Reviewed by Mark Farnham
In the defense of the entire truthfulness of Scripture a critical point of the argument is the continuity of historical theology with the present day. Until this volume appeared, there was no single source to which one could turn to find the crucial documentary support for the historical position of the Reformed church on the doctrine of Scripture since the Reformation. They Word Is Still Truth is the solution to the problem of marshaling the documents of the church regarding a high view of Scripture, especially as they relate to Westminster Theological Seminary. It is a compendium of more than five dozen of the most significant writings since the Reformation regarding the Bible.
In the introduction Lillback and Gaffin note the challenges that have come against the authority of Scripture in liberal Protestantism, broader evangelicalism, and even at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS). The conflict over the nature of Scripture at WTS a few years ago prompted that institution to articulate once again a clear and historic witness to its positions. In the introduction they explain that the purpose of this volume is “to demonstrate that the conclusions reached in this controversy, whose focal point was at Westminster, are nothing less than the continuing flowering of the reformational views of Luther, Calvin, Bullinger, and the Reformed Confessions on the doctrine of Scripture” (p. xx). In addition, the ongoing reflection of theologians from WTS over the last century come together to “build a sweeping and elegant case” for the affirmations that the seminary adopted in 2008.
This volume is divided into thirteen sections. Lillback and Gaffin introduce each section with an overview of the documents and an explanation of how they relate to WTS’s statement on Scripture. Part 1 is entitled Sola Scriptura, and covers the Reformers’ Rediscovery of the Written Word of God. It includes selections from Luther (The Bondage of the Will), Zwingli (The First Zurich Disputation), Bullinger (two sermons on the Word of God), and Calvin (two chapters from The Institutes).
Part 2 contains the sections pertaining to Scripture from fourteen Reformed Confessions—The Sixty-seven Articles, The Ten Conclusions of Berne, The First Helvetic Confession, The French Confession of Faith, The Scots Confession of Faith, The Belgic Confessions of Faith, The Heidelberg Catechism (including the Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism by Zacharias Ursinus), The Second Helvetic Confession, The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England, The Second Scots Confession, The Irish Articles of Religion, The Canons of the Synod of Dordt, The Westminster Standards (including the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms), and The Confession of the Waldenses. These documents are not simply crucial; they are also a delight to read. Consider this sentence in Calvin’s Institutes: “Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God” (p. 75). It is easy to forget that these documents remain important in our time, not just because they are important, but also because they are great literature.
Part 3 contains Early Reformed Interpretation of the doctrine of Scripture. Lillback and Gaffin note that Reformed interpretation derived from its doctrine of Scripture. “These texts demonstrate that the Reformed doctrine is not abstract, that it furnishes an overall hermeneutic scheme for the reading of Scripture, and that it has practical implications for the life of the church. These selections also show the close connection between the doctrine of inspiration and hermeneutics” (p. 244). This section includes writings by Bullinger, Calvin, Knox, Cranmer, and Jonathan Edwards.
Part 4 covers the Doctrine of Scripture in Reformed Orthodoxy. Contents include sections from William Ames’ The Marrow of Sacred Divinity, Owens’ The Divine Original of the Scripture, Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, the Helvetic Consensus Formula, and additional writings from Edwards. Lillback and Gaffin explain that recent scholarship has corrected the mistaken notion that Reformed orthodoxy was a radical break away from the theology of the Reformers. Rather, it is a more elaborate and methodologically sophisticated approach to theology that emerged in the context of challenges from various sides, especially within the academy (p. 329).
Part 5 constitutes the largest section of the book (almost 250 pages), and deals with the Doctrine of Scripture in the Scottish and Dutch Legacy. Contributions come from John Witherspoon, William Cunningham, Gaffin (writing on Kuyper and Old Amsterdam), Bavinck, and Berkhof. These five authors, note Lillback and Gaffin, “played significant roles in the theological trajectory of Old Princeton and Westminster” (p. 498).
Part 6 covers Other Nineteenth-Century European Contributors, including Louis Gaussen’s Theopneustia, selections from Adolphe Monod, Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, and Charles Spurgeon’s “How to Read the Bible.” Lillback and Gaffin remind us that most of these men had to struggle individually against the appeal of rationalism. Gaussen fought to maintain a confessional stance against the Protestant establishment in Geneva. Monod and Hengstenberg had to overcome their own doubts before becoming strong defenders of historic Christianity. Spurgeon also had to contend with the liberal tendencies in his day (p. 737).
Part 7 includes some of the key sections from the giants of Old Princeton. Charles Hodge’s “The Protestant Rule of Faith” from his Systematic Theology is a clear and succinct summary of the Reformation view of Scripture. A. A. Hodge contributes two sections from his Outlines of Theology, “The Inspiration of the Bible” and “The Rule of Faith and Practice.” Warfield addresses “The Real Problem of Inspiration” in his essay, arguing convincingly that “we cannot modify the doctrine of the plenary inspiration in any of its essential elements without undermining our confidence in the authority of the apostles as teachers of doctrine” (p. 855). Warfield’s essay is magnificent for its clarity and conviction. The last essay in this section is Moises Silva’s “Old Princeton, Westminster, and Inerrancy,” which is a revised version of his inaugural lecture as Professor of New Testament at WTS, delivered on February 19, 1985. Here Silva shows how A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield’s works were foundational to the founding of WTS in the context of rigorous scholarship and a confessional framework (p. 882).
Part 8 features the Theology of Scripture of the Founding Fathers of Westminster. The selection from J. Gresham Machen may be has last public comments on the Word of God, given as a radio address shortly before his untimely death. Robert Dick Wilson was one of the leading Old Testament scholars in the world, and his essay, “The Study and Defense of the Bible in Westminster Seminary,” laid out a vision for the defense of the authority of Scripture at Westminster. Wilson had learned the twenty-six languages and dialects into which the New Testament was translated in the first few centuries of the church so he could refute critics of the Bible. Several tributes to Wilson are included in this volume to help readers understand his importance as an orthodox defender of the faith. Cornelius Van Til’s article, “Nature and Scripture” explores the relationship between special and general revelation. Van Til draws a parallel between the attributes of Scripture—necessity, authority, sufficiency, perspicuity—and the corresponding attributes of natural revelation. John Frame describes the second half of this essay as Van Til’s “most concise survey and critique of the history of secular philosophy, Scholasticism, and modern theology” (p. 922). This section concludes with a number of essays by New Testament scholar John Murray that deal with the infallibility, finality, sufficiency, and unity of Scripture.
Part 9 addresses the Birth of Biblical Theology. The discipline of biblical theology among the Reformed, along with the apologetic of Van Til, is central to WTS, and can be traced back to the Old Princeton theologian, Geerhardus Vos. The contributions here include Vos’s inaugural address as professor of biblical theology at Princeton Seminary. Lillback and Gaffin note that “unlike other biblical theologians of his time, Vos maintained a high view of Scripture and a commitment to historic confessional Christianity” (p. 983). A selection from the introduction of Vos’s Biblical Theology is included, and it shows how biblical theology relates to other theological disciplines. Ned Stonehouse, a disciple of Vos, contributes an article on the authority of the Old Testament and its relation to the authority of Christ. Next in this section comes Edmund Clowney’s excellent essay, “Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures,” in which he demonstrates how all of Scripture points to Christ. This section includes two essays from Vern Poythress, an essay entitled, “Divine Meaning of Scripture,” and a selection on the purpose of the Bible from his book, God-Centered Biblical Interpretation. Also, articles by Silva and Gaffin on interpretation and hermeneutics clarify the nature of the central message of Scripture in light of contemporary hermeneutics.
Part 10 consists of three essays on the Authority of the Old Testament and New Testament Canon of Scripture. The canon of Scripture is an issue of ever-increasing importance, with a growing number of critics attacking the uniqueness of the historical 66 books of the Bible. E. J. Young writes on the authority of the Old Testament canon, while Ned Stonehouse addresses the authority of the New Testament canon. Gaffin contributes another essay in this section, integrating the findings of biblical theology with the issues of canonics.
Part 11 addresses Challenges to the Reformed Doctrine of Scripture. Since the most recent attacks have come especially in the field of Old Testament Studies, this section deals primarily with that issue. Two chapters from E. J. Young’s book, Thy Word Is Truth, on which the title of this volume is based, assert that the entirety of the Bible is inspired. Drawing from Van Til, Young argues that “if the Scriptures were to contain errors, then God himself would not be free from error” (p. 1177). Sinclair Ferguson’s essay, “How Does the Bible Look at Itself?” argues that Scripture has to be defined by what it says about itself. John Frame picks up on that theme in his essay, “Scripture Speaks for Itself.” The self-witness of Scripture is not limited to a few scattered proof texts; rather, “the entire Scripture breathes the authority of God our Lord. This latter aspect anticipates a major theme in Frame’s approach, a theology of lordship” (p. 1223). In his second essay, “God and Biblical Language,” Frame rebuts arguments by Anthony Flew and Karl Barth that language is inadequate to hold divine revelation. He replies that the language of Scripture is both odd and ordinary, reflecting the nature of God as transcendent and immanent. The next two articles by Ray Dillard and Bruce Waltke deal with difficulties in interpreting the Old Testament. Dillard’s creative approach to harmonization, which took seriously genre study and the human authorship of Scripture, allowed the diversity of revelation to be appreciated. Waltke’s article challenged the prevailing notion of oral tradition, and concludes that greater consideration should be given to written documents and traditions. This section concludes with an essay by Lillback, “‘The Infallible Rule of Interpretation of Scripture’: the Hermeneutical Crisis and the Westminster Standards.” This essay was written during the crisis at WTS over Peter Enns’s views on Scripture in 2006-08. Lillback shows that Enns’s views fell outside the bounds of the Westminster Standards. He compares the divergent approaches to the problems of the Old Testament proposed by Enns and the earlier E. J. Young. This essay is one of the most valuable in the volume for its example of the application of biblical and theological truth to the present challenges against the complete trustworthiness of Scripture.
Part 12 consists of two documents approved by the Board of Trustees of WTS in 2008. The Statement from the Board of Trustees, dated September 24, 2008, reasserts that “the self-witness of Scripture to its truth as the Word of God requires that its authority, its reliability, its non-mythical character as well as its uniqueness, must be maintained in all discussions and evaluations of extra-Biblical evidence. Moreover, Westminster’s apostolic Christ-centered model of interpretation of Scripture must continue to be given pre-eminence in hermeneutical questions whether they emanate from ancient and historical cultural contexts or from newer interpretive paradigms” (p. 1321). The second document, “Affirmations and Denials Regarding recent Issues,” dated December 3, 2008, are to be seen as representative of some of the matters implied in confessional subscription. The focus is on what it means to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith at WTS. This document is instructive on many levels, especially for institutions concerned with ensuring that their professors remain within the bounds of their doctrinal commitments.
Part 13 consists of two short articles. First, Lillback writes an introduction to Gaffin’s God’s Word in Servant Form. Second, Gaffin writes a postscript to the book during the events of 2006-08 at WTS. And with that, this massive volume comes to a close.
Thy Word Is Still Truth is an invaluable resource in a day when the doctrine of Scripture faces an ever-increasing flurry of attacks from within and outside evangelicalism. It is probably not a book that will be read cover-to-cover, but rather will function as a reference volume in which a massive amount of historical and theological support for the entire of truthfulness can be found. The price of the book may scare off some potential buyers, but it is well worth the cost to the conscientious defender of Scripture. It is a worthy contribution to the growing library of books devoted to defending the Reformation doctrine of Scripture.
Mark Farnham is assistant professor of church and ministry leadership at Lancaster Bible College.
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