Review & Reflection: Scripture and Worship

9781596380721

I recently finished reading the book Scripture and Worship: Biblical Interpretation and the Directory for Worship by Richard Muller and Rowland S. Ward.  The book is a small collection of essays that were adapted from addresses given at Westminster Seminary as part of their ongoing work on the Westminster Standards for the Craig Center.  Most people who would find the book interesting will be familiar with the game-changing work of Richard Muller in Historical Theology.  I found his essays exactly what you would expect: precise, pointed, & thorough.  His essays make up the first part of the book and tackle the issue of the Westminster Standards and Biblical Interpretation.  In the background of his essays was the polemical point that undergirds so many of his contributions to the field of post-Reformation historical studies: while developing a degree of diversity, the Reformed tradition represents a basic continuity from the magisterial Reformers to the later Reformed Scholastics.  This point stands in contrast to the claims of some who wish to drive a wedge between early and later Reformed thought.

His first essay underscores the diversity of the Reformed tradition by showing how the exegetical work of the Westminster Assembly built on the tradition exemplified by the English Annotations without being slavishly (or even primarily) influenced by that particular work.  He lays to rest the common misunderstanding that the English Annotations are somehow part and parcel of the Westminster Assembly’s project.  Instead he shows how they are distinct, if still somewhat related, works.  His second essay underscores the continuity of the Reformed tradition by showing how the exegetical work of the Westminster Assembly did not simply engage in simplistic proof-texting as their modern critics often claim.  Instead, the proof-texts they provide serve as sign-posts which connect their exegetical work with the broader Christian tradition of Biblical interpretation – often connecting back to the work of both the early Reformed tradition and even the Medieval and Patristic writers before them.

Like other reviewers, I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent contributions which Rowland S. Ward makes to this volume.  Ward is an Australian Presbyterian scholar and pastor and his two essays consider the Directory for Public Worship.  Ward’s essays are more accessible than Muller’s – but no less significant.  While he provides helpful historical background and fascinating facts to flesh out our understanding of the Directory, he also builds on Muller’s basic argument for continuity within the Reformed tradition.  Ward demonstrates that no wedge can be driven between Continental and British views on worship and that the framers of the Directory were largely following in the tradition of Calvin, Bucer, and Knox in their own work.  The book concludes with a full re-printing of the Directory for Public Worship.

I enjoyed this book immensely.  While Muller’s essays can be a bit dense (and no doubt daunting to the unfamiliar reader) they are solid in content and delivery.  Ward’s contributions are more accessible without sacrificing scholarly substance.  All in all, this is a fine start to what looks to be a promising series and a valuable little book that underscores the basic continuity of the Reformed tradition.

 

 

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