The Word of God: Part 3

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).

Moving into something of a summary/plateau point in his argument, Ward states,

Therefore when we speak of Scripture as a mode of God’s presence, we are asserting that it is in the speech acts of Scripture that God reveals himself by being semantically present to us, as he promises, warns, rebukes, reassures and so on. And this revelation is happening when the words of Scripture are read: when God is performing again, through the reading of Scripture, the same action he performed through those words when they were first written” (66).

Ward moves into a discussion concerning the nature of Jesus as the Word and the possibility of using this same moniker to talk about Scripture without, in any way, diminishing Jesus’ unique identity. Ward follows Bavinck’s conclusions that Scripture is the servant of Christ. He draws a parallel between the relation of covenant promises to the person of the Father with Scripture’s relationship to Christ. “We should read, listen to and hear it preached, in order to find ourselves presented again with Christ and addressed by him. As we encounter the words of Scripture, we are encountering the Son in action, presenting himself to us in his call on us to take up our cross and follow him” (72).

Again, any thoughts about this kind of account?

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3 thoughts on “The Word of God: Part 3

  1. Several of the writers you’re interested in, seem to be coming from Philosphy after the “lingustic turn” (Rorty); Poststructuralism and so forth. Philosophies that liked to suggest that everything is language; “there is nothing outside the text” said Derrida, infamously.

    There has always been a seemingly rather natural fit, between this school of thought, and Christianity; based on scripture, the Bble tiself; a written document in which God himself is sometimes thought to be called the “word”; a God that brings things into existence it seems, merely with a word. The Bible itself at times, seems like proto-Poststructuralism. And Wright and Ward are playing on this, it seems.

    At the same time, the mystique of Poststructuralism began to fade c. 1982.

    And elsewhere in the discussion of Wright, we became suspicious of a view of God speaking things into existence, with just a word; “ex nihilo,” out of nothing. Which might only have been shorthand for a more complex process of creation; for something coming into existence from at least a pre-existing potentiality (or even a “one”?). Or from a sort of History. Something prior to the word. Something before language.

    And indeed, the suspicion that there was something before language and the “word,” is why poststructualism faded. And we might therefore also do well to begin to question any too-late poststructuralism, that finds its locus in the “word,” in language.

    To be sure, after Jesus died, and his thoughts survived primarily in remembered words – and increasingly, texts, gospels – it would have been natural for disciples to begin to speak of Jesus himself as “the Word.” Yet at that point, the disciples might have turned their back too far on the world of physical things; failing to see God in the glory of the “things that” he “made.”

    Fixating on God as merely “words” on a page, like a contract, or abstract thoughts, without a physical reality before or after the text, seems to almost fix on the “letter of the law,” once again.

  2. In any case, I’m not sure Linguistic philosophy, like Ward’s, really adds much to earlier literature on the Bible. Since indeed, traditinal Biblical scholarship has always been highly focused on the “word”; in part from 1) its own focus on a book, the Bible; which was accentuated by 2) Protestantism, sola scriptura; and 3) the Bible’s own explicit focus on the “word.”

    In fact, I’d say that Poststructuralism itself, was actually derivative; its own focus on Language, the idea of the “word” as being primary, even indendent of material reality, came actually, in large part, from the Bible. And Bible scholarship.

    Ward seems to be relying on echoes of Post Structuralism etc., to make his own work echo more in scholarly circles. But from your summary to date, I can’t say that really works. By now, in theology, the whole examination of the “word” has long been a Protestant cliche; and for that matter, in Philosophy, Poststructuralism and Philosophy of a linguistic “turn,” seems rather dated as well.

  3. So is God best described as he expresses himself in a written contract? A “word”? Or isn’t there something before that?

    Surely God himself existed before he spoke.

    And of that God, what can we say? If the idea he is “one,” seems to prohibit saying anything else about him (the “One” allegedly having no qualifies; though cf. Plato’s original definition of One, in Parmenides)?

    Then after all, what if we saw God in say, Nature. Which seems to pre-exist not only words, but human beings. In the Beginning “God created heaven and earth.” And only much later, human beings, and words.

    So before words, contracts, is God in nature. And surely nature has a lot to say, even about God.

    Things which a science of God would begin to hear.

    Helms therefore, was correct to criticize Wright. And Ward deserves criticism too. Both, for thinking that writing, words, contracts, are the only, or adequate, way to know God. For in effect, denying a doctrine of God – and indeed, denying any describable God at all – before writing – and written contracts, covenants – appear.

    For that reason, I’m interested in what sense in fact, Nature itself might express God’s nature; or for that matter specifically, his “righteousness.”

    In the past, it was thought that to be righteous meant … honoring one’s verbal or written covenants or contracts.

    But that surely, is a very limited idea of being good, or right, or righteous. How about a Good that is so transcendent, or complicated, that there is no all-too-human, written contract for it, as yet?

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