One advantage of the Scots Confession

Church Of Scotland

The Scots Confession of 1560 has several advantages actually, but one definite advantage is the location of its doctrine of scripture. Unlike the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), which begins with the authority and inspiration of scripture, the Scots Confession does not attend to this doctrine until chapters 18 and 19! The Scots Confession rightly begins with the doctrine of God, proceeding with a redemptive-historical outline of God’s covenant work, only after which the Protestant claims for scripture are given.

This seems to be an important ordering of the material. The WCF locates the doctrine of scripture at the very beginning. This has resulted in an unfortunate apologetic strategy where the authority of scripture is defended before the gospel of Christ and the triune economy is espoused. That is precisely backwards, it seems to me. I do not believe in Christ because I first believed in the authority of scripture; rather, I believe in the authority of scripture because I first believed in Christ. This is not materially denied by the WCF, of course. Yet, the formal ordering is important for contextualizing the doctrine of scripture, locating it within the doctrine of God — a good rule of thumb for all theological categories.

The WCF replaced the Scots Confession in 1647 as the subordinate standard for the Church of Scotland and her Presbyterian missions. Baptist confessions would model themselves on the WCF, from the London confession to the Philadelphia confession to the Southern Baptist Faith & Message. Nothing is more natural to evangelicals today than to conceive of the Bible as an apologetic foundation for an enumerated list of (normally rather disconnected) doctrines and morals. The most popular systematic theology today, based upon sales figures, has been Wayne Grudem’s ST. Not surprisingly, it begins with the authority and infallibility of scripture. In its crudest form, read this ridiculous article in The Christian Post.

If you want a good example of properly locating the norming of scripture as an auxiliary claim of our christology (and soteriology), I encourage you to read these two posts on P. T. Forsyth:

The Canon: A Protestant Account

The Canon: A Protestant Account, pt. 2


For a nice bound set of the Reformed Confessions, I highly recommend James Dennison’s multi-volume project: Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English TranslationSo far, three volumes are published.



  1. I teach the Scots Confession in my Christian Thought course as a way of getting my students deep into a historic articulation of Christian belief. It is a great confession – easily one of my favorites – and I’m glad to see you publicizing it! 😉

    And yes, that is a ridiculous article.

    • Good choice for your class. My pastor and I will be co-teaching a class on the French Confession, as part of a Fellowship of Presbyterians initiative. Before that, we will be doing a series on the Fellowship’s “Essential Tenets.” I’m looking forward to it.

  2. The apologetic argument from Messianic prophecy referenced in that article frustrates me so much. Not just because it’s bad apologetics (even as a middle schooler I was suspicious of it), but because it makes it really gets in the way of understanding how the NT actually uses the OT. And it helps fuel the “secret code book” dispensationalist view too.

  3. Colin Gunton in “Act & Being” has, I believe, a relevant thought “It is indeed the case that many people in the West especially have come to believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is at best a defensive rather than a positively useful doctrine … part of the point of this book will be to suggest that … the doctrine of the Trinity is the key to an adequate account of the divine attributes.”

    I have been thinking lately about how could we go about with using the Trinity as a “positively useful” starting point, along with the Incarnation? Many shy away from this because it seems the Trinity is made into an IQ test; along with the Incarnation.

    I agree, we must start with the doctrine of God, and that will include the Trinity and the Incarnation. But we need to express this positively, in a way accessible to the many not the few. A positive starting point, not just trying to defend something that only those with high IQs can hope to grasp.

    • Yes, I’ve complained with folks at church that we need to stop using “the Trinity” as our favorite example of “mystery” that we dare not speak about. In nearly every church, “the Trinity” pertains to the deep, hidden recesses of God — inaccessible to us. There is some truth in that, of course. Yet, the whole point of the Trinity, as a doctrine, is to faithfully articulate the divinity of the Son and Spirit, as they bring us to the Father in righteousness. We cannot articulate our faith unless it is trinitarian.

      I think Bible studies and adult Sunday schools are good places to put this into effect. We should be pointing-out the trinitarian “roles” as we discover them in Scripture and identify the divine prerogatives of Yahweh that are attributed to the Son and Holy Spirit.

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