[A]n adequate doctrine of Scripture [contra B.B. Warfield and C. Hodge] depends circularly on the very doctrines that Scripture helps establish. It fits equally well at the end of a systematic theology as at its beginning. Indeed, it arguably fits best throughout one’s theological system, developing along with its other categories in order to inform them and be informed by them at every point. The Bible is a truly rich theological resource, as both prophetic and apostolic foundation for Christian doctrine and a beneficiary of it [...]
Systematic bibliology…orders the various dimensions of Scripture according to the divine economy of salvation: The Bible saves because of its divine character and agency. The Bible has a divine character and agency in order to form, reform, and govern God’s chosen people” (Work, Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation , 319-20).
“The Bible is inherently the live Word of God that addresses us concerning the character and will of the gospel-giving God, empowering us to an alternative life in the world…Given inherency…the Bible is endlessly a surprise beyond us…
The Bible is not a fixed, frozen, readily exhausted read; it is rather a “script” always reread, through which the Spirit makes new…Nobody makes the final read; nobody’s read is final or inerrant, precisely because the Key Character in the book who creates, redeems, and consummates is always beyond us in holy hiddenness” (Walter Brueggemann, Struggling with Scripture (2002), pp. 11, 12, 13)
I return now to Nicholas Lash’s book Theology on the Way to Emmaus, looking at the chapter entitled: “Performing the Scriptures.” He starts with a comparison:
There are some texts the interpretation of which seems to be a matter of, first, ‘digging’ the meaning out of the text and then, subsequently, putting the meaning to use, applying it in practice. That might be a plausible description of what someone was doing who, armed with a circuit diagram, tried to mend his television set. But it would be a most misleading description of what a judge is doing when, in the particular case before him, he interprets the law. In this case, interpretation is a creative act that could not have been predicted by a computer because it is the judge’s business to ‘make’ the law by his interpretation of precedent. What the law means is decided by his application of it” (38).
Texts, in other words, have genre’s and, if I can put it this way, teleologies. Lash, furthermore, compares interpretation to the performance of a musical text – a score – stating, “Even if the performance if technically faultless (and is, in that sense, a ‘correct’ interpretation) we might judge it to be lifeless, unimaginative” (40). Therefore, with some texts, interpretation does not properly take place until the texts are truly performed. Lash offers a brief summary: “…Christian practice, as interpretive action, consists in the performance of texts which are construed as ‘rendering’, bearing witness to, one whose words and deeds, discourse and suffering, ‘rendered’ the truth of God in human history. The performance of the New Testament enacts the conviction that these texts are most appropriately read as the story of Jesus, the story of everyone else, and the story of God” (42).
Reading the Bible therefore is not merely a private reading but is fundamentally communal. The biblical texts, Lash argues, is somewhat like a musical score or a script, but, unlike a symphony or a play it doesn’t end. The biblical texts bleeds beyond the boundaries of our private lives into everything we do and all that we are (alliteration is for James).
Lash therefore turns to offer some broad rules to this performance. First, there is a limited range of options when it comes to an interpretation of the text which is constrained by authorial intent. Second, the performance must be true to the questions the texts seek to answer. Lash explains:
To put it very simply: as the history of the meaning of the text continues, we can and must tell the story differently. But we do so under constraint: what we may not do, if it is this text which we are to continue to perform, is to tell a different story” (44).
As an example of how this might look, Lash turns to the Eucharist. It is here where the community of Christ performs the story of Christ, or, as we have seen in my posts on Mikoski’s book, baptism could serve in this function as well. Practicing death, as it were, becomes the basic Christian posture, as we drink the blood and eat the flesh, and as we enter the community by being drown in the waters of death. We perform that which highlights the end of this drama, and the beginning of a new drama; or, better, we point towards the fulfillment, reconciliation and perfection of this drama.
What are the implications of this kind of read? Any thoughts? What are the upsides and downsides to this?
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. Continue reading
Continuing our look at Timothy Ward’s book Words of Life, we now turn to his doctrinal outline of the attributes of Scripture. He begins by expositing the necessity, sufficiency, clarity and authority of Scripture. I skip over these here to move on to what has been an area of interest to this blog in the past: inerrancy and infallibility. Ward’s location of the doctrine is a helpful place to start:
What I shall say here about the question of the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture should not be thought of as the doctrinal climax to which the previous sections in this chapter have been leading. Nor should it even be thought of as a section to be set alongside Scripture’s necessity, sufficiency, clarity, and consequent authority, equal in significance to those topics. Instead the claim that Scripture is inerrant is an outworking of the authority of Scripture. Specifically it is an outworking of the trustworthiness of Scripture…” (130).
In an important follow-up statement, Ward claims, “In other words I shall argue that inerrancy is a true statement to make about the Bible, but is not in the top rank of significant things to assert about the Bible” (130). Infallibility, as Ward defines it, means that the Bible does not deceive, while inerrancy adds the additional claim that it does not “assert any errors of fact.” Ward offers 3 qualifications against misinformed critiques of inerrancy: Continue reading
Ward continues his proposal with a look at the Trinity and Scripture. In my mind, this kind of approach could prove to be the most interesting. Ward’s approach begins with more biblical work, where he suggests that, “every literary genre and form within Scripture is linked directly to Scripture’s basic covenantal form and function.” In his words,
Commandments declare the stipulations of the covenant. Prophecy and epistles, in particular, expound and apply those stipulations in specific contexts; they are, in effect, the covenant preached in different situations. Narrative relates the unfolding events in which God’s people have successively trusted and rejected him, and through which God has faithfully enacted the consequences of his promises, whether in blessing or judgment” (55).
Ward continues on to ground all biblical genres in “Scripture’s covenantal form and function.” At first glance this seems either overly-reductionistic or uninteresting. I’m not sure which. Interestingly enough, the very next paragraph Ward claims, “Yet to see the Bible as ‘the book of the covenant’ is not simplistic or reductionist. It is rather to recognize Scripture’s profound role in the relationship between humanity and God that God wants to establish” (56)! Ward’s basic claim here is that Scripture serves the church by being the ongoing covenant-declaration. To do so he invokes speech-act theory. Keeping in stride with his previous claims, Ward suggests, “It follows that to speak of Scripture as the book of the covenant, the ongoing form in which God repeats his covenant promise in the world, ought to lead us to speak of Scripture as in some sense a mode of God’s presence in the world” (60). Continue reading
Continuing our look at Timothy Ward’s book Words of Life, I want to focus our attention words of Christ. Ward ties Christ’s words in with the idea of “fullness.” In his words, “Moreover, the ‘fullness’ of God, which God was pleased to have dwell in Christ, also included the words Christ spoke…The most likely implication is that these words were given by the Father to Christ in eternity, and not exclusively during his earthly life, such as during his childhood, or his adult life before the beginning of his public ministry…” (38) In my mind, it is a bit odd to take passages from John (which is what Ward is working with, see John 8:28b, 12:49-50; 17:8a), which claim that Jesus does not speak on his own and that he speaks what he is commanded by the Father, to somehow entail a conversation between the Father and the Son in eternity. Jesus, then, is simply repeating what he was told. Furthermore, I think it is an incredible jump to claim, in Ward’s words,
We can say, then, that these statements by Jesus provide a glimpse into the eternal life of the triune God. It is a glimpse of the Father preparing for the appearing of the Son in human form by giving him words he would speak during his earthly ministry” (38).
Certainly, in a minimalistic sense, these passages in John offer some insight into the mission of the Son in relation to the Father, fair enough. But it still seems odd to me that we have this Father-Son dialogue where Jesus is learning what to say. It somewhat reminds me of the breakdown of the pactum salutis which begins to sound like a committee meeting in the triune life. I’m just not sure this kind of analysis is helpful. Continue reading