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Book Announcement: John Webster’s The Domain of the Word

August 4, 2012

It has been seven years since John Webster (University of Aberdeen) last published a collection of essays, 2005’s Confessing God. Before that came Word and Church (2001), which — along with the brief monographs Holiness (2003) and Holy Scripture (2003) — helped make Webster such an important voice on the English-speaking theological stage. (This in addition to his work on Karl Barth’s moral theology, on Eberhard Jüngel, and as a founding editor of the International Journal of Systematic Theology.) Many of us — and not just his students — eagerly await the first of his 5-volume systematic theology in a few years.

For now, we’ll have to be content with a pair of brand new collections of essays from Webster’s pen, the first of which has just been released by T&T Clark in the United Kingdom (later this month in the U.S.). The Domain of the Word collects ten essays that broadly share the themes of Scripture and theological reason.  Four of these are previously unpublished, including:

“The Domain of the Word”

“Verbum mirificum:  T.F. Torrance on Scripture and Hermeneutics”

Regina artium: theology and the humanities”

“Theology and the Peace of the Church”

The other six are here reprinted from various essay collections and journals. Those essays include:

“Resurrection and Scripture”

“Witness to the Word:  Karl Barth’s Lectures on the Gospel of John”

“Rowan Williams on Scripture”

“Principles of Systematic Theology”

“Biblical Reasoning”

The publisher describes the collection thusly:

The book brings together a set of related studies on the nature of Scripture and of Christian theology by one of the most prominent representatives of Protestant theology of our time. After a brief introduction on the setting of the book and its major themes, the first part of the volume examines topics on the nature and interpretation of Scripture. A comprehensive proposal about Scripture and its interpretation is followed by a study of Scripture as the embassy of the risen Christ, and by three related chapters analyzing the ways in which widely different major modern theologians (Barth, T.F. Torrance and Rowan Williams) have understood the nature and interpretation of the Bible.

The second part of the volume makes a cumulative proposal about the nature and tasks of Christian theology, examining the fundamental principles of systematic theology, the distinctive role and scope of reason in Christian theology, the relation of theology to the humanities, and the vocation of theology to promote the peace of the church.

Read the volume’s preface and the first several pages of the first essay, “The Domain of the Word,” courtesy of T&T Clark. (Amazon also has preview pages up now.)

I had the pleasure of reviewing these essays before publication, and highly commend them to you. As with those in his previous collections they are at times very demanding of the reader, but always clear and worth the labor.  Webster is here at his erudite best, speaking on the importance of having an “ontology of Scripture” and on the nature of theological reasoning as a function of church dogmatics. His historical work in essays such as the Barth, Torrance, and Williams pieces is exceptional. But, more than anything, readers will come away from The Domain of the Word with a profound sense of the way in which the triune God provides for the possibility of theological discourse and gives it shape. The source of all Christian thinking is the Word Himself, who in drawing us into His “domain” as hearers and interpreters imparts to creatures “a share in his boundless knowledge of himself and all things” (p. ix).

A decade and a half ago Webster proved himself to be one of the world’s finest Barth scholars. In these essays is evidence of where he has come since then, as a theologian drawing upon the best resources of the classical and modern traditions in order to forge his own way as an original thinker. In pieces such as that opening essay, in particular, attentive readers will surely find both the fingerprints of Karl Barth and also Webster’s efforts to think through him yet also beyond him. The opening lines of the preface may illustrate:

Holy Scripture is the sign and instrument of God’s loving address of intelligent creatures. Its human words, formed and preserved by God, who moves their creaturely movement without violence to the integrity of its created nature, attest the divine Word, and give a share in God’s knowledge of himself and of all things. By the illumination of the Holy Spirit, created intelligence is enlivened to apprehend and receive Scripture’s testimony, and to answer divine revelation by coming to know and desire God. (p. vii)

If, like me, you find elements of Barth’s doctrine of Scripture to be intriguing and liberating, yet not entirely satisfying, I urge you to read Webster’s approach in this volume. I expect I will be grapling with these words for years to come.

The second new volume of essays, God Without Measure (preorder), is due early next year and explores the nature of dogmatic and moral theology. The two are, Webster says, intended to be read together.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 4, 2012 3:18 pm

    Seeing as you have the finger on Webster’s pulse, is there any word on the publication of his Kantzer lectures from a few years back?

  2. August 4, 2012 3:56 pm

    Terry, I think all I can say at this stage is that he’s actively working on other things. I’m not sure if he’s contractually required to get them out at some point, so beyond that I plead ignorance.

  3. August 4, 2012 5:38 pm

    Sweet. I am going to have to try and get a review copy, that’s the only way I’ll be able to afford it. I can’t wait to read this, thanks for the heads up, Darren! One of the reasons I appreciate Webster is because he does help to provide a more constructive reading of a Barthian/Torrancean ontology of scripture, and in a way that my “Evangelical” sensibilities find more pleasing. Thanks for putting in your time on the release of this book, Darren.

  4. August 5, 2012 8:59 am

    Thanks, Darren.

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