John Webster on taking Dogmatic Delight in the Gospel

The best evangelical theological work emerges from the delight in the Christian gospel, for the gospel announces a reality which is in itself luminous, persuasive, and infinitely satisfying. That reality is Jesus Christ as he gives himself to be an object for creaturely knowledge, love, and praise. To think evangelically about this one is to think in his presence, under the instruction of his Word and Spirit, and in the fellowship of the saints. And it is to do so with cheerful confidence that his own witness to himself if unimaginably more potent than any theological attempts to run to his defense.

Christology responds to the self-communicative presence of its object in the twofold work of exegesis and dogmatics…Exegesis is served by dogmatics, whose task is to look for systematic connections between the constituent parts of the Christian gospel, and to attempt their orderly and well-proportioned exposition. In particular, dogmatics can help to prevent the distortions of perspective which can be introduced into an account of the faith by, for example, pressure from polemical concerns or excessive regard for extra-theological norms (‘Jesus Christ’ in The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology‘ pp. 60-1).


6 thoughts on “John Webster on taking Dogmatic Delight in the Gospel

  1. Pingback: The Necessity of Extra-Theological Norms « After Existentialism, Light

  2. Excellent quotation. Unfortunately, I’m finding myself in somewhat of an opposition to it though. I agree completely that systematics are a needed (a ‘necessary evil’, imo) but the usage of ‘Dogmatics’ scares me.

    I’ve admittedly read practically no Barth, and I understand that ‘dogmatics’ may no longer stand for ‘the final word’, but wouldn’t setting ‘the final word’ remove part of the beauty of the Gospel, to perpetually expound upon it to perpetually keep the Gospel account accessible?

    Or am I just reading too much of my own bias into this quote?


  3. Earl, fair question given that the adjective ‘dogmatic’ has fallen on rough times as of late, often standing in for ‘rigid’, ‘inflexible’, ‘settled’, etc…

    Rather than offer an explanation for how the term ‘dogmatics’ functions for John Webster (and Barth for that matter), I will let Webster speak to your question from his book, Holiness:

    ‘As it seeks to articulate the gospel in the sanctorum communio, theology concentrates on two fundamental levels, namely exegesis and dogmatics. Exegesis is of supremely critical importance, because the chief instrument through which Christ publishes the gospel is Holy Scripture. Exegesis is the attempt to hear what the Spirit says to the Churches; without it, theology cannot even begin to discharge its office.

    Dogmatics is complementary but strictly subordinate to the exegetical task. It is not an improvement upon Holy Scripture, replacing the informal, occasional language of Scripture by conceptual forms which are better organized, more sophisticated or more firmly grounded. Rather, dogmatics seeks simply to produce a set of flexible accounts of the essential content of the gospel as it is found in Holy Scripture, with the aim of informing, guiding and correcting the Church’s reading. Dogmatics attempts a ‘reading’ of the gospel which in its turn assists the Church’s reading.

    Developing such a ‘reading’ of the gospel entails, of course, the development (or annexation) of conceptual vocabularies and forms of argument whose range and sophistication may seem distant from the more immediate, urgent idioms of Scripture. But though technical sophistication is not without its attendant perils, it is only vicious when allowed to drift free from the proper end of theology, which is the saints’ edification. When that end is kept in view and allowed to govern the work of theology, then dogmatics can be pursued as a modest work of holy reason, transparent to the gospel and doing its service in the Church as the school of Christ’ (pp. 3-4)

  4. Kent,
    I absolutely love the concept of domatics as a ‘reading’. I still obviously have concerns about authority and how flexible ‘flexible’ really is- but the concept hits the spot on precisely what is needed in evangelical communities.

    haha, now I want to carry the question into who’s responsibility is it for the establishment and maintenance of said ‘reading’, but I can save that one for another day.

    Thanks! I always seem to learn something useful from you.

  5. Pingback: John Webster on delight of the Gospel | Byrnesys Blabberings

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