Ordained Servant Online
Review: Truths We Confess
John R. Muether
Truths We Confess: A Layman's Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith: Volume One, The Triune God by R. C. Sproul. Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006, vii + 279 pages, $22.00.
This commentary on the first eight chapters of the Westminster Confession of Faith is the first of a planned trilogy from the pen of R. C. Sproul, founder of Ligonier Ministries. Sproul's reputation as an uncommonly gifted communicator is further confirmed in this highly readable study that is designed specifically for the lay-reader. Sproul begins on an encouraging note of reverence for the theology of the Westminster divines, lauding it as "the most precise and accurate" of creedal summaries of biblical Christianity. "No historic confession," Sproul goes on to claim, "surpasses in eloquence, grandeur, and theological accuracy the Westminster Confession of Faith."
Truths We Confess is the fruit of the author's many years of teaching on the subject at undergraduate and seminary levels. Former students of Sproul will welcome the frequent appearance of his standard interlocutors, including Jonathan Edwards and Sproul's mentor, John Gerstner. There are also some familiar metaphors of his, such as "no maverick molecules." In this book, as elsewhere, Sproul is at his best when he explains in clear and simple terms the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.
Yet Sproul's illustrations tend to border on the superficial, and at times they run on too long. Moreover, there is a dated feel to much of the commentary. Many of Sproul's discussions seem to focus on issues that concerned biblical scholarship in the midportions of the previous century. The section on justification lacks any reference to contemporary debates within Reformed circles, and it is curious that Sproul borrows from the work of the renegade Catholic theologian Hans Kung (215f.) to defend God's covenant relation with Adam in the garden. Furthermore, passing references to Barth (92, 111, 182) and Kierkegaard (180) may have the unintended consequence of commending their unreliable interpretation of Scripture to readers unfamiliar with their theology.
In creation, Sproul focuses on the how and when of creation, often at the expense, it seems, of the older Reformed concern (which finds emphasis in the Confession) that God created all things. Moreover his treatment of the framework interpretation of the days of creation is deficient, and today's readers would benefit from more careful attention to the argument of Meredith Kline than the obscure work of Nicholas Ridderbos whom Sproul cites.
Despite these drawbacks, Sproul's commentary is a commendable primer to the theology of the Westminster Assembly. For Sunday school teachers and small-group leaders, it is no replacement for G. I. Williamson's Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (P&R, $16.99), which is still unsurpassed as a popular exposition of the Confession. For the more ambitious student, Banner of Truth continues to keep A. A. Hodge's nineteenth-century commentary in print ($26.00). Still, when Sproul's trilogy is completed, it will serve as a helpful supplement to Williamson and Hodge, its usefulness further enhanced if the publisher includes a subject index.
John R. Muether
Reformed Theological Seminary