Scripture and Worship: Biblical Interpretation and the Directory of Public Worship

The dust that can be seen swirling in the distance is the aftereffects of Richard A. Muller's scholarly avalanche. He has marshaled mountains of historical evidence to bury the various twentieth century agenda-driven "Calvin against the Calvinist" schemes devised to drive a wedge between the great Reformer and the period known as "orthodoxy" or "Protestant scholasticism" (roughly 1560-1725). Sometimes motivated by ecclesiastical considerations (e.g. Jack B. Rodgers and Donald K. McKim), or by neo-orthodox biases (e.g. J.B. and T.F. Torrance), or by evangelical distaste for the logic of the Reformed system (e.g. R.T. Kendall and R.J. Gore, the latter cited in Ward's article), each is buried, along with a host of unnamed others, exposed as ignorant of the sources, particularly of the tradition of exegesis and theology behind the work of the Westminster Divines (the main concern in his essay).

Scripture and Worship is the first of a promised series of studies to be published by Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia's Craig Center for the Study of the Westminster Standards. The series will be published under the title of "The Westminster Assembly & the Reformed Faith." Carl R. Trueman, Chairman of the Craig Committee, will serve as editor.

The aim of the series, as explained by Trueman, is to promote the study of the Westminster Standards in light of the "scholarly revolution" that has taken place in the last twenty years concerning "the nature and development of Reformed theology in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries" (vii). Yet the motive that drives the production of this series is not merely antiquarian. "Our desire," says Trueman, "is that this approach will free the past from the shackles and constraints of the agendas of the immediate present and thus allow voices from history to speak meaningfully to the world of today" (vii).

The problem which Trueman hopes to correct is the silencing of the Reformed tradition generally and the Westminster Confession of Faith specifically by those who wish to remain Reformed, or even Confessional, without having to affirm the distinctive details which violate their preferences (e.g. double-predestination, regulative principle of worship, Sabbatarianism, etc.). Typically these modern dissenters have sought to embrace Calvin or the continental theologians while accusing the British Protestant scholastics who wrote the Westminster Standards (in Trueman's words) "of shallow proof-texting, of the over-systematizing of doctrine, of logic-chopping, and of plain theological ignorance" (ix). Once characterized in this way, the Standards may be dismissed as norms for the faith and practice of the church today while still claiming Calvin's mantle.

This approach, in its various forms, is buried by Muller in his essay "Scripture and the Westminster Confession," which is Part I of Scripture and Worship. He brings to light the forgotten and virtually unstudied English Annotations, that is, the 2400 folio-sized pages of exegetical and interpretive comments commissioned by the same Parliament that commissioned the Westminster Standards. First published in 1645 and reaching final form in 1657, the Annotations were written by men who were among the top biblical scholars of the day (e.g. William Gouge, Edward Reynolds, Thomas Gattaker), men with international reputations, men in constant dialogue with the sixteenth century Reformers and with then current continental Reformed theologians, and several of whom were also members of the Westminster Assembly. They wrote the Annotations, as Muller puts it, out of "the already sizable and significant Reformed exegetical tradition" (19). Moreover the Annotations provide "a highly proximate index to the understanding of Scripture behind the doctrinal definitions and the biblical proofs found in the confessions and catechisms" (5).