Monday 29 April 2013

Did the Puritans produce Systematic Theologies?

This was the question that a young theology student asked me recently. It set me thinking and the answer is a resounding yes. The British puritans became renowned across Europe for their development, par excellence, of experimental and devotional theology. Much of their works were intensely practical on a personal level as they struggled also to reform the Church of England and Wales especially, and to continue the work of reform in Ireland and Scotland. However, in answer to the specific question that this blog is directed, there are two works for which I would give an answer.

Thomas Watson [produced an outstanding systematic theology which today is published by the Banner of Truth under three separate titles. These are Thomas Watson's "Body of Divinity", "The Ten Commandments" and "The Lord's Prayer". These form a trilogy of expositions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism but it is a Systematic theology as well. They were borne from his catechetical classes for adults in his Sabbath Sunday School at Crosby Hall near Bishopsgate Street, London, I believe, while Stephen Charnock was joint pastor. While they form an exposition of the Westminster Catechism they also systematise Christian doctrine, obviously along the same lines as the Westminster Standards. Watson wrote that "to preach and not to catechise is to build without foundation" (p 5 "Body of Divinity") and by this he meant to adults and to children, not just to children as often happens today.

The Westminster Standards comprise the Confession of Faith with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms and these form a systematic theology also. The three documents are complimentary while adopting a similar structure founded broadly upon the Apostles' Creed the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer, though they deal with a range of other subjects as well. So in conclusion, for Christians committed to sound doctrtinal orthodoxy, I recommend the purchase, reading and study of the Westminster Standards, and the three books by Thomas Watson.

The teaching of Thomas Watson is summarised in my view by the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:9-10: Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

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