Reviewed by Fred G. Zaspel
At this late point in history we might think that a matter as fundamental as the character of Scripture has so long been settled that unanimous agreement is shared by all who call themselves Christian. Or at least those who call themselves Protestant Christians. Well, Reformed Protestant Christians anyway. Okay, then at least Evangelical Christians. And we certainly would expect that anyone who would question this settled understanding would never be so bold as to suggest that they stand in league with our Christian forebears. But of course to think like this would be naively mistaken. Surprisingly, many professing Christians–Protestant, Reformed, Evangelical even–still defect. And within such an age it is helpful indeed to re-examine our historic moorings and reaffirm with our faithful forebears our commitment to biblical authority.
This, in brief, is the value of this new work from editors Peter Lillback and Richard Gaffin, both of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. As the subtitle implies, Thy Word is Still Truth is a compendium of historic writings and documents from the Reformed tradition, from the Reformation onwards, on virtually all dimensions of the doctrine of Scripture. With just a glance through the five-page Table of Contents it is evident what a service Lillback and Gaffin have rendered. Here we have brought together in one place the teachings of all the major Reformers, the statements of the various Protestant Confessions and Catechisms (French, Swiss, German, English, Dutch), and the early, later, and even contemporary Reformed interpreters. Names range from Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin to Ames, Owen, Edwards, Witherspoon, Gaussen, Spurgeon, Hodge, Warfield, Wilson, and Machen and contemporary Reformed theologians such as Stonehouse, Young, Frame, Ferguson, and Gaffin. And these on topics ranging from the origin and character of Scripture and its singular authority to its meaning, interpretation, and use. In all these we find a common reverence for Scripture as God’s Word written and the common corresponding commitment and submission to it that has marked Christians throughout the centuries.
After observing that this doctrine of Scripture we have inherited has been, in fact, the doctrine held by the church from its inception, Warfield insightfully inquired what could explain such a case. How is it the church has held this doctrine so commonly even from its inception? The obvious answer, of course, is that it is the doctrine given to the church–“imposed” on the church, to use Warfield’s favored expression–by our Lord and his apostles. It is the historic position of the church simply because it is a defining position stamped with Jesus’ own authority. And Thy Word Is Still Truth highlights the same with regard to our most recent five centuries.
Such a volume as this has obvious value in the classroom and for teachers and preachers who prepare to speak on the subject. But it has further value. Even a passing glance through its pages and noticing the sheer weight of consistent testimony is powerfully impressive to any Christian who gives it even a few minutes’ consideration. Sola Scriptura is a wonderful and necessary slogan for us to adopt and understand, but it is somehow helpful to know that in saying this we are not alone but stand in a long and very impressive train of Christian witness that has been committed to the same.
The title of this book is suggestive. Of course it recalls the words of John 17:17 in which our Lord declared his own understanding of the trustworthiness of Scripture, and so it reaffirms our Lord’s teaching. It also recalls a popular book by E.J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (Eerdmans, 1957), in which this earlier Westminster Seminary professor famously expounded and defended the church’s historic doctrine of Scripture. And of course everyone knows of the more recent controversy at WTS, centering around OT professor Peter Enns. This book, it seems, in some great measure came about as a response to that difficult chapter in WTS history. And with the vast array of witnesses this book brings to bear on the discussion at least one point is made clear: that although the church has had its defectors on this doctrine, they are just that: defectors. The consistent witness and commitment of the church has been to the obvious implications of the simple proposition, “What Scripture Says, God Says.”
In a promotional video Lillback points out his plea to the publisher to keep the price for this book low so that it can be easily accessible to Christians and churches everywhere. Weighing in at over 1400 large 7×10 pages this massive tome might have cost much more. As it is, the retail is $59.99 and often available at $40.00 or less–comparatively not bad at all. And a valuable resource it is, sure to be put to much use in seminary classrooms and beyond.
Stay tuned for the fuller summary-review of this work that is scheduled to appear Monday for our readers here at Books At a Glance.
Fred G. Zaspel is Pastor of Reformed Baptist Church in Franconia, PA, professor of theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary, and executive editor here at Books At a Glance.
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