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A Question of Consensus

A Question of Consensus: The Doctrine of Assurance after the Westminster Confession

Jonathan Master
Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    A Question of Consensus
    Book Description:

    From the very earliest days after its completion in 1646, the Westminster Confession’s position on assurance has been a subject of controversy. In this exciting new work, Jonathan Master considers the Westminster Confession’s statements on assurance as a position of consensus among a diversity of viewpoints. Master traces how from this one position, the idea was expanded and modified—even by the document’s own authors!—just years after its reception, in very distinct ways. Each of these expansions on what was intended to be a consensus document forms the basis for later traditions regarding assurance within the Reformed and Evangelical traditions. To date, few studies have examined these expansions as a united whole, and Master’s work highlights the ways in which the streams of thought flowing out of Westminster are as important as those flowing into it, raising as they do questions about confession and doctrinal freedom in the growing Reformed tradition.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-7235-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The nineteenth-century church historian William Cunningham once wrote an illuminating chapter on the doctrine of assurance in the teaching of the Reformers. Using the work of Sir William Hamilton as a foil, Cunningham made several basic points about the Reformation teaching. But it is the conclusion to his chapter that is of particular interest. Cunningham ends with a note about the controversies that have particularly surrounded the study of assurance:

    It is not easy to keep the exact high road of truth; and men, filled with some one important idea or object, are very apt to run into exaggerations or...

  4. 1 Setting the Stage Calvin, Beza, and the Reformed Doctrine of Assurance before Westminster
    (pp. 7-42)

    Before we can address the Westminster doctrine of assurance or the ways in which later writers interacted with and expanded upon its formulation, we must look in general at the Reformed doctrine of assurance prior to Westminster. This will be helpful for at least three reasons. First, it will give us a better understanding of the kinds of questions the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) was—and in some cases was not—attempting to settle. Second, it will give us a framework for comprehending the expansions on the consensus reached at Westminster, which is our primary focus. Third, contrary to...

  5. 2 The Westminster Consensus
    (pp. 43-80)

    The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) arose in distinctive political and theological circumstances. In fact, the theological and political backdrop to the WCF must be understood if the work of the assembly and its resulting Confession of Faith is to be grasped. Our first goal in this chapter is to set the Westminster Assembly and its Confession of Faith in its seventeenth-century context. Second, we will see why it is necessary to understand that the WCF is a consensus document, a conclusion we can reach more definitively in light of recent research on the assembly and its work. Third, we...

  6. 3 Moving beyond Westminster Anthony Burgess’s Framework for Assurance
    (pp. 81-140)

    If Barth found the verbosity of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) statement on assurance to be an indication that something was “not quite right,” then surely the later writings by some of the Westminster divines would strike him as presenting an even greater problem. Anthony Burgess, for instance, expanded upon the WCF, filling in its gaps and silences, while staying within its basic framework. And he was not alone in these efforts. John Owen and Thomas Goodwin also considered the topic worthy of further verbosity.

    Our method in this next section will be to examine the ways in which...

  7. 4 Further Development The Framework for Assurance in Thomas Goodwin and John Owen
    (pp. 141-170)

    We have spent considerable time introducing Anthony Burgess. But he serves not only as one key figure in our study, but rather as a kind of introductory figure in our study of post-Westminster writing on assurance in general. The three categories we examined for Burgess—Puritan, pastor, and scholar—are the relevant lenses through which to view the other figures in our study as well. Primarily our objective is to show that all three of these men (Burgess, Thomas Goodwin, and John Owen) fit into the same basic categories as we established in the Burgess biography. In addition, my goal...

  8. 5 The Danger of False Assurance Frameworks after Westminster
    (pp. 171-204)

    As we have seen already, one of the challenges facing those who followed the formulation of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) was that, while the WCF gave a framework for understanding certain possibilities—true assurance, false assurance, lack of assurance—it did not define clearly how each of these possibilities was to be identified in an individual. While the “regular means” are proposed for the acquiring of true assurance, there is no comparable suggestion made for evaluating counterfeit or presumptuous claims of assurance.

    This is a pastoral problem for at least two reasons. First, it is a genuine problem...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 205-218)

    My concern in this book has been to demonstrate that the divergent views of assurance, so notable in the later Scottish tradition and so often remarked upon when comparing Calvin with the English Puritans, have much deeper, more complex roots than previously imagined. We have seen first that the Westminster Assembly was designed to foster broad consensus from the beginning, making the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) essentially a consensus document. Although some have imagined the WCF as a kind of scholastic straitjacket or a revolutionary set of theological innovations (especially on the question of assurance), in fact its areas...

  10. Index
    (pp. 219-223)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 224-224)