The Doctrine of Scripture: An Introduction

Written by Mark D. Thompson Reviewed By Rob Price

Mark Thompson is principal of Moore Theological College in Sydney and a seasoned champion of Scripture in the Warfield-Packer tradition. His volume in Crossway’s promising new series is a rich, wise, urgent, contemporary account of the classic Protestant doctrine of Scripture. As Thompson makes clear in his introduction, the Christian doctrine of Scripture is no mere exercise in apologetics or epistemology. Rather, it arises from the gospel itself, especially from the way Jesus himself used and understood the Old Testament.

The chapters that follow trace the doctrine of Scripture from its origins in Jesus through systematic formulation to practical response. Chapter 1 is a broad survey of Jesus’s own approach to Scripture, including what Jesus has to say that is specifically relevant to the topics of the chapters that follow. Chapter 2 provides a theological framework for the doctrine of Scripture by considering the ways in which God speaks: as a dynamic of the eternal triune life, as he accommodates himself to human understanding, as he delegates his spoken authority to prophets through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, and ultimately as the Word made flesh. Chapter 3 explains the necessity of written Scripture and then works chronologically through the major historical phases or events in the doctrine of Scripture: inspiration, canonization, and preservation. Chapters 4 and 5 are the theological heart of Thompson’s account, addressing two pairs of definitive characteristics of Scripture: its clarity and truthfulness, and its sufficiency and efficacy. Thompson is careful to note that these attributes of Scripture are not static properties of printed Bibles apart from God’s gracious presence. Rather, they are “dynamic realities arising from the identity of Scripture as the word of the living God” (p. 121). Chapter 6 is a brief exhortation to the reverent humility and joyful expectancy that should mark our posture toward the word of our heavenly Father.

The virtues of this text are many. Thompson surely succeeds in keeping Jesus “at the center of a Christian doctrine of Scripture” (p. 20). By regular reference to Jesus himself, Thompson conveys the very personal nature of our doctrine of Scripture, namely, that “the Christian disciple adopts the same attitude toward the Bible as Jesus did” (p. 19). Thompson draws deftly from the Christian tradition, especially from Luther, and also from recent authors such as John Webster and Kevin Vanhoozer. At the same time, Thompson always shows how Scripture itself teaches what we systematize as the doctrine of Scripture. Throughout, he gives compelling answers both to traditional Roman Catholic objections to Protestant teaching as well as to more recent criticisms—for example, that “we follow Jesus, not the Bible” (pp. 21–22). He also rules out common misunderstandings—for example, that the clarity of Scripture somehow entails a “right of private judgment” (p. 138) rather than functioning within the communion of saints. Finally, as a master teacher, Thompson regularly raises intriguing questions that help us clarify and deepen our understanding: If Scripture is sufficient, why do we need theology (pp. 165–69)? What’s the difference between clarity and illumination (pp. 133–36)?

If there are quibbles to be registered, they would be mostly formal. The title of chapter 3, the middle chapter of the book, is “From the Speech of God to ‘the Word of God Written.’” This hints at what some readers might find frustrating: the book is half over before it turns to the doctrine of Scripture. Of course, all along Thompson has been providing vital context for the doctrine of Scripture. For example, chapter 1 describes Jesus’s view of the “double agency” of God and human authors in producing the Old Testament (pp. 43–44), and chapter 2 touches on a general doctrine of divine concursus with human action (pp. 78–79). So, by the time chapter 3 explicitly addresses the doctrine of inspiration (pp. 99–103), the reader can see its roots in Jesus’s own understanding of Scripture and its systematic connections to broader Christian teaching. But how much context is too much? Also, the book could use more signposting. Thompson tends to jump immediately into his line of reasoning. But readers in need of an introduction also need regular help finding and keeping their bearings.

Thompson notes in his preface what Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687–1752) wisely observed nearly three centuries ago, that a church’s spiritual vitality is closely correlated with its love for the Bible (p. 14). Thompson has given us a book to help us love the Bible better as our good Father’s sure and life-giving word to us.

Rob Price

Rob Price
Talbot School of Theology
La Mirada, California, USA

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