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B. B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought Paperback – June 8, 2007
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"For Warfield, the heart of both theology and active religion was the glory of God, who rescued sinful humans from self-imposed destruction and who enabled them to share his work of the kingdom in every sphere of life, including the natural world. . . . It is that theology, and the man who held it, that are opened up in an unusually helpful way by the[se] chapters. . . ." --Mark A . Noll, from the introduction
"B. B. Warfield is one of the most important figures in American church history. He is also one of the most neglected. This volume will do much to enhance our understanding of this great theologian and the context in which he labored." --Kim Riddlebarger
"The authors provide biographical background, intellectual context, and theological survey. They also skillfully chart Warfield's influence on later evangelicals. This book will assist us in recapturing a theologian whom we need to know again." --Sean Michael Lucas
About the Author
Mark A. Noll is McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, Illinois, and the author and editor of many bestselling books and articles, including "Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind," and "A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada," His most recent book is "Protestants in America," In 1998 he inaugurated the McDonald Family Visiting Chair in Evangelical Theological Studies at the Harvard Divinity School.
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The book starts out by introducing the family of Warfield, especially the maternal side and on his grandfather, Robert Jefferson Breckinridge. This is an interesting read and frankly unexpected. But this sets the book into context, Warfield’s heroic defence against the attacks from the liberals was not something that just came up. His rich history has made him into who he was. Furthermore, one might not have expected that for someone who’s now called the “Lion of Princeton” to have joined Princeton against his parents and relative’s decision.
Following which, the apologetics of Warfield was considered. This was to answer some critiques that was made against Warfield, to be an rationalist apologist. Paul Helseth shows well that Warfield use of reason is never above his fundamental belief in the scripture.
The next 2 chapters, are rather alike, which is a mystery. Both chapters highlights just about the same points as each other, and both explains that Warfield’s doctrine of Scripture, specifically Inspiration and Inerrancy is not what many might have assumed. Both chapters seek to show readers just that, by using a close reading of Warfield, allowing us to have a clearer and more accurate picture of what Warfied himself believed and defended against.
The next chapter talked about Warfield’s effort against slavery. Warfield’s upbringing had taught him to be familiar with the treatment that the slaves has had. His own grandfather had once mis-treated a slave, and who was in turn severely punished by his mother. Warfield had tried rather unsuccessfully, to abolish the rule that forbids the black to occupy key position in church. More importantly, it was clearly shown that these were not driven solely due to his family history, but more fundamental based on Warfield’s understanding of God’s Word. This remains to be a important point that would be repeated several times within the book.
Lastly, the last 2 chapters showed the differences and similarities between Warfield and his protege, Machen; and also the controversy Warfield had with Charles Briggs.
This book is not for the faint-hearted. This book is loaded with footnotes and will require focus to slowly read through the various essays on warfield. What I found was that it seemed to be rather lopsided in it’s presentation. Warfield’s doctrine of Scripture is often alluded, however if I do not remember wrongly, Christology was the topic Warfield wrote on the most. It is striking that not much is spoken about in this book.
Given the content of this book, I would have to recommend others to newer books like “Warfield on the Christian Life” for a easier introduction on Warfield. But, for those who intent to do a serious study on Warfield, this alongside with “The Theology of B. B. Warfield” would be a good resource for the motivated scholar.
Beside William Cunningham, R. L. Dabney and B. B. Warfield are my two favorite theological critics. Their compositional tones are not similar, however. That of the first is hot and nerving, while that of the second is warm and calming. Apart from the burning in his heart for God’s word, I do not know what caused Dabney’s pages to take fire. As for Warfield’s gentle flame, it had something more than divine influence for its cause. His grandfather on his mother’s side, a theologian who had studied at Princeton, was temperamental, and always embroiled in controversy. Warfield inherited that temper, was admonished about it by his mother, and decided to do all that he could to triumph over it (pp. 25, 48, 50, 207.) This grandfather, incidentally, is the second most interesting character in this book. His indignant stand against the Roman Catholic Church is more commendable than the charming tone of Charles Hodge (pp. 39-41.) Like Lloyd-Jones of more recent history, he advocated for a tighter union between the seminary and local churches; in other words, his opinion was that professors should be experienced in the pastoral charge in order to ground ‘ivory tower scholarship’ in the surrounding culture (pp. 41, 42, 47.) This pedagogic approach need not be anti-intellectual. Readers of Warfield’s works, however, are quite okay with the fact that he was an ‘academic theologian.’ Only, he did lack, as Francis Landey Patton pointed out, “the clarion tones of impassioned oratory” (p. 47.) It is strange for Patton to say that this kind of speech was unnatural to him, though, and in the next breath say that Warfield deliberately kept his passion down in order to avoid being like his grandfather (p. 48.) It was a mistake, I think, a sinful over-reaction for Warfield to suppress his passion as much as he did. If Old Princeton had copied R. J. Breckinridge more, and Charles Hodge less, New Princeton Liberalism might never have come to be. That is my own uneducated opinion from the data presented here, not that of any writer in this compilation.
Bradley J. Gundlach’s “B” is for Breckinridge yields insight into the formation of a great scholar’s character and work. It contains, as well, many of those incidental remarks from the past that shed light on the situation in our own times. Are our churches not filled with ‘premature, superficial, half-converted professors’? (p. 24.) It is generous to call them as much as that, is it not? Revivalist methods are the cause of this now even more than they were the cause of the same in the 1830’s. The ‘anxious seats’ of then are the ‘altar calls’ of today. Memberships were granted too hastily back then; we are hasty to do that and more: baptizing and giving full communion to sinners that we’ve never seen or even heard about before the unfortunate day of admission.
The only other essay out of the nine that may be highly ranked is the only other one by Gundlach: “Wicked Caste”: Warfield, Biblical Authority, and Jim Crow. This wonderfully balanced essay sets out to show and prove that Warfield was ahead of his time on the color question, as were some of his immediate progenitors. Warfield’s grandfather and Great-Uncle William seem to have had the best idea for inherited slaves: gradual emancipation into Liberia (pp. 44, 141.) Though man-stealing does not come up in this research as a sin acknowledged by the slave owners mentioned, emancipation into the continent of origin might have been the right remedy for it. This was not done in a wholesale manner by the Warfield clan, though. B. B. was raised in a household among slaves (p. 143.) As with his essay on Warfield’s maternal kin, this one contains historical remarks that reflect the situation we face today. The comment from 1887 by Samuel Ellis Wishard is working itself out like a prophecy would. “If we are recreant to our trust God will take care of these poor helpless ones, but possibly in a way that may grind us to powder” (p. 153.)
B. B. Warfield, Essays on his Life and Thought has more facts and church politics in it than life and depth. The writing styles of the contributors are not outstanding. The tone is neither flat nor inflammatory. And the Index I found unhelpful every time I fell back on it. There are pleasant surprises in the essay collection, as I have underlined, even a pretty decent poem by the Subject on page 166. I moderately recommend the book.