My Top Ten Books of 2009 (#7)

ward.jpg #7. Words of Life: Scripture As the Living and Active Word of God, by Timothy Ward
#8. Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall
#9. Calvin, by Bruce Gordon
#10. Water of the Word: Intercession for Her, by Andrew Case

You really shouldn’t read much into book endorsements.

Before I learned this I was suckered into buying really mediocre books more times than I care to admit merely because some pastor or scholar I really respect endorsed it.  Eventually I learned that most of these pastors and scholars that write the endorsements don’t even read most of the books they’re endorsing.  They just endorse it because they know and like the author, and the publishing company needs endorsements on the back cover to sell books to suckers like me.

That said, I’ve also learned to spot an endorsement that’s really trying to get heard.  You see, after you’ve read enough back cover endorsements, you start to recognize the boiler plate language that people use.  “A fine contribution to…” and “thorough and well-thought through….” and “All those interested in ____ will want a copy…”  All standard, boilerplate statements in endorsements.  If you write those things, you probably didn’t read the book.

But on rare occasion you see an endorsement from a respected pastor or scholar who has clearly read the book and has put pen to paper thoughtfully to make sure that their endorsement screams, “Buy this book!  You must read this!” Here’s an example:

“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.  Words of Life rightly roots its thinking about Scripture in the doctrine of God, and that means trinitarian theology.  His central insight: God’s word is something that God does.  The Bible is not simply an object to be studied but the principal means by which the Lord engages his people and administers his covenant.  Highly recommended!” ~ Kevin Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

A statement as strong as that from a scholar of the caliber of Vanhoozer is difficult to ignore.  So, I didn’t.

Words of Life is indeed the best short treatment of the doctrine of Scripture I’ve ever read.  Unless you’ve read some of the mediocre-to-worthless stuff that’s out there on Scripture, it would be difficult to explain what a breath of fresh air this book is.  Suffice it say, Ward has written an accessible, sane, well-thought and thoroughly enjoyable short (<200 pgs.) book on the nature of Scripture and what God does through his very words in Scripture.  In fact, that’s more or less the main point of Ward’s book: God doesn’t just pour out information on us through his words.  He does things through his words.  When God speaks, he is performing actions.

Ward writes, “The words of the Bible are a significant aspect of God’s action in the world.  The relationship between God and the Bible is at heart to do with the actions God uses the Bible to perform. (The word of God is, after all, living and active according to Heb. 4:14.)” (12).

This central insight is unpacked in all sorts of practically useful ways throughout the book: How this affects the way we engage with Scripture, how we move from Scripture to exegesis to theology, how the doctrines of infallibility and inerrancy must be shaped in light of this, how the Holy Spirit relates to the words of the Bible, and (most usefully to me) how we preach in view of the fact that God is doing something through his word.

Ward writes, “Preaching goes as tragically astray when it muses and reflects on those matters it should be proclaiming, as it does when it confidently proclaims what the preacher cannot know, because Scripture is silent [on that particular matter]” (158).  “What the faithful biblical preacher does, and what the Holy Spirit does with Scripture through him, is best described as a contemporary re-enactment of the speech act that the Spirit performed in the original authoring of the text. …A biblical text written, for example, to instill in its first readers and hearers a confident hope that at the future coming of Christ their perseverance in the faith will be vindicated performs that same action again in the lives of contemporary believers.  It does so in a sermon if the preacher is faithful to the purpose of the original text, and fashions his sermon not just as a speech about hope, but as itself a hope-inspiring action” (162-3).

If you’ve never read a book about the nature of Scripture (i.e. something that asks, “What is the ‘Word’ of God?”), make this your first. If you’ve read plenty, make this your next. It is a refreshingly insightful and practically useful book that steers clear of the standard evangelical boiler plate answers and rightly views the Bible not just as a book about God, but as a book that is an ongoing act of God.

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One thought on “My Top Ten Books of 2009 (#7)”

  1. In response to Andrew Case post where I got my friend, “Prayers of an Excellent Wife”?

    She would only let me get her a present if she could do the same for me.

    She got me this book.

    Merry Christmas to all.

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