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Revelation, Grace and Humility

July 3, 2011

For my first post here at Out of Bounds, I’d like to connect a central theme of my research to the interests we have to initiate what Jon has called “gospel conversations“. My work focuses on what T. F. Torrance has to say about what Scripture is and how it is to be read. I want to relate some thoughts about the relation of revelation, Scripture, and theology to how we ought to approach theological conversations.

Torrance argues, following Karl Barth, that in the Gospel God’s self-revelation has a twofold objectivity which means this: first, there is the knowledge God has of himself, the knowledge the Father has of the Son and the Son of the Father. This is a knowledge entirely beyond our human reach or capacity. Second, by grace God reveals himself in a way in which we can know him through the use of certain created things, things bound up in his covenant with Israel: historical events, prophetic oracles, sacred texts, legal codes, cultic rituals, and ultimately the humanity of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. None of these things are God. God is God. He is not something we can see or touch or even properly conceptualize. But since we as humans are only able to know what we can access through our sense perceptions or reason, he in his grace unites himself with our humanity in the person of Christ in order to reveal himself and accomplish reconciliation with us through things we can see and understand. The important point here is the shape our knowledge takes in response to this twofold (divine and created) objectivity of revelation in Christ.

Our knowledge must attach itself to the specific created realities God has chosen to reveal himself in. His decision to unite himself to a certain created reality does not license us to seek knowledge of him through any and every earthly object, like sunsets or poetry or our families, in the same way as Christ’s humanity. The union of Christ’s divine and human natures in his one person is an utterly unique event. And yet on the other side, as we attach our knowledge singularly to Jesus Christ, we must recognize that even in Christ where divinity and humanity are united, divinity is not humanity and humanity is not divinity. The hair follicles and fingernails of Christ are not the eternal Word and Spirit of God. Our knowledge of God in Christ thus necessarily involves a dynamic operation of “distinguishing and uniting, uniting and distinguishing” (Barth, CD II.1, p. 17) between God who is not a creature and created realities that are not God (distinguishing) but are appointed by grace to be the place in creation where the Creator makes himself known (uniting).

Since Christ’s humanity is not directly available to us in our time and place, our knowledge of him comes to us through the mediation of Scripture. Scripture is able to mediate such knowledge to us because the incarnation of the Son of God into the humanity of a 1st century Galilean has created what Barth speaks of as a “sacramental continuity” reaching back from Christ into Israel’s expectation of him as their Messiah attested in the Old Testament and forward to the apostle’s recollection of him attested in the New Testament (Church Dogmatics II.1, p. 54). The prophets and apostles testimony to Christ recorded in the biblical texts is the objective reality available to us through which Christ makes himself known to us.

That being the case, we must still constantly respect the fact that knowledge of God is not available on the surface level of the biblical texts but mediated through them in their testimony to Christ. Just as Christ’s fingernails are not themselves God in their mere physicality but rather point to the divinity to which they are united, so the words of Scripture are not the truth in their mere textuality but in their pointing beyond themselves to the Truth of Christ. As Torrance has put it, “if the Scriptures are treated as having a light inherent in themselves, they are deprived of their true light which they have by reflecting the Light of Christ beyond themselves – and then the light that is in them is turned into a kind of darkness” (Reality and Evangelical Theology, p. 95).

Gospel conversations, then, are accountable to the twofold reality involved in divine revelation. What we say about God is first of all accountable to the text of Scripture. We can’t just say whatever we want about God or even whatever seems naturally obvious; we have to follow the prophets and apostles as our authoritative guides for speaking about God according to his mighty acts of redemption and the covenanted forms of life and speech he established in Israel, all of which testify to God’s ultimate act of redemption through the incarnate Word. Our conversations attend to the Gospel only when they attend to the forms of thought and speech we receive from Scripture.

But this is exactly where those conversations tend to go wrong, by satisfying this criterion and neglecting the twofold nature of revelation.When people proclaim the absolute truth of their theological statements because of their correspondence to Scripture, they forget that, it is as if I were to claim to have received Christ because I came into possession of one of his fingernail clippings. This is because, after our first accountability to the text of Scripture, we are also, secondly, accountable in our theological conversations to the grace of God which establishes all connections between God as God and the created things (like Scripture) he reveals himself through. Because all such connections are established entirely by God’s gracious decision to reveal himself to us and save us, no created person or thing can decide on its own behalf to be the place where God will show himself through to creation. To do so is to violate the gracious nature of revelation. If it is by grace, it is by God’s decision alone, not ours. All we can ever do is point to the grace of Christ as the truth, a truth our statements cannot contain or control but can only point to, appealing to the grace of God for the establishment of their truth in Christ.

If all theological statements are at the same time accountable to Scripture’s testimony to Christ and also dependent entirely on the grace of God to establish their truth, theological conversations ought to be persistently marked by humility and civility. God is self-revelatory, not hiding in himself but giving us the truth of himself in Jesus Christ, and yet he never puts that truth into our hands to do with as we will. It is a giving that puts us in a position of perpetual reception. When this realization of our position is in place, we as fellow receivers will resist drawing circles around our own feet to designate the location of orthodoxy and instead point to Christ, bearing an openness in dialogue with those who point quite differently from ourselves and from quite a different place but nevertheless point in the same direction.

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. July 3, 2011 6:14 am

    Great post, Adam; nice explication of TFT and Revelation. It is this kind of stuff that ever attracted me to Torrance in the first place!

  2. July 4, 2011 12:32 am

    Thanks, Bobby. Me too!

  3. July 4, 2011 7:51 am

    Appreciate the lines you draw here, Adam, thanks for raising the doctrine of Scripture. I hope we can do that often since this and hermeneutics seem to be the source of so much confusion and controversy these days.

    I wonder, would you be a proponent of not referring to the Bible as “the Word of God”? If that was the case then you’d probably take some issue with calling preaching “the Word of God” (e.g., the second Helvetic confession)?

    Also, how is this view of the Bible different from one that says the Bible is like a husk containing the truth of God, and that it thus require some kind of “demythologisation” to get to the core? Is this the doctrine of Scripture’s equivalent of docetism, and if so, why not?

    I’m thinking about Jesus’ statement retaining the “jots and tittles” of the Law alongside your fingernail illustration (which I love by the way). I wonder how strongly you wanted to suggest that the toenails of Jesus were not the eternal Word of God? Since He really did come in the flesh, while the dead clippings would not retain that status, that flesh is indeed part of the living Word of God, no? (For some reason I think here of the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ garment for healing.)

    I mean, it seems like your illustration might help us with my first question, in that the Bible is the Word of God inasmuch as it is in service of the living Word, the Son of God. And on second read I think maybe this is exactly what you are saying when you suggest the words, like the fingernails, “are not themselves God in their mere physicality but rather point to the divinity to which they are united.”

    If so I guess I just want to hear a bit more about that, and then jump off that and ask about the force of what you mean when you say the words are “pointing beyond themselves” to Jesus Christ. Surely we expect Jesus to be found in the words themselves as well?

  4. July 4, 2011 3:05 pm

    Thanks for the good questions Jon. First, I have no problems calling the Bible the Word of God along with the Second Helvetic, and so have no problems with calling preaching the Word of God in the same sense. I root both of these, the Bible and preaching being the Word of God, on the fact that first of all God is the Word of God (John 1:1) and second of all that in his incarnate humanity he promises those he commands to testify to him that “the one who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16). So Christ is the Word of God in its primary sense, Scripture in its secondary, and preaching in its tertiary.

    On the kernel and husk question, I think I’m saying the opposite thing. The Bible doesn’t contain the Word of God because the Word of God cannot be contained. The Word of God is God is the freedom of his self-revelation. In that freedom he speaks through created media but that media never becomes or contains him (John 1:14 notwithstanding).

    Demythologization is a faulty hermeneutic because it assumes that the truths Scripture contains are timeless and thus have to be stripped of their temporally conditioned elements. What I’m saying is that God who is timeless has descended to speak to us and act for us in time (while remaining himself sovereign and free over time as its Creator) and so we can never get behind the time-bound testimony of Scripture to the naked Truth because the Truth has not come to us nakedly. Because God has spoken to us at that particular time and place, we must always go there, to the testimony fully bound to that time and place, for our knowledge of God. But still we must not think that that time and place or any created reality pertaining to it IS God.

    As for docetism, its bibliological equivalent would be some kind of denial that the text of Scripture is at all creaturely. I would think what I’m doing would be more open to the charge of bibliological ebionism, that Scripture is only creaturely and not divine. But those Christological categories don’t really work with Scripture because I think its right to say that Scripture is only creaturely. It is paper, ink and words. It is not God, though God speaks through it. While the miracle of Christianity is that Jesus Christ is both God and a human being, there is no parallel miracle with the Bible – it is not God and a book, it is just a book, though a book that God inspires, speaks through and grants authority to. There is no sense in which it is God as Christ is.

    The point about the fingernails is the “without confusion or change” part of the Chalcedonian definition. I want to say quite strongly that the flesh of Christ is NOT part of the living Word of God but the creaturely reality to which it has uniquely joined itself – but joined itself “without confusion or change”. This is the doctrine of Christ’s two natures in his one person. They do not mix together in his person so that his divinity is human or his humanity divine or the two become some kind of divanity or huminity. What we want to say on the other side is that his flesh is a part of the one person Jesus Christ who is the living Word of God and fully human.

    As for pointing beyond itself, this is the way God is to be found in some way IN creaturely things, even in Jesus to a certain extent. There is a pattern of humbling ourselves before the Lord and him them lifting us up. Even Christ does not come to do his own will but that of the Father. Even more so for all strictly creaturely things, their role is to point away from themselves to God because it is in so pointing that we see God properly glorified in them. We hear God speaking in Christ because Christ does not glorify himself but the Father and we hear Christ speaking in Scripture because it does not testify to itself but to him.

  5. July 4, 2011 3:24 pm

    Adam – thanks for an interesting and truly challenging account of the nature of Scripture and of the believer’s task of reading it. I’m still chewing on what you’ve said so far, but I did want to echo Jon’s question about the relation of any mundane aspect of the created nature assumed by the Word — such as fingernails — to the Word. As you can guess from our (many) conversations, I’m nervous that the statement “The hair follicles and fingernails of Christ are not the eternal Word of God” implies the sort of instrumentalism that would finally divide the assumed humanity from “the person Himself.”

    In your comment above you added: “I want to say quite strongly that the flesh of Christ is NOT part of the living Word of God but the creaturely reality to which it has uniquely joined itself – but joined itself ‘without confusion or change’. This is the doctrine of Christ’s two natures in his one person.”

    It is important, I think, to distinguish between the Word’s use of a creaturely medium that is not God and the Word’s use of a creaturely medium that God ‘becomes’ (John 1:14). This would be where the analogy between incarnation and inspiration of Scripture breaks down. The Word of God is communicated through the words of Scripture, but never ‘becomes’ them. There is no hypostatic union in or with the text. But the Word becomes flesh; those fingernails are His fingernails, and He does not have His existence as the incarnate Word without each part of His humanity.

    The “fingernails” discussion is actually raising, in a more mundane way, the debates over the extent of Christ’s humanity — e.g. whether he has a human mind (against Apollinarianism) and whether he has a human will (against the Monothelites). Did/Does the Word have human fingernails? In what sense are they “His?” How “ontologically” are we to read John 1’s egeneto? I think what you’ve given so far is not simply the doctrine of the two natures, but one particular account of that.

  6. July 4, 2011 4:54 pm

    Adam,

    Thanks for a good post. It’s interesting to me to see how your thought on all this has developed (not that I really know what it was “before”, but stil interesting to observe what it’s become).

    I have a quesiton related to your general enthusiastic adoption of the Reformed distinction of divine/human being going ‘all the way down’, as it were. Your above response to Jon said pretty clearly that you don’t think the bible contains ‘timeless truths’ (which I agree with, by the way). I’m guess I’m wondering, given your insistence here that no creaturely words ‘become’ divine or ever ‘contain’ the Word of God, what kind of general approach you’d take to spelling out the divine ‘authorization’ of the processes of, e.g., canonical formation, or creedal authority.

    Maybe I’m suspicious that all accounts of canonical ‘inspiration’, or the general idea of an ‘apostolic era’, do in fact require a temporal ‘suspension’ of the creaturely, or something like that — such that while we want to insist that all these words/utterances remain ‘creaturely’ in their origin, and can still be heard or ‘used’ by creatures improperly, the creaturely words themselves (the real ‘meaning’ of this particular creaturely [set of] text[s], or the eternal ‘truth’ of the creed) is somehow ‘more divine’, more incorporated into the being of God’s own revelation, than the ‘meaning’ of other creaturely texts/confessions.

  7. July 4, 2011 6:32 pm

    These are good questions. I too, at first blush, wondered about the fingernails analogy; since I take it that Chalcedon intended to say that all of God’s self was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Meaning that the flesh assumed was part and parcel of His self-revelation. I think my concern is, if we don’t see the eyelashes of Jesus as God’s self-revelation; that Jesus’ humanity simply becomes instrumental, as Darren has said, falling into a monothelitism.

    Adam, I’m wondering if using the analogy of the incarnation for understanding scripture’s ontology is a necessary move; what do you think? Can’t we simply say that scripture and its creaturely media are taken up into the divine speech act; making a distinction between the words of Scripture themselves and the reality that they are “commandeered” to signify? I’m thinking back to the way that Webster sketches this in his “Holy Scripture.”

  8. July 4, 2011 6:43 pm

    Thanks Adam, you had me at ‘ebionism’! For real, those were some helpful clarifications. The only follow up I would have has been put better by the others so I look forward to how this carries on …

  9. July 4, 2011 8:37 pm

    Ok, here goes…

    Darren: Thanks for the good questions. You’re, of course, right that I’m giving a particular account of Chalcedon. And you’re also right that however any of run the union of Christ’s two natures, there is no parallel union in Scripture – any analogies between Christ and Scripture (which, along with Bobby I have come around to agreeing with Webster, are best avoided) break down at the point of union.

    On the Christological point that the Word “became” flesh, I don’t think “became” can mean “was transformed into” so that the saying could be reversed and we could just as rightly say “the flesh became Word”. I think “without confusion or change” requires this distinction to go, as Dr. Prather put it, all the way down. On the other side, as long as the unity of the person of Christ, the “without division or separation”, is given proper place along with the consistent distinction of natures, I just don’g get that worried about instrumentalism. The person of Jesus Christ is entirely human and entirely divine. To say Christ’s flesh isn’t divine isn’t, I would think, a problem unless you say it isn’t a part of his person, which I’m not saying. I fully agree with you that “those fingernails are His fingernails, and He does not have His existence as the incarnate Word without each part of His humanity”, I just want to say that it is his existence as the INCARNATE Word that would be incomplete with his fingernails (uh, maybe – sorry to all of those actual humans who don’t have fingernails), not his divinity.

    Scott: Thanks also for the good questions. I think I understand your suspicion; I’m not totally sure to address it. I like the way Torrance talks about needing to follow the way God has taken in his self-revelation, attending to the creaturely forms God has spoken through in that revelation not because they bear a natural conformity to divinity but because we have no access to naked divinity and thus must seek to find him in the place he has objectively revealed himself, appealing to his grace and faithfulness to continue to speak through the testimony of those he appointed to testify to him. The process of canonization cannot be based on the perception of an inherent divine authority in certain creaturely things but on the reception of a divine promise in Christ to continue to speak where he has promised to speak (Luke 10:16 – I might be leaning too hard on that verse, but its pretty important for my view). That promise holds good entirely on the divine side even though it perpetually points us to the same creaturely place. I don’t know – does that cause you the same worry about the divinizing of particular creaturely things?

    Bobby: Hopefully I addressed your concerns in response to Darren. I do think Christ’s fingernails and eyelashes are significant to his humanity and thus to his personhood. I just don’t think they are divinized, which may be a peculiar reading of the Chalcedonian “without confusion”, but it seems straight forward to me. Also, as i alluded to above, I do think Webster is right to differentiate the way we talk about the Word becoming flesh and the Word using or annexing or speaking through the biblical text.

    Jon: On behalf of myself and Darren, thank you for invoking Jerry McGuire!

  10. July 4, 2011 9:13 pm

    There’s so much great stuff in here about Scripture and revelation that I feel bad niggling at the two natures Christology stuff. But if it’s inevitable that I become known as the guy who makes everything about Christology, I may as well start now!

    “Became” certainly doesn’t mean “transformed into” flesh, nor (as Barth says) can the equation of John 1:14 be reversed (“flesh became the Word”). No diminution of Christ’s divinity on the one hand, and no theosis of the flesh on the other. My reservation (as you know) is that, when we talk about the way in which the Word is related to His assumed humanity, the tradition has a bad habit of making that nature ancillary and, ultimately, disposable. Lutheranism has always been right in criticizing the Reformed emphasis upon the distinction of the natures here.

    What tends to happen is that we speak of the Word having a divine nature and a human nature, but since one of those has a temporal beginning and since the “person” is a divine person, divinity is thought of as more basic to Him — even as the incarnate Word! I don’t think that even Chalcedon permits this imbalance, though some of the greatest theologians of antiquity thought this way.

    “I just want to say that it is his existence as the INCARNATE Word that would be incomplete [without] his fingernails, not his divinity.”

    I’m happy enough with this, though I’m wary of what could be a confusion between “divinity” and “the divine person” (the Word). “Divinity” (that is, the divine nature) has no fingernails. But the divine person, the Word, does. Likewise, the incarnate Word has fingernails … and there is no unincarnate Word. So while we can speak abstractly about what is and is not true of divinity, there is no actual subject of whom we can predicate divinity without humanity.

  11. scottakirkland permalink
    July 4, 2011 10:10 pm

    Hi Adam,

    Enjoyed your post. One thing I was wondering was on the one hand you are using Chalcedonian grammar to suggest that the texts and Christ’s humanity are not divine as such, but on the other there is a sense of witness to and a commandeering or participation in the divine self-knowing which takes place. I guess the question is how does that play out? What actually takes place in this act which brings the texts to bear? I ask this because I am wary of simply overlaying Kantian categories with a revelatory act (not that you are doing this). You speak of the incomprehensibility of Christ off the surface of the text as such or in his humanity as such, but how is that not a noumenal/phenomenal distinction with a revelatory act superimposed over the sublime (much like Schleiermacher’s feeling)?

    My own sense is that there is a distinct way of not knowing which is grounded in the revelatory act itself (much like pseudo-Dionysius and the plenitude which calls for silence), which cannot simply be grounded in the secularity of created texts and media.

    I hope that makes sense. Interested to hear what you think.

    Scott

  12. July 5, 2011 4:12 am

    Darren: I think I understand your worry, I’m just not sure its impossible to retain the Reformed distinctions while giving full place to Christ’s humanity. Because of the importance of the vicarious nature of Christ’s humanity in a certain theologian who dominates my thinking, it would be difficult to imagine that humanity having a disposable status in his theology. I think I agree that there is no un-incarnate Word, in the sense that Christ doesn’t take his clothes back off and become the naked Word, but I think I’m comfortable (feel free to make me uncomfortable) saying that we can, and should, speak about the Word in such a way that he never becomes dependent on or wholly contained by his assumed humanity, i.e., I still believe in the extra.

    Scott: I think it makes sense, though you’re more attuned to the philosophical issues at play than I am. I’m not saying (at least I don’t think I’ve said) that Christ is incomprehensible in his humanity or on the surface of the biblical text – he is fully comprehensible as a historical figure, as comprehensible as any other historical figure, just ask the Jesus Seminar – but that his divinity is not directly observable on that level; it is observable only by faith and thus by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I get the similarity to the Kantian noumenal/phenoumenal distinction, but I don’t think its the same (correct me if I’m missing something).

  13. July 5, 2011 12:58 pm

    I’m not advocating the abandonment of the Reformed emphasis on the distinction between the divine and human natures — merely pointing out what could be one way to press that principle too far, and ultimately falsify the incarnation. That’s the worry I take from your statement, “divinity is not humanity and humanity is not divinity.” That is certainly true, prima facie; but one might push the distinction so far as to conclude that divinity is basic to the incarnate Word while humanity is an adjunct.

    If the Word fully commits Himself to becoming human, then we should indeed be able to speak in terms of contingency. By God’s free and sovereign choice, He makes Himself “dependent” (though I don’t like that word here) on the humanity in that He becomes human, truly (“all the way down”) and indispensibly.

    I’ll give the Christology stuff a rest for now, since it’s not the main topic of your post and since we’ve had this conversation a few dozen times already! Again, great post.

  14. July 5, 2011 1:15 pm

    Hey Adam, I’ve got what might be a real simple, obvious question, but I’ve never held back from asking those before so why start now. When we say Jesus’ divinity “is observable only by faith and thus by the illumination of the Holy Spirit” are we saying that there is CONTENT which is supplied in the faith and illumination or are we saying that faith and illumination are the part whereby we observe something and say “THIS IS GOD”? I suppose once we say “this is God” we then have content and appropriation which unfolds only by faith and illumination, but presumably someone without faith and illumination could read that off the page as well. What is faith and illumination actually doing for us when we are reading the words. Do they capitalize the “W” and then lead us to ramifications?

    I guess this comes back to your excellent conclusion: “God is self-revelatory, not hiding in himself but giving us the truth of himself in Jesus Christ, and yet he never puts that truth into our hands to do with as we will. It is a giving that puts us in a position of perpetual reception. When this realization of our position is in place, we as fellow receivers will resist drawing circles around our own feet to designate the location of orthodoxy and instead point to Christ, bearing an openness in dialogue with those who point quite differently from ourselves and from quite a different place but nevertheless point in the same direction.”

  15. July 5, 2011 2:50 pm

    Darren: It is good for me to have this discussion again. I’m definitely sympathetic with the desire to give full place to Christ’s humanity, I think I see how pushing the distinction between Word and flesh can mute the flesh (though I tend to think other factors would have to be involved beyond care in maintaining the distinction in order for the humanity to become accidental), I just don’t think I can talk about dependence in that way.

    Jon: I certainly want to say that faith and illumination are how we see that this is God, now how we supply historical events with that content. I think I’m saying that someone without faith and illumination cannot read that off the page, but can only see something about the subjective states of the biblical authors, their beliefs or feelings, not God as the real object of those beliefs and feelings. Faith and illumination enable us to see that the testimony of Scripture does not have as its object the beliefs of the apostles but in reality a living God in whom they believe.

  16. scottakirkland permalink
    July 5, 2011 10:02 pm

    Adam: I guess my worry is that Kantian epistemic categories are simply assumed onto the human Jesus as a historical subject, and then revelation superimposes itself on top of that and becomes a variety of gnosticism (hope that doesn’t sound like I’m accusing you of that :)). What I hear in Barth is a subversion of the modern subject by a relocation/uniting of epistemic categories into ontological categories. So, God’s revelatory activity is God’s transforming agency. That way, we are not simply coming to know another layer on top of the biblical narrative which reveals a hidden or truer meaning which we cognate, rather the texts themselves are agents of that transformation of our humanity through our cognition of that which is perpetually given but never grasped. So, theology becomes a matter of narrative embodiment and performance in Christ by the Spirit. My worry is that Torrance looses some of this in his consideration of revelation by a slight pulling apart of a way of knowing from a way of being. No doubt, there are a few texts you would point me to there, but that is my worry with Torrance generally. It’s always seemed a little odd to me given he is a patristics scholar.

    I guess my question was a little convoluted, but I hope that clarifies. I like what you are doing, and this concept of ‘gospel conversations’ is really helpful I think. Something we seem to have lost with the kind of individualistic pietism which dominates modern protestantism is this sense of the scriptures being read in a community as a text to converse with and over graciously.

  17. July 5, 2011 10:49 pm

    Thanks, Adam.

  18. July 5, 2011 11:01 pm

    Scott, I really like what you’re saying via binding epistemology to ontology. I won’t throw TFT passages at you, but I think he is after the same thing in terms of the interpenetration of revelation and reconciliation, and so am I. But Barth probably does it better.

  19. July 10, 2011 1:28 pm

    First of all, gents, congrats on this blog – it looks interesting, and I look forward to future conversations.

    As to this question, I’m wondering about whether the christocentrism of the blog takes away from a trinitarian orientation (which I believe others have brought up), but I’m thinking specifically of the role of the Holy Spirit, which seems utterly absent from this and earlier discussions. In particular with Scripture, what is the Holy Spirit’s role or activity?

  20. July 10, 2011 1:30 pm

    As I should have said above, I resonate strongly with the concerns about a proper understanding of the incarnation involving Christ’s flesh, but my interest here is more about the church’s orientation toward Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s role in that.

  21. July 10, 2011 6:18 pm

    Brad, welcome! Adam is away right now, but I want to say that the Holy Spirit speaks of Christ and guides us into truth. Given what the Spirit is after, a community and a kingdom, this tends to mean putting us in discussion with one another over the Scriptures. I’ll have to read the post again though if there is a hole that this doesn’t fit in though. I think of the Holy Spirit as the superintendent of the Scriptures from start to finish. How to articulate distinctions between “inspiration” and “illumination” is something I’d like to think and talk about a lot more..

  22. July 10, 2011 10:34 pm

    Thanks, Jon. I didn’t have an agenda with my question per se, I was just concerned about the Spirit’s absence in these discussions. I wonder, though, about Torrance’s concern regarding the Scriptures having a light in and of themselves. This goes to the question of inspiration, of the scriptures as God-breathed. If we look at God’s “breathing” elsewhere in the Bible (and of course, notice the Spirit-breath link here), we see in multiple instances that God’s breathing on something gives it a life and power it did not have previously (and notice that the “previously” here rules out something like plenary verbal inspiration or fundamentalist inerrantism). If that is the case, is there something that can indeed be located or identified within the scriptures that sets them apart in some way? Something inherent in them by virtue of the Spirit’s activity?

  23. July 10, 2011 10:58 pm

    Brad,

    Since Adam is away this week I’ll also pretend to speak for him.;) He certainly doesn’t want to leave the Holy Spirit out of his account of inspiration, and this post would have been more well-rounded with an explicit shout-out or two. In general, when we speak of God acting in the sphere of biblical inspiration, the specific role of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the text’s authors and its interpreters is presumed. That’s traditionally been a role ascribed to the Spirit, rather than the Father or the Son. But since the external works of the Trinity are indivisible, we can certainly speak of the work of the triune God in inspiration.

    I’ve been reading some unpublished essays from John Webster this week, and he made a point on this point that I find very helpful. Scripture is not a “self-enclosed,” static or given reality — it is a continual (my word) work of the Spirit. Scripture serves as an instrument of fellowship between the Word (viz. the Spirit) and those whom the Word addresses. Inspiration is therefore not something that is given, i.e. that can be assigned to Paul’s or Matthew’s act of composition fully and without remainder. Inspiration is what the Spirit has done, does, and will do in using these texts to establish communion with creatures.

  24. July 11, 2011 12:29 am

    I have no real argument with any of that, Darren, except to point out that it is different than Torrance’s point. Inspiration, as pictured in the text itself, does suggest something about the nature of Scripture qua Scripture; it is not merely a reflection of light, as it were. I think that argument is connected with the problematic move of sequestering Christ’s physical being from the incarnate Logos.

    I don’t intend here to make a mountain out of a molehill – I have no strong disagreement or critique to make here. I was just wondering how you (all) would account for the Holy Spirit, since the hard Christocentrism as conveyed on this blog (which I would distinguish from a “hard” Christology) tends to be the province of very particular traditions and not necessarily the universal church as a whole.

  25. July 11, 2011 12:48 am

    I can only speak to my own Christocentrism, of course, as the guy who wrote that post — which is meant to be representative of my own approach to the theological task, and not necessarily that of my colleagues. Since I’ve drawn the definition of “Christology” rather broadly there, I’d be interested to see if and how you think your critique holds over on that thread, in the context of the full post.

    That said, my argument for the superiority of a Christocentric model is intended to be a correction of the majority of the ancient and medieval tradition — following along the lines of Barth’s doctrine of revelation. In the context of that, it seems to me that the onus is on one who is arguing for the possibility of the knowledge of God outside of Christ (e.g. a doctrine of general revelation or common grace).

    How do you think that what Adam has said, or what has emerged in the comments, amounts to “sequestering Christ’s physical being from the incarnate Logos?” I’m curious about this.

    Finally, I don’t think it’s right to presume that “hard Christocentrism” has to be pneumatologically reductive. The Holy Spirit is, after all, the Spirit of Christ. A Christian doctrine of Scripture, then, ought to attest to both the Spirit’s inspiration of the text and its interpretation, and to Jesus Christ as the object of witness in that twofold event.

  26. July 11, 2011 8:37 am

    Great questions Brad. I’d be interested to hear more about the distinction between hard Christocentrism and hard Christology in the future. Its awesome to have people chiming in and pushing us already.

    I think Darren has done a good job of filling in for Adam above, but in regard to Torrance specifically I think we’re going to have to wait for Adam to get back from his week filling in as a trapeze artist in the Moscow circus (or wherever he is).

  27. Justin permalink
    July 11, 2011 9:19 am

    I have a general point to make in response to all this. I don’t think the nature of the Holy Spirit’s work obliges us to make sure that our “Holy Spirit box” is always ticked when expounding doctrine. The Holy Spirit is he who enables us to confess in the first place. We honour a path not by dwelling on it, but by walking on it. Similarly, we honour the Holy Spirit not by expanding the third article of the creed, but by confessing the first and second articles.

    Regarding the Scriptures, this should encourage us to focus more on their subject matter, rather than on their mode of existence as such. This means that the Scriptures effectively witness to Christ not because they are endowed by the Holy Spirit with certain super duper witnessing abilities, but because God has willed it to be so, continually, in the manner of an event. And as with all divine-human relations, the Holy Spirit is he who facilitates this continually gracious communicative exchange. Consequently, it may sound like we are honouring the Spirit when we talk about the “essence of Scripture” as “holy” as a result of his work, when in fact, we are actually failing to think after the manner in which the Word of God encounters us, by the Spirit, on the grounds of Christ’s person and work.

    For what it’s worth.

  28. July 11, 2011 1:36 pm

    Well, to be sure, I was not critiquing anything with my initial questions. I was simply asking how those points would be accounted for. I’m largely sympathetic.

    Darren: Wrt “sequestering,” I was simply referring to what others have already pointed out about the initial points about Christ’s physical body being distinguished from his divine nature. I see the point there, but the language troubles me somewhat.

    As to a hard Christocentrism being reductive, I think there is often that tendency in Western theology. Your comment that it is the Spirit of Christ (which is only one appellation given it in Scripture) is not incorrect, certainly, but if you hold only to it, I’m reminded of the filioque controversy and the fear of subordinating the Spirit to Christ. Our Western tendencies can often be reductive, especially compared to the role of the Holy Spirit in Eastern thought, for example.

    Jon: I have in mind there tendencies (I use that word a lot, don’t I?) in certain quarters to go beyond a robust, substantive Christology – which I would absolutely second – to the point of being suspicious or dismissive of anything that isn’t directly and overtly Christocentric (i.e., focused directly on the person of Christ). So, for example, discussons of ecclesiology are labeled “ideological” and “ecclesiocentric” and dismissed as amounting to heterodoxy. I have encountered this with certain neo-Barthian proponents, so I may be overly sensitive to it here.

    Justin: I appreciate what you say here, but let’s be clear. You have a blog, which by definition entails “dwelling” on certain things. I was simply asking whether you (all) had dwelt on certain things I hadn’t yet seen mentioned. That was not an accusation, but merely an inquiry. And of course, your statement regarding articles of the creed could be turned around if we’re serious about the Trinity: we honor the first and second articles by confessing the third.

    As to your point on Scripture, I’m largely in agreement, though I do think it worthwhile to consider the nature of its inspiration. That isn’t central for me, but it is interesting and illuminating.

  29. Justin permalink
    July 11, 2011 2:30 pm

    Yeah, I’m taking everything you say as the helpful critique of a friend – apologies if I came off as defensive, didn’t mean to give that impression.

    That said – I think your statement about flipping the articles might make sense if “being serious about the Trinity” simply meant foregrounding the equality of the divine persons in all instances. But then it would seem that your concern would be more to assert and defend the idea of the Trinity rather than to actually be trinitarian in the way one arranges and articulates different theological topics. Of course I agree with you that God is triune, and thus the three articles mutually require one another – but in terms of the work of theology itself, the subject matter of our witness should primarily be Christ, and that shouldn’t be changed just because there were a bunch of pneumatomachians running about way back when (or even today).

    But yeah – I like you and would give you a big bear hug if I could.

    So are you Eastern orthodox or something?

  30. July 11, 2011 2:40 pm

    I’m not Eastern orthodox. I’m an “ecumenical evangelical with Anabaptist sympathies,” or so my FB profile says… But I have a PhD from a Catholic university with a strong patristics program (though my studies are more in ecclesiology, ethics, and politics). I’m used to being in academic community with friends who occupy a range of very strongly situated traditions.

    I don’t really distinguish between defending the idea (of Trinity or what have you) and working it out in practice. I think the two are reciprocally conditioning. I’m with you on the “primary subject matter,” but I think it’s always worthwhile to consider the emphases of other traditions to keep our own emphases in check. That’s all.

    And thanks for the warm fuzzies.

  31. Justin permalink
    July 11, 2011 2:53 pm

    Ah – that’s cool. I’m a bit of a mish mash myself – which seems to be the fate of many of us perpetually sojourning evangelicals, eh?

    So I will happily consider the emphases of other traditions, mostly because I don’t really have a tradition (my tradition tends to be: “what I happen to be thinking about at the moment”). Sad in one sense, good in others, I suppose.

    Hope you stick around here, man.

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