Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was among the greatest theological minds ever produced in America (some compare him favorably with Jonathan Edwards), yet he has lost favor in our postmodern era. He was one of the famous “old Princeton” theologians, along with Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge and J. Gresham Machen, and taught at Princeton from 1873-1921, during some of the most tumultuous times in modern church history. He published massive amounts of indepth doctrinal material, taught more than a generation of pastors and Christian leaders, and was one of the most influential evangelicals of his day. Nevertheless, during his lifetime liberals were slowly gaining dominance in the West and in 1929 Princeton itself officially repudiated the fundamentals of Scripture, which Warfield had devoted his life to teach and defend. Today, despite his great efforts, Warfield is largely ignored except by some in the Reformed camp who recognize his contribution to our understanding of the essentials of the faith. For these reasons and others, Zaspel’s overview of Warfield’s life and teachings is a welcomed volume.
Warfield is best known today as a defender of Scripture, especially its inspiration and authority. His Revelation and Inspiration is a classic that will forever define Warfield’s contribution to the church. But Zaspel demonstrates that Warfield’s interests and contributions were much wider. Primarily, Zaspel argues that Warfield was a christologian (p. 157). That is, his main attention was on the person and work of Christ. Another important theme that the professor emphasized was the centrality of truth. As with many who are so doctrinally oriented, some view him to be all head and no heart, but this is a distortion. Warfield simply believed that the entirety of the Christian life and experience is our response to revealed truth (p. 38). Experience is important but it is Christian doctrine that is designed to lead to life (p. 47). Another of his dominate themes was that of redemption. As a matter of fact, “for Warfield, Christianity is redemption” (p. 51). Mankind does not need reform, it needs rescue from sin. Therefore, the gospel “is not good advice, but good news” (p. 63).
As might be expected, Warfield spent considerable time defending the truth against prevalent false teachings of his day. At the top of his list was the battle for the inspiration, authority and truthfulness of Scripture (pp. 198-199), but he also dealt with “higher life” teachings (pp. 99-108) and perfectionist views of those espousing entire sanctification (pp. 111 ff). And, since the penal substitutional death of Christ was under attack, Warfield defended this great doctrine as well (pp. 59-60, 150). Since all of these concerns still sidetrack Christians today Warfield’s writings are pertinent. As a matter of fact, the more one reads Warfield the more one realizes how much he has influenced and shaped our understanding of the truths of Scripture.
Zaspel has not only given us excellent insight into the life and teaching of B. B. Warfield but this book also lifts us up toward the Lord. As I began reading Warfield on the Christian Life I soon realized how it was refreshing my soul. I therefore decided to slow down and meditatively read one chapter a day. I found Warfield’s and Zaspel’s emphasis on truth, Christ and redemption most encouraging. I would recommend this book to others both for its review of Warfield’s teachings and for its ministry to their hearts.
Warfield on the Christian Life, Living in the Light of the Gospel by Fred G. Zaspel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012) 240 pp., paper $17.99