Book Review: Warfield on the Christian Life by Fred G. Zaspel

4.5 out of 5 Stars
Publisher: Crossway (2012)
Buy: Amazon, CBD, or Monergism
Difficulty: Easy

Theologians on the Christian Life

First of all, if all the books in this series are as good as Warfield on the Christian Life we have a lot to look forward to. The series takes theologians who balanced doctrinally rich study with evangelical Christian living and presents them to us in an approachable and devotional format. There was such depth to what Warfield says when he talks about topics ranging from the Holy Spirit to the work of Christ to our sanctification. So many pop evangelicals pit evangelical living against studying doctrine but church history and Warfield, more recently, shows us this divide is artificial, rather they are passionately intertwined. As a matter of fact, after reading Warfield on the Christian Life I would argue if you lack one then you have neither.

The Holy Spirit

Of particular interest was how rich Warfield’s understanding of the Holy Spirit was. He often gets a bad wrap within the Reformed resurgence for not understanding the richness of the Holy Spirit but I dare say the folks who make this claim have never read Warfield thoroughly. He argues explicitly for the supernatural nature of Christianity against the naturalism of his day. He also insists God can step in to human time if he sovereignly chooses. But the passion with which he speaks about the Holy Spirit’s love for us is astounding. Zaspel begins by setting the stage

But to draw comfort from this clearly revealed truth--that the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, loves us also--this is too seldom the experience of the believer. But here it is for us, Warfield admonishes, intended for our use in just this way (cf. Rom. 15:30). And what a glorious thought it is, [Warfield says]
that the Spirit of all holiness is willing to visit such polluted hearts as ours, and even to swell in them, to make them His home, to work ceaselessly and patiently with them, gradually wooing them--through many groanings and many trials--to slow and tentative efforts toward good; and never leaving them until, through  His constant grace, they have been won entirely to put off the old man and put on the new man and to stand new creatures before the face of their Father God and their Redeemer Christ. Surely herein is love! . . . [and] what immense riches of comfort and joy this great truth has in it for our souls! (p. 88)

Does this sound like a man who lacked an intimate understanding and relationship with the Spirit of God?

A Prophetic Voice for Our Current Evangelical Kerfuffle

The other astounding thing to me was how relevant and timely many of the issues he spoke about are for us today. The book is filled with highlighted passages where Warfield, you would have thought, was speaking directly to many of our current evangelical kerfuffles. The important thing to note is how when one passionately and faithfully expounds Scripture the need to over contextualize disappears. I fear so much of what passes for orthodox theology today will be worthless in 10 years because it’s over contextualized instead of overloaded with gospel truth which is timeless. Just to give you a taste:

Christianity is not first about our reaching out to God. It is about his coming to us in grace, making himself know to us, his sinful creatures, in order to restore us to fellowship with himself. It is to this end that God has spoken. Thus, Christianity is a creedal, or doctrinal, religion. It is much more than that, of course,  but is a creedal religion at the very least and at its foundation. God comes first and foremost with a message to proclaim. It is a religion grounded in and advanced by the proclamation of divinely revealed truth. And a right understanding of that message is fundamental to all that it offers. The rescue it promises come to us as this message is embraced, and our deepening acquaintance with this message advances the comforts and blessings it affords . . . .

Warfield warns that to be indifferent to Christian doctrine is, simply, to be indifferent to Christianity itself. . . . [A]ll Christian theology is itself “directly and richly evangelically devotional.” . . . And throughout his writings the doctrine he expounds is consistently an exercise of and an expression of devotion to Christ. Communion with God is not a mere feeling for him. It is the experience of God himself, rightly--even if not fully--understood. And the Christian life, more broadly considered, is but the enjoyment of Christian truth rightly understood and gratefully experienced. (pp. 38-39, 40)

It’s this kind of zeal for doctrine experienced evangelically and devotionally which struck me most forcefully when reading this book. Warfield cared about getting doctrine right because he cared about the gospel and knowing more about God.

An Appreciation of Our Fathers

I’ve said on multiple occasions on this blog that one of the things that’s missing most in evangelicalism today is an understanding of historical theology. If you understand the rich evangelical fervor which doctrine and deep gospel truths have sprung from then you cannot have an aversion to doctrine. We also have a tendency to think that the issues we face today are unique to us but we fail to heed Solomon’s admonition that nothing is new under the sun. How much would we benefit from sitting down with Warfield and allowing him to teach us about Christ? I dare say more than reading the majority of evangelical rubbish that’s written today. Therefore, do not hesitate to purchase this book. The writing style is approachable and you do not need a masters of divinity to access these truths. Warfield on the Christian Life would make a fantastic small group study tool, devotional, or discipleship resource for young believers. Zaspel has provided us with an invaluable resource.

A free copy of this book was provided by Crossway for review. If you plan on purchasing this book, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by using these links to purchase it: Amazon, CBD, or Monergism.