Word of God: Part5

I will now consider the final chapter of Timothy Ward’s volume Words of Life, entitled “The Bible and Christian Life: The Doctrine of Scripture Applied.” The first issue Ward sets his sights on is clarifying the oft invoked phrased sola scriptura. He explains that there has often been a misunderstanding that the Reformers were somehow denying tradition in asserting Scripture alone. Ward states, “In other words the Reformers had a high regard for the authority of inherited traditions of biblical interpretation, and of the views of earlier generations of widely respected theologians, as well as for the church’s role in providing a context in which Scripture can properly be understood” (146).

Ward’s emphasis in his discussion of sola scriptura tracks along similar lines as D.H. Williams phrase nuda scriptura. Williams, like Ward, wants to emphasize that the sola here does not mean “with nothing else,” but is used in reference to the authority of the Scriptures. It isn’t a large leap from a misunderstanding of sola scriptura to the modern evangelical notion that “all that is necessary is me and my Bible,” what Keith Mathison refers to as solo scriptura.

Ward moves on to cover some other issues, one of which is preaching. He states, “In the light of this, what the faithful biblical preacher does, and what the Holy Spirit does with Scripture through him, is best described as a contemporary re-enactment of the speech act that the Spirit performed in the original authoring of the text” (162). Likewise, “The Spirit is again graciously present in the preached message, if what is preached now is faithful in purpose and content to what he once inspired” (163). It is safe to assume that Ward is not tying the Spirit to somehow supervene on “correct preaching,” as if he can be forcefully invoked through man’s action. Though we are assuming this, Ward isn’t helping his case with comments like,

Properly faithful biblical preaching involves the preacher deliberately seeking to fashion every verbal (and indeed physical) aspect of his preaching in such a way that the Spirit may act through his words in the lives of his hearers, ministering the content of Scripture in accordance with the purpose of Scripture” (163).

Not only does this seem to tie the Spirit’s work to the faithfulness of the preacher, but it is less than clear what it could mean to “fashion every verbal and physical aspect” of one’s preaching so that the Spirit can act. Based on these ambiguous comments, Ward clarifies that the efficacy of a sermon, like the sacraments, do not depend on the identity or spiritual state of the one administering them (which is certainly encouraging), but does not exposit what fashioning one’s verbal and physical preaching could mean, outside of being truthful to content, purpose and Spiritual nature of the text itself (which is probably what Ward is referring to here).

What do we think of this? Is this a good analysis of preaching? Any thoughts?

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3 thoughts on “Word of God: Part5

  1. I don’t know, Kyle. I think that Ward may be onto something here—notwithstanding his infelicitous wording, “deliberately seeking to fashion every verbal (and indeed physical) aspect of his preaching…,” which certainly sounds like “trying harder,” rather than “listening better.”

    It seems to me that there indeed is an intended (and contingent) connection between the Spirit’s prompting and human response in texts like 1 Cor 2:6-16, which I believe speaks of more than just “head knowledge” in the process of “illumination.” The same goes (negatively) with the process of “quenching” or “grieving” the Spirit. It’s not that the Spirit’s “hands are tied” by human response but rather that God chooses to invite humans to participate in what he is up to by the Spirit’s mediation and empowerment and allows free but fallible human choices to “combine” with his unconstrained sovereign (and redemptive) purposes. Hence, when we “walk according to the Spirit” we somehow “allow” the Spirit to redeem God’s invitation to be involved in his redemptive work. In this light, preaching is really no different than any other gift bestowed to members of the Body and exercised either in the Spirit or in the flesh. . . . all in all, perfectly consistent with “the God who speaks” into human history, both in his Word and by his Spirit.

  2. Seems like standard conservative theology: the preacher is regarded as good, to the extent that his preaching reflects/conveys the Holy Spirit. As the spirit has been defined, especially, by scripture. And traditional theology and sermons.

    To be sure, this would be the Conservative take on the Holy Spirit. In more liberal churches, it is sometimes thought that the Holy Spirit is a sort of variable, that changes its message to suit the times or era. Or according to the special “gifts” and insights of the individual preacher. Which some Charismatic churches might allow?

    Is this the issue? Solo (or originally, “Solus”?) scriptura, vs. Charismatics? New gifts? Those who might assert that the spirit might speak today, in a slightly different way, or with a different slant, than traditional interpretations of scripture?

    Perhaps many revisionist theologians would hope for this.

    But to be sure, even very conservative churches acknowledge that one day or another, Christ or God is supposed to return in a “Second Coming,” or Parousia. And at that time, God is supposed to issue words at once consistent with the old theology … and yet somehow, also, startlingly “new”; revealing sins and errors in many things earlier thought holy, “noble,” and “first” with God.

    Theologians dissatisfied with traditional theologies, might well look forward especially, I suggest, to this “second” “appearance” (“parousia”)of Christ.

  3. Pingback: Around the Blogs « Christ, My Righteousness

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