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Warfield Wednesday

In 2005, I read a book called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll.  In that volume, the name B.B. Warfield was mentioned, and that was the first time I had ever heard of him.  At that time, I also subscribed to the magazine TableTalk.  There was an issue that dealt with B.B. Warfield, and in 2005, I wrote about it on my blog.  It was that article that really spurred my interest in Warfield.  While I was quite amazed at the way he wrote and the depth of his thought, it was his personal life that really spoke to me.  That same year, for Christmas, my husband bought me the complete works of Warfield.

This is a post from my old blog, edited slightly from the original:

The April 2005 issue of Table Talk focuses on apologist and theologian B.B. Warfield (1851-1921). I really had not heard much about this man until  I read The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Dr. Mark Noll. The articles in the April 2005 issue of Table Talk tell a lot about the man.

He was educated at College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University. He was an outstanding student, excelling in mathematics and science. He planned on pursuing a career in science, but eventually decided on the ministry because: “I think that in the work of the ministry I can do the most to repay the Lord for what he has done for me.”

He was a very prolific writer, reputed to have been a writer on par with men such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and Barth.

But that is not what I found most extraordinary about Mr. Warfield. It was his commitment to his wife that really says something about the man. On a trip to Europe, Mrs. Warfield suffered a trauma to her nervous system and was ill for the majority of her married life. According to TableTalk:

Dr. Warfield devoted his life to her care, seldom traveling far from her, following the marriage vows he had taken with her with unusual care and faithfulness. They were never able to have children, and she could never travel or move about very much.

….he stayed close to his wife, who was often confined to bed. He seldom was away from her side for more than two hours. He set aside time to read to her every day. His colleague on the faculty, O.T. Allis, remembered: “I used to see them walking together and the gentleness of his manner was striking proof of the loving care with which he surrounded her.”

In this sense, Warfield’s life was a classic. He devoted himself to his primary responsibility to care for his wife. He submitted to the trials God had put before him.

Today, a scholar of Dr. Warfield’s stature would have a literary agent, and would have tours to promote his books. He would present at academic symposiums, sit on councils and boards. He would perhaps have a column in a Christian periodical, or his own web-site. He would be asked to visit CNN during times of social crisis to lend a “Christian perspective.” Not so for Dr. Warfield. He was a man devoted to his wife, to fulfilling his calling as her husband. This is the kind of man whom I would love to have as an example for my sons. Today, would the lure of fame and popularity lead a man like Dr. Warfield to find a way to "have it all?"

The teachers and ministers who we will remember may be intellectual giants. They may utter profound words from the pulpit and cause us to probe the depths of our own thinking. Or not. They may be the ones who demonstrate Christ-likeness in action. Those are the ones who I will remember most.


Reverting to cave drawings

This morning, I was reading from B.B. Warfield's writings on inspiration and revelation.  I am thoroughly enjoying it, but it is certainly no comic book.  I liked working my way through it.  I think it is good for my overall cognitive abilities to attempt to read difficult things.  If I could say one thing to women to encourage them in their spiritual lives, it would be this:  in addition to reading the Bible, read hard books.

I sometimes wonder though, with the prevalence of imiage-driven communication, if some day, reading guys like B.B. Warfield (never mind John Owen, who is on my shelf, waiting in the wings) will be like reading hieroglyphics is for people today.  With the contstant devolution of the written word -- internet speak, texting jargon and the pathetic way English is taught in public schools -- I wonder if future generations won't be resorting to stick men figures, akin to the cave drawings of our ancestors.

I have recently had occasion to read what certain post-secondary school writers are producing in their institutions of learning.  Some of it is quite good, but honestly, some of it is downright ridiculous.  How on earth does someone who can't see that the lack of a verb renders a sentence a non-sentence end up in a college?  Some of these young writers don't know when to capitalize, or end a sentence.  The comma just seems to thrown around with total lack of discernment.  You know what?   Bad writing obscures good ideas.  Some ideas are good, but when they are not put into coherent form, the ideas are lost. 

I have helped students with their papers by proof reading.  One friend of mine diligently incorporates my suggestions; and these are just structural suggestions, not content..  Some, though, I'm astounded by, because when I correct glaring errors, they fail to change them, and then they wonder why their marks aren't that great.

I am fortunate in that my kids are all good writers.  They are good writers because they are good readers.  I really believe that a good writer is, in all likelihood, a prolific reader.  I also made them do tedious things while homeschooling, things like diagramming sentences, summarizing paragraphs, making outlines, and *gasp* correcting errors.  I have read some of the papers my daughter is producing at university, and they're good.  Even when I am not really familiar with the material she's dealing with I can follow along with what she's saying, and the papers are well-structured.

I think that we, as Christians, because our God reveals Himself through a written word, ought to be solidly behind maintaining excellence in reading and writing standards.  Just as preceding generations of Christians worked to encourage literacy, I think we need to promote that.  Instead of offering our young people Bible-zenes, or poor paraphrases such as The Message (which my sons are unfortunately forced to endure in their Sunday School class), we should be promoting things to challenge them.

The end of the Roman empire saw the loss of literature and learning.  There was a faithful group of individuals, monks mostly, who were able to preserve it so that it could be revived.  We as Christians need to be preserving such things.  So, when your 12 year old wants a bible, don't cave and get him a paraphrase, give him something solid, like the ESV or the NASB.  Help him with it.  And above all, correct his mistakes.


Hermeneutics, Puritan-style

J.I. Packer, in his book A Quest for Godliness, states that Puritanism was "... above all else, a Bible movement."  It is only natural then, that the Puritans would have specific principles governing their interpretation of Scripture.

Packer points out six principles which governed their interpretation.

Scripture was to be interpreted 1) literally and grammatically, 2) consistently and harmonistically, 3) doctrinally and theocentrically, 4) christologically and evangelically, 5) experimentally and practically, and 6) with a faithful and realistic application

I loved the passage that Packer used to demonstrate the 4th principle.  This is from John Owen:

Keep Jesus in your eye, in the perusal of the Scriptures, as the end, scope and substance thereof:  what are the whole Scriptures, but as it were the spiritual swaddling clothes of the holy child Jesus?  1. Christ is the truth and substance of all the types and shadows.  2. Christ is the substance and matter of the Covenant of Grace, and all administrations thereof; under the Old Testament Christ is veiled, under the New Covenant revealed.  3. Christ is the centre and meeting place of all the promises; for in him the promises of God are yea and Amen.  4. Christ is the thing signified, sealed and exhibited in the Sacraments of the Old and New Testament.  5. Scripture genealogies use to lead us on to the true line of Christ.  6.  Scripture chronologies are to discover to us the times and seasons of Christ.  7. Scripture-laws are our schoolmasters to bring us to Christ, the moral by correcting, the ceremonial by directing.  8. Scripture-gospel is Christ's light, whereby we hear and follow him; Christ's cords of love, whereby we are drawn into sweet union and communion with him; yea it is the very power of God unto salvation unto all them that believe in Christ Jesus; and therefore think of Christ as the very substance, marrow, soul and scope of the whole Scriptures.

Packer recommends adopting the principles which governed the Puritans in their interpretation of Scripture.  To that end, he provides some excellent questions which we can ask ourselves as we study:

  1. What do these words actually mean?
  2. What light do other Scriptures throw on this text?  Where and how does it fit into the total biblical revelation?
  3. What truths does it teach about God, and about man in relation to God?
  4. How are these truths related to the saving work of Christ, and what light does the gospel of Christ throw upon them?
  5. What experiences do these truths delineate, or explain, or seek to create or cure?  For what practical purpose do they stand in Scripture?
  6. How do they apply to myself and others in our own actual situation?  To what present human condition do they speak, and what are they telling us to believe and do?

I would say that those questions are certainly a far cry from the typical "What does this mean to me?"

I can see how the Puritan approach to hermeneutics has influenced the way we study the bible today; well, some people.  Sad to say, many of the principles of the Puritans have been abandoned altogether. 


Righteousness Exceeding That of the Scribes and Pharisees

This is the title of a chapter in Martyn Lloyd-Jones's Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.  In this chapter, he outlines what the errors were in the religion of the Pharisees, errors that Jesus spoke out against.  Jesus says in Matthew 5:20 that if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the pharisees.  Lloyd-Jones points out was wrong with the Pharisees:

The trouble with the Pharisees was that they were interested in details rather than principles, that they were interested in actions rather than in motives, and that they were interested in doing rather than being.

I found this personally convicting.  How often am I more concerned with the details than I am the bigger picture?  To flesh out the principles for holy living takes work.  It takes thought and it takes prayer and it often takes solitude and silence.  We don't live in a world where those two latter things are easily pursued.  In fact, some would shrink away from the prospect.  But we must know why we do what we do.  It is often easy to have all of our moral ducks in a row, and yet be very hard hearted.  Our motives must be pure.


Heart Aflame - March 21, 2010

Psalm 24:3

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?  Who may stand in his  holy place?  It being very well known that it was of pure grace the God erected his Sanctuary, and chose for himself a dwelling-place among the Jews, David makes only a tacit reference to this subject.  He insists principally on distinguishing the Israelites from the false and bastards.  He takes the argument by which he exorts the Jews to lead a holy and righteous life from this, that God has separated them from the rest of the world, to be his peculair inheritance.  The rest of mankind, it is true, seeing they were created by him, belong to his empire; but he who occupies a place in the church is more early related to him.  All those, therefore, whom God received into his flock he calls to holiness; and he lays them under obligations to follow it by his adoption.  Moreoever, by these words David indirectly rebukes hypocrites, who scrupled not falsely to take to themselves the holy name of God, as we know that they were usually lifted up with pride, because of the titles which they take without having the excellencies which these titles imply, contenting themselves with bearing only outside distinctions; yea, rather he purposely magnifies this singular grace of God, that every man may learn for himself, that he has no right of entrance of access to the sanctuary, unless he sanctify himself in order to serve God in purity.  The ungodly and wicked, it is true, were in the habit of resorting to the tabernacle; and, therefore, God, by the prophet Isaiah (1:12), reproaches them for coming unworthily into his courts, and wearing the pavement thererof.  But David here treats of those who may lawfully enter into God's sanctuary.  The house of God being holy, if any rashly, and without right, rush into it, their corruption and abuse are nothing else but polluting it.  As therefoere they do not go up thither lawfully, David makes no account of their going up; yea, rather, under these words there is included a severe rebuke, of the conduct of wicked and profane men in daring to go up into the sanctuary, and to pollute it with their impurity.