Reviewing a Douglas Wilson book on theology is, for someone like me, a difficult business. In his bookReformed is Not Enough, he calls a certain class of Reformed individuals the "Truly Reformed." Far from being a badge of honor, this is meant to be a pejorative and an epithet, and it effectively silences all objections from that quarter.
Which presents a problem. As a member of a Reformed denomination which renounces some of the tenets of Wilson's doctrinal structure (most notably his views on active obedience and infant baptism), I find myself sometimes at odds with what he says, and my objections, if distilled, would essentially be that he is not Truly Reformed.
So when he publishes a book likeWestminster Systematics: Comments and Notes on the Westminster Confession, I'm somewhat at a loss how to proceed in my assessment. The Westminster Standards (the Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms), after all, are the doctrinal standards of my denomination and many others that are similiary Presbyterian and Reformed.
The book is basically an explication of the Westminster Confession. A portion of the Confession will appear in blockquote form, followed by Wilson's explanation and commentary. These explanations are clear and straightforward, and for the most part are very helpful, illuminating the often archaic language of the Confession and making its teachings plain.
Intended as an educational text for interested Christians and beginning students of theology, chapters are divided into units of 1-3 built around common topics. There are also suggestions for further reading from the works of Francis Turretin, Thomas Vincent, and A. A. Hodge at the end of each unit, with probing questions based on these readings.
For the most part, Wilson does a good job of drawing out the intent of the writers of the Confession. There are times when he subtly inserts his own views (does the Confession really describe communion as a covenant renewal ceremony?), and he can be glib in his glossing of important topics, but by and large he sticks to the text.
Of more concern is the way he handles certain doctrines that have been debated by Reformed writers and thinkers for centuries, neglecting to inform readers that there are various interpretations of the content. For instance, when dealing with the idea that God is without passions (the doctrine of impassibility), he simply states his interpretation as though it's the only possible orthodox view, completely ignoring the many volumes written on the topic.
But the real problem withWestminster Systematics is its tone. Wilson is well known for his use of satire, playfulness, humor, and striking analogies, and often these are very effective for making his point. But in a work like this one, where his goal is to deal with essential Christian doctrines, the snarky asides just get old.
This isn't a worthless book, but it's by far not the best commentary on the Westminster Confession, nor is it the best book Wilson has yet produced. G. I. Williamson'sThe Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes is an excellent alternative, as are Williamson's books on the Catechisms.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
Did you find this review helpful?