Review: Words of Life

Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (Nottingham: IVP, 2009)

This is the book I've long been waiting for someone to write!  As Ward notes, sometimes evangelicals have turned their doctrine of Scripture (Bibliology) into something more methodological than theological: too often we divorce our statements on the nature of Scripture from its relation to our Triune God.  Ward redresses this concern with his recent book Words of Life, tracing the doctrine of Scripture through the Bible itself and through the larger theological context of the work of the Trinity, before looking at the more traditional attributes of Scripture (Necessity, Sufficiency, Clarity & Authority) and finally applying the doctrine of Scripture to the Christian life.

Ward upholds the inerrancy of Scripture (contrary to a number of recent ostensibly evangelical publications). Yet inerrancy is not the be all and end all of his doctrine of Scripture; rather Ward helpful locates inerrancy in relation to the attributes of Scripture. Inerrancy is seen to be a natural implication of inspiration.  Furthermore, Scripture is shown to be inerrant because it is authoritative, rather than authoritative because it is inerrant.

Ward's biblical investigations demonstrate the biblical meaning of the expression 'word of God'. He shows us the close relationship between God's action and His word. 'God and his word share the divine ability infallibly to perform their intended purpose' (pg. 27). 'Thus, in biblical language and theology, God speaking and God acting are often one and the same thing' (pg. 28, emphasis original). Ward shows that, biblically, an encounter with God's words is an encounter with God's activity, and 'an encounter with God's covenant-making communicative activity is itself an encounter with God' (pg. 38, emphasis original).

From this biblical basis, Ward proceeds to examine God's word in relation to the actions of the three persons of the Trinity.  Thus, Ward's doctrine of Scripture not only examines what type of Scriptures we have (by looking at the attributes of Scripture), but also the role of those Scriptures in the Trinitarian economy of salvation (however, Ward makes it much more understandable than I do, clearly explaining any technical terms along the way, and ending up with a very readable and understandable book). He takes a particularly helpful look at the relationship between Christ as the Word of God and Scripture as the word of God, and his examination of the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to Scripture moves beyond inspiration to also include sections on the Spirit's work in Preservation and Illumination (the latter is particularly useful on a doctrine frequently overlooked).

After examining the biblical material, Trinitarian bibliology, and the attributes of Scripture, Ward closes his book with a chapter on the application of the doctrine of Scripture. Here he discusses such topics as Sola Scriptura, preaching and personal Bible reading. This chapter is indeed practical, but  yet also remains theological. The section on preaching will serve preachers well by providing a succinct theology of preaching firmly grounded in the biblical teaching that an encounter with the Word of God is an encounter with God in action. Ward here emphasises the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching and the necessary relationship between Word and Spirit.

All in all, this is an excellent book which I hope will be widely read. Ward's work (firmly rooted in the Reformation and subsequent protestant orthodoxy) will help 21st century Christians reappropriate the high view of Scripture that we so desperately need; not only an inerrant book, but moreover 'the living and active word of God.'