Review of The Doctrine of Scripture

The Doctrine of Scripture Book cover

I have a keen interest in the doctrine of Scripture—convinced as Schaeffer was that it is a watershed which will determine where Christian’s land on any number of issues (see his The Great Evangelical Disaster). Right understanding of Scripture, of its truthfulness, authority, and sufficiency as the very words of God our Father is as needed today as it has been at any point the history of the Church. Thus, I am always delighted to discover another resource to commend that articulates and upholds the profound nature of the Holy Scriptures as God reveals in them. Mark Thompson’s recent contribution to Crossways “Short Studies in Systematic Theology” does this admirably. Mark shows us from God’s own words why we should believe the standard Evangelical teachings concerning the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture and its various attributes (he delineates them as, clarity and truthfulness, sufficiency and efficacy). In The Doctrine of Scripture: An Introduction, Thompson sets out to give “a theological account of Scripture, one that at each point relates it to the person and character of the God who has given it” (15). He writes (thankfully) not as a dispassionate academic but “an unapologetic enthusiast for the Bible” (15).

The Doctrine of Scripture is relatively short, divided into 6 chapters with a preface and introduction. In the introduction, Mark outlines the approach he will take in the book. He starts with Jesus as the centre of Scripture but does not limit his account to Jesus’ teaching alone: he starts with the centre but then moves out to the entire testimony of Scripture. As he does throughout the book, Mark has an eye to the various contemporary approaches to Scripture that seek to undermine its authority in one way or another. Chapter 1 begins with the approach Jesus takes to Scripture. Chapter 2 then analyses what it means for God to speak and how he has done so in the past. In Chapter 3, Mark then moves from God speaking to the written word. He upholds the power and authority of the written word—not seeing at is anyway a deficient account of spoken communication—and explains God’s purpose to leave an authority standard for his people across the ages. Here, he affirms verbal, plenary inspiration (the whole Bible is inspired down to its very words, not just its “meaning” or certain parts of it) and gives an account of God’s preservation of Scripture across the ages. Chapter 4 & 5 take up the question of Scriptures attributes, which Mark identifies as truthfulness and clarity (Ch. 4) and Sufficiency and Efficacy (Ch. 5). Scripture is entirely truthful in what it says, understood according to the purpose of the text (i.e. it is not as precise as a science textbook nor does it always have the same purposes that we would have it give (e.g. the use of phenomenological language)). Mark doesn’t let the accommodation of Scripture undermine its truthfulness or make Scripture a wax nose bending under what pressure contemporary culture exerts; God has spoken in such a way that we can receive it, but this communication is true, not just for matters of life and doctrine but everything upon which it touches. Scripture is also clear, though not necessarily simple; it is clear enough that people of all ages and all walks of life can engage with it, hear from God, and engage with one another from it. Sufficiency describes the adequacy of Scripture for all that God gave it for, “to make known to us the saving purpose of God in Christ, to warrant faith, and to direct the Christian life” (163). Efficacy refers to guarantee that Scripture will accomplish its purpose; united with the work of the Spirit, it has the power to accomplish all for which God gave it.

Mark is a clear writer and widely read across all ages of the Church. The reader will benefit from his rich understanding of Scripture and millennia of God’s people reflecting upon these same Scriptures. My only quibbles with the book are quite minor. As I have argued elsewhere, the text from Deuteronomy 30:10-14 does not support the clarity of Scripture; in Hebrew, it looks to a day when God will empower his people through the Spirit to obey the Law that was at that time too difficult (cf. 30:6, Jer 31:31-34, Isa 54:13; cf. Rom 10:5-13). Page 151 appears to support the myth that the church opposed Copernicus and Galileo in the 16th and 17th centuries, which is a much more complicated story. However, on a positive concluding point, Mark is able to affirm all the above attributes of Scripture without committing himself to a specific account of textual meaning, a problem many have identified in the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy and in the more recent book by Feinberg. I heartily commend The Doctrine of Scripture to the reader.

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