Results tagged “Warfield” from Reformation21 Blog

Warfield, the Incarnation & Self-Sacrifice

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As was noted at the conclusion of the second part of this series, Warfield, in "The Example of the Incarnation," believes that there are four inferences to be drawn from the content of Phil. 2.5-8.

First, God is capable of self-sacrifice. If Christ is God, and Christ gave himself for us, then the conclusion naturally follows. I note in passing that some of Warfield's language in this section sits rather uneasily with the doctrine of divine impassibility: "Men tell us that God is, by the very necessity of His nature, incapable of passion, incapable of being moved by inducements from without...". Allowing for some generic flexibility, however--he is preaching a sermon, not writing a summa--we can understand that he does not seem to mean "passion" in the etymological sense of true passivity (God is surprised by something that comes to him from outside, which he is powerless to prevent and which he must suffer), but something more like a combination of our "emotion" with ethical action: God really does love and respond to creatures in need. 

Thus Warfield denies that God is "untouched by human sufferings or sorrows" and affirms--this should be noted by the monstrous regiment of those who accuse Calvinists of "voluntarism" and "nominalism"--that "moral heroism has a place within the sphere of the divine nature: we have Scriptural warrant for believing that, like the old hero of Zurich, God has reached out loving arms and gathered into His own bosom that forest of darts which otherwise had pierced ours." Further confirmation is found in what Warfield quotes to illustrate what he believes to be the opposite view: six lines of Tennyson's poem "Lucretius," where the gods (Warfield changes Tennyson's plural to the singular) haunt 

The lucid interspace of world and world,    105
Where never creeps a cloud, or moves a wind, 
Nor ever falls the least white star of snow, 
Nor ever lowest roll of thunder moans, 
Nor sound of human sorrow mounts to mar 
Their sacred everlasting calm! 

The view he is opposing, then, is the Epicurean one, where the gods, if they exist at all, exist far removed from the lives of men, about whom they care nothing at all. There is no providence; there is no divine love. For Warfield, in contrast, "the fundamental conception in the Christian idea of God is that God is love; and the fundamental dogma of the Christian religion is that God so loved us that He gave Himself for us." So, to reiterate: God is capable of self-sacrifice.

Second, we should apply this divine example to our own lives in imitation of Christ. For Warfield, "a life of self-sacrificing unselfishness is the most divinely beautiful that man can lead." The adverbial modifier is significant: there is something of the divine in the imitation of the most fully human life ever lived, something exalted in purposive humility. Christ is not only Savior; he is also model and exemplar. There is an important distinction to be noted in this connection. That is, what Warfield and Paul call their readers to is not self-devaluation, but self denial: "[I]t is not self-depreciation, but self-abnegation, that is...commended to us....[W]e must...not degrade ourselves but forget ourselves, and seek every man not his own things but those of others."

Warfield goes on to note that such an attitude is essential for all well-functioning, healthful human society, in both world and church--and this far more than the other "ideal of life" so regular in human affairs: 
We see its working on every side of us : in the competition of business life, -- in the struggle for wealth on the one side, forcing a struggle for bare bread on the other ; in social life, -- in the fierce battle of men and women for leading parts in the farce of social display ; even in the church itself, and among the churches, where, too, unhappily, arrogant pretension and unchristian self-assertion do not fail to find their temporal reward. But it is clear that this is not Christ's ideal, nor is it to this that He has set us His perfect example.
The divine ideal, rather, calls us to "self-forgetfulness and self-sacrifice," that is, to ministry, for Christ "by His ministry has glorified all ministering forever."

Third, such self-sacrifice is to be unlimited, both in terms of its depth vis-a-vis the individual and its breadth vis-a-vis the Christian society. With respect to the individual, the imitation of Christ's example is not restricted to only a part of our lives; it is not "some self-denial but all self-sacrifice" that is required. With respect to the Christian society, the imitation of Christ's example is not restricted to a specifically "religious" class of Christians, "but to all who would be Christ's servants." How can we say anything else when we reflect upon what God has done? "Into the immeasurable calm of the divine blessedness He permitted this thought to enter, 'I will die for men!'" Thus, when we apply this thought to ourselves, we are to say, "Let all thought of our dignity, our possessions, our rights, perish out of sight, when Christ's service calls to us."

Fourth, we should remember that this call is not to a life of morbidity; it is not an unnatural denial of human life (he again quotes Tennyson, this time from "St. Telemachus"). The life to which Christ calls the Christian "issues not in the destruction of the self, but only in the destruction of selfishness." Warfield memorably remarks that self-denial leads "not to unselfing ourselves, but to unselfishing ourselves." 

Equally importantly in our own day is Warfield's insistence that the self-denial Paul is after is not an exercise in self-cultivation. It is for the sake of others, not our own. The latter, for Warfield, is "ascetic, monkish." 
It concentrates our whole attention on self -- self-knowledge, self-control -- and can, therefore, eventuate in nothing other than the very apotheosis of selfishness. At best it succeeds only in subjecting the outer self to the inner self, or the lower self to the higher self; and only the more surely falls into the slough of self-seeking, that it partially conceals the selfishness of its goal by refining its ideal of self and excluding its grosser and more outward elements. Self-denial, then, drives to the cloister; narrows and contracts the soul; murders within us all innocent desires, dries up all the springs of sympathy, and nurses and coddles our self-importance until we grow so great in our own esteem as to be careless of the trials and sufferings, the joys and aspirations, the strivings and failures and successes of our fellow-men. Self-denial, thus understood, will make us cold, hard, unsympathetic, -- proud, arrogant, self-esteeming, -- fanatical, overbearing, cruel. It may make monks and Stoics, -- it cannot make Christians.
The above quotation is long, but it is worth pondering, particularly at a time when the so-called "Benedict Option" is receiving so much attention. "Self-sacrifice," Warfield says, "means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them." Our way in the world has nothing to do with lifestyle preference or the advertisement of the meticulously crafted self. Our way is to be the way of service; it is the way of the cross. For Christians, it is not one choice among many. It is the lofty call of the lowly Lord Jesus Christ, who, being God, "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." May that mind which was in Him be in us as well.
O God, who resistest the proud, and givest grace to the humble; Grant to us that true humility, whereof Thine only-begotten Son hath given in Himself an example to the faithful; that by our foolish pride we may never provoke Thine indignation, but receive the gifts of Thy grace in lowliness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen[1]


Notes:

[1] Book of Common Worship, pp.145-6.


Imitating the Incarnation?

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"'Christ our Example': after 'Christ our Redeemer,' no words can more deeply stir the Christian heart than these. Every Christian joyfully recognizes the example of Christ, as, in the admirable words of a great Scottisht commentator, a body 'of living legislation,' as 'law, embodied and pictured in a perfect humanity.' In Him, in a word, we find the moral ideal historically realized, and we bow before it as sublime and yearn after it with all the assembled desires of our renewed souls."

"Do we not rightly say that next to our longing to be in Christ is our corresponding longing to be like Christ; that only second in our hearts to His great act of obedience unto death by which He became our Saviour, stands His holy life in our world of sin, by which He becomes our example?"

Were a contemporary Reformed or evangelical writer to pen those sentences, he would stand a good chance of being accused of "moralism." But those are the words of B.B. Warfield. In this brief essay, his sermon "The Example of the Incarnation" (more recently reprinted as "Imitating the Incarnation"), preached in the chapel at Princeton Seminary on 8 January 1893, will serve to elucidate those elements that should guide our thinking about how we ought to live in response to the overcoming of sin and death by the Incarnate Christ.

Warfield takes as his text Philippians 2.5-8: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." After explicating what the text tells us about Christ in his estate of humiliation, Warfield goes on to say what it tells us about our own duties. This he structures around the motif of imitation, and, driven by the text in Philippians, particularly around the motif of imitation of Christ "in the great act of His incarnation itself." Care is obviously called for here: one does not imitate Christ in becoming a divine person hypostatically united to an assumed human nature, or by being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. But that, of course, is not what Warfield (or Paul) means. What he does mean will become clear in the following exposition.

Though Philippians 2.5-8 is rich with theological significance, Warfield warns that we must not "lose ourselves in a purely theological interest" in the passage. We should instead "seek to feel the force of the example of Christ as [Paul] here advances it, for the government of our lives." Warfield's reminder is salutary, because so often a "purely theological interest" can be employed precisely to avoid the divine address and confrontation that is part and parcel of the sanctified reading of Scripture. To "feel the force of the example of Christ," we must first understand what the passage says about Christ himself. Here there are three main points. 

  1. Christ is God Himself; this is the force of Paul's saying that Christ had the "form of God," a manner of speaking "first given general vogue by the Aristotelian philosophy." Modern readers might be tempted to think that the phrase means that Christ was only a pretend God, only seemed to be God, when in fact Paul's meaning is the opposite. Christ's full deity thus underlines the stunning character of his voluntary humility: "It is not the abstract conception that Christ is God that moves us to our deepest admiration for His sublime act of self-sacrifice: but rather our concrete realization that He was all that God is, and had all that God has,--that God's omnipotence was His, His infinite exaltation, His unapproachable blessedness." It is from this lofty state that Christ came in the fullness of time. 
  2. The second thing we should note is the action of this divine person, the Son made flesh. That action is servanthood. The divine person of the Son did not change his divine nature in becoming incarnate; he assumed--took to himself in addition--a human nature hypostatically united to his divine person; he took "an actually servile nature, as well as of a subordinate station and a servant's work." Christ's servanthood too was real rather than pretend: this one who had the "form of God" for our sakes took the "form of a servant."
  3. The third item to be noted is Christ's spirit in doing so: a spirit of "pure unselfishness and self-sacrifice." In his incarnate person and work, we see Christ "making no account of himself." This is a point to which Warfield gives great stress, because it has import for how Christians are to imitate the Incarnation: "[T]he emphasis of the passage is thrown upon the spirit of self-sacrificing unselfishness as the impelling cause of Christ's humiliation, which the Apostle adduces here in order that the sight of it may impel us also to take no account of ourselves, but to estimate lightly all that we are or have in comparison with the claims of others on our love and devotion." Note the application: we engage in mimesis of the Incarnation not by an overrealized ecclesiology that sees the church as (somehow) continuing the Incarnation on earth, not by a disordered notion of the totus Christus so appealing to those who long for divine mystery and majesty in an otherwise humdrum life. It is rather through something much more homely, much less exciting, much less appealing to our projects of the self that we are so inclined to embark upon--and therefore much less likely to induce us to put the stress in the wrong place and transform the Christian life into an exercise in self-cultivation. We imitate (not "continue") the Incarnation by considering ourselves of no account and considering all others as more important than ourselves. Paul's goal is one that is at once (paradoxically) lofty and lowly, and self-evidently more difficult to reach than the ecclesiological version. Reflection on what the Apostle says in this passage should drive us to our knees in repentance for our manifest failure even to approximate having the "mind...which was also in Christ Jesus" in our daily practice, and to recall the reason for Christ's divine mission that we saw in the first installment: to save us from our sins, and to restore us so that we may die to them more and more, and live more and more to God. Only so, with the Spirit's help, can we begin down the path Paul sets out in Philippians 2.5-8.
Though we have already been given an indication of how the previous three points cash out for us, Warfield goes on more precisely to delineate the inferences that should be drawn from these truths. We shall look at those in the final post. 

Warfield on the Incarnation

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Cur Deus homo? "Why did God become a man?," Anselm asked. This is a question that has exercised theologians for hundreds of years, with the canonical materials receiving their first deep and searching analysis in Athanasius' On the Incarnation of the Word of God. The question received new urgency after the rise of a school of thought that held that the Incarnation would have occurred regardless of the fall of man in Eden--because creation itself, teleological as it is, seemed to demand it. What nearer manifestation of God could man have had than for God to dwell among us? And how could man have possessed happiness fully without him so dwelling? If the perfection of created nature can only be achieved through its close union with God, the Incarnation, it may seem, would have occurred whether or not man sinned. And yet the Scriptural witness runs in precisely the opposite direction. Is there any way to hold that witness together with what many have felt to be the goal of creation as such? Should we want to?

We can get some help from Benjamin B. Warfield, whose brief essay "The Principle of the Incarnation," first published in 1900 in The Bible Student, is a lucid treatment of these issues.

So, first: the issue of the Scriptural witness. The testimony of the New Testament is nearly unanimous that what Warfield calls the "motive" for the Incarnation was soteriological rather than ontological: the Incarnation as presented in the New Testament sprang from the need of man as wrecked and undone by sin rather than from the need of man as such. 

One can easily assure himself that this is the case by a perusal of both the Johannine and the Pauline writings. Warfield's comment on "For God so loved the world..." can be taken as a summary: "The emphasis thrown upon this teaching in the great passage, John iii. 16sq., indeed, is so intense as to be almost oppressive: the gift of God's Son is accounted for, it is intimated, only by the intensity of His love for the perishing world, and it is added with explicit iteration, that God sent the Son into this sinful world only 'that the world might be saved through Him.'" Elsewhere in the essay Warfield refers to this love as God's "Holy Love," which he calls God's "consummate attribute," the fierce, invincible, leonine love that purposes to rescue those who would sooner spit in the face of God with head held high than beg for mercy on bended knee. This Holy Love of God, that is, takes form soteriologically, as a response to man's suicide; thus Warfield calls sin the "proximate occasion" of the Incarnation and redemption its "prime end." The "principle of the Incarnation" is found "in the provision of a remedy for human sin." Its proximate cause cannot be found "either ontologically or ethically in God, or in the nature of the Logos as Revealer, or in the idea of creation, or yet in the created product and especially man as made capable of receiving God and therefore not finding his true end until he is raised to union with Him."

What, then, of seeing in the Incarnation the consummation of creation, the answer to man's longing for fullness of being in union with God? Is it to be dismissed as just so much pious pantheistic nonsense, a contentless romantic longing to be swallowed up by the Absolute in the ecstasy of an overindulged and malformed aesthetic sensibility? To be sure, it could take this form, and probably often does. But it need not--and anyway, abusus non tollit usum; and Warfield is surprisingly candid in his endorsement of the partial truth of what advocates of "Incarnation anyway" (I borrow the phrase from the title of a recent book by Edwin Chr. van Driel) propose--of the deep insight regarding the chief end of man that they want to protect. Warfield remarks that "[t]he Incarnation is so stupendous an event that it is big with consequences and reaches out on every side to relations that may even seem at first glance to stand in opposition to its fundamental principle." He goes on:
It is certainly true that all that is, is the product of the hand of God, and has, as coming from Him, somewhat of God in it, and may well be looked upon as a vehicle of the Divine. And surely it is true that He has imprinted Himself upon the work of His fingers; and that as the Author of all, He will not be content with the product of His power, until it has been made to shadow forth all His perfections: and it cannot be wrong to say that so far as we can see it is only in an Incarnation that He could manifest Himself perfectly to His creatures. Similarly the Logos as the Revealer must be supposed to desire to make known to the sentient creation all that God is, and preeminently the height and depth and length and breadth of that love of His which passes knowledge, and which assuredly lies at the base of the Incarnation and was its impulsive cause. And above all it cannot be doubted that it is only in the union with God which is the result of Christ's incarnated work, that man attains his true destiny--the destiny designed for him from the beginning of the world and without which in prospect as the goal set for His creatures by the Holy Love which God is, so far as we can see, man never would have been created at all. There is scarcely a mode in which the absolute necessity of the Incarnation has been asserted, indeed, which cannot be perceived to involve an element of truth which it would not be well to permit to slip from our cognizance.
Again:
No one doubts that "the Gospel" is embodied in creation itself, and that, as the Scriptures teach, it was "in the Son of His love" that "all things were created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers," that "all things have been created through Him and unto Him" and that He is therefore the goal to which all creations tends.

I have quoted Warfield at some length, because readers may be startled at how far he is willing to go to meet the partisans of "Incarnation anyway." But how does one square these affirmations with Holy Scripture's insistence that the occasion and end of the Incarnation were sin and redemption?

Warfield finds the solution in the "order of the decrees," something that perhaps on first glance sounds stridently Calvinist and therefore catholically useless--so goes the assumption of fuzzy ecumenical thinking. That is to say, the decree of Incarnation follows in God's plan as a consequence of the fall. Note what this allows Warfield to do, viz., to view the Incarnation as both predestined to occur before the creation of the world (in keeping with suprlapsarian Christology) and as contingent (in keeping with the infralapsarianism indicated by the apostolic witness). Therefore the world--this world, the world we live in--was created with both fall and Incarnation in view, and so it would make sense for us to be able to see traces of the divine counsel respecting man's fall and man's restoration by the God-man bodied forth in creation itself. "It can be truly said," Warfield says, "that the Incarnation was contemplated and provided for in creation itself and we may seek to discover and trace the provisions for it made in creation." The divine plan included redemption from the beginning, and it can therefore be seen to be indicated in creation itself as we know it (we should not be surprised at the close connection between creation and redemption; the history of redemption is the true history of postlapsarian creation, after all). God governs the universe absolutely, and creates in accord with his own sovereign plan and purpose. For that reason, the world that he has made--again, this world--reflects that purpose. The Incarnation is part of that purpose, and therefore the world as we know it reflects the Incarnation. "To such a God," says Warfield, "there belongs of necessity an all-inclusive plan for the government of the universe; and He contemplates this in all its parts from the depths of eternity: and in the unity and completeness of this plan the fall too will take its place, and the Incarnation as contingent upon it, but not therefore in any way uncertain of occurrence,--towards which therefore the whole creation may move."

What Warfield means, I think, is that God planned and saw omnisciently all that would occur before he created anything at all; and the world that he then made was the theater in which the great events of his mighty hand and outstretched arm were to occur. What kind of theater would it be if it did not have a set coherent with the action of the play? When we know how to look at it in the right way, the set gives us clues as to the story being told. And just as the set finds fulfillment only when the right story is played out against its backdrop, so our world only finally makes sense when seen in light of the unfolding of the history of redemption, and particularly of the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection.

Finally, the predication of the Incarnation upon the fall is for Warfield not only true because it is the Scriptural scheme; affectively it answers to something deep in the bones of our faith. His witness here is the Seraphic Doctor: "And surely we may say with Bonaventura, that even if some other opinion of the motive and end of Christ's coming into the world seemed to us more consonant with the rational judgment, it would nevertheless be this [that is, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners] that would commend itself to the Christian heart,--'because it more ardently kindles the affection of faith.'" "Only so," Warfield concludes, "is the answering love of the saved sinner drawn out to its full height." In part 2, then, we will look at the way in which the Incarnation functions as an example for the redeemed sinner.



Concern for the prodigal son

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Doing a little study this afternoon, I came across this illuminating section from B. B. Warfield on the parable of the prodigal son, and the danger of make it a definitive statement of the gospel. Given the parable's present popularity as a sort of quintessential gospel declaration and its presentation as a governing paradigm for our understanding, it is worth pondering. It is also noteworthy for containing, in the second paragraph, the sort of truly tortuous sentence of perfectly correct English that caused Churchill to scribble this note on a civil service paper: "This is the sort of writing up with which I will not put!"
Indeed, we may even say that the universal admiration the parable commands has finished by becoming in some quarters a little excessive. The message which the parable brings us is certainly a great one. To lost sinners like you and me, assuredly few messages could appeal with more overwhelming force. Our hearts are wrung within us as we are made to realize that our Father in heaven will receive our wandering souls back with the joy with which this father in the parable received back his errant son. But it is an exaggeration to represent this message as all the Gospel, or even as the core of the Gospel; and to speak of this parable therefore, as it has become widely common to speak of it, as "the Gospel in the Gospel," or even as the summation of the Gospel. It is not that. There are many truths which it has no power to teach us that are essential to the integrity of the Gospel: nay, the very heart of the Gospel is not in it. And, therefore, precious as this parable is to us, and priceless as is its message, there are many other passages of Scripture more precious still, because their message enters more deeply into the substance of the Gospel. Take this passage for example: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have ever lasting life." Or this passage: "God, being rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, quickened us together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with Him and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus." Or even this short passage: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost." All these are more precious passages than the parable of the lost son, not merely because they tell us more fully what is contained in the Gospel, but because they uncover to us, as it does not, what lies at the heart of the Gospel.

It is important that we should recognize this. For the exaggerated estimate which has been put upon this parable has borne bitter fruit in the world. Beginning with an effort to read into it all the Gospel, or at least the essence of the Gospel, it has ended by reading out of the Gospel all that is not in the parable. And thus this parable, the vehicle of a priceless message, has been transformed into the instrument of a great wrong. The worst things are often the corruption of the best: and the attempt to make the parable of the lost son the norm of the Gospel has resulted, I will not say merely in the curtailment of the Gospel, - I will say rather in the evisceration of the Gospel. On this platform there take their stand today a growing multitude the entire tendency and effect of all of whose efforts it is to eliminate from Christianity all that gives it value in the world, all that makes it that religion which has saved the world, and to reduce it to the level of a merely natural religion. "The Christianity of the prodigal son is enough for us," they declare: and they declare this with gusto because, to put it briefly, they do not like the Christianity of the Bible or the Christianity of Christ, and are happy not to find them in the parable of the lost son.
Warfield goes on to consider what is missing and what is present. Those interested can obtain this outstanding little book of sermons from the Banner of Truth (Amazon.com/Westminster).

The Man of Joy

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If creation provides the basic mold filled by redemptive re-creation (Is 45:18; Rev 7:9; 1 Cor 15:45), and if human fathers with their children, however finitely or imperfectly, image God as the Father of His children (Matt 7:11; Heb 12:7), then many who have welcomed a new life into the world--as I had the tremendous joy of doing last week--have perhaps experienced a faint replica of the joy of heaven as countless chosen sons are reborn and brought to glory (Luke 15:7; Is 62:5). 

Of course, even the highest earthly joys can hang by a thread. The same hospital delivery room has seen many tears of heartache, too. But the Christian's joy, present by faith now (2 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:8) but one day destined to be full by sight (Ps 16:11; Matt 25:21), is everlasting.  Bound up with our eternal inheritance, the joy that flows from the exalted Christ to the saved sinner is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Pet 1:4).  It is the kind of joy that the Spirit infused into Christ's human soul when He contemplated His Father's saving wisdom (Luke 10:21). And it is the kind of joy that sustained Christ's earthly pilgrimage precisely because, as Warfield writes, "He came as a conqueror with the gladness of the imminent victory in his heart."  This joy of the Savior, he goes on to say,

"was not the shallow joy of mere pagan delight in living, nor the delusive joy of a hope destined to failure; but the deep exultation of a conqueror setting captives free. This joy underlay all his sufferings and shed its light along the whole thorn-beset path which was trodden by his torn feet. We hear but little of it, however, as we hear but little of his sorrows: the narratives are not given to descriptions of the mental states of the great actor whose work they illustrate. We hear just enough of it to assure us of its presence underlying and giving its color to all his life. If our Lord was 'the Man of Sorrows,' he was more profoundly still 'the Man of Joy.'" (Warfield, The Emotional Life of our Lord)

Speaking of sorrow and joy, which dimension of Christian living is the more profound among the Christians you know?


Inerrancy From the Resurrection

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In light of Prof. von Hoffman's stunning (but all too familiar) revisionist historiography, I thought it might be helpful to highlight an argument for the inerrancy of Scripture that I had not heard until Warfield--who else?--brought it to my attention:

"[Jesus'] testimony is that whatever stands written in Scripture is a word of God.  Nor can we evacuate this testimony of its force on the plea that it represents Jesus only in the days of his flesh, when He may be supposed to have reflected merely the opinions of His day and generation.  The view of Scripture He announces was, no doubt, the view of his day and generation as well as His own view.  But there is no reason to doubt that it was held by Him, not because it was the current view, but because, in His Divine-human knowledge, He knew it to be true; for even in His humiliation, He is the faithful and true witness.  And in any event we should bear in mind that this was the view of the resurrected as well as the of the humiliated Christ.  It was after He had suffered and had risen again in the power of His Divine life that He pronounced those foolish and slow of heart who do not believe all that stands written in the Scriptures (Luke 24:25); and that He laid down the simple 'Thus it is written' as the sufficient ground of confident belief (Luke 24:46)." (B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, pp. 143-44; my emphasis).

Not only does Jesus in his earthly ministry refer to every portion of the Old Testament, from Genesis to the prophets, as inviolable truth.  In Luke 24, the resurrected Christ claims to have fulfilled the constraints placed upon him by the entire scope of Scripture.  To the degree we diminish the inerrancy of Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, with appeals to "he-was-a-man-of-his-times" reasoning, to that extent we detract from the trustworthiness and biblically-conceived significance of the resurrected Lord.      

Hunting with a Lion

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Now that B. B. Warfield's theology is back on the scene with Fred Zaspel's The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway), I thought I'd point out a few comments by the Lion of Princeton in his Collected Works on the faithful and fearless John Calvin. What struck me this week was Warfield's assessment of what made Calvin tick, what drove his most profound theological reflection, what conditioned all of his work at Geneva, and what suffused his every religious impulse with devotional fire.


What was it for Calvin that, according to Warfield, "did not stand for him out of relation to his religious consciousness" but was essentially given "in his experience of salvation itself"? What was that "great and inspiring reality" that situated "his profoundest religious emotions"? Was it the compelling narrative of Scripture? A renewed cosmos to come? Small groups?!? No, for Calvin, it was that vital and mysterious truth that we worship one absolute God in three Persons.


Now I confess, I wouldn't instinctively place the doctrine of the Trinity at the center of a church growth strategy. But Calvin knew something we too often don't remember; namely, that God as Trinity permeates and conditions all that is genuinely Christian, including church worship, prayers, providence, salvation, Scripture, sacraments, preaching, and, indeed, all of life and creation.


So 400 years from now, what would an observer say is the ultimate conviction of your (or your pastor's) ministry? What truth undergirded each sermon, Sunday School lesson, or session meeting? Of course, I'm not advocating tossing out words like "hypostases" or "perichoresis" from the pulpit each week. But let us increasingly yearn to become self-consciously Trinitarian in the deepest fibers of our being in order that we might better know and commune with the only God who is.