How would you explain the doctrine of Scripture? Most evangelicals would start the discussion by defining and expounding on the general categories of necessity, clarity, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture. While this isn’t wrong, Timothy Ward, in his book Words of Life, approaches the doctrine of Scripture by beginning at a different starting point. Ward allows God’s covenantal character and actions to shape the understanding of the nature of Scripture. In doing this, Words of Life presents the reader with a much more full and vibrant picture of Scripture, one that leaves the reader ready to open the Bible and encounter God for himself.
Words of Life is divided into four major sections, each section building upon the previous one:
- God and Scripture: A biblical outline
- The Trinity and Scripture: A theological outline
- The Attributes of Scripture: A doctrinal outline
- The Bible and Christian Life: The doctrine of Scripture applied
In the first section, Ward expands on how God’s words and actions are inseparably tied together, therefore “for God to say the words is to perform the action” (pg. 22). Take, for example, creation in Genesis 1. God spoke and creation happened. Thus, for God to speak and to act are one and the same. This means for the modern-day reader of the Bible “to encounter the words of Scripture is to encounter God in action” (pg. 48).
Knowing that God’s actions and words are so woven together, the second section expounds on the relationship of Scripture to each person of the Trinity. Scripture is the means by which the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit act in the world. Of particular importance is the discussion of the written Word of God being foundational to following and worshipping the Word-made-flesh, Jesus Christ. The two are inseparable and we cannot rightly follow Jesus without the Scriptures.
Having established the biblical and theological foundation of Scripture, it is only then that Ward defines the categories of necessity, clarity, sufficiency, and authority that most Christians are accustomed to. These doctrinal headings still play a key role in defining our beliefs regarding the nature of Scripture, but only when placed upon the foundation of God’s character and actions, tied to His words.
Finally, Ward shows the application of Scripture to life throughout the fourth section of the book. Our beliefs regarding Scripture impact our beliefs about Christian community, preaching, and the individual Christian’s life. The discussion on the value of both the corporate reading of Scripture along with the private reading of Scripture in this section is particularly helpful. Some Christians prefer one over the other, but both are essential. It is the church that is “the primary means God has given us for coming to encounter him in his Word in a way that enables us to hear his voice and respond to him” (pg. 172). However, it is through the individual, private reading of Scripture that we more clearly see what God is wanting to do within and to the reader through the very words of Scripture.
In summary, this is a scholarly examination and critique of the doctrine of Scripture, taking into account the long history and traditions held by the church, as well as other philosophical perspectives to further the discussion. As such, this book is to the benefit of those who want to challenge their own assumptions on Scripture, while also expanding their view on the nature of Scripture.
For the counselor, this type of book is valuable because when the power and nature of Scripture is on full display, it is abundantly clear that there is no other source of truth to which anyone should ever seek after. The counselor who reads this book should be left with confidence and trust in the Holy Word of God. Consider what Scripture says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit” (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is living and active. That is a powerful statement, and one upon which our lives, and therefore counseling, should be built.
- “To put your trust in the words of the covenant promise God makes to you is itself to put your trust in God: the two are the same thing. Communication from God is therefore communion with God, when met with a response of trust from us.” (Page 32)
- “Therefore to encounter the words of Scripture is to encounter God in action.” (Page 48)
- “Paying full and wise attention to Scripture as the written Word of God is crucial if we wish to worship and follow the Word-made-flesh, the Son of God, rightly.” (Page 74)
- “Therefore to speak of the authority of Scripture is not at heart to say something about what Scripture is in itself. It is rather to make a claim about what Scripture is in relation to the unquestionably sovereign God, because what Scripture ‘is’ can only be properly defined in relation to God and his actions.” (Page 128)
- “Faith in the God of the covenant is more comprehensible, and easier to take on for oneself, the more one aligns oneself with the attitudes and practices of the covenant community.” (Page 156)
- “When we read the Bible we must be ready, in the first instance, for God to act on us and in us. For as we encounter his words, and as we encounter the actions he performs by means of them, we are encountering God himself.” (Page 175)