Timothy Ward’s book Words of Life is a wonderful little book that describes the relationship between the character of God and His word.
The book is divided into six chapters. The first chapter is a short introduction and the final chapter is an even shorter summary with a few concluding remarks. Consequently, the main meat of the book is found in the much longer four middle chapters. In these four chapters Ward describes the nature and function of Scripture in explicitly biblical and theological terms, as well as doctrinal ones (18). Since this book is a relatively short book on Scripture his descriptions are limited to basic outlines. It will not take long for readers to notice Ward’s intent is only to provide a few outlines. The chapter titles are called “outlines” and he continually refers to “the outlines” he has provided.
In chapter 2, Ward presents the first outline and it is titled “God and Scripture: A Biblical Outline.” This biblical outline begins with God choosing to present himself to us by acting upon us, in and through human words that have their origin in him, and that he identifies as his own (48). In other words, when we encounter the words of scripture we are encountering God! Even though we may be hearing or reading the human words of the prophet Isaiah, God has chosen to reveal himself through human words. The result is that we are not merely hearing or reading Isaiah’s words, but we are in direct contact with God’s words (36). However, it is not enough to just say that we are coming into direct contact with God’s words because to encounter God’s words is to encounter God and his activity. This is why Ward describes God’s revelation of himself as him acting upon us. This is seen most clearly when we consider the covenant nature of scripture in which God has chosen to relate to his people. When someone encounters God’s covenant-making communicative activity he is having an encounter with God. This reality is seen in both the Old and New Testaments as we consider the covenant promises made in the Old Testament and the promises fulfilled in Christ in the New Testament. When we encounter the words of scripture, God is acting in relation to us, supremely in his making and keeping his covenant promise to us (48). This is the basic biblical outline that is used as the foundation for the other three chapters.
The next outline Ward gives is in chapter 3 and it is titled “The Trinity and Scripture: A Theological Outline.” If chapter 2 were the foundation for the other three chapters, then it would probably be fair to say chapter 3 is the heart and soul of the book. This is because here is where Ward’s central argument is made. Namely, if we are encountering God when we are encountering the Scripture, then our doctrine of Scripture should be Christ-focused and God-oriented. It seems one of the main contributions Ward is making with this book is to help protestant evangelical Christians better understand the roles and revelations of the different persons of the Trinity in the doctrines of Scripture. All through out the book he regularly makes critiques about how too much of our books, classes, and conversations about the doctrines of Scripture seem to be weak in describing Scripture as an act of the Triune God. Thus, that is the focus of the outline presented in this chapter. Ward begins by illustrating Scripture as a speech act that is performed by the words of Scripture. Speech acts are the basic unit of language in speech and in writing, rather than the individual word. Therefore, when Ward speaks of Scripture as a mode of God’s presence, he is asserting that it is the speech acts of scripture that God reveals himself as he promises, warns, rebukes, reassures, and so on (66). When we read and hear Scripture, God is performing the same action he performed when those words were first given. It is within this understanding of the speech-act theory that the rest of the chapter is to be understood. Thus, God the Father presents himself as a God who makes and keeps his covenant promises. The Son comes to us as the Word of God, knowable to us through his words. The Spirit ministers these words to us, illuminating our minds and hearts, so that in receiving, understanding and trusting them, we receive, know and trust God himself (95). Ward wants his readers to see how the doctrine of Scripture is thoroughly woven into the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, the doctrine of Scripture would better fit as a subsection within the doctrines of God. For example, instead of writing about the doctrine of inspiration as a separate subset doctrine in the doctrines of Scripture, Ward chooses to write about the inspiration of Scripture under the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the author of Scripture. In the final two chapters Ward continues to explain more of the implications of thinking about the doctrine of Scripture as a subset of the doctrine of God.
The fourth chapter is called “The Attributes of Scripture: A Doctrinal Outline” and here Ward describes how the four common doctrines of Scripture relate to the biblical and theological outlines given in the previous two chapters. The four common doctrines are the necessity of Scripture, the sufficiency of Scripture, the clarity of Scripture, and the authority of Scripture. Therefore, in light of the previous biblical and theological outlines we see that Scripture is necessary because of the nature of the relationship God chooses to establish with us, as our trustworthy, promise-making and promise-keeping God. It is also necessary because of the relationship he requires from us towards him in return, which is one of trust, love and obedience (129). We would not know God if he did not choose to present himself to us in the verbal and written form or be able to respond to him without Scripture. Likewise, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is addressed as the only means we need by which God presents himself to us, as a God to be known and trusted. Scripture is also sufficiently clear to be the means by which we may know God and respond in covenant faithfulness to him. The final doctrine of Scripture discussed is the authority of Scripture. Ward says the way most theologians present this doctrine by showing that all of Scripture is true, that God is sovereign and has authored Scripture this way to relate to us. In other words, the authority of Scripture is really a way to summarize all that Ward’s book outlines (129). The chapter ends with a discussion on biblical inerrancy and infallibility and in sum we should believe the Bible is inerrant because we trust in the God whom the Bible reveals. The fifth chapter continues with four more implications that are related more specifically with “The Bible and Christian Life.” Ward calls it “The Doctrine of Scripture Applied” and he applies his biblical and theological outline to the meaning of sola scriptura, the use of Scripture in the church, the use of Scripture in preaching, and the use of Scripture for the individual Christian. Our aim of reading the Bible is to find out what God wants to do to us, and in us, through the words we are hearing or reading (175).
The work Timothy Ward accomplished in this book will be very helpful in protecting the church from missing the main purpose of the Scriptures. I personally appreciated the way Ward described the word of God as a covenant that he makes with his people to reveal the promises he has made and kept in Christ. I would consider those aspects of the book its greatest strength. One of the glaring weaknesses of the book was that Ward was extremely repetitive. I can partially understand why he repeated himself so often because he wanted to pound it in the reader’s heads that we are to study Scripture to encounter God. I would recommend this book to people who are preparing for ministry because I think it is powerful to meditate on the relationship between God’s word and his actions, especially as they relate to preachers and preaching. However, I would probably be hesitant to recommend this book to the average laymen because of its repetitive nature and the writing may be hard for them to understand.