Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851–1921) was undoubtedly one of the greatest Reformed theologians in the history of America. As professor of didactic and polemic theology at Princeton University, he wrote extensively in defense of fundamental Christian doctrines. While his writing touched on the full spectrum of theological topics, it was spread over hundreds of periodicals, books, and pamphlets, and a significant portion has never been published in an accessible form. Warfield stands as a dominant figure on the theological landscape, but few have a comprehensive grasp of his theology, largely because of the difficulty of tracing his ideas through numerous sources.
Fred G. Zaspel has spent many years studying Warfield’s published and unpublished writing and presents here a concise and coherent systematic theology per B. B. Warfield. For the first time ever, readers can, in one volume, access the content of this great theologian’s academic, sermonic, and devotional works. Scholars, pastors, and students will profit from the unique combination of comprehensive detail and devotional warmth in this systematic theology.
J. I. Packer
Well before the transdenominational convergence of what we now call the evangelical church, B. B. Warfield spent forty years as the Presbyterian Horatius, holding the bridge that leads into the citadel of the Westminster Standards against those he saw as spoilers from the wastelands of liberalism. A heavyweight academic and a complete player in the fields of systematic, exegetical, historical, and polemical theology, he scattered his wisdom in hundreds of articles, which this book surveys and integrates with great skill. Warfield can now be seen in his full stature as the godly giant that he was, thanks to Fred Zaspel’s labor of love. Best thanks, and hallelujah!
Serious Christians who have dipped into Warfield find his writings to be a wholly admirable mix of rigorous exegesis, mature theological synthesis, and frank devotion to Christ. Much of his work is known only to specialists, not least because when Warfield first published it, it was scattered over many journals and books. Indeed, a fair bit of it was never published. Zaspel’s Theology of B. B. Warfield remedies the problem admirably. One hopes and prays that it will entice a new generation of readers to delve deeply into Warfield’s contributions.
This work is long overdue. That a theologian of the stature of B. B. Warfield should not have had a comprehensive overview of his entire corpus, such as this one by Dr. Zaspel, says far more about the thinking of evangelicals and the ranks of the Reformed in the twentieth century than it does about Warfield. This truly excellent and eminently readable work will serve both as a primer to Warfield’s thought and as an outline of the systematic theology he never wrote. Highly recommended.
Sinclair B. Ferguson
Dr Zaspel deserves our congratulations and our profound gratitude for producing this invaluable volume.
B. B. Warfield’s distinguished achievements as a systematic theologian have been obscured by the episodic, ad hoc publication of his major theological statements. But even if Warfield did not think it necessary that he write a single, connected systematic theology, it is nonetheless most welcome that Fred Zaspel has done the job for him! The result is a very useful compendium that gives both admirers and detractors of Warfield a full and coherent account of his theology. All who are in the least interested in Warfield or who care at all about vigorous Calvinist theology will find this a most valuable book.
The ‘Lion of Old Princeton’ roars and purrs in this helpful survey. The author finely displays the passion and wit as well as intellectual credibility of Warfield’s remarkable work.
B. B. Warfield was the last towering figure in a long line of Old School Presbyterian intellectuals known for their unshakable faith in the truth of Scripture and their practical, experiential Calvinism. Both profound and prolific, Warfield produced an invaluable body of theological and polemical writings that remain deservedly influential today. Fred Zaspel’s work is the first detailed, readable digest of Warfield’s theology, and it is an immensely helpful volume. Dr. Zaspel puts Warfield’s published writings in clear perspective against the theological issues that dominated that era. He also shows how those same issues—and Warfield’s clear and persuasive teaching—remain relevant to us today. Dr. Zaspel writes with such clarity and simplicity that this volume will be a valuable help and encouragement to lay people and serious theologians as well—a highly recommended addition to anyone’s library.
B. B. Warfield was without doubt the greatest of the theological minds of Old Princeton, and he remains a towering influence within both his own confessional Presbyterian tradition and wider conservative evangelicalism. Nevertheless, while his writings are still in print, clearly written, and very accessible, their occasional nature means that there is no convenient way of gaining from them a good grasp of the overall shape of his theology. Until now, that is. In this volume, pastor-theologian and passionate Warfield aficionado Fred Zaspel has produced a work of historical and theological synthesis that sets Warfield’s thought in context and offers a comprehensive account of his thought on the major loci of theology and the controverted points of his day. In this, Fred has left us all—the veteran Warfield fan and the neophyte—deeply in his debt.
B. B. Warfield does not need an introduction for evangelical Christians. He is well known as a major conservative theologian at the close of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. His scholarship in biblical, historical, and doctrinal fields was often without a match. As a Professor in Didactic and Polemic Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary, he was content to use the three volumes of Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology as the textbook and to pour out the fruits of his labor in a flow of searching articles in a number of theological reviews. Many of these have been republished in book form, but they have not been systematically arranged in one text. That is what Dr. Zaspel has done in culling from the great mass of Warfield’s writings his actual statements in the order they could have followed had Warfield written a one-volume Reformed theology. In this form Warfield may enjoy a renewed effectiveness for our age. With great enthusiasm I highly recommend this volume and hope it will receive a wide reception.
The great B. B. Warfield was essentially an occasional writer. His works are largely made up of learned articles, encyclopedia entries, and popular journalism. Fred Zaspel had the great idea of rendering this vast body of material into a compendium, a Warfield systematic theology. He clearly has what it takes to do the job superbly well: a love for his subject, care and attention to detail, and, above all, a thorough knowledge of Warfield’s writing. The result is a book that does not replace the Warfield volumes, but provides an accurate, thematic entry into them. It will be of inestimable benefit to all students of this outstanding Reformed theologian. Well done!
Foreword by Sinclair B. Ferguson
It is a high privilege to write a few words of introduction and commendation to this important survey of the theology of B.B. Warfield. Many (including myself) have expressed disappointment that, for a variety of reasons, Warfield never wrote a Systematic Theology of his own. One of these reasons was, undoubtedly his deep sense of pietas towards Charles Hodge (of whom he said that he never took a major decision without asking himself “What would Dr Hodge say about this?”). But few who have read the work of both Hodge and Warfield doubt that the disciple would have produced a greater work than his teacher.
The result has been that, by and large, Warfield has been regarded as a theologian focused on expounding and defending one doctrine alone, that of the inspiration and authority of Scripture.
Dr Fred G Zaspel’s work will put that misunderstanding to rest. For Warfield’s interests and acumen ranged much wider and deeper. He was prodigiously learned in a variety of areas of theology. Whereas lesser men become typecast by publication in a narrow field of interest, Warfield wrote at the highest scholarly level in the areas of Biblical Studies, Patristic Theology, Reformation Theologians, Confessional History, as well as in Biblical and Systematic Theology proper.
Dr Zaspel has quarried the ten volumes of The Collected Works, as well as the published Collected Shorter Writings, but has also mined in his lecture notes (and those of his students) as well as Warfield’s other published works. Wisely, this has included his sermons, which, as one of his colleagues noted, preached in his rich, educated Kentucky accent that made words come from his lips “as if they walked on velvet. These are often minor theological treatises on their own, and well express Warfield’s spiritual drive and pastoral sensitivity. In addition, we find here reference to materials published in places sufficiently obscure as to guarantee that Warfield’s articles would share their fate of oblivion.
In contrast to his caricature as a one-doctrine-theologian, any student of Warfield who has attempted to read widely in his work soon realizes that to some degree his thinking and writing covered the bases of the whole theological system. Of course there are some loci to which he paid special attention. The mountain peaks are found not only in the doctrine of Scripture, but also in his studies in the Person and Work of Christ, and Soteriology. In addition are impressive mountains of learning in his studies in Calvin and the Westminster Assembly. In addition Dr Zaspel has paid careful attention to Warfield’s enduring concern, expressed in his critical reviews (born, perhaps from his early studies in Europe), to inform his fellow Americans of the latest theological thinking emerging from the continent—and in the process, along with characteristically generous comments where merited, to provide his own devastating critique.
Here then is spread before us the entire mountain range of Warfieldiana as we are given the privileged position of surveying the encyclopaedia of Warfield’s thought. The Theology of B.B. Warfield is, therefore, as its title suggests, a systematic summary of his thought; but it is also an ordnance survey map with copious notes directing the traveler in Warfieldiana to some of the best places to linger, find nourishment, or rest-or simply pause to admire.
These pages represent a labor of love of Herculean proportions. The Warfield corpus is substantial. It is also wide-ranging. Few writers today are capable of the breadth of interest that made Warfield a scholar of renaissance man proportions. Not only so, but Warfield’s tendency was to write according to older principles—paragraphs extending to three pages are not uncommon in his writings—and so his work makes demands on the reader’s powers of both concentration and perseverance.
Having known of Fred Zaspel’s intentions from the commencement of this work I am filled with admiration that he has successfully completed it—not least since Warfield has been a companion to me throughout most of my Christian life. I had just turned seventeen and recently arrived at university in Scotland when I first heard the name of B.B. Warfield. Spoken in reverential terms by an older student, it was clear that one could not afford to remain ignorant of the man or his writings. And so I obtained (from what was then The Craig Press Agency) the abbreviated set of his works, the ten volume Oxford edition (now widely available) being then long out of print.
The patient scholarship of his essays on the Inspiration and Authority of Scripture was, of course, immediately impressive; the scholarship represented in his studies in Calvin and Augustine were enormously informative to a relative novice only beginning to read in Calvin. The Studies in Perfectionism were sufficient to immunize me for life against all forms of “higher life” teaching! But the deepest impression was made by the Biblical and Theological Studies and his work on The Person and Work of Christ. And, like many others, perhaps the deepest impression of all was made by Warfield’s striking essay on “The Emotional Life of our Lord” (curiously absent from the Oxford ten-volume edition). Here, for a younger Christian, was, at last, serious and stretching theology that enhanced understanding of Christ, and enriched faith in him and love for him.
I felt then, as I feel now, that here was a theologian who understood what theology was for. Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield (who could ever think of him as “Ben” or Benny”?) has been a mentor and friend ever since. Now that The Theology of B.B. Warfield is being published, hopefully many more in our generation and beyond will come to discover the same riches. Dr Zaspel deserves our congratulations and our profound gratitude for producing this invaluable volume.
About the Author
Fred G. Zaspel is one of the pastors at Reformed Baptist Church in Franconia, PA, and is the executive editor here at Books At a Glance.
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The Theology Of B.b. Warfield: A Systematic Summary