Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Influential books - Number 2

I'm going to cheat a little with this one, because it isn't so much a book as an article in a book. The book is B.B. Warfield's The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible and while I've found most of the articles in the book helpful, it was particularly 'The biblical idea of Inspiration' which influenced me. The article was originally titled 'Inspiration' and written for the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, and can be found in full here.

When I first read this I had no idea of the polemical context into which Warfield wrote, nor of the general state of liberal scholarship which Warfield deals with. At that level I read him very simply - and he still rewards reading in such a way. His concern is to show the nature of the Scriptures as breathed out by God, and does this first of all by the careful exegesis of 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:19-21 and John 10:34f, and concludes with the authoritative nature of Scripture, because of the nature of its author - 'What Scripture says, God says...'.

He goes on to posit an incredibly close relationship between God and Scripture, grounding it upon the fact that the NT is happy to assign to 'Scripture' what was actually said by God (e.g., Rom 9:17), and therefore to argue that what Scriptures says is what God says (not said).

However, Warfield then goes on to address the human nature of Scripture, and the reality of human authorship, all the while wanting to grasp a more organic, more intimate event than what is conveyed by the term 'dictation'. Here we return to the concept of the spiration of Scripture - the divine breathing out, through the totality of human agency, the very words of God.

Warfield spends some pages stressing God's total control in providence over the entirety of a person's life, so that what they (for example, Paul) write is exactly what God intends for them to write. Given this, Warfield goes one step further, grounding inspiration as a mode of revelation. Not just a record of revelatory acts, but as an act of redemptive revelation in and of itself.

As I noted earlier, I didn't understand all this when I first read it. And, to be fair, having skimmed the article to write this, I think there's a fair bit in there that I would want to spend some more time thinking about. But what did influence me particularly was the way in which I came away from reading the article realising that I could have confidence in the Bible, because to do so was really to have confidence in God. Not in the sense that I ascribed divine personality to the Scriptures themselves, but because through them I hear the voice of a loving and speaking and acting God. I could take confidence in what I read.

This was vitally important to me because when I first read this I had not long left a church which had implicitly (and at times explicitly) told me that I couldn't have confidence in the Bible. That it wasn't 'real' in the sense that it didn't all happen like it was written. And even I could see that if that was the case with certain miracles (which was the presenting issue), where did you stop? The virgin birth? The resurrection? My sinfulness? The cross? The reality of Jesus? My eternal salvation?

Warfield showed me that God told me I could trust the Bible. I could trust it because it was his word, and because it was his word, not only could I trust it, I must.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Influential books - Number 1

Having been tagged (or whatever) by Ouldy, as well as having been given a standard to live up to, I thought that I’d take up the challenge. Here it is:

"Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. Note that these need not be your five favorite books, or even the five with which you most strongly agree. Instead, I want to know what five books have permanently changed the way you think. Then tag five others."

I’m sure Pete will add to the list (given that all he gets to do nowadays is read!), but for mine, the following are probably the most influential. Given the influence that some of these books have had on me, I’ll post on a separate on each day. Oh, and we'll tag at the end of the series.

Bruce Ware God’s Greater Glory (Crossway, 2004)

I read this book in 2005 while at Moore College. I think like lots of the things you read when studying, you expect to learn from it, but not necessarily be deeply affected by it. And yet Ware’s style, because it is thoroughly expositional, won’t allow that. And I was deeply affected by it, because in God’s providential care, he brought me to read this work at just the right time. But more of that later.

The work is on the doctrine of providence, about God’s sovereign control, governance and preservation of creation. It addresses issues of transcendence and immanence, of human ‘freedom’ and ways of understanding it biblically and philosophically, of good and evil, of divine immutability and the temporality of the Word incarnate. And while this list appears heavy (and it is – although Ware addresses these issues with depth and clarity), there is a constant leitmotif of application to the Christian life. The problems with libertarian freedom, for example, are not only articulated in a philosophical sense – they are demonstrated in the gritty reality of life.

The second half of the book turns to the more immediately practical – what does it mean to live the Christian life before the face of this providential God. In one sense, this is the imperative to the first half of the book’s indicative. How we exist before God in the face of suffering, the asymmetrical nature of the relationship between the divine and his creation, the nature and purpose of prayer, and the true grounds and purpose of service are all addressed in a gentle, practical and loving way. The book concludes with a chapter reflecting on the inconsistency of open theism and the providential nature of God as articulated in the preceding chapters.

And yet the book was influential for me not only because it set out the glorious truths of Scripture clearly, nor because of the way it undertook the process of theology – setting out boundary markers and spectrum texts and working only within these – allowing the secret things of God to be the secret things. The book affected me because in the weeks after I read it my wife Amanda gave birth prematurely to our second son, Theodore. Theo was born at 27 weeks (compared to a normal 40 week pregnancy), and he weighted 632 grams (1 pound 6 if you’re old school). His life was in constant danger in those first few days, and the next few months while he was in hospital were ridiculously hard on us as a family.

Since then I’ve been asked plenty of times whether my faith in God was shaken, whether I asked ‘why’, or whether I was angry at God. It wasn’t, I didn’t, and I wasn’t. You see serious, biblical, thoughtful theology had prepared me. Was I worried? Of course! Did I pray? Constantly. And yet God had prepared me, through the words of Scripture, unpacked and articulated by Bruce Ware, to trust in His glorious, sovereign, providential care. God had got me ready to trust in Him and his goodness in the face of fear and worry, the likes of which I had never known before. I had been brought to a place to see and grasp God’s greater glory, to know my place as a creature – beloved and saved in Christ Jesus, yes – but a creature nonetheless, and to know the God was God and will always be God, and that he is and always will be good.

I’m thankful that Theo has survived, and is a healthy, cheeky three year old. And I'm thankful for the way my life and ministry has been formed by that. And I am incredibly thankful for the way in which God brought Theo into the world, because through that, and through this book, I was brought to know and grasp more fully God’s sovereign providence. For that I will be forever thankful, for to spend life and eternity without this God – to not be known by him, and saved by his Son, and freed to serve him – is no life at all.