Review: Words of Life

Words of LifeWords of Life by Timothy Ward. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Summary: This book is a Reformed treatment of the doctrine of scripture that begins from a study of scripture’s teaching about itself, moves to a Trinitarian theology of scripture and finally explores the classical affirmations about scripture. Another significant aspect of this book is its incorporation of “speech-act” theory which Ward uses to delineate the relationship of God and the Bible.

Many Reformed treatments of the doctrine of scripture begin with assertions concerning the necessity, sufficiency, clarity, and authority of the Bible. Timothy Ward gets there in the end but pursue a different approach from what I’ve typically seen. He begins by discussing the question of the relationship between God and the Bible, and the issue of how we speak of the Bible as “The Word of God” while lapsing neither into bibliolatry nor elevating the Bible to be a fourth member of the Godhead.

He then begins by looking at scripture’s own account of itself as reflecting the “speech act” of God for the salvation of his people. He summarizes this as follows:

“God chooses to present himself to us, and to act upon us, in and through human words that have their origin in him, and that he identifies as his own. When we encounter those words, God is acting in relation to us, supremely in his making a covenant promise to us. God identifies himself with his act of promising in such a way that for us to encounter God’s promise is itself to encounter God. The supreme form in which God comes to encounter us in his covenant promise is through the words of the Bible as a whole. Therefore to encounter the words of Scripture is to encounter God in action” (p.48).

The second part of the book then looks at the relationship of each person in the Trinity to scripture. This is then followed by a chapter on the doctrine of scripture under the headings of necessity, sufficiency, clarity and authority. Laid out this way, these qualities are informed by and follow as implications of the idea of scripture as the speech action of God. Particularly helpful here was the author’s discussion of what clarity does and does not imply.

The final chapter considers the Bible in the life of Christians. Ward has some trenchant remarks differentiating sola scriptura from a more contemporary version in evangelicalism of solo scriptura. He also addresses the role of the Christian community in relation to scripture and the particular dynamic that occurs when scripture is read and exposited in which the Spirit-given scripture, the Spirit informed and empowered preacher, and the Spirit indwelt congregation come together and God’s people indeed hear a word from God, and not simply human teaching.

This book is an exposition of a Reformed view of scripture at its best. The author draws heavily on Calvin, Turretin, Warfield, and Bavinck while addressing contemporary criticisms and using contemporary approaches to give a fresh account of the doctrine of scripture. Often, contemporary critics of the Reformed view knock down a “straw man” version of this doctrine. I would suggest it would be far more constructive to engage this account. At a personal level, reading this book nourished my enthusiasm for reading the scriptures alone and together with others, and for the preaching of these “words of life.”

What I’m Reading — June 2015

I’m in kind of a crunch right now between back to back trips to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. So this post will be briefer, and perhaps not so carefully crafted as some. Just thought I’d catch you up on what i’m reading right now and my reactions as I’m in the midst of several books.

Private Doubt, Public DilemmaJust started Keith Thomson’s Private Doubt, Public Dilemma, which I downloaded from Netgalley. Looks like an interesting exploration on the religion and science front, exploring cutting edge issues in the biosciences. This is taken from a Yale lecture series. A bit curious why his primary inspirations are Jefferson and Darwin and where that will go. I actually think one of the more interesting American figures to deal with religion-science issues was B.B. Warfield.

GrassrootsGrassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up by Simon Chan is trying to do just what the title suggests. He wants to explore Asian contributions to Christian theology, not by listening to academics, Asian or otherwise, but rather the people who make up Asian churches, Christians on the ground in these cultures. What a novel idea. Just getting into it. Chan is a bit of a dense read, but I’m intrigued!

The Wright BrothersI’ve loved everything David McCullough has written and am finding The Wright Brothers no exception. Interesting fact that I discovered was that the Wright’s spent less than $1000, and all of that their own money, to get the point of putting a plane in the sky at Kitty Hawk. A government project costing $70,000 ended up a terrible failure in the Potomac! I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but McCullough tells a riveting tale!

Words of LifeTimothy Ward’s Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God gives a contemporary, yet reformed perspective on the doctrine of the scripture. The novel thing is that he doesn’t start from systematics but from the Bible itself. He also draws on “speech-act” theory, which understands scripture as a type of divine speech act. I’ve seen caricatures of reformed thinking about scripture set up as straw men and destroyed. It would be better for critics to take on thoughtful writers like Ward.

An All Around MinistryFinally, our Dead Theologians reading group is discussing a collection of Charles Spurgeon sermons under the title An All-Around Ministry. These were given at a series of pastors conferences Spurgeon helped host. They sparkle with wit and contain much wise counsel for any in ministry.

That’s what’s on my book stand at present. Stay tuned for reviews at a blog near you!