Warfield, Part 3

I sincerely apologize to Gary Johnson for not finishing this review earlier. I got a bit side-tracked. For continuity, here is part 1 (covering chapters 1,2,5, and 6), here is part 2 (covering only chapter 3), and here is the book I am reviewing.

I intend to cover chapters 4 and 7 in this part of the review, giving Gary’s article its own post (as it is probably the most controversial).

Raymond Cannata (a PCA pastor in New Orleans as of the time of writing) gives us an account of the problem of why Warfield is so maligned, yet not read (pp. 96-97). I have found this to be true as well. People villify Warfield, and yet haven’t cracked open any of his books, except maybe the Plan of Salvation, for proof-texting (usually inaccurately). Cannata notes sadly that history has in large part vindicated Briggs in that most denominations have followed his lead in trashing Scripture (pg. 95). Cannata notes, however, that the modern challenge has altered a bit. The charge now, coming from folks like Grenz, is that evangelicals have (ab)used Warfield by making inspiration foundational to the Christian faith, and not just essential (pg. 96). It seems to me (and I think that Cannata would agree here) that most people think of Warfield as contributing to the denial of the humanity of Scripture. Cannata proves quite conclusively that Warfield held to the full humanity as well as the full divinity of Scripture (see pp. 98-104).

Noting briefly the key qualifications of the inspiration of the autographs, the importance of textual criticism (“Warfield began his academic career as a textual critic,” pg. 101), the non-dictation theory that Warfield held (the authors were guided by the Holy Spirit through sometimes supernatural and sometimes natural means, although the latter should never be understood as contradicting the divinity of Scripture), Cannata focuses the remainder of his discussion on the necessity of the Spirit’s illumination and the historical basis for Warfield’s understanding of Scripture (pp. 102-106). The former constitutes the point that no one can be convinced of the divine authority of Scripture without the Holy Spirit’s witness in our hearts that it is so. Again, this is evidence that Warfield was no rationalist. One cannot reason one’s way to convincing someone about Scripture without the Holy Spirit’s intervention.

The historical background focuses on the antecedents to Warfield’s view in the early church and in the time of the Reformation. Cannata is here addressing the issue of whether Warfield’s formulations were new or not. Of course, he comes to the conclusion that they are not, and backs this up with many references to primary and secondary sources (see the footnotes on pp. 104-106).

Stephen Nichols gives us (in chapter 7) an overview of the fundamentalist controversy as it affected Warfield and Machen.  He gives us a great encapsulation of the controversy in these words: “Charles Hodge faced merely the incipient birth pangs of what would come to be liberalism, B.B. Warfield battled its developing years, and Machen grappled with it as it quickly matured” (pg. 169). This entailed that most of Warfield’s theologizing would be polemical in nature (pg. 170). In comparing Warfield and Machen, Nichols notes that “Both in content and methodology, Warfield and Machen mirrored each other” (pg. 171).

Both were uncomfortable with many aspects of fundamentalism (such as dispensationalism and millinarianism), though standing with fundamentalists against liberalism in the matter of Scripture (pp. 172-174). One significant difference between Warfield and Machen was their respective stances on evolution, Warfield being much more favorable to the theory (although he certainly did not jettison the Genesis narratives as many did) than Machen was. Although Nichols mentions the fact that Machen was an expert witness at the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, Nichols does not draw the conclusion that Machen was influenced by that experience to reject evolutionary theories. I wonder about that connection, and wonder if that wasn’t the reason why Machen differed from his teacher on that score.

Nichols notes (without dissent) Riddlebarger’s assertion that Warfield and Machen differed from the fundamentalists primarily because of the latter’s Arminian and revivalistic tendencies. This is certainly the case. Riddlebarger points to Warfield’s reviews of other fundamentalist theologies in proof of this (see the Lion of Princeton, pp. 210,212, 213-241, quoted by Nichols).

What is especially important for me in this article is Nichol’s careful delineation of Warfield’s view on the interconnectedness of all the theological disciplines (pg. 181). Though Warfield viewed ST as the chief of the theological disciplines, he did not fail to stress the importance of all the others, and how they feed into ST. I will close with this tremendously important quotation:

While it is difficult for contemporary scholars to keep up with each of these fields, there is much to be gained by the mutual interchange between these disciplines, as marked by the work of Warfield and Machen, over and against the entrenchment one sees in the contemporary scene. (pg. 193).


Second Volume of Poole’s Synopsis

The second volume is available for purchase now. This covers chapters 10-22. The third volume is slated to appear in January, and will cover the remainder of Genesis. I highly recommend this commentary, as it is a collection of the best comments from the entire Reformed tradition up to Poole’s time (and includes many comments not from the Reformed tradition, I might add!). It is quite the labor of love.