Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Westminster Shorter Catechism: for Study Classes, by G.I. Williamson


Really more of a two-and-a-half star book. Ostensibly, the purpose of this book is to present and explain the beliefs contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. However, Williamson choose a much more partisan path, and uses the book to present his own particular variety of Presbyterianism and his own interpretation of the Catechism, not the text of the Catechism itself. So, for example, according to Williamson, it is not wrong to drink alcohol (believer's freedom), but it is wrong to sing any uninspired songs (i.e., songs that are not psalms) as part of Christian worship (regulative principle), even though the Westminster Catechism does not actually take a position on either issue. He also tends to focus on his particular pet issues--such as the need for Christian schools as opposed to secular public education--which, regardless of whether the reader agrees with him, are not necessary in a discussion of the Westminster Catechism.

Williamson is also prone to hyperbole--to such an extent that it damages his credibility with the reader. So, according to Williamson, no doctrine is more clearly taught in the bible than election (I grant that it is clearly taught, but there are many doctrines more clearly taught), and he repeatedly uses words like "obviously" or "clearly" and is generally overly dismissive of opposing viewpoints. As a result, he renders his own opinions more suspect in the mind of a careful reader. (In his defense of infant baptism against those who advocate believer's baptism, he borders on snide.)

He also devotes a lot of attention (and an entire Appendix) to the model of prophet-priest-king, not only as illustrated in Christ, but as illustrated in pre-fallen man, corrupted in fallen man, and rectified in salvation. This may be a central teaching of Presbyterianism; I don't know. It was the first time I'd seen such a thing, and it was not immediately apparent to me from the text of the Catechism.

The book does include helpful discussions of many challenging biblical principles. The illustrations, though simplistic, are useful and largely well done. Williamson seems to be at his best when explaining the gospel and more abstract theology concepts--the Trinity, the dual nature of Christ, the representative principle (in Adam all sin), etc. When he got into the weeds of practical application, he tended to come across as rigid and puritanical, often without sufficient textual support for his views.

Still it would make a good family devotional, if you read with a critical and discerning eye so you can distinguish between what the bible necessarily teaches and what is just Williamson's (or the Westminster Catechism's) interpretation.

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