Review of “Thy Word is Still Truth”

dmsthumbI wrote this review when the book first came out, but it wasn’t published. So here it is for one and all.

Lillback, Peter A. and Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Editors). Thy Word is Still Truth: Essential Writings on the Doctrine of Scripture from the Reformation to Today. Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary and Presbyterian and Reformed Press, 2013. xxxi + 1392p (cloth) $59.95.

The most abiding result of the so-called “reorganization” of Princeton Theological Seminary in 1929 was the creation of Westminster Theological Seminary under the leadership of J. Gresham Machen (see MSJ 24:2 [272–75], review of Princeton Seminary in American Culture and Religion by this reviewer for background).

As the editors of this volume write Westminster Seminary was noted by, “a high view of Scripture reflecting the historic Reformed theological and confessional tradition” (xix). This volume, is really a “reading syllabus” or “compendium” was born out of a “theological crisis, which was motivated by differing hermeneutical perspectives and broader understandings of confessional boundaries” (xx) as is related to the doctrine of Scripture. Lillbeck and Gaffin state,

Having resolved this conflict and having begun to articulate again a clear and historic witness to this core value. Westminster now gives the world a theological testimony of the integrity of our views that we believe are grounded in the long and august Reformed tradition on the doctrine of Scripture (ibid).

And further they state as their purpose for this volume to be,

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 (ibid).

The “controversy” that the preface refers to dealt with the works of former WTS Professor Peter Enns who was suspended from the his professorship (after 14 years) by the Board of Directors, at the urging of Lillback. There had been a series of hearings, internal investigation, and written papers, and the faculty had voted that Enns’ work, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker, 2008), did not violate his faculty oath to uphold the Westminster Confession. He resigned shortly after being suspended (1319–33). However, unless the reader was already familiar with the situation, the entire context of this volume is rather arcane. Even the scant 14 pages dedicated to “The Westminster Controversy” are only copies of the board’s public statements and do little to clarify the opaque treatment of the situation that inspired this volume. An introductory chapter detailing the history of the “controversy” and providing a more thorough context of this book would have added significantly to its overall value.

What the volume does do, rather nicely, is present a compendium or “reader.” In a classroom setting this would have been called a “reading syllabus.” The first major section (3–83) is selected writings from Luther, Zwingli, Bullinger, and Calvin (the later being a section of his Institutes). This is followed by a long section of the “Reformed Confessions” (85–242); followed by “Early Reformed Interpretation” (243–495); “The Doctrine of Scripture in the Scottish and Dutch Legacy” (497–736); “Other Nineteenth Century European Contributions” (737–92); “The Doctrine of Scripture in the Old Princeton Theology” (793–892); “The Theology of Scripture of the Founding Fathers of Westminster” (893–981); “The Birth of Biblical Theology” (983–1108); “The Authority of the Old Testament and New Testament Canon of Scripture” (1121–63); “Challenges to the Reformed Doctrine of Scripture” (1179–1279); “The Westminster Controversy” (1319–33); and a concluding section (1337–48), consisting mainly of Gaffin’s contribution to God’s Word in Servant Form (Reformed Academic Press, 2008).

Except for the brief introductions that precede each major section, the preface and the longer introduction by Lillback in the conclusion, there is nothing that could be called new material. One oddity is the inclusion of a section from The Works of Jonathan Edwards, “Man’s Natural Blindness in the Things of Religion” (478–95) in the larger section containing excerpts from the Reformed confessions. While generally on theme for the totality of the volume, its placement with the confessions really doesn’t fit. The chapter excepting Charles Hodge’ section on Scripture (795–822) from his Systematic Theology retains the extensive use of Latin quotations. The editors could have assisted those who do not have facility in Latin by adding translations of the several long paragraphs in their footnotes.

While publishers have always placed brief endorsements of on the back, dust jackets, and elsewhere; the current practice of a page or two of such endorsements in the front has been gaining ground in recent years, a practice this reviewer finds to be an unnecessary and annoyingly “puffing” of a book. The ten pages given to these endorsements in the front of this volume are really beyond the pale of appropriateness. The subtitle is rather misleading; it is no doubt some of the “Essential Writings on the Doctrine of Scripture from the Reformation to Today” but it is hardly thorough. There is no mention of the work of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, which produced the statement, The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. This is perhaps the single most important declaration on inerrancy in the last century (along with a subsequent statement on hermeneutics) yet it is only mentioned in passing and is entirely absent from the index. The neglect is even more startling considering the leadership of ICBI by the Presbyterian pastor and leader, James Montgomery Boice (albeit he was affiliated with the PCA). In fact, there is essentially no mention of works by those outside the larger Westminster sphere. The underlying notion that there exists a “Reformed” doctrine of Scripture, somehow unique or in some articulation distinct from traditional evangelicalism is a dubious proposition that is assumed rather than argued.

Despite the rather narrow and parochial purposes behind this work, as a compendium or reading syllabus this volume undoubtedly has some value. Its strength is in collating the writings in support Biblical inerrancy, albeit from the particular perspective of Westminster; but with little new or original material the price is rather steep for a collection of otherwise available writings. This is a book that could have been much more than it turned out to be.

I’m Re-Entering the Blogosphere

My personal web page has been in desperate need of updating for some time, but with all of the work I was (now formerly) doing I never had time. I now have the time and enthusiasm to update things and begin to blog again.

I’ve never been a “blogger” in the traditional sense, even when I was blogging some ten years ago, I was always more of an essayist who used a blogging format.

I’m going to write about everything that occurs to me on the adventure going forward. I’ll do some book reviews, some opinion pieces, have some fun, and in general just enjoy the trip. I hope that you’ll come along and comment as you feel inclined.