I consider Fred Zaspel a good friend. I first met Fred when I was working for Toronto Baptist Seminary and I came down to his previous church for their missions conference. There I met a solid thinker, caring pastor, rigorous scholar, and excellent preacher. There I also met my wife because Fred served as a little bit of a matchmaker and set me up with my wife who was one of his members. For this I will ever be indebted to Fred. Fred performed our wedding ceremony and has always been a wealth of help for me in the pastorate. He graciously took time to answer some questions I had for him about his new book, The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Study from Crossway Books.
1) What made you first decide to pursue Warfield as someone to study?
I have read “here and there” of Warfield since my undergraduate days in the late 70s. I was deeply impressed by his massive learning, his cogent thinking, his theological insight, his exegetical skill – and all this matched by a heart that was contagiously fervent for Christ. And his understanding of Christianity as a specifically “redemptive religion” was enormously impressive, and Warfield helped shape my mind with a gospel focus.
Then in late 2000 or early 2001 I was encouraged by my wife and another friend to pursue doctoral studies, and when I began to consider it, Warfield was (I think) the first to come to mind. By then I had come to realize that Warfield had never been studied “whole.” Of course much had been written of his doctrine of inspiration, but little else of Warfield’s works had received attention. To produce a holistic study of Warfield was a work I genuinely wanted to do – and enjoyed every step of it!
2) What do you see as the main contributions that Warfield made to theology?
Certainly the doctrine of inspiration must head this list. In all the writing that has been done since Warfield, little new has been added. His work – probably more than a thousand published pages – was the high-water mark, and this is recognized by all sides. In the same sense that Luther is the theologian of the doctrine of justification, Warfield is the theologian of the doctrine of inspiration.
What is surprising to many, even though his work on inspiration was so enormous, his work in Christology was more extensive still. He was first and foremost a Christologian, and in the hey-day of kenoticism he stood as the most outstanding champion of historic Christology, providing a massive exegetical foundation and exposition of the deity and two natures of our Lord. And although I’m not sure I can agree with every jot and tittle of it, his work on the Trinity is wonderfully rewarding and deserves much more exposure.
3) Why do you think Warfield is as neglected as he is in modern theology?
I don’t know that I can say for certain. He is still referenced and quoted with commanding authority, of course, but outside the doctrine of inspiration he has not been the subject of extensive study. Perhaps the sheer volume of material is daunting to many. And “old dead guys” are sometimes forgotten for a while only to be studied again later – it’s still not quite ninety years since his death. But I can’t imagine anyone who would not acknowledge that he deserves the attention, and there is a resurgence of interest in Warfield now – the timing of my work was very good, I guess.
4) Can you briefly explain why so many assume Warfield taught an evolutionary position while your research seems to prove otherwise?
I’m sure for many it is just an uncritical acceptance of the standard line, an often-repeated (mis)representation of Warfield that has become canonical. And I’m pretty well convinced that some I’ve known simply wanted Warfield on the theistic evolutionary side. But in fairness I suppose part of the “blame” lies with Warfield himself. He was open to the theoretical possibility of evolution and said so, and his understanding of Calvin as teaching an evolutionary doctrine of creation can certainly leave that impression. But even so, in all his writings on evolution Warfield’s remarks, in the main, are negative and often very critical – sometimes even mocking. And in his evolution lecture he explicitly says that there is just not enough evidence for it. And in several reviews he commends those who condemn it. I really don’t think the evidence I’ve given is all that difficult, even if it does seem novel.
5) What other areas of Warfield studies need to be pursued?
Christology, the person and work of Christ. Very little Warfield study has been done here, and there is a treasure waiting for someone to mine! Also, for Presbyterians interested in their own history, a fruitful study of the Confession controversy awaits – Warfield wrote extensively on this, and the great bulk of it was never republished. No one has ever picked this up. I’ve provided a bibliography of this in chapter one of my book.
6) What other resources on Warfield and his theology would you recommend?
Gary Johnson’s edited work, B. B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought, is a great place to start – the biographical chapters by Brad Gunlach are especially enjoyable. And Paul Helseth’s forthcoming Right Reason (P&R) is an excellent study of Warfield’s apologetic. David Smith has a very good study of Warfield’s apologetic coming out shortly also (Wipf & Stock). But even better, start reading Warfield himself. His two volumes of Selected Shorter Writings (P&R) are a great place to begin.
7) What are the main benefits for busy pastors to study Warfield?
8) How has Warfield and his theology helped you in your ministry? What did you learn from him that affected how you serve as a pastor?
I’ll answer these two questions together. Warfield has enriched my own understanding of Scripture and theology wonderfully. I cannot imagine anyone who would not benefit greatly from studying Warfield. His keen exegetical skills are masterful, his theological insights are profound and clear, and his gospel-centeredness is both model and contagious. The man had faults, and he was not always right. But it is not hero-worship to recognize the giant that he was in all these ways.
9) As a pastor who pursued a Ph.D. (of which we know this book is the substance of) would you recommend the pursuit for other pastors? What advice would you give pastors pursuing academic Ph.D.’s?
It depends on the person and his own goals. In my own case, I did not want a Ph.D. badly enough to have to drudge through an un-rewarding course of study for extended years. But this (Warfield) was a work I wanted to do in any case, and pursuing it on this level refined and enriched my theological understanding considerably. It was a work that benefitted me in ministry many times over. In general, I think that is the determining factor. Most pastors will never need or want a Ph.D., many cannot afford the time, and many are simply gifted otherwise. But if you have the ambitions for scholarly research, and if you can find a course of study that is not overly-narrow and that will enrich your ministry, then it may well be something you should pursue.
10) Do you have plans to write or teach more on Warfield and his thinking? Now that the book is done, what are your plans?
Yes, I am currently writing my second Warfield title, In Light of the Gospel: B. B. Warfield on the Christian Life, which I trust will be released sometime next year. And I have several other ideas, but we shall see.