Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Praise of Folly: quick book review

The Praise of Folly: The Enigmatic Life and Theology of C. I. Scofield, David Lutzweiler, Draper, VA: Apologetics Group Media, 2009, ISBN 9780977851683

If you're interested in Christian history and theology, you'll enjoy David Lutzweiler's story of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield. Most Christians are aware of Scofield through his popular Scofield Reference Bible, but few are aware of the his life and its controversies. I found it a fascinating read that was hard to put down.

The book is divided into two parts: "Scofield's Legacy" and "Scofield's Life". In the minds of both promoters and detractors, these two are exquisitely entwined. Lutzweiler can be clearly categorized as a detractor. He is a reformed former dispensationalist who now considers Scofield's DPZ (dispensational premillennial Zionism) as a heterodox horror that is harrowing Christians and churches.

Strengths. The book is very well researched, and builds on previous works on Scofield, both pro and con. It is a welcome corrective to the overly positive work of Charles Trumbull and the excessively critical work of Joseph Canfield. Lutzweiler adds material that had not been discovered and considered in older works. He analyses it carefully and interacts with both sycophants and critics of Scofield and his earlier biographies. It is hard to withstand the conclusion that there was something amiss in Scofield's life -- from beginning to end -- though some followers dismiss it, dreading tarnish of their dispensational dilemma.

Weaknesses. Lutzweiler is biased, but in fairness he lets the reader know it. In my opinion, he overreaches at times in coming to conclusions that are possible but not provable (at least with the current information available). He cites Sherlock Holmes advice that "When you have eliminated the impossible, my dear Watson, then that which remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth (p. 134)." The wisdom of the fictional character Holmes notwithstanding, the simple fact in historical research is that we don't always know "that which remains" because it hasn't been discovered yet.

Other. There are two major problems with the printing itself. First there are some unusual quirks in the footnotes. Sometimes the numbers are subscript instead of the usual superscript. Worse, sometimes a double number is split and transposed -- enough to irritate a normal reader and drive detective Adrian Monk to madness. Further the index is a mess. The page numbers I checked almost never correspond to the page on which that name or subject is printed. Hopefully these printing errors can be corrected in future editions.

With fair warning of what I see as defects in this work, I nevertheless highly recommend it. It reveals historical information about a prominent Christian leader and considers that leader's legacy in the Christian community.

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