Book Review: "Fundamentalism" and the Word of God

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There are certain books that have a very short shelf-life, either because they’re highly topical or they make pop-culture references that no one will get in 15 minutes.

This is not one of those books.

“Fundamentalism” and the Word of God was first published 51 years in the midst of the British “Fundamentalism” controversy of the 1950s—a controversy centering around the authority of Scripture.

At roughly the mid-point of the 20th century, Theological Liberalism gave way to the “Biblical Theology” movement. Rather than completely shuffling off historic faith, “biblical theologians” sought to get to the heart of what the authors intended; to “read the Bible from within,” as it were. A noble goal to be sure.

However, their approach was to study the Bible as an unbeliever so as not to presuppose certain assumptions regarding faith, including disregarding the Bible’s internal witness as the divine revelation of God. The result was that essentially everything was up for grabs.

The validity of the virgin birth, the resurrection, Christ’s divinity, the nature and necessity of the atonement, the Bible’s divine inspiration… Any and all were up for consideration in the name of “biblical criticism.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

This book could have just as easily been written in 2009 as in 1958. Today, just as then (and indeed throughout history), there has always been movements that desire to have authority over Scripture (either in the name of Tradition or Subjectivism), rather than come under its authority.

To take the Bible at its word as the infallible, inerrant (meaning “wholly true and trustworthy”) Word of God—inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by men, with the purity of His words maintained by His providential rule, is seen as outmoded, backwater thinking by many today, even some professing Christians.

In “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, J. I. Packer offers rebuttal and sharp rebuke to those who would unwisely seek to sit in judgement of Scripture. Rarely mincing words, Packer is blunt, direct and powerful in his arguments, as he provides readers with a foundational understanding of the doctrine of Scripture as found within its own pages. Perhaps the most powerful words in the book are in response to the criticism that conservative Evangelicals (the so-called “fundamentalists) demand that people stop thinking the moment they become Christians; that faith trumps reason. Packer writes:

The true antithesis here…is not between faith and reason (as if believing and thinking were mutually exclusive), but between a faithful and a faithless use of reason. The question is not whether we should think, but how we should think; whether or not our thinking should be controlled by our faith. The real difference between Evangelicals and those how call them obscurantists lies in the realm of method… Our critics say that the way in which we deal with the Bible is fundamentally dishonest. We reply that the way in which they deal with the Bible is fundamentally un-Christian (p. 140).

He continues:

Should the principles governing our study of Scripture be drawn from Scripture itself, or not?…[Those] who acknowledge the authority of Christ as a Teacher in other matters, ought equally to acknowledge it in their approach to the Bible; they should receive Scripture as He did, accepting its claim to be divinely inspired and true and studying it as such. Those who pooh-pooh such an approach as obscurantist, unscientific and intellectually dishonest, should remember that they hereby stigmatize Jesus Christ, who taught His disciples this approach and thereby excluded any other (p. 141).

Packer rightly argues that the call is not to stop thinking, but to stop thinking sinfully. What the arguments against biblical authority are really calling for is bad Christianity fueled on nothing but the pride that seeks to make man the measure of all things. “Liberalism declares in effect that Christ was wrong, and labours to correct Him… [and] subjectivism, which makes human judgement the arbiter of divine truth, is just an expression of this pride” (p. 161).

“Fundamentalism” and the Word of God is a powerful work and one of the few that is truly timeless. Packer’s passion and theological prowess are on full display as he contends for truth and exposes the errors lying behind the perennial problem of subjectivism. It’s not light reading, obviously, but it is essential reading.


Title: “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God
Author: J. I. Packer
Publisher:
 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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