This past week, with a reprieve from my normal teaching and preaching duties at the church, I have been reading as much of the writings of B.B. Warfield as I am able. The research is for a paper I plan to give at the ETS Midwest regional meeting on March 28-29. In my research, I found that Warfield’s peers at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) teased him for his southern accent by calling him ‘Wo-field.’ Warfield earned another nickname during his student days at Princeton–the pugilist. Apparently, Warfield drew an unflattering caricature of a fellow student and this devolved into fisticuffs on a Sunday afternoon. This incident seems to have been both typical of Warfield’s ancestors (his maternal grandfather is said to have been suspended from Princeton for a similar altercation) and somewhat prophetic concerning his later work as a polemicist.
Bradley Grundlach has written an interesting peace (which can be found here) discussing the impact of Warfield’s grandfather (the one mentioned above) and the impact of his southern upbringing on his polemical work. Grundlach’s article argues that Warfield intentionally used restraint when engaging even his fiercest opponents because of the experience of his grandfather. I once heard a church historian remark that one of the often overlooked reasons the Princeton theologians have been so influential is because the were simply wonderful human beings. We all tend to memorialize the dead, and must avoid our history writing becoming an exercise in hagiography. That being said, such sentiments are not far from the mark in the case of Warfield.
Any man who cares for his wife for twenty plus years, not being able to leave the house for more than two hours during most of that time, with such joy and dignity sets an amazing example to be followed. Warfield’s writings are marked with tremendous gentleness and grace, especially for a pugilist. This project has been one of the most personally rewarding simply for the pleasure of getting to know such a personality.
In the spirit of never wanting to be stingy with the riches of church history, I wanted to point initiates to good places to begin when studying Warfield.
- Bibliographic starting point must be: bbwarfield.com–many of B.B. Warfield’s writings can be found here for free.
- Meeter, John E., and Roger Nicole. A Bibliography of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, 1851–1921. Nutley: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1974 (out of print)
- For the most succinct and accessible summary of Warfield’s theology see Fred Zaspel, The Theology of B.B. Warfield
- “Right Reason” and the Princeton Mind: An Unorthodox Proposal by Paul K. Helseth
- B.B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought edited by Gary L.W. Johnson
- Warfield’s collected works can be purchased in an electronic format through Logos
- For those with less money to spend I recommend beginning with the following:
- Faith and Life
- Selecter Shorter Writings (2 vols.)
- Counterfeit Miracles
- Theological Life of Theology Students
- Inspiration and Authority of the Bible
I hope that this reading blesses you as it has me. And even if we do not follow Warfield down every trail, hopefully we will learn how to engage our opponents with gentleness and grace.