Book Review: The Theology of the Westminster Standards

WTSRecently I read and reviewed The Theology of the Westminster Standards by J.V Fesko. This rather short work seeks to explain the complex theological, historical, political, and cultural realities of the Westminster Standards. It is a valuable book for those who are both friendly and not-so-friendly to Reformed Theology, as it gives valuable insight into the real life development of the standards.

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.