Wednesday, May 14, 2008
BB Warfield: Essays on his Life and Thought
This volume from Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing is a welcome study of a man whose writings are respected by practically all in the Reformed tradition. For too long BB Warfield has been to many simply the name on the spine of a book. In the Charismatic camp he has been attacked for his book Counterfeit Miracles, Among the more modernistically-inclined he has been ridiculed for his defence of inerrancy and the Westminster Confession of Faith.
For those of us who respect Warfield's scholarship and integrity it has been a source of amazement and irritation that no adequate biography of the great man whom Kim Riddelbarger has called 'The Lion of Princeton' exists. While this book is not such a work, it represents the first efforts towards one, and as such it is greatly appreciated.
This work consists of eight essays and an annotated bibliography. The essays cover Warfield's life, and key aspects of his theology, especially concerning apologetics and the doctrine of Scripture. The first essay, ''B' is for Breckinridge', deals with Warfield's maternal family and their relationship to Princeton. If a man is the product of his parental heritage, then Benjamin B. Warfield was a complex man indeed!
The essays dealing with Warfield as an apologist seek to repond to the charge of rationalism levelled against him, and in the opinion of this reviewer they do so very well. They reveal a man who was profoundly Biblical, and when he spoke of the reasonable nature of the Christian faith meant it in repect to reason regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
The essay on Warfield and Jim Crow is practically worth the cover price on its own. It shows how a man who was the son of slave-owners (though slave-owners who had favoured abolition) responded to the challenge of racism and segregation, especially in the Churches. It is ironic that those in the North who advocated abolition approved of or winked at a system of segregation that was not only racist, but fostered the fear and hatred of blacks. Warfield shows a balanced Reformed perspective that steers the line between white racism and Black Liberation theology.
In Chapter 7 Stephen J. Nichols gives a fascinating essay on Warfield, Machen and Fundamentalism, demonstrating how the two men were alike in their seeking not a minimalist platform, but to stand on the full-orbed Reformed faith of the Westminster Confession. We must confess that we have always found it rather ironic that both Fundamentalists and liberals sought shorter confessions in the 19th century, their only disagreement being HOW short these confessions should be. In fact the best defence is to stand on the historic confessions of our churches.
Gary Johnson's chapter on 'Warfield and C.A. briggs: Their Polemics and Legacy', is an illuminating and worrying chapter. It shows how Briggs was shrill and abusive, while Warfield was calm and collected in his scholarly debunking of Briggs' claims. What is worrying about the chapter is how Johnson documents several strands of modern 'evangelicalism' sound a lot like the liberal Briggs. Can it be that we still have much to learn from Warfield in this respect as well?
Warfield was not a Fundamentalist according to the modern definition, although he did write for the series of books that gave the movement its name. He was instead a historic Reformed scholar of the sort represented by Dabney, Hodge and Calvin himself. This volume is an excellent introduction to a man every bit as interesting as his own books.
BB Warfield: Essays on his Life and Thought, is available from Evangelical Press at£11.95 Here.