B.B. Warfield: Hero of Theistic Evolution (?)

I recently finished reading an article from Themelios, the Gospel Coalition’s international theological journal. This issue (Volume 35, Issue 2
July 2010), contains articles by Carl Trueman and D.A. Carson. However, the article of interest to me was written by Fred G. Zaspel, the pastor of a Reformed church in PA. He is the author of a book on the theology of Warfield published by Crossway.Needless to say, the obvious leanings of this pastor and journal are clear to me.

The article, however, presents an interesting case against the very popular notion that B.B. Warfield was both inerrantist and evolutionist. The latter position has been developed by Mark Noll and David Livingstone (“One of the best-kept secrets in American intellectual history is that B. B. Warfield, the foremost modern defender of the theologically conservative doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible, was also an evolutionist.”), but Zaspel believes that through his reading of Warfield, he has found that their case is over-stated at best.

Essentially, the argument is thus: That Warfield, for most of his career was critically agnostic when it came to the theory of evolution. He allowed for the possibility of its agreement with Scripture, but was very careful not to affirm evolutionary theory as it had not yet become proven. This quotation may be taken as characteristic: “It does not appear that the emphasis of the biblical assertion that man owes his existence to the creative act of God need therefore exclude the recognition of the interaction of other forces in the process of his formation.” The author again notes that Warfield allows for the possibility of evolution without actually affirming it.

I invite anyone interested in discussing this particular historical issue to read this article. I’m going to continue reading up on Warfield’s views in this.

Digression and Return

This blog has become something other than it was intended to be and I have become different than I was. Therefore, I am going to refocus this blog, writing about theological issues that I find pertinent to the church and believers I come into contact with. I want that list to be relatively small, however, so I am making a list and choosing my top three based on my current level of interest and intellectual ability.

So here’s my list:

  • The Nature and Authority of Scripture
  • The Nature of Vocational Calling
  • Evolution and the Problem of Human Origins
  • The Importance of Theological Reflection for Christian Formation
  • The Church Fathers
  • Apologetics and the Role of Evangelism
  • Human Sexuality and the Morality of Contraception
  • The Doctrine of the Church

And the top three are:

  1. The Nature and Authority of Scripture (I do have a degree in Bible after all.)
  2. Evolution and the Problem of Human Origins (This one just keeps cropping up.)
  3. And I’m really not sure about the third, so I will keep it at two for now. These two relate beautifully anyway.

On To Do Lists

I believe in To Do Lists. I will tell you why.

Life is full and busy and fallen human nature tends toward decay and therefore disarray. There is a certain amount of life that comes from having an ordered existence, that is, having self control. So, rather than allowing my own appetites to govern my moment-by-moment activity, I should pause at some point and ponder what things I should do, write them down, and accomplish them. Perhaps 10 pages of reading here, a spot of Greek here, half of the dishes, a load of laundry. I don’t know, but there is something really motivating about checking tasks off a list, too!

John Calvin on the Fourth Verse of Psalm 139

Good morning, John Calvin.

4. For there is not a word, etc. The words admit a double meaning. Accordingly some understand them to imply that God knows what, we are about to say before the words are formed on our tongue; others, that though we speak not a word, and try by silence to conceal our secret intentions, we cannot elude his notice. Either rendering amounts to the same thing, and it is of no consequence which we adopt. The idea meant to be conveyed is, that while the tongue is the index of thought to man, being the great medium of communication, God, who knows the heart, is independent of words. And use is made of the demonstrative particle lo! to indicate emphatically that the innermost recesses of our spirit stand present to his view.

This psalm reminds me of the many times I would marvel at the depth and breadth of God’s knowledge when I was younger. Sometimes, laying out under the stars with friends, we would muse about just how magnificent and overwhelmingly great God’s love, knowledge, and perfection were.

Father, bring to us the proper joy in the contemplation of your works. Amen.

Linus

Just found the following in Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.3.3: “The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus;”

Named after a preeminent bishop of the early church…check.

B.B. Warfield, The Authority and Inspiration of the Scriptures

A quotation from B.B. Warfield. Perhaps a study of the Early Church’s (or a particular thinker’s) view of the nature of Scripture and inspiration would be a good track for me.

Christianity is often called a book-religion. It would be more exact to say that it is a religion which has a book. Its foundations are laid in apostles and prophets, upon which its courses are built up in the sanctified lives of men; but Christ Jesus alone is its chief cornerstone. He is its only basis; he, its only head; and he alone has authority in his Church. But he has chosen to found his Church not directly by his own hands, speaking the word of God, say for instance, in thunder-tones from heaven; but through the instrumentality of a body of apostles, chosen and trained by himself, endowed with gifts and graces from the Holy Ghost, and sent forth into the world as his authoritative agents for proclaiming a gospel which he placed within their lips and which is none the less his authoritative word, that it is through them that he speaks it. It is because the apostles were Christ’s representatives, that what they did and said and wrote as such, comes to us with divine authority. The authority of the Scriptures thus rests on the simple fact that God’s authoritative agents in founding the Church gave them as authoritative to the Church which they founded. All the authority of the apostles stands behind the Scriptures, and all the authority of Christ behind the apostles. The Scriptures are simply the law-code which the law-givers of the Church gave it.

If, then, the apostles were appointed by Christ to act for him and in his name and authority in founding the Church–and this no one can doubt; and if the apostles gave the Scriptures to the Church in prosecution of this commission–and this admits of as little doubt; the whole question of the authority of the Scriptures is determined. It will be observed that their authority does not rest exactly on apostolic authorship. The point is not that the apostles wrote these books (though most of the New Testament books were written by apostles), but that they imposed them on the Church as authoritative expositions of its divinely appointed faith and practice. Still less does the authority of the Scriptures rest on the authority of the Church. The Church may bear witness to what she received from the apostles as law, but this is not giving authority to that law but humbly recognizing the authority which rightfully belongs to it whether the Church recognizes it or not. The puzzle which some people fall into here is something like mistaking the relative “authority” of the guide-post and the road; the guide-post may point us to the right road but it does not give its rightness to the road. It has not “determined” the road–it is the road that has “determined” the guide-post; and unless the road goes of itself to its destination the guide-post has no power to determine its direction. So the Church does not “determine” the Scriptures, but the Scriptures the Church. Nor does it avail to say in opposition that the Church existed before the Scriptures and therefore cannot depend on them. The point is, whether the Scriptures are a product of the Church, or rather of the authority which founded the Church. The Church certainly did not exist before the authority which Christ gave the apostles to found it, in virtue of which they have imposed the Scriptures on it as law.

Edit: I just had to add this. It was a theological “Oh snap!” moment. (And that “Oh snap!” would be directed toward a certain 20th century theologian, of course.)

Let it be observed that the proof of the authority of the Scriptures does not rest on a previous proof of their inspiration. Even an uninspired law is law. But when inspiration has once been shown to be fact, it comes mightily to the reinforcement of their authority. God speaks to us now, in Scripture, not only mediately through his representatives, but directly through the Scriptures themselves as his inspired word. The Scriptures thus become the crystalization of God’s authoritative will. We will not say that Christianity might not have been founded and propagated and preserved without inspired writings or even without any written embodiment of the authoritative apostolic teaching. Wherever Christ is known through whatever means, there is Christianity, and men may hear and believe and be saved. But God has caused his grace to abound to us in that he not only published redemption through Christ in the world, but gave this preachment authoritative expression through the apostles, and fixed it with infallible trustworthiness in his inspired word. Thus in every age God speaks directly to every Christian heart, and gives us abounding safety to our feet and divine security to our souls. And thus, instead of a mere record of a revelation given in the past, we have the ever-living word of God; instead of a mere tradition however guarded, we have what we have all learned to call in a unique sense “the Scriptures.”


 

Thoughts on Graduating and Theological Study

Over the course of the past few weeks, it has been firmly impressed upon my mind that one does not move from the general to the particular in everyday living, but from the particular to the general. Being the (very) busy person I am, life is filled with moments, moments that I must steward with careful and precise wisdom. It is in these moments that true faithfulness can be borne out. Rather than grand, sweeping visions of change, or broad, generally applied principles, it is the moments, habits, and simple choices that set our direction as people.

It would seem odd, then, how preoccupied I have been over the past four years with the future. I have worried about what my gifts are, what I should be doing, what “passion” I have, or what group of people I want to impact. But see, all these are broad and general categories. Why the general “people groups”? Why not instead the people in front of me? Why do I have to always be somewhere else? Why do I need to discover my “passion”? Why not submit myself to understanding the passion of God revealed in Jesus Christ?

Maybe vocation is more quiet – and I’m speaking poetically – maybe vocation is a daily walk of faithfulness in a persistently more specific direction, that despite all our best efforts, the end of which cannot be attained by our own strength. (I’ll copyright that definition…)

I believe that not only life and vocation, but also the study of God must, more often that the opposite, be characterized by attention to detail. For, when we generalize and then logically deduce particulars, we may miss bits of the revelation which would counter our conclusions. Let me put it thus: it is an exercise in humility to be very careful about hasty generalizations when it comes to the study of an incomprehensible persons. Sometimes we must forsake a general statement for the sake of faithfulness to several seemingly contradictory particulars – acknowledging of course that they are reconcilable either in the eschaton or in God Himself. I believe it was Calvin who encouraged us to go to the limits of revelation with our reason, but no further. This is what I mean. Lest our vague or ignorant view of God misinforms, ignores, or explains away certain texts, lets us humbly admit our weakness of understanding (and perhaps explain why that’s okay to someone who might look down on this admission).

An example of this is the (typical?) Calvinist’s understanding of 1 John 2:2 – “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” What does “all” mean in this passage? The Calvinist, because of the theological framework with which they come to this text, must resolutely say that “all” does not really mean “all.” This is what I am talking about. Instead of trying to nuance the understanding of the atonement, a prior general idea is forced upon a particular text.

More on the impossibility of escaping this reality later…