New Book on B. B. Warfield

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I just received my copy of B.B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought, edited by Gary Johnson.  Having read the introduction and perused the contents, I look forward to benefiting from this timely book.  Not only will this study introduce readers to the brilliant work of this titanic figure, but it also sheds light on current evangelical scholarship's insistence that we repeat the mistakes of former years.  Warfield died in 1921, but his erudite scholarly writings are most relevant today; indeed, one of the best things we can do with respect to current theological debates is to reground ourselves in the work of men like Warfield.

There are two big reasons to study Warfield today.  One is that we gain considerable understanding about today's post-modern hegemony by considering its polemic on giants of previous years.  David Calhoun's foreward cites the false charges leveled at Warfield: "that he was a scholastic theologian who hardened the doctrine of inspiration into a new concept of inerrancy; that he was a rationalist who minimized the noetic effects of sin and the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit; that he was an evidentialist who could not appreciate the importance of Christian presuppositions; and that he was an intellectualist without spiritual fervor" (p. xiii).  It is hard to imagine how anyone who has thoughtfully studied Warfield could come to such conclusions.

In this respect, the polemic against Warfield and his colleagues not only exposes the pitiful quality of current "scholarship", but it also reveals the hard edge of today's progressive theological wing.  Warfield supposedly "hardened" the doctrine of inspiration by simply reflecting carefully on the witness of Scripture.  He was a "rationalist," because he believed in exercising our reason with consistency.  Even though Warfield was described by one student as "the most Christ-like man that I have ever known," he must have been spiritually warped because he entered the fray of polemics with sword and trowel in hand.  In these regards, those who actually study the works of men like Warfield will become alarmed about the apparent agenda of those who would relegate the Warfields to the ash-heap of scholarship.  In so many ways, Warfield embarrasses all of us today, but he especially embarrasses those who would write off the era of "static theologians" that he represents.

The second reason we need to study Warfield is simply to gain competency for the issues at hand today.  I am reminded of Carl Trueman's comment regarding the advocates of today's "New Perspective on Paul," that their failure to understand Martin Luther with any kind of historical accuracy raises questions as to their overall credibility.  Likewise, unless we have mastered the biblical and theological arguments of men like John Owen and B. B. Warfield, then we are not likely to contribute things of value in the topics on which they wrote.  In increasing numbers of seminary classrooms, the course syllabi in biblical and systematic theology will reach back no more than ten or twenty years.  Students should ask their professors, "Why are we not reading Calvin, Owen, Hodge, and Warfield?"  Professors who reply that these "static" thinkers are no longer relevant to the scholarly conversation of today not only reveal their own shallowness but do a grave injustice to their students.

So I strongly recommend Gary Johnson's book on Warfield for all who wish to listen to the greats of the past before adding our own voices to the debate.  (I particularly commend Johnson's own chapter, in which he makes specific and pointed comments regarding the way Warfield's battle for the Bible is being refought today, and even how some who fly the banner of Old Princeton have in fact taken up the mantle of Warfield's chief, humanistic opponents.)  Moreover, the intellectually and spiritually uplifting quality of Warfield's thought will make this study a blessing to all who wish to educate their hearts and minds for service to the Lord. 
Posted July 24, 2007 @ 12:47 PM by Rick Phillips
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