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5 Stars Out Of 5
Helpful book for the Gospel-centered movement
May 7, 2012
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was a professor of Theology at Princeton Seminary from 1887 to 1921. He is rightly considered one of the greatest if not the greatest American born theologians America ever produced. B.B. Warfield's ministry continues to influence evangelicals today through the work he did across a variety of theological topics, but in particular his well-known work on the doctrine of Scripture and the person and work of Christ. B.B. Warfield is considered the last of the great Princeton theologians and the Lion of Princeton Seminary.
In the past two years Dr. Zaspel has written The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary and now Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel (Theologians on the Christian Life). Warfield on the Christian Life takes some of the material from Dr. Zaspel's previous work and places it within this book, but what's different about Warfield on the Christian Life is that its sole focus is on the Gospel while The Theology of B.B. Warfield seeks to examine the totality Warfield's theology.
One of the greatest needs for Christians today to understand is how their faith is not new but tied to other Christians who lived in real history. Modern Christians often only read contemporary authors which means they don't understand how Christians from the past have thought about the Christian life and doctrine from a time different than their own. While today's Christian has access to dozens of resources what they lack is an understanding of church history. Understanding church history is very important for contemporary Christians because the same theological and doctrinal battles continue to repeat themselves throughout the history of the Church. Contemporary Christians must understanding church history in order to contend, defend and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. Understanding church history is especially important for discipleship as it helps Christians to understand their place within the redemptive history of God's people.
In this new series of books titled Theologians on the Christian Life series editors Stephen J. Nichols and Justin Taylor seek to fill a need for contemporary Christians by helping them to "Explore the many rooms in the mansion of church history" (11). This series promises to "Explore many different places, times, models, approaches and emphasizes" (11). This series, "Aims to help us in the present to listen to the past in order to live the Christian life" (11).
In this first volume of this series, Dr. Zaspel in Warfield on the Christian Life examines the background and thought of B.B. Warfield, then turns to examine his beliefs about Scripture, redemption, conversion, the Holy Spirit, sanctification, and living in response to the Gospel.
In the past five years or more there has been scores of books written on what the Gospel is, and how Christians are to live out the Christian life but what is missing in the current Gospel-centered movement is an understanding of what the Church has taught on the Gospel in the last two thousand years. Dr. Zaspel's newest book examining the thinking of B.B. Warfield will help those involved in the current Gospel-centered movement to understand what one of the best theologians in Church history thought about the Gospel. While some may disagree with B.B. Warfield on various points, I believe all evangelicals will find as I have that B.B. Warfield is a trusted theologian for a reason as his mind and heart were thoroughly saturated in the Word of God and enflamed by the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I whole-heartedly recommend you get a copy of Warfield on the Christian Life and look for other books in this series as they are published by Crossway in order to understand the places and times different from our own along with the different models, approaches and emphases taken by well-known Christians throughout the history of the Church.
Title: Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel (Theologians on the Christian Life)
Author: Fred G. Zaspel
Publisher: Crossway (2012)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
First of all, if all of the books in this series are as good as Warfield on the Christian Life we have a lot to look forward to. The series takes theologians who balanced doctrinally rich study with evangelical Christian living and presents them to us an approachable and devotional format. There was such depth to what Warfield said when he talked about topics ranging from the Holy Spirit to the work of Christ to our sanctification. So many pop evangelicals pit evangelical living against studying doctrine but church history and Warfield, more recently, shows us this divide is artificial, rather they are passionately intertwined. As a matter of fact, after reading Warfield on the Christian Life I would argue if you lack one then you have neither.
The Holy Spirit
Of particular interest was how rich Warfield's understanding of the Holy Spirit was. He often gets a bad wrap within the Reformed resurgence for not understanding the richness of the Holy Spirit but I dare say the folks who make this claim have never read Warfield thoroughly. He argues explicitly for the supernatural nature of Christianity against the naturalism of his day. He also insists God can step in to human time if he sovereignly chooses. But the passion with which he speaks about the Holy Spirit's love for us is astounding. Zaspel begins by setting the stage
But to draw comfort from this clearly revealed truth--that the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, loves us also--this is too seldom the experience of the believer. But here it is for us, Warfield admonishes, intended for our use in just this way (cf. Rom. 15:30). And what a glorious thought it is, [Warfield says]
that the Spirit of all holiness is willing to visit such polluted hearts as ours, and even to swell in them, to make them His home, to work ceaselessly and patiently with them, gradually wooing them--through many groanings and many trials--to slow and tentative efforts toward good; and never leaving them until, through His constant grace, they have been won entirely to put off the old man and put on the new man and to stand new creatures before the face of their Father God and their Redeemer Christ. Surely herein is love! . . . [and] what immense riches of comfort and joy this great truth has in it for our souls! (p. 88)
Does this sound like a man who lacked an intimate understanding and relationship with the Spirit of God?
A Prophetic Voice for Our Current Evangelical Kerfuffle
The other astounding thing to me was how relevant and timely many of the issues he spoke about are for us today. The book is filled with highlighted passages where Warfield, you would have thought, was speaking directly to many of our current evangelical kerfuffles. The important thing to note is how when one passionately and faithfully expounds Scripture the need to over contextualize disappears. I fear so much of what passes for orthodox theology today will be worthless in 10 years because it's over contextualized instead of overloaded with gospel truth which is timeless. Just to give you a taste:
Christianity is not first about our reaching out to God. It is about his coming to us in grace, making himself know to us, his sinful creatures, in order to restore us to fellowship with himself. It is to this end that God has spoken. Thus, Christianity is a creedal, or doctrinal, religion. It is much more than that, of course, but is a creedal religion at the very least and at its foundation. God comes first and foremost with a message to proclaim. It is a religion grounded in and advanced by the proclamation of divinely revealed truth. And a right understanding of that message is fundamental to all that it offers. The rescue it promises come to us as this message is embraced, and our deepening acquaintance with this message advances the comforts and blessings it affords . . . .
Warfield warns that to be indifferent to Christian doctrine is, simply, to be indifferent to Christianity itself. . . . [A]ll Christian theology is itself "directly and richly evangelically devotional." . . . And throughout his writings the doctrine he expounds is consistently an exercise of and an expression of devotion to Christ. Communion with God is not a mere feeling for him. It is the experience of God himself, rightly--even if not fully--understood. And the Christian life, more broadly considered, is but the enjoyment of Christian truth rightly understood and gratefully experienced. (pp. 38-39, 40)
It's this kind of zeal for doctrine experienced evangelically and devotionally which struck me most forcefully when reading this book. Warfield cared about getting doctrine right because he cared about the gospel and knowing more about God.
An Appreciation of Our Fathers
I've said on multiple occasions on this blog that one of the things that's missing most in evangelicalism today is an understanding of historical theology. If you understand the rich evangelical fervor which doctrine and deep gospel truths have sprung from then you cannot have an aversion to doctrine. We also have a tendency to think that the issues we face today are unique to us but we fail to heed Solomon's admonition that nothing is new under the sun. How much would we benefit from sitting down with Warfield and allowing him to teach us about Christ? I dare say more than reading the majority of evangelical rubbish that's written today. Therefore, do not hesitate to purchase this book. The writing style is approachable and you do not need a masters of divinity to access these truths. Warfield on the Christian Life would make a fantastic small group study tool, devotional, or discipleship resource for young believers. Zaspel has provided us with an invaluable resource.
"Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel" by Fred G. Zaspel is an informative and helpful book for those seeking to integrate what the Bible says into their everyday lives. The subject of this particular work is the writings of B. B. Warfield, a 19th century professor at Princeton University who was known as one of America's premier theologians. His many writings, especially The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible put him on the theological map and continue to set the standard for robust, Biblical belief even in our day.
The book itself is fairly brief (231 pages) and is divided up into a number of topics which build upon one another to form a comprehensive theology of the Christian life. I greatly appreciated Zaspel's introductory biography which gives a feel for a man who is not simply some ivory tower intellectual, but is also a real man who has real desires for everyday people to understand God's Word. As well, Warfield's absolute love and devotion to his perpetually ill wife was both moving and instructive for a man who is well known for his productivity. "It was reported by those who knew him that â€˜he has had only two interests in life - his work, and Mrs. Warfield'" (p.29). What a wonderful summary of a faithful man.
I was especially taken by the various quotations of Warfield that appear as vignettes throughout the book - while his longer quotations are imminently helpful, little one or two sentence quotations appear often and let us delve into the depth of wisdom that Warfield possessed. Such thoughts as "Gentlemen, I like the supernatural!" (p.19) and "We cannot do without the Scriptures; having them we need no other guide. We need this light to light our pathway; having it we may well dispense with any other" (p.43) provide insight not just into the man himself - though they do this; not just into Warfield's views on theology - but also they point us towards robust, Biblical thinking which is the greatest value of this book.
One of the more helpful topics that is broached in the book is the meaning of Christianity itself, which Zaspel notes that Warfield characterizes as a "sinner's religion" (p.51). What a great comfort this is - that our faith and religion are not meant for the perfect, for those who have their lives all put together, but instead our faith is rooted in Jesus Christ who knows full well our infirmities and yet still died to save all who believe!
Regarding our standing before God, Zaspel shows us via Warfield's thoughts in chapter 5 that the Gospel "is not good advice, but good news" (p.63). This leads into a helpful discussion on our salvation by grace alone and the resulting implications of God as not only King, but also righteous Judge. Later in the chapter Zaspel reprints Warfield's thoughts on salvation in that "the whole of salvation, â€˜in each of its steps and stages, runs back to God as its author and furtherer'" (p.66).
I found Warfield's definition of repentance to be a breath a fresh air in our society which shuns any sort of personal responsibility for the wrongs that we commit and thus any need to change our course of life: "repentance is turning â€˜from all wrong to all good, in which the trend of our life is altered, in which in a word, we turn our backs on Satan and all the works of the flesh, and our face to God and his service. The repentance of the New Testament is a total change of mind and heart, not only from some sins but from sin itself.'" (p.76).
Too, Warfield's comments on God's sovereignty and providence are hopeful: "The world may be black to us; there may no longer be hope in man; anguish and trouble may be our daily portion; but there is this light that shines through all the darkness: â€˜We cannot be robbed of God's providence'" (p.140).
I found the most helpful parts of the book to reside near the end. On the religious life, Warfield has the following to say: "sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. â€˜What!' is the appropriate response_why should you turn from God when your turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?" and again: "Do we wish to grow in grace? It is the knowledge of God's truth that sanctifies the heart_There is no way so potent for awakening a craving for personal holiness or for arousing a love of souls in our hearts, as to fill the mind with a knowledge of God's love to man as revealed in his Holy Book" (p.163-164).
If there are any downfalls in this book then they are certainly minor in comparison to bringing Warfield's solidly Biblical thoughts to a larger audience. As with Zaspel's previous work, I found myself wishing for more quotes from Warfield himself and less of Zaspel's commentary on Warfield. But the more that I think of it, I'm not sure this is a fair charge to make so much as an unavoidable shortfall to be aware of. Zaspel is summarizing a massive amount of literature into a single, reasonably accessible work and to do this he must restate some of Warfield's thought in other words. This comment, though, should be taken in a helpful light: let this summary of Warfield drive us to the works of the man himself. And let us not end there, but let the words of Warfield drive us to the Scriptures themselves and to the God who is revealed in them!
Quibbles aside, I found this book to be a helpful one for those who wish to taste of the deep well of B. B. Warfield. Far be it for any to describe Warfield himself as a dry and dusty theologian after reading through and hearing his heart on the Christian life. Take up and read and you will find that the effort is well worth it to replenish your mind and to enable you to give God-honoring service with your life.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I wish to note that the publisher of this book, Crossway, provided it to me at no cost as a review sample. That said, my review is in no way influenced or controlled by them and thus I write my review of this book with honesty and integrity.)