- Paperback: 184 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (June 22, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0830827447
- ISBN-13: 978-0830827442
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #401,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God
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"Here is a winsome book, a lucid book, a consolidative book!" (Kenneth J. Stewart, Presbyterion, Spring 2011)
"This is a serious and well researched piece of writing, written at the pastoral and applied level. Any preacher, who has been disturbed by the challenges of 'post-modernity' and 'post-foundationalism' and wonders what they are really meant to be doing with the Bible, would benefit from reading it." (Jim Purves, The Pneuma Review, Spring 2011)
"I have been on the lookout for a compelling and contemporary treatment of the nature and authority of Scripture for years. I ask of every promising new title, 'Are you the one who is to come, or shall I look for another?' Ward's book may be the one. Words of Life rightly roots its thinking about Scripture in the doctrine of God, and that means trinitarian theology. His central insight: God's word is something that God does. The Bible is not simply an object to be studied but the principal means by which the Lord engages his people and administers his covenant. Ward is a British pastor-theologian in the best sense of the term. The deft treatment of inerrancy by one from the other side of the pond is an added bonus. Highly recommended!" (Kevin Vanhoozer, Blanchard Professor of Theology, Wheaton College)
"Timothy Ward's exposition of the nature and place of the Bible is well-informed and thoroughly thought through. It is a product of alert contemporary awareness, deep-level theological discernment and mature personal judgment. Rarely has a book on this subject stirred me to such emphatic agreement and admiration." (J. I. Packer, Regent College, Vancouver)
"This is both a great read and a sterling work of scholarship. It is comprehensive in scope, rich in historical awareness and acute in critique. It respects the past without idolizing it, draws discriminatingly on modern speech-theory, offers fine insights into the relation between Scripture and tradition, and gives a judicious assessment of inerrancy. Textbook and treat in a single volume!" (Donald Macleod, Free Church of Scotland College)
"A very fine treatment of the classical Christian doctrine of Holy Scripture, which draws particularly on the theological wisdom of the Reformed tradition. A particular strength of the book is the way in which the author formulates his account of Scripture from Scripture itself, notably from its covenantal character. Words of Life is well-written and clear-headed, thoughtful and judicious." (Paul Helm, Regent College, Vancouver)
"Judicious, lucid, fresh, incisive and above all Scripture-driven, this is a splendid book. I found my thinking continually refined and sharpened as I read." (Julian Hardyman, Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge, England)
"A very fine treatment of the classical Christian doctrine of Holy Scripture, which draws particularly on the theological wisdom of the Reformed tradition. A particular strength of the book is the way in which the author formulates his account of Scripture from Scripture itself, notably from its covenantal character. Words of Life is well-written and clear-headed, thoughtful and judicious."
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That's quite a statement, especially for a book that checks in at just under two hundred pages. As it turns out, however, what Ward's book lacks in length it more than makes up for in substance. In fact, its relatively small size is more of an advantage than a hindrance. Ward's purpose for writing Words of Life shows up early and clearly, "I want to articulate, explain and defend what we are really saying when we proclaim, as we must, that the Bible is God's Word." This is certainly a purpose for which many books have been written, but what makes Ward's book particularly helpful is the approach he takes to this task, an approach that articulates the theology of Scripture in a way that is both historically orthodox and refreshingly contemporary.
Ward builds his fundamental view of Scripture on the idea that God's Word is a primary (if not THE primary) way in which God has worked and is working in the world. The concept that Scripture is God's communicative action (demonstrated throughout the Bible) is the critical starting point for Ward that forms and shapes his entire doctrine of Scripture. In other words, all the "categories" that he affirms in relation to Scripture (its clarity, sufficiency, authority, etc.) stem from this overarching Biblical idea. As I reflected on this, comparing and contrasting it to the starting place that I inherited through my tradition, I found it to be very freeing and exciting. In my background, a high view of Scripture has primarily been supported by modern apologetical approaches that have ultimately left me a bit unsatisfied. What I love about Ward's approach is that rather than challenging me to boost my faith in a certain interpretation of a verse or two, or in the processes of Scriptural transmission or canonization, his argument essentially challenges me to ground my faith in the nature and character of God.
My presumption is that critics of this approach might argue that Ward is essentially making a circular argument by basing his view of Scripture on the words that Scripture itself use to describe its relationship to God. This may be a legitimate question, but I would argue that everyone who holds to the authority of Scripture would be faced with this same question at some level. Further, it seems to me that the question itself is rooted in modern inclinations that are continually losing their significance for determining what persuades people. There seems to be a growing understanding that all worldviews require you to place your faith in something. If faith in the true God is indeed a work of the Spirit (as I believe it is), then I am all for defining a doctrine of Scripture that has as its starting point faith in God. Finally, I believe that tying together the authority of Scripture with the idea that God's nature has tended (throughout the Bible) to use language to reveal himself and to act out his will gives a firmer place to stand on than basing a doctrine primarily on a few select passages.
Along these same lines, I appreciated Ward's connection of Scripture to the Trinity. I found the ideas in this section to be rich and insightful, helping the doctrine of Scripture (which can sometimes seem like a stale doctrine) come alive through the individual persons of the Godhead. I also found the final section on the application of Scripture to be tremendously helpful. Perhaps the greatest endorsement I can give to the book comes from that section, in that while reading I found within myself a growing desire to read and to preach the Word of God.
There were a couple areas of the book that I found myself wanting more than what ward provided, or mildly disappointed by his treatment of a particular issue. Among these were his comments on the Spirit's role of illumination. I would have appreciated more development here, particularly his thoughts on the role of the Spirit in identifying the intended meaning of a given speech-act in Scripture. Is the meaning found in the very words themselves or in the Spirit speaking through them? Along these same lines, I found his treatment of the issue of differing interpretations of a given passage, or apparent contradictions between separate passages, to seem a little trite. Also, in terms of historical context, Ward drew extensively from the Reformation and post-Reformation periods, but rarely stretched further back into church history. I would have appreciated a broader historical context.
These minor criticisms aside, I found Words of Life to be a tremendous resource containing a compelling articulation of a historically-grounded yet refreshingly contemporary doctrine of Scripture. I love books that help me to see something differently than I have before, and this was certainly one. The fact that the topic is so important and basic to my faith makes it a book that I deeply appreciate and will certainly re-read and recommend to others.
What Ward does especially well is to maintain the classical, evangelical, and reformed commitment to the nature of Scripture while insisting that Christians see Scripture as the supreme revelatory gift of the Triune God, tied to the nature and work of God himself. Stated differently, Words of Life ably holds together sola Scriptura and solo Deo, insisting that Christians must not pull apart these interlocked and mutually connected commitments. Ward corrects an evangelical tendency over the last couple centuries, contrary to Calvin, to isolate the doctrine of Scripture and hermetically separate it from the God revealed in Scripture.
Ward's treatment of speech-act theory, defining the use of language "at root the means one person performs actions in relation to another", weaves through at least two chapters and becomes the critical touchstone of his argument for bringing together and sustaining the intersection of God's nature and Scripture. He underscores God's speech at the advent of creation and his subsequent actions described in Scripture. Unlike human words in a fallen world, God's speech always achieves its appointed purpose. Enter Ward's basis for the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible along with vital insights into such cornerstone doctrines as justification and effectual calling. God's speech is essential to his covenant making and sustaining and ultimately crescendos in the incarnation of the Son of God.
Michael Horton's recent outstanding systematic tome, The Christian Faith, uses the Eastern Orthodox formulation of essence and energy as a means of describing the interplay between God's nature (essence) and his actions (energies). Ward's utilization of speech-act in describing the relationship between God and his written revelation is a supreme example of this essence and energy synergism. It promises to sustain the distinction between creator and creature (the rays of the sun are not the sun itself) while acknowledging the unique interaction and connection between God and Scripture (the sun is known indispensably by its rays).
Ward's interplay between God's nature and person and Scripture's nature creates a dual eddy that stretches thinking in both areas. However, I also commend him for not simply resting back upon formulations regarding the Bible, but using his argumentative capital for clarifying and even rebuking Christians for lazily and haphazardly adopting positions about Scripture. His precise treatment of the history and current adaptation of sola Scriptura highlights his correctives. He commends the Reformed position, while pushing Christians to avoid sins of reading Scripture in isolation from the church and her historical study.
More treasure await the reader beyond what I mention here. Words of Life are the labors of an academic pastor adding commendably and compellingly to a Trinity-centered view of the richness, authority, and beauty of biblical revelation.