Shortcomings of The Westminster Shorter Catechism

The Calvinist Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) was approved and adopted in 1648.[1] Its stated purpose is “to be a directory for catechizing such as are of weaker capacity.”[2] This refers to children, youth, and others who may lack basic religious understanding. It is written in a question-and-answer format. While it has some admirable aspects, it suffers similar biblical deficits as Calvinism. Here are two:

Question 1: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Calvinists claim the chief end of man is to glorify God, and rightly so (1 Cor 10:31), but according to Calvinism, the non-elect can never choose to glorify God. Their only part in God’s glory is their predetermined suffering of his eternal wrath. Yet, this statement seems to reflect something all people should and can do, but it is not, which is quite unlike 1 Cor 10:31 and the rest of Scripture. 

Nor can the non-elect enjoy God forever. God predetermined the non-elect to occupy the cauldron of hell and his wrath forever. Again, the statement makes it appear that all should and can do this, but by God’s design, according to Calvinism, they cannot. Full disclosure would have said, “The chief end of the elect is to enjoy God forever.”

Question 4: What is God?

Answer: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

One glaring omission is that the Scripture twice says, “God is love” (John 4:8, 16), which is omitted in this monumental Calvinist document regarding the nature of God. This is despite the fact that the document is designed to train the young and less knowledgeable in Christianity. This egregious omission left unchanged finds suitable lodging in Calvinism, which would not be the case with Extensivism.[3]

The Calvinist Banner of Truth writes about the WSC, saying, “It can be said that few things in the course of history have had such a shaping influence in the lives of Christians as the Westminster Shorter Catechism. . . And it has been the chief staple of instruction within Presbyterian families ever since. Throughout history, the number of children receiving their religious instruction from the Shorter Catechism has been in the millions.”[4] Yet, somewhat shockingly, since its adoption in 1648, no one has seen the omission of “God is love” to be worth correcting.[5] If the omission were referring to God’s holiness, power, or eternality, it would not only have been corrected immediately, but I think we can safely say it would never have been omitted. God would not be the God of Scripture if he were not all-powerful, all-knowing, holy, and, yes, perfect love.

Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield said, “The Shorter Catechism is, perhaps, not very easy to learn . . . Its framers were less careful to make it easy than to make it good. As one of them, Lazarus Seaman, explained, they sought to set down in it not the knowledge the child has, but the knowledge the child ought to have[6] (emphasis added). Even though its design and purpose are to train children and others in the Christian faith, Calvinists have seemingly deemed the lack of biblical declaration that “God is love” not to merit correction and, therefore, extraneous to their training.

Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is another significant doctrinal treatise for Calvinism, and it makes the same omission. My copy is 700 pages long, including 15 pages of verse citations, covering thousands of verses scattered throughout this tome, yet Calvin never cited 1 John 4:8, 6.[7]

[1] Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647), 1, accessed 9/12/23.

[2] Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647), 1, accessed 9/12/23.

[3] Extensivism believes God salvifically loves every person and has sufficiently supplied everything needed for them to exercise saving faith and experience an opportunity to believe or reject Christ; resultantly, every person can and should glorify God and enjoy him forever. The Westminster Confession does say of God that he is “most loving” and cites 1 John 4:8, 16 in footnote 43. However, it is the Shorter Catechism that is used to train millions of young people in the Christian faith.

[4] “What Exactly is the Westminster Shorter Catechism and Why Memorise It,” Banner of Truth, February 16, 2004, para. 2, accessed 9/12/23

[5] Approved anno 1648, by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, to be a directory for catechising such as are of weaker capacity, Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647), 1, accessed 9/12/23.

[6] Benjamin B. Warfield, “Is the Shorter Catechism Worth While?” para. 1, accessed 9/12/23

[7] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1997).

Ronnie W. Rogers