B. B. Warfield: Champion of the Faith (Fred Zaspel)
In the most recent issue of Credo Magazine, Old Princeton. Fred Zaspel has written an insightful article, introducing readers to the life and theology of B. B. Warfield. His article is titled: B. B. Warfield: Champion of the Faith. Many of you are familiar with Fred Zaspel, who is a weekly contributor to the Credo blog. He holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also the interim Senior Pastor at New Hyde Park Baptist Church on New York’s Long Island, and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is also the author of The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law (1991); The Theology of Fulfillment (1994); Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History (1996); New Covenant Theology with Tom Wells (New Covenant Media); The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010); Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel (Crossway, 2012). Fred is married to Kimberly and they have two grown children, Gina and Jim.
Here is just a taste of his article:
Many of us have wished that we could have heard preachers of past generations, and although Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921) lived into the beginnings of the recording age, we have no audio recording of him at all. But thankfully, Warfield kept scrapbooks in which he preserved many items of Warfieldian interest, and in scrapbook volume three he pasted a printed version of what is undoubtedly one of his very earliest sermons. This our first sample of Warfield’s preaching is a sermon preached at the First Presbyterian Church of Dayton, Ohio, on Sunday, July 23, 1876, and published in the local newspaper on Tuesday, July 25. And an interesting sample it is in several ways.
Warfield, then a twenty-four year old recent seminary graduate, was in Dayton briefly as “supply” minister in the church which was then without a pastor. His text that Sunday was Romans 3:4 — “Let God be true and every man a liar.” The sermon consisted of an affirmation of the truthfulness of God as over against all doubts, confusions, criticisms, and denials that have been brought against the Scriptures. Scripture is God’s very own word and therefore is and must be truth without any mixture of error. We may wonder how divine sovereignty and human responsibility may fit together, or how we can rightly understand God as Trinity, or how an all-powerful and good God could allow sin, and so on. But we may confidently rest in the fact that, in all cases, what God has declared is true. And although modern man may balk at the supernatural and at various mysteries of our faith, we remain nonetheless believing — “let God be true, and every man a liar.” Trusting in the truthfulness of God’s spoken word we will never fail.
The editor of the newspaper, somewhat a sceptic, rather condescendingly praised the sermon as a wonderful specimen of the hell-fire and damnation types of old-fashioned preaching. But the congregation was evidently impressed: they issued a unanimous call to Warfield to become their pastor. Warfield declined the offer, however, determining instead to go to Europe, with his soon-to-be bride, to further his theological studies. But what is perhaps most interesting to us is that in this first sample of Warfield’s theological work the theme and dominant note is that which marked his entire career — the unfailing reliability of God’s word.
Warfield: Theologian of Inspiration
B.B. Warfield is known to us as the theologian of the doctrine of inspiration. In a day in which enlightenment thinking had come to full blossom, there was little place for the supernatural. We had learned from Darwin that God had little, if anything, to do with the world itself, so how can we now believe the Bible actually came to us from him? This was in many respects the defining issue of the day, and it was Warfield above all others who stood to answer and provide defense for — we might better say, go on the offense for — the divine origin and character of Scripture. Many others of his day were faithful in the same battle, but no other possessed the breath or depth of learning that Warfield brought to the table. From virtually every quarter of learning attacks were being advanced, and in virtually every case it was Warfield who stood to give them check. And over the course of his career he provided the church with the most thorough exposition and defense of the doctrine of inspiration to date. Indeed, as many have said, in the century since, all discussion of the doctrine has been but a footnote to Warfield. He was the high-water mark. And whatever one’s theological persuasion, no investigation of this doctrine is complete until the works of this Princetonian giant are taken into careful consideration.
This is how Warfield is known to us today, and deservedly so. It was Augustine who gave us an understanding of sin and grace. It was Anselm who gave us understanding of the death of Christ. It was Luther who gave us understanding of the doctrine of justification. And so on. None of these men originated anything, of course, but their expositions of their respective doctrines were watershed moments in the history of the church’s understanding. And it is in this sense that Warfield is rightfully known as the theologian of the doctrine of inspiration. In more than a thousand published pages his massive grounding of the proposition, “What Scripture says, God says,” provided a lasting reference point for all related discussion.
The irony is that Warfield’s theological contribution was much larger than this. Surprisingly, to many, the doctrine of inspiration was not the leading area of his theological output. Nor would he have viewed the doctrine of inspiration as his center of gravity.
Read the rest of Zaspel’s article today!
To view the Magazine as a PDF, click here.
Each of us are indebted to those theologians of ages past who have gone before us, heralding the gospel, and even fighting to their last breath to keep the God of that gospel high and lifted up. It is hard to think of a group of men more worthy of this praise than those of the Old Princeton heritage. Men like Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and many others, stand in this rich heritage, men who defended the faith once for all delivered to the saints against the ever-growing threat of liberalism around them.
Since this year marks the 200th anniversary of Old Princeton (1812-2012), it is fitting that we devote ourselves to remembering and imitating these great theologians of yesterday, not because they are great in and of themselves, but because their example points us to the great and mighty God we worship. And who better to introduce us to these Old Princetonians than James M. Garretson writing on Archibald Alexander, W. Andrew Hoffecker making our acquaintance with Charles Hodge, Fred Zaspel reminding us of B. B. Warfield, and D. G. Hart increasing our love for J. Gresham Machen? Not to mention a very in-depth interview with Paul Helseth on Old Princton and the debate over “right reason.” May these articles and interviews inspire us so that in our own day we might experience a revival of this rich orthodoxy that has stood the test of time.