Did God Really Say? A review of a compilation edited by David Garner

"To disobey God’s Word is to disobey him. To trust God’s Word is to trust him. To hear the Word is to hear him” - B. B. Warfield

Did God Really Say? is a compilation of seminar lectures given at the Virginia Beach 2011 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. The messages have been converted into essay form, making up the different chapters of the book. So the PCA does not take this doctrine for granted either. It was incumbent for them to pull together some of their finest scholars from Covenant Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary (Phil.) to give these messages to the leaders of the church. One thousand points for the PCA on that one!

 

Did God Really Say?, Edited by David B. Garner (P&R, 2012)

One of the first Bible Studies I ever taught was on the doctrine of the Word of God. It was kind of done out of necessity. Back when I was in my early twenties (Selah) I was asked to lead a women’s Bible study at the coffee shop I owned. I was just beginning to grow in biblical knowledge myself, and wasn’t too comfortable with the proposition. But I had become pretty close to some of the young women who were frequenting my shop, and acquiesced.

It didn’t take long to figure out that we needed to begin with a study on God’s Word. In that small group we represented Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Methodists, and non-denominationalists. The first “Systematic Theology” I purchased was Wayne Grudem’s. I started out using his questions, going through his chapter on God’s Word. As we went on, I expanded my research.

How do we know that the Bible is God’s Word? Does it clearly tell us everything we need to know for salvation and living a godly life? What kind of authority does it carry? The study really strengthened my faith, and was the beginning of a much deeper love and appreciation for God’s Word. I remember thinking, “Why didn’t I learn this when I was younger?” What I didn’t realize at the time was how many Christian adults did not have a good education on the canon of Scripture and what properties belonged to it.

Did God Really Say? is a compilation of seminar lectures given at the Virginia Beach 2011 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. The messages have been converted into essay form, making up the different chapters of the book. So the PCA does not take this doctrine for granted either. It was incumbent for them to pull together some of their finest scholars from Covenant Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary (Phil.) to give these messages to the leaders of the church. One thousand points for the PCA on that one!

This is a great book to pick up if you would like to learn more about this doctrine, especially how it is relevant in our time. On a funny note, it’s kind of ironic that it takes a bunch of scholars to teach us that the Bible is a book for the laity. But seriously, that has been an issue lately.

In the introduction, Garner convinces the reader of the importance of the book. God’s Word is Satan’s Point of attack. If Christ relied on it to effectively combat the enemy, so must the church (Loc. 183,196).

K. Scott Oliphant lays out the bedrock foundations of the Reformed church in the first chapter: God and Scripture (Loc. 299). These are the two principia, the beginning points or first principles by which everything else can be known. His discussion on Archetypal verses Ectypal knowledge reminded me of Francis Schaeffer’s simple way of saying that we can know God truly, but not exhaustively because he has graciously revealed himself to us. Basically, Oliphant lays it down for us: “No principia means no truth, or at least no knowledge of the truth” (Loc. 372). This is then contrasted with Rome’s principia of the Church, not Scripture. He carefully argues the important point that Scripture’s authority comes from God, not the Church. At the end of the essay, Oliphant said something that I’m going to be repeating over and over again: “the Holy Spirit hath so penned Scripture as to set men to study” (Loc. 496). True to the that!

There are seven chapters in all, and I don’t have space to discuss every one in detail. One theme that was mentioned by at least three authors was the covenantal understanding of Scripture. Michael Williams discusses B.B. Warfield’s understanding the Bible this way in the second chapter, Michael Kruger discusses it in his chapter, “Deconstructing Cannon”, and I remember Frame touching on it in his chapter. I actually would have loved to see a full chapter dedicated to this theme because I think it is so important to our relationship with Scripture. Kruger’s essay was very good for his purpose, but my favorite part was on the “Structure of the Covenant” (Loc. 1077). He explained how covenant and canon go together. Ancient Near Eastern treaties always had written texts confirming the terms of the covenant relationship. This emphasizes Kruger’s point that the cannon of Scripture was “not an after-the fact development, but something woven deep into the fabric of God’s redemptive plan” (Loc. 1088). I think this is a strong point, and really one worthy of a lecture/essay of its own.

On the other hand, I loved the inclusion of where we need to offer grace in this debate. Robert W. Yarbrough discusses this in Chapter 5, “Inerrancy’s Complexities.” This is a valuable chapter on the history of the doctrine of inerrancy and the challenges to the doctrine. While the scholarly part of the essay was indeed solid, I appreciated how Yarbrough addresses how “well-meaning but ill-advised inerrantist zealotry” (Loc.1433) can be a barrier to this important doctrine. He challenges us to be loving, not coercive in spirit. He is also not shy in pointing out some of the hypocrisies that we’ve encountered along the way. Do Christians themselves live like they trust God’s Word?

Chapter 5, “God and Language,” is actually not a lecture that was given at the G.A., but an edited “summary of ideas” from Vern. S. Poythress’s book, In the Beginning was the Word: Language-A God-Centered Approach. The ideas were wonderful, and I can see why they wanted to add these in the book. And yet, I couldn’t help but notice a lack of the author’s voice in the writing due to fact that they were edited out of a book, and it wasn’t in essay form. It was more like reading someone’s really good notes they took.

John Frame’s chapter was actually addressing one contemporary scholar. It is titled “N.T. Wright and the Authority of Scripture.” I was looking forward to this chapter, but left a little disappointed. Frame takes up a lot of space demonstrating how Wright’s nuances on this doctrine are not really original to historical, protestant thought. I get the point he was making, but that gave Frame less space to challenge Wright in where he clearly speaks in a way that challenges the authority of Scripture. I wanted Frame to address Wright’s ideas on myth, and his assertion that Adam and Eve weren’t necessarily actual, historic people (see here). But he didn’t. I thought that would be pertinent to the point of the chapter.

However, Frame does argue well against Wright’s objection that “we should not ask whether the whole text of Scripture is true” (Loc. 1939) because it distracts from more important biblical themes. Frame stresses that its truth was obviously important to the writers of it, and that Wright unnecessarily “pits the issue of truth against the issue of practical seriousness about Scripture” (Loc. 1962). He demonstrates that all of Wright’s own assertions have no meaning without the truth of the Word. Also, Frame points out that Wright’s method makes the scholar the “final arbiter of historical truth” (Loc. 2011). Are the scholar’s methods infallible?

The question is, “Did God Really Say?” That’s what the serpent asked Eve in the very beginning, and it is still being challenged today. Garner provides the book end discussing this “drunken narcissism” that challenges the clarity of God’s Words to his people.

This book’s implications are serious. As Michael Williams put it, drawing from B.B. Warfield:

To disobey God’s Word is to disobey him. To trust God’s Word is to trust him. To hear the Word is to hear him” (Loc. 617).

Aimee Byrd is a housewife and mother who attends Pilgrim Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Martinsburg, WV.  She and her husband, Matt, have 3 children.  She blogs at Housewife Theologian where this article first appeared; it is used with her permission.