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The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights Paperback – June 30, 2014
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“One of the ways of demonstrating the abiding relevance of our confessions is to understand the conversations and debates from which they emerged. John Fesko has done precisely this. Digging around each plant in the Westminster garden, Fesko exposes the rich soil that still nourishes our faith and practice. I picked up this book expecting to find a resource to be consulted, but found myself reading the whole work through with rapt attention. There is gold in these hills!”
—Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California; Host, White Horse Inn; author, Core Christianity
“Finally we have a solid analysis and an expert portrayal of the theology of the Westminster Standards in which the time of its writing and its direct influence are also described. John Fesko has gathered an enormous amount of information that makes this book a sourcebook par excellence. He does the church and its theology a great favor with this overview, helping us to understand the Westminster Confession and catechisms not only in their theological context, but also in their relevance for today.”
—Herman Selderhuis, Director, Refo500; Professor and Director of the Institute for Reformation Research, Theological University Apeldoorn, the Netherlands; author, Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms
“Drawing upon a significant body of recent research, John Fesko has written an admirably clear and accessible study of the teaching of the Westminster Confession. By situating the successive chapters in their original seventeenth-century setting, he provides an informed exposition of their content and significance. This study will be immensely useful not only for theological students, but for all who require a better understanding of the most important Reformed confession in the English-speaking world.”
—David Fergusson, Professor of Divinity and Principal, New College University of Edinburgh
“Seldom has an exposition of the Westminster Standards been as useful as John Fesko’s Theology of the Westminster Standards. Dr. Fesko understands the necessity of placing these monumental documents into their proper contexts. He has uncovered a massive amount of contemporary literature and expertly explains the theological statements of the Standards in the light of these works. For everyone interested in confessionalism, this is an essential volume. It will be a standard work for decades to come.”
—James M. Renihan, Dean and Professor of Historical Theology, Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies
“Fesko’s volume is an outstanding and very welcome addition to the growing field of literature on the Westminster Confession of Faith. In these pages Fesko goes straight to the primary sources, skillfully mining relevant sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts in order to explain the historical and theological developments leading up to the assembly. Moreover, he provides fresh and insightful analysis of the theology of the Confession itself. Do you want to grow in your knowledge and understanding of the Reformed faith in general, and the theology of the Westminster Confession in particular? If the answer is yes, then pick up and read this marvelous book. I heartily commend it!”
—Jon D. Payne , Presbyterian Church in America church planter, Charleston, South Carolina; Visiting Lecturer, Reformed Theological Seminary; Series Editor, Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament
About the Author
J. V. Fesko (PhD, University of Aberdeen, Scotland) is the academic dean and professor of systematic and historical theology at Westminster Seminary California. He was the pastor of Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Woodstock, Georgia, for ten years. J. V. lives in Escondido, California, with his wife, Anneke, and their three children.
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As Fesko fully acknowledges, there have been many books that have focused on the Westminster Standards. Either as a whole, or in part. One weakness that Fesko identifies is that those treatments tend to address the Standards in current context. That is, what they mean as read today. Where Fesko’s project differs is that he attempts to return to the cultural context of the Westminster Assembly and understand exactly what was meant when the documents were written.
This is a helpful exercise in textual exegesis that we are very comfortable and familiar with in the arena of Biblical Studies, but rarely does someone outside the discipline of Historical Theology do this with a post-Biblical document. His direct approach utilizes both the minutes of the assembly itself, as well as primary sources surrounding the gathering. Because of this, the text is explicated in a way that is refreshing. Despite somewhat archaic language, it gives the reader a sense of actually being present during the writing of these important theological statements.
Fesko masterfully presents these texts in a way that is approachable to both the trained theologian and the lay person alike. Although at times the language can be a little technical, and the use of the original English (rather than modernized versions) can be a bit cumbersome, overall the project is ambitious, but also eminently readable.
This book would be great for a history or theology class that is focusing on the confessional era, and would serve brilliantly as a guide to the primary texts of the era.
Approaching the Assembly and its grand outcome of, not only a reformed church polity, but of two superb catechisms and a grand view of theology in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) is extremely helpful. Fesko takes the topics and ideas that have shaped the church for hundreds of years and applies the lenses of scripture to them. Here we have a proof text explanation of the WCF as we move from loci to loci.
Fesko not only upholds the WCF, for it is indeed necessary to do so, but he also includes any objections which have been raised against it and similar confessions. The first thing on his mind are the statements of the confession but he also is cognizant of what scripture is to say as well. That being said, he also notices that the men of the Assembly were fallible men who quarreled among themselves and could not come to an overall agreement on some subjects.
As you would with any confession, one must ask "How does this apply to me today?" Fesko understands the foundational documents were written in a time where the English language and the context was far different from ours. The confession itself though, has lasting influence that is still a prominent part in many denominational circles today. Fesko throws us a bone in deciphering with expert analysis the thoughts and ideas behind some of the more troublesome or difficult passages of the WCF.
Certainly a textbook like this is needed today if we are to understand our history of confessional Christianity. This book is more than that though. It is a volume which lends itself to being reread in light of dense confession we have before us. Now I don't hold to the WCF but the document I do hold onto as a confession was largely written verbatim with some changes on the mode of baptism and church government, which leads to an interesting point.
The Dutch Reformed, Presbyterians, and Reformed crowd share a very close connection with their Reformed Baptist brethren, and a little ways down the road live the confessional Anglicans and those like them. We have a common faith between us, even if we disagree as to being baptized as an infant or adult. These standards are a resounding echo of the clarity of the gospel and so should they be affirmed by anyone who claims a confessional Christianity.
Fesko, J.V. The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. 448. Print.
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