The Word of God

In this post, I begin to look through the new book Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God by Timothy Ward. Ward’s self-proclaimed task is:

I want to articulate, explain and defend what we are really saying when we proclaim, as we must, that the Bible is God’s Word. In particular, this is how I want to go about this: I am attempting to describe the nature of the relationship between God and Scripture” (11).

Ward categorizes his volume as an “outline,” offering three main “components: First, a biblical outline – a low-flying biblical analysis of the Bible’s own self-description. Second, Ward claims to draw this together into a “theological outline of Scripture in its relationship with God, focusing on Scripture’s role in relationship with each of the persons of the Trinity” (13). Ward warns that evangelicals have treated Scripture as internally unrelated to the doctrines of the Christian faith, and must be located theologically (most specifically in relation to the missions of the Son and Spirit) to remedy that error. Lastly, Ward looks at a doctrinal outline of Scripture, looking at issues of necessity, sufficiency, clarity and authority.

Ward notes four theologians he consistently works his material through (an interesting rhetorical move I suppose): John Calvin, Francis Turretin, B.B. Warfield, and Herman Bavinck. In other words, if you don’t like his view, you evidently just don’t like the Reformed!

In the second chapter, Ward addresses how God relates himself to words. Ward seeks to establish that God’s words and actions are often synonymous in the Bible, looking at passages such as the creation narrative, fall narrative, establishment of covenant, etc. Ward summarizes his Old Testament findings:

The language about God’s ‘word’ seems to be a way of speaking of God’s active presence in the world…God and his word share the divine ability infallibly to perform their purpose; human words often fail to perform their intended purpose, but God’s words do not” (25).

God relates to people, Ward argues, through a covenantal framework, and by this framework God verbally links himself with his people. This leads him to make two conclusions: First, “it is in and through the words of the covenant he speaks to his people that God makes himself knowable to humanity,” and “God’s actions, including his verbal actions, are a kind of extension of him;” and second, “God cannot meaningfully establish his covenant with us, he cannot make his promise to us, without using words…God chooses to use words as a fundamental means of relating to us, we must presume, because the kind of relationship he chooses to establish cannot be established without them” (31).

Next, Ward seeks to build upon the reality of the prophets speaking the “word of the Lord.” He believes that this shows that God’s word can be mediated through human words without ceasing to truly be his own. His explanation of this possibility is read through the image of God in man, and that, if nothing else, lays the foundation for talking about God’s covenant making activity, through his speech, albeit mediated through human speech. Thus, in his words, “an encounter with God’s covenant-making communicative activity is itself an encounter with God” (36).

What do we think of this development thus far? It seems pretty staight forward in terms of what he is seeking to do. Any thoughts? Responses?

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3 thoughts on “The Word of God

  1. “Solus scriptura.” With its strengths and limitations.

    On the positive side, it does base us on a well-researched and written document, the Bible. And even as a written covenant, or contract. Therefore, when we sign up, we have a (fairly) clear written contract; and (more or less) know what we are signing onto.

    Here – as the Protestant Reformation liked to constantly point out – these is less danger of signing onto an open-ended discussion or a variable. To a free-ranging discussion that can seen good … until a preacher starts delivering his – say political, or personal, even ideosyncratic – ideas, theology, “traditions of mere men,” and even mere individuals, as the word of “God.”

    To be sure, an open-ended theology is exciting, as an essentail academic freedom; especially one apparently free of “covenant” obligations.

    Yet of course, there is a very common abuse here. First 1) the churchgoer hears ideas invoked in the name of “God,” and thinks he knows what he is signing up for: something based on the “God” of the Bible. But then finds – too late in the case of cults, and too-individualististic theologies – that he or she really signed up for … the personal theology (and even psychology and agenda) of a particular preacher.

    So that, indeed, when a preacher or theologian (especially in private only) cuts himself off from a strictly biblical, even convenantial sense of “God,” there is a slight advantage: we have now a wider sphere to God. But there is also a common abuse here: an individual is now … playing God. Presenting his own ideas, in a way that will be perceived as having the authority of a written contract, three thousand years of tradition … without however, the usual safeguards in place.

    That is why and how, cult leaders can have so much influence.

    So again: if someone wants to seek and non-covenential theology, even a non-biblical one? No doubt there is a need for such things. But perhaps the only honest way to do this, is to publically present it, not as a voice of “God.” Since indeed, “God” is a term that is widely defined in the common mind, as a character from one particular document: the Bible. Whereas, a non-covenential theology, is not coming strictly, from that perspective.

    In the early days of critical theology, certain figures devised other terms, therefore. They developed a vocabulary that recalled the old terms of authority – but that, in the name of honesty, also frankly signaled a slight difference: speaking not of “God,” but the “deity”; the “ineffable”; the Divine Nature; etc.. Divine Providence, etc..

    Terms that in fact were developed in France and England. Especially, in the time of say, Edwards. And that were used in some of the early foundational documents of the United States.

  2. Your paragraph that starts: God relates to people, Ward argues, through a covenantal framework . . .

    Sounds like a good nominalist approach to me. In fact it reminds me (the way you describe it, Kyle) exactly of Ockham’s view on Covenant and “words.”

  3. “Word” here, as in the word of God, is closer in meaning to what we would today call a “command” or “law”: the definitive word; a word of command or warning.

    Linguistically: a “performative utterance”; not just idle talk, but a word that accompanies or causes actions?

    But though parts of the Bible suggest this, do God’s words always, in what actually “Comes to pass” in real life, lead in an immediate way, to actions? A kingdom “soon”? We are assured they will eventually. Though in the meantime, there is apparently some slack here … that Ward, so far in our partial summary, does not acknowledge.

    So too a space between God’s essence or will, and his performance or actual attributes in the world?

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