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warfield-study158 years ago today Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was born near Lexington, KY. He would go on to become the lion of Princeton—perhaps the greatest American theologian since Jonathan Edwards

Next year, September 2010, Crossway will publish the first “systematic theology” of Warfield, written by Fred Zaspel. The title will be The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary. Though Warfield himself never wrote a systematics, Zaspel’s work will be the next best thing.

I asked Zaspel if he would mind doing a guest post to remind us of Warfield’s significance. Enjoy.

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Remembering Warfieldby Fred G. Zaspel

At important moments in the history of the church God, in kind providence, has raised up men to give voice to His Word. And so there is Augustine, the theologian of sin and grace. He did not invent these doctrines, of course. But in his battle with Pelagius he gave them such clear and cogent articulation that forever since he has been recognized as the one who gave these doctrines to us. He was the high water mark. So also there is Anselm, the theologian of the doctrine of the atonement. And there is Luther, the theologian of justification. And Calvin, the theologian of the Holy Spirit.

In this sense exactly Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield of Old Princeton is the theologian of the doctrine of inspiration. Those who hold to the historic doctrine today add very little to what Warfield said a hundred years ago. So also any who reject that doctrine must contend with Warfield before their work is complete. He was the theologian of inspiration. This was his gift, in God’s kind providence, to the modern church.

But all this, accurate as it certainly is, could skew our understanding of Warfield just a bit, for it does not provide anything close to an adequate representation of him. Moreover, in Warfield’s own mind and heart, inspiration is not what he was all about. To be sure, inspiration was in large measure the issue of the day, and Warfield was the man God raised up to speak to that issue. But it might be surprising for some to learn that judged in terms of literary output and of his own self-conscious interests, B. B. Warfield was first and foremost a Christologian. In his own heart of hearts he saw himself as a fallen sinner rescued by a divine Redeemer, and this—the person and work of Christ—is where we find the heartbeat of this great Princetonian. And as he did with the doctrine of inspiration, so also Warfield provided for the church a massive exegetical grounding for the great truths of Christ’s two natures, his redemptive work, and so on. Indeed, it was to this end—God’s redemptive revelation in Christ—that Warfield understood the doctrine of inspiration as so very vital.

But the breadth and depth Warfield’s grasp was greater still. It would be difficult to find in the history of American theology a theologian who displayed a theological scholarship equal to that of Warfield. And certainly even in his own day—a day marked by increasingly determined and scornful unbelief—he was recognized as a giant, and he eagerly took all comers and stepped forward to defend the church’s historic faith against all its various attacks. Commanding the highest respect from all quarters he was eminently equipped to argue the case for biblical truth on any ground—exegetical, theological, historical, and philosophical—confident and never fearing in the slightest that God’s truth could ever be overthrown. It has been said with only slight exaggeration that it was B. B. Warfield who catapulted the orthodox Reformed faith into the twentieth century.

Finally, as I have already alluded, Warfield’s heart beat hot for Christ. His passion for Christ and the gospel pulses prominently throughout the many thousands of pages of his works. He adored the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Redeemer, and he loved to say so. And he loved to speak of our utter, helpless need of such a Savior from heaven. He was a “polemic” theologian, yes. And his polemics were powerful, supremely informed, insightful, and unrelenting, devouring the enemies of truth on all fronts. But it was a polemic driven by a deep heart of love for and loyalty to Christ. He was in fact the ideal of Old Princeton—the highest and best of informed scholarship matched by a humble piety and fervent love for Christ.

Today marks the 158th birthday of B. B. Warfield (Nov. 5, 1851 – Feb. 16, 1921). An outstanding gift of Christ to his church Warfield was indeed. May his example inspire us to a similar confidence in God’s infallible Word and a similar heartfelt dependence upon our great Redeemer from heaven.


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14 thoughts on “Remembering B. B. Warfield”

  1. Warfield was indeed a giant of the faith. I encourage anyone who hasn’t already done so to read his volume on The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.

  2. I had no idea Warfield was born near Lexington — the nearest large city to where I live. Also, I have heard of his contributions to God’s-sovereignty-based Christianity, yet not looked into him specifically. This volume might be something into which I’ll look …

  3. Tim campbell says:

    Is anyone aware of a biography on Warfield? I have never seen one? Would love to find out. Thanks!

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Carl Trueman is scheduled to write one for the P&R series on Reformed biographies.

  4. Andrew Hobold says:

    Thanks for posting this Pastor! I enjoyed learning some more about how God used His servant. Happy Birthday Warfield!

  5. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    “Commanding the highest respect from all quarters he was eminently equipped to argue the case for biblical truth on any ground—exegetical, theological, historical, and philosophical—confident and never fearing in the slightest that God’s truth could ever be overthrown.”

    I like that.

    “He was a “polemic” theologian, yes. And his polemics were powerful, supremely informed, insightful, and unrelenting, devouring the enemies of truth on all fronts.”

    And I like that.

    “But it was a polemic driven by a deep heart of love for and loyalty to Christ.”

    And finally I like that. Speaking truth in love for Christ.

  6. Paul says:

    Thank you for this! I will never forget sitting on Waikiki beach while traveling on biz to Hawaii more than 25 years ago reading through The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible and Biblical and Theological Studies being deeply moved by the mind and heart of Warfield. Those teary moments on the beauty of that beach will forever be remembered as I was stricken by the lack of interest in where I was because of the richness of Warfield’s writings. May he not be forgotten!

    Dare I quote from his “Imputation” article (from Biblical and Theological Studies, pp. 263-264)?

    That the sin of Adam was so set to the account of his descendants that they have actually shared in the penalty which was threatened to it; and that the sins of His people were so set to the account of our Lord that He bore them in His own body on the tree, and the merits are so set to their account that by His stripes they are healed, the entirety of historical orthodox Christianity unites in affirming.

  7. Bravo! Excellent post on B.B. Warfield. Great man.

  8. Susan Wright says:

    To Andrew Hobold, the best on Warfield is yet to come. God bless you, Pastor Fred.

  9. Best of all, Warfield was reputed to be a kind and loving husband to his invalid wife. Because of his wife’s disability which started after a mishap on their honeymoon, he stayed close to home to be with her every evening. He took tender care of her all of their lives together. I’m grateful for his stalwart defense of the faith and the authority of Scripture. But when I heard about how he loved his wife, the practical reality of Christian faith was evident.

  10. Jim Arcieri says:

    I’m glad to hear Ingrid’s information – we too often extol men as scholars and forget to evaluate them by “a more excellent way.” But with such Titan’s like Warfield, why did schools like Princeton (where he taught)embrace liberalism?

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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