Office Hours: The Theology Of The Westminster Standards

Office HoursThe Westminster Standards are a collection of churchly documents, a confession of faith, and two catechisms drafted by an assembly of pastors and theologians called to meet to provide a confession and catechisms that would unify a nation divided internally by civil war and deep religious differences. The standards were adopted by American Presbyterians in the early 18th century and continue to serve as the confessional standards for confessional Presbyterian denominations across the globe. John Fesko is Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California and he has published a new volume The Theology of the Westminster Standards, a commentary that seeks to understand the standards in their historical context. It’s available through The Bookstore at WSC.

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    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. First Fesko on the theology of the Westminster Standards, and now Chad Van Dixhoorn’s “Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith” (Banner of Truth). This is more than a shower of blessings; it’s a deluge.

  2. Just finished reading Dr. Fesko’s book. As is always the case with his books, Fesko’s brings a high level of scholarly work and insights to the topic at hand. In this this book there is much to reflect upon for anyone wanting to have a better understanding of the Standards. This is one of several must reads on the history and theology of the Assembly. I’ll be listening.

    • Let me add that we just resumed our Sunday school class on the WCF. Our pastor who is teaching it has been reading the book and referred to the book’s discussion on the civil magistrate as we studied chapter 23.

  3. Thank you for this audio. I recently purchased Fesko’s book for preparing a of studies I am involved in on the WCF. This has been a helpful book so far. I’m going to listen now.

  4. On the whole it’s a good read, but it is irritating to see Fesko – following Needham and Letham? – arguing that since the WCF doesn’t forbid uninspired songs, they are permitted along side, if not included in, the “singing of psalms” of WCF 21:5 (cp. p.351, 360). If this is not a plain contradiction of the regulative principle of worship (WCF 21:1) or ‘whatsoever is not commanded is forbidden in the worship of God’, what is it?

    That, never mind the Assembly’s edition of a psalter and directions for psalm singing in its Directory for Public Worship, which Fesko only mentions in passing (p.360).

    But if we are also told there are two versions of the Minutes of the Assembly (pp.406,408), both versions tell us that the Assembly, on April 22, 1646, when challenged again by the House of Lords, not only renewed their commitment to Rouse’s psalter over Barton’s, they also deplored what would be the result of a diversity of psalters:

    And wheras there are severall other translations of the Psalmes allready extant, wee humbly conceive that, if liberty should be given to people to sing in Churches, every one, that translation which they desyre, by that meanes severall translations might come to be used; yea, in one & the same congregation, at the same time, which would be a great distraction & hinderance to edification (Minutes, Van Dixhoorn, v: 303).

    After all according to the Solemn League & Covenant (pp.53,4), the Assembly and the Standards were all about “uniformity in doctrine, worship, discipline and government” or they were about nothing at all.

    IOW long story short, never mind the RPW, it might beg belief if the Assembly can require training in logic from ministerial candidates in the Rules for Ordination in their Form For Church Government and go on record for only allowing one, not many, psalters – one which they specifically edited to that end and purpose – to then say they would have no quarrel with uninspired hymns in principle, never mind a specific hymnal, whatever the common generic meaning of “psalm” might mean.

    The last to which Fesko also, along with Van Dixhoorn (Confessing the Faith, p.285), appeals to in arguing that the Standards allow uninspired songs. That according to the latter, “the assembly clearly did not believe in exclusive hymnody” is, to put it mildly, quite beside the point.

    But enough for now.

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