Bill Edgar was my mentor at Westminster Theological Seminary
It has often been remarked that some of the best epistemologists (thinkers about thinking) are not particularly grounded in the text of Scripture. If that is true then you need to read Richard Smith’s excellent study on knowing in the Old Testament to rectify this failing. What may sound to some like an academic diversion turns out to be a first-rate examination of where human knowledge was meant to originate and where it is now. Why is this important? Because we have lost the sense that our understanding matters in order to navigate life. Many people today are either hostile to thinking or (worse) indifferent to it.
In a now famous statement, Mark Noll’s book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, opens with the declaration, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Noll has walked back this devastating indictment a bit, partly because evangelicals have begun to respond to his accusation and partly because Noll found certain pockets where evangelicals have made a difference. Had he been able to read Smith’s book he would have celebrated a new awareness of the epistemological self-consciousness so greatly needed.
This book has many virtues. The first is that it links knowledge to piety. Knowledge should never be severed from it spiritual roots both for weal and for woe. To prove this Smith goes beyond quoting Proverbs 9:10, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding,” fundamental as is this truth. But he delves into specific episodes in redemptive history, culling from them the admonition to know, and to know aright. Accordingly, the book begins with an extensive look at how unfallen man would use his mind to explore the wonders of God’s world. It then moves on to describe how sin has affected knowledge adversely. Particularly engaging is he examination of troubled souls such as Qoheleth and Job, as well as influential figures such as Daniel. Finally, Smith focusses on Jesus Christ and the age of redemption without leaving off the Old Testament emphasis.
The voices of Cornelius Van Til, John Frame and others in the Reformed tradition echo throughout. But they are embedded in Bible study. Side refences abound with great quotes, confirming Smith’s insights.
Perhaps one of its unintended consequences is to re-introduce us to the riches of events and persons throughout redemptive history. This could become a devotional book exposing us to the treasure hidden in the biblical story. It is not a book to read rapidly from cover to cover. It is a book to be savored. Like a good wine it should not be gulped but tasted judiciously.
A unique book that will be read profitably for many generations.
Professor of Apologetics
Westminster Theological Seminary