Book Review: The Theology of B.B. Warfield by Fred Zaspel

9781433513954In August 1812 the doors of Princeton Theological Seminary were opened and a new era was ushered in. Students would be a portion of the, “union of piety and learning”, which Princeton would seek to instill into their students. B.B. Warfield would come to embody this statement and become, as many would consider, the greatest theological mind to emerge from its halls. The Oxford of America was born and would go on to train thousands of men for ministry, who heavily influenced by their studies, would go on to produce a limitless number of works and journal entries, furthering the gospel  and advancing the global mission of God in their wake.

The odd thing about this survey of theological truths was perhaps it’s authorship. The text was not systematically put together by Warfield himself but at the pen of Fred Zaspel this work has come to be. The Theology of B.B. Warfield (Crossway 2010) is a systematic summary of his works which were spread out vastly among the landscape of literature and journals. Zaspel has compiled a monumental work of Presbyterian theology and I’m taken back by the sheer immensity of this work. There were some chapters which included much more Greek and Latin than I will ever come to know. Zaspel did a good job to interpret into English many of the references but they were so numerous as to leave me in a state of slight confusion. The summaries of each chapter, however, wrapped up the main points well and led me to the ultimate pinnacle of Warfields writings.

As soon as this text is opened one would immediately notice the profundity of Warfields works. The arrangement of his thought pattern is a matter to be studied all on its own. The way Warfield used both the Scirptures as a defense and arguments against them is far superior than anything i have yet read. Zaspel captures me with sweeping summaries of Warfield by making them “low hanging fruit” upon which I can feast.

Theology is the science of God, in which case it deals with a body of objective facts, truth God has revealed about himself. These facts are assumed by theology and explicated in their various branches of thought. But it would be absurd to assume and develop these facts before they are established, indeed, as facts. Theology is the science of God, and the science of God has no right to exist until it is first established that God does exist, that he may be known, and that we have a trustworthy means of learning about him. This is the role of Apologetics, and it therefore stands first. 

Warfield does an excellent job of systematizing his theological beliefs into attainable thoughts which I’m sure his students were very grateful for. He stands in sharp contrast to any theology or system of thought which would seek to discredit the Scriptures and Zaspel does an excellent job of stating so. Even those whom have been stood side by side with Warfield have received some criticism for not being as zealous or thorough as Warfield, i.e Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck.

The “Lion of Princeton” would stand in sharp contrast, and at times humorous opposition to those who would seek to dismantle the Calvinist notion of supernaturalism, which Warfield saw as a pillar of the Christian faith. If there were a pinnacle which this book reaches for I would contend that it comes in the form of Soteriology and more specifically Christology. A large portion of this book is dedicated to the works of Warfield in those areas, and rightly so. I would say that from reading this text that Warfield held a center of theology which circled these two heads of theology. Most of my notes and underlining falls within the 200 pages Zaspel lends to the unfolding of Wafields thoughts.

Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does that nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior may be, it is always on His blood and righteousness alone that we can rest…We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace. Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just “miserable sinners” still, deserving in ourselves nothing but everlasting wrath. 

Though I agree and have learned much from this text I knew there would come a place where I did not even remotely agree with Warfield. This portion came when the texts were turned to infant baptism and the cessation view of the Spirit. I would consider myself holding to more of a Baptist line of thought on these two areas. I believe that God is free and willing to work in these last days while employing dreams, prophecy and tongues. I do not think those things should have any priority whatsoever over scripture but I do believe they have their places. i am not one to limit what God can or cannot do in these last days and think I would be moving towards a grey area were I to accept the cessation view of the Holy Spirit.

Over all this text was a massive help to my understanding of scripture and a pure rendering of Presbyterian Orthodoxy. I am in infinite gratitude to Zaspel for compiling this work so that the body of God may be built up and the church established in truth. I commend this book for any who love history or who desire and long to grow deeper in their faith. Even if you don’t wholly agree with the positions Warfields hold I still think this volume ought to be on every shelf of those a position of Church leadership or those who are seeking to move in that direction. This book has opened my mind to reading other Systematic Theologies. In the future I hope to work my way through several of them from varying denominations. Let me leave you with this sweeping statement of Warfield which moved me to praise and thanksgiving.

The perfection of Jesus defies such particularizing characterization. All the beauties of character which exhibit themselves singly in the world’s saints and heroes, assemble in Him, each in its perfection and all in perfect balance and harmonious combination. if we ask what manner of man He was, we can only respond, No manner of man, but rather,  by way of eminence, the man, the only perfect man that ever existed on earth, to whom gathered all the perfections proper for man, that they might find a fitting home in His heart and that they might play brightly about His person. If you would know what man is, in the height of his divine idea, look at Jesus Christ. (Amen and Amen I say)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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2 Replies to “Book Review: The Theology of B.B. Warfield by Fred Zaspel”

  1. A few generations ago, people discussed theology. Today, most religion is like a fast food stop.
    I spent time with extreme Calvanists. They never stopped focusing on the total infallability of man. To try and make a child successful by pointing out his every flaw creates and angry frustrated, hateful adult.

    Jesus showed us “the height of the divine Idea” as you quoted. But that is how God designed each of us in the beginning. It is our spiritual DNA. The pattern is still in us. A healthy spiritual practice must help people to get in touch with the ideal, not just keep correcting the mistake. We live with the pattern, Jesus, in view, and within us. The Story did not begin with the Fall of man. It began with God making us in his image and likeness. Jesus restores us. The Pattern has to be bigger than all the fault-finding and correcting.

    The Holy Spirit will be poured out on all flesh. It’s just getting started!

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  2. I agree with you on the prophecy that Joel uttered, that the Spirit will be poured on all flesh and I wholeheartedly believe that we are seeing in our day a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. I wish more people today would speak about theology and more specifically in defense of the Scriptures and essential doctrines. Instead I see people taking the stance that truth is relative, which is a dumb statement, and denying the fact that God even exists. I believe Paul speaks perfectly to this issue when he says in Romans that they deny him by their actions and are storing up wrath for themselves.

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