The overall framework in which this Westminster Theology was expressed derived from seventeenth-century federal theology formulated in sharp contrast to the highly rationalised conception of a sacramental universe in Roman theology, but combined with a similar way of thinking in terms of primary and secondary causes. Moreover, it operated with a medieval conception of the order salutis (reached through various stages of grace leading to union with Christ), which reversed the teaching of Calvin that it is through union with Christ first that we participate in all his benefits. Tied up with the federal theology this gave the Westminster Confession and Catechisms a very legalistic and constitutional character in which theological statements were formalised at times with 'almost frigidly logical definition'.
In line with an increasing tendency in seventeenth-century biblicism the Westminster Confession devotes a long opening chapter to the Holy Scripture which, given by the inspiration of God, is very rightly stated to be 'the rule of faith and life'. Because the Holy Scripture derives from divine revelation, its authority depends wholly upon God who is truth himself, and is thus to be received as the Word of God and understood through the inward witness and illumination of the Holy Spirit...The infallible rule of interpretation is the Scripture itself, and the supreme Judge by which all controversies are to be determined can be no other than the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. This marks out very sharply the difference between the Reformed Church and the Roman Church, but the biblical support for its teaching is rather formal, and inadequate and sometimes rather misleading, for passages and texts are adduced to support notions held on other grounds. The handling of the Scriptures is governed by a kind of biblical nominalism, for biblical sentences tend to be adduced out of their context and to be interpreted arbitrarily and singly in detachment from their spiritual ground and theological intention and content. Moreover, by giving the Holy Scripture thus handled priority of place over the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, Westminster theology treats biblical statements as definitive propositions from which deductions are to be made, so that in their expression doctrines thus logically derived are given a categorical or canonical character. They are not treated, as in the Scots Confession, as having an open-structured character, pointing away from themselves to divine truth which by its nature cannot be contained in finite forms of speech and through, although it may be mediated through them...
The Westminster way of beginning the confession with a chapter on the Holy Scripture prior to and apart from the evangelical substance of the Faith tended to separate form from content...
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
TF Torrance on 'Westminster Theology'
Posted by W. Travis McMaken
Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), 128-130.