Kevin Vanhoozer's endorsement on the back cover certainly caught my eye: "I have been on the lookout for a compelling and contemporary treatment of the nature and authority of Scripture for years. I ask of every promising new title, `Are you the one who is to come, or shall I look for another?' Ward's book may be the one."
That's quite a statement, especially for a book that checks in at just under two hundred pages. As it turns out, however, what Ward's book lacks in length it more than makes up for in substance. In fact, its relatively small size is more of an advantage than a hindrance. Ward's purpose for writing Words of Life shows up early and clearly, "I want to articulate, explain and defend what we are really saying when we proclaim, as we must, that the Bible is God's Word." This is certainly a purpose for which many books have been written, but what makes Ward's book particularly helpful is the approach he takes to this task, an approach that articulates the theology of Scripture in a way that is both historically orthodox and refreshingly contemporary.
Ward builds his fundamental view of Scripture on the idea that God's Word is a primary (if not THE primary) way in which God has worked and is working in the world. The concept that Scripture is God's communicative action (demonstrated throughout the Bible) is the critical starting point for Ward that forms and shapes his entire doctrine of Scripture. In other words, all the "categories" that he affirms in relation to Scripture (its clarity, sufficiency, authority, etc.) stem from this overarching Biblical idea. As I reflected on this, comparing and contrasting it to the starting place that I inherited through my tradition, I found it to be very freeing and exciting. In my background, a high view of Scripture has primarily been supported by modern apologetical approaches that have ultimately left me a bit unsatisfied. What I love about Ward's approach is that rather than challenging me to boost my faith in a certain interpretation of a verse or two, or in the processes of Scriptural transmission or canonization, his argument essentially challenges me to ground my faith in the nature and character of God.
My presumption is that critics of this approach might argue that Ward is essentially making a circular argument by basing his view of Scripture on the words that Scripture itself use to describe its relationship to God. This may be a legitimate question, but I would argue that everyone who holds to the authority of Scripture would be faced with this same question at some level. Further, it seems to me that the question itself is rooted in modern inclinations that are continually losing their significance for determining what persuades people. There seems to be a growing understanding that all worldviews require you to place your faith in something. If faith in the true God is indeed a work of the Spirit (as I believe it is), then I am all for defining a doctrine of Scripture that has as its starting point faith in God. Finally, I believe that tying together the authority of Scripture with the idea that God's nature has tended (throughout the Bible) to use language to reveal himself and to act out his will gives a firmer place to stand on than basing a doctrine primarily on a few select passages.
Along these same lines, I appreciated Ward's connection of Scripture to the Trinity. I found the ideas in this section to be rich and insightful, helping the doctrine of Scripture (which can sometimes seem like a stale doctrine) come alive through the individual persons of the Godhead. I also found the final section on the application of Scripture to be tremendously helpful. Perhaps the greatest endorsement I can give to the book comes from that section, in that while reading I found within myself a growing desire to read and to preach the Word of God.
There were a couple areas of the book that I found myself wanting more than what ward provided, or mildly disappointed by his treatment of a particular issue. Among these were his comments on the Spirit's role of illumination. I would have appreciated more development here, particularly his thoughts on the role of the Spirit in identifying the intended meaning of a given speech-act in Scripture. Is the meaning found in the very words themselves or in the Spirit speaking through them? Along these same lines, I found his treatment of the issue of differing interpretations of a given passage, or apparent contradictions between separate passages, to seem a little trite. Also, in terms of historical context, Ward drew extensively from the Reformation and post-Reformation periods, but rarely stretched further back into church history. I would have appreciated a broader historical context.
These minor criticisms aside, I found Words of Life to be a tremendous resource containing a compelling articulation of a historically-grounded yet refreshingly contemporary doctrine of Scripture. I love books that help me to see something differently than I have before, and this was certainly one. The fact that the topic is so important and basic to my faith makes it a book that I deeply appreciate and will certainly re-read and recommend to others.