Review of The Incredible Scofield and His Book by Joseph M. Canfield

The Incredible Scofield and His Book, by Joseph M. Canfield, Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1988, 2004, 394 pp.

The Incredible Scofield and His Book is an expose of Cyrus Ingerson (C. I.) Scofield (1843-1921) and his Scofield Reference Bible. The historical research put into this volume is impressive and the reading is interesting, but the presentation is marred by the author’s overriding drive to find fault with Scofield.

The simple historical facts are sufficient to indicate the character of C. I. Scofield. Though having fought (as an underage volunteer) for the Confederates for one year, Scofield would later hold a political post in which he signed approval to a statement saying he had never fought against the United States. Canfield rightly calls this “rank perjury.” (p. 61) Scofield’s opportunism also sees him getting caught for forging checks, and prioritizing his own ambitions over supporting his family. His first wife is eventually granted a divorce. This might all seem to be excusable as being his character before Scofield converts to Christianity. But even after his supposed conversion, he never provides any support to his children nor makes good on financial debts owed. Though never receiving any official training, Scofield is ordained a minister and later takes it upon himself to assume the title “Dr.” and to put a “D.D.” after his name though neither earning nor being granted either.

Scofield’s location is sometimes difficult to keep track of. Born in Michigan, he resides for a time (or times) in each Tennessee, St. Louis, Kansas, Dallas, and Massachusetts to name a few. While pastoring churches in some of these places he tended to travel more than preach. This allowed him to speak at places like the Niagara Bible Conference and so gain notoriety. He then uses plenty of funds for world travel while writing his Scofield Reference Bible. Canfield notes repeatedly that this travel seems to have been largely unnecessary for Scofield’s work. It does lead though to connections with Oxford University Press who decides to publish the book and which brings Scofield great financial gain and notoriety.

Throughout the volume Canfield describes the dispensationalism of Scofield (and John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren) as a defeatist almost anti-church position; having what he calls “failing church syndrome.” He contends that the dispensationalist emphasis on the world being on the verge of ending limits their efforts to build the church for the future. Canfield takes many opportunities to promote his own Postmillenialism. The aggressiveness of his anti-dispensationalism increases steadily through the volume. On page 284 he refers to Scofield’s “prophetic cult.”

As for the second half of the title—“and His Book”— this volume is more focused on Scofield’s theology than on the history and impact of the Scofield Reference Bible itself. This is unfortunate. This reviewer is certainly interested to know how the book achieved such success. The best Canfield approaches to answering this question is in suggesting that in the Gilded Age there was a desire for home study courses where one could easily be thought an expert without doing the hard work, and that the Scofield Reference Bible was considered to be such an aid. He notes also the importance of the Niagara Bible Conferences and the Bible Institute movements, but analysis of their contribution to the success of the Scofield Reference Bible is mostly lacking.

Despite my criticisms, I still contend that this is a book well-worth reading; even necessarily so for dispensationalists. Scofield certainly isn’t a hero. One must wonder, given Canfield’s research, if he was even a Christian.

1 thought on “Review of The Incredible Scofield and His Book by Joseph M. Canfield”

  1. Doug,
    You might be interested in “The Scofield Bible: Its History and Impact on the Evangelical Church” by Mangum and Sweetnam see https://www.amazon.com/Scofield-Bible-History-Impact-Evangelical-ebook/dp/B0088ANULK.
    For Dispensationalism in general you might be interested to read “An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism” by John Hannah https://www.amazon.com/Uncommon-Union-Theological-Seminary-Evangelicalism/dp/0310237866/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=An+Uncommon+Union&qid=1559583521&s=books&sr=1-1 and the recent publication by Mark Stevenson called “The Doctrines of Grace in an Unexpected Place” see https://www.amazon.com/Doctrines-Grace-Unexpected-Place-Nineteenth-Century/dp/1498281095/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=The+Doctrines+of+Grace+in+an+Unexpected+Place&qid=1559583731&s=books&sr=1-1.

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