Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Vanhoozer Part 1

I have begun reading IVP’s new release of the 2008 Wheaton Theology Conference called Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship edited by Treier and Lauber. trinitarian theology for the churchI want to work through several specific chapters, the first of which (actually two chapters) is worth the price of the book. Instead of having one chapter significantly longer than the rest, Vanhoozer has two chapters to start of this volume! You can’t blame him for being a little wordy when it is this good.

Vanhoozer starts by addressing the ETS doctrinal statement, looking to do some housekeeping work on coherence. My interest in these chapters has to do with the dogmatic location question which Kevin picks up and carries through his discussion. I want to address this because it seems to be the most important question for further dogmatic work. In the first chapter, he looks through various options: First, inspiration and providence, which suggests that the Bible is ‘of God’ because it is the direct result of divine providence (31). The second, inspiration and incarnation, pushes the discussion into Christology through an incarnational analogy of the text. Vanhoozer quotes Balthasar here, “The Word that is God took a body of flesh, in order to be man…He took on, at the same time, a body consisting of syllables, scripture,…verbal utterance” (35).

Third, Vanhoozer looks at inspiration and revelation. In his words:

The term revelation refers both to the event and to the result: the truth made known. Revelation, at least according to the dominant evangelical view in the twentieth century, consists in information about the nature and works of God that could not otherwise be known. What inscripturation preserves is not the event of revelation but its meaning, its cognitive content. Inspiration thus serves to preserve divine revelation in written form” (41).

Vanhoozer finds all of these accounts problematic on various grounds, not the least of which is that they all fail to be trinitarian. In the case of many evangelical accounts, instead of being trinitarian they seem to be deistic. Towards remedying this error, two thinkers are invoked: Karl Barth and Nicolas Wolterstorff.

In the first instance, Barth locates the doctrine of scripture under revelation, but does so uniquely. In Vanhoozer’s words, “for him revelation is less a deposit than a dynamic, the free act of God making himself known through himself: ‘God’s Word is God Himself in His revelation’” (43-44). In the case of Wolterstorff, acting as a philosopher, his concern is providing clarity to the phrase: “God speaks.” Again, in Vanhoozer’s own words:

The human authors of the Bible are not simply transcribing what they hear God saying in their heads. Divine inspiration is not yet divine discourse. Inspiration is a matter of causal generation, not communication: ‘The phenomenon of X inspiring Y to say such-and-such is not the same as X saying such-and-such.’…’To authorize a text is in effect to declare: let this text serve as medium of my discoursing’” (48).

I will push off the second chapter for the next post, but what do we think about this account thus far? He hasn’t done any real constructive work yet, but this kind of mapping exercise can prove very useful.

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One thought on “Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Vanhoozer Part 1

  1. I’m looking forward to reading this book, Vanhoozer is always good!

    I think his point on the typical framing of revelation in scripture as cognitive and thus deistic, is right on . . . if God is dynamic, then anything that would purport to be His revelation also needs to be framed and seen as dynamic.

    I would be interested to see how he incorporates the Incarnational analogy with his view of “inspiration.” Look forward to further posts on this.

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