In our book reviews and articles in Equip for Ministry, we always stress the importance of having familiarity, if not in-depth knowledge of church history. If you are not already aware of this, it is incredible to trace current teachings and ideas back to their origins. Not only is it interesting, it also gives us a clearer understanding of the present and for some ideas about the future.
For those who are tempted to think that church history is boring or not applicable, you need to read Word to the World by William Barker. Barker has been a professor, a seminary president, an editor, and academic dean and professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary prior to retirement. Currently he is adjunct professor of church history at Covenant Theological Seminary.
I delighted in reading this book containing fifteen chapters on a variety of biblical, theological, and historical topics. I read articles dealing with everything from the authority of Scripture, Church and State relations, Puritanism, Doctrinal Subscription within the Presbyterian Church in America setting, to history’s impact and insights on what has been controversial in the recent past and briefs on a number of Puritans. Other topics included are: The Westminster Assembly on the Days of Creation and Theonomy, Pluralism, and the Bible. As I read those chapters, I was reminded once again of the importance of studying our past in order to gain better understanding and insights for the present.
I have long admired William Barker for his gracious Christian statesmanship, leadership, teaching ability, and his ability to link together the past and present. His comments on the separation of church and state made me wish every American, and especially those in civil government, would read and understand the significance of that basic principle. He develops this at length in the chapter History of Church and State Relations in Western Christianity and he also opens up this topic further in his chapter on Theonomy, Pluralism, and the Bible. One of the helpful things he addresses is the proper place for pluralism and the improper place for it. “Is pluralism biblical?” he asks. Pluralism within the religious belief of Christianity is not, but: “It is my contention that such religious pluralism within a society is our Lord’s intention for this time in history and hence is biblical” (page 133).
He clarifies how the Christian should relate to the law, as far as living in both the civil and the church realms. While he underscores the Christian responsibility to maintain a good witness and even address the conscience of unbelievers regarding God’s law, he cautions against the position that civil authorities should enforce or require a relationship with God. This is an important topic for kingdom disciples.
Two highlights were his chapters on Inerrancy and the Role of the Bible’s Authority and the Authority of Scripture and Assurance of Salvation. In the chapter on the role of the Bible, Barker builds around a critique of The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible by Rogers and McKim. He deals with the differences that surfaced at Princeton, leading to moving away from the historic position held by Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield.
In the chapter on Scripture and Assurance, he whetted my appetite to learn more about the Reformer John Bradford. I had known that name from church history, but I did not realize how significant a role he played.
This book is a demonstration of a Christian scholar of the highest caliber known for his Christian character and life, his knowledge of and commitment to the Reformed tradition, writing about Puritanism. If you have any question about the importance of history, especially church history, read this book and you will realize how vital knowledge in this area really is for Christians.