevertheless sees Christ absent in the first covenant and fails to see the moral law as binding on believers today. This last element of excluding the moral law from present day living disturbed members of the Confessional assembly to no end, therefore, the reason to include elements of the moral law was for them a matter of biblical fidelity and offering a counter view to Crisp.
I really enjoyed this book and will go back to as I look at the Confession in my own Presbyterian denomination.
Thanks to Crossway for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.