Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God
“…preaching also fails to be faithful to Scripture if it follows Scripture’s content without also seeking to be the vehicle for the re-enactment of the purpose for which that content was given. This can happen in some conservative evangelical preaching, especially when the basic model of the preacher is assumed to be that of a “Bible teacher”…Faithful biblical preaching must certainly include exegetical and doctrinal instruction, but it cannot be content with just these things. If it is, it is likely to seem dull and lifeless, lacking the power to move the emotions and the will. Properly faithful biblical preaching involves the preacher deliberately seeking to fashion every verbal (and indeed physical) aspect of his preaching in such a way that the Spirit may act through his words in the lives of his hearers, ministering the content of Scripture in accordance with the purpose of Scripture.”
Uncharacteristically, I will set out my qualms before my praise. Words of Life is a doctrine of Scripture for the lay person. That is to be commended. But much of it is dry; I enjoy systematic theology, and it wearied me. Ward examines the doctrines of necessity, sufficiency, clarity, authority and so on, and certainly does so thoroughly. Strangely, however, a good systematic theology is more accessible than Words of Life, and indeed, as is the case with Grudem’s, says more in fewer words.
Brushing these worries to the side, what remains is tremendous. With great freshness Ward reiterates that our God is a God who speaks, doing so in a way that is not banal. Sensitively handling Scripture, he emphasises the genuinely startling fact that God is almost identifiable with his words; it is characteristic of his action that it is coupled with his speech. This rejuvenates devotional Bible reading. Simultaneously, Words of Life never once sacrifices a nuanced awareness of the subject geography. It can be seen from quotes like the following that this sets it aside from other books in the same area; “this is not to say that words are everything, as if speaking and being spoken to constitute the whole of our relationship with God. The kingdom of God is not just a matter of talk. There are and should be varieties of wordless contemplation of God and wordless resting in his presence”.
I consider the greatest value of Words of Life, however, to reside in Ward’s thorough discussion of the little-addressed issue in the lay-person’s literature, namely, the smallest meaningful unit of Scripture. This tackles head-on the scope with which to interpret 2 Timothy 3:16. Ward identifies the “speech-act” as such a unit; each act of promising, warning, asserting, congratulating, thanking and so on as performed by means of language. There will almost certainly be Scriptural elements that could be used as counter-examples to this bold claim (Scripture is alive and active after all), but it is a brilliant attempted carve at the joints of the Bible.
Ward’s treatment of church authority and preaching are also special. Concerning the first, he argues persuasively that we as conservative-evangelicals have reacted too strongly to papal worries, therefore having an unwarranted low view of the authority of church elders and role of the church community. Concerning the second, he crafts a heart-burning, but critical, position on preaching, which, as a consequence, highlights how many churches that claim the highest view of Scripture may well not have the highest view of the power of Scripture. It really is worth trekking through the drier components of Words of Life in order to encounter the jewels in this admirably well-rounded book.