what I believe about the Bible

I know, I know. Not the most gripping blog post title ever. But, on the up side, I get to be clear and straightforward in (hopefully) stepping out of the Barthian shadow that’s already fallen across my attempt to establish some Reformed cred. No guarantees though.

I believe that the Bible is the word of God written. More, I believe it has supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct — as the AFES doctrinal basis puts it.

It has this authority because it’s authored by the all-powerful, loving Creator and Redeemer — inspired and superintended by his very own Spirit. Consequently, it is perfectly fit and able to achieve his purpose in uttering and causing it to be written — a process which no doubt extends to the entire personal and situational history and context of the prophetic and apostolic authors (and editors).

God says it best in Isaiah 55:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

As such there’s a givenness to Scripture. It is God’s book. It was spoken by him — without, of course, circumventing human agency (it’s not a mechanical thing that suspends or bypasses human faculties). And I trust him enough to have got the right words in place so that it will have the effect he intended it to have.

Obviously enough, the view I’m trying to distance myself from is the alleged ‘neo-orthodox’ belief that the Bible becomes the word of God. I appreciate Barth’s emphasis on God’s freedom to reveal himself as and when he pleases — something which can be obscured by some ways of expressing the idea that the Bible is the written word of God. And I also recognise that we’ve got to have some way of speaking theologically about the observable fact that not every reader of the Bible ‘hears God’s word’ (in the sense of having a saving encounter with the living God) every time they flip open and scan its pages.

In particular, I believe we need to find ways of speaking about the givenness of the Bible as God’s book alongside the God-ordained dynamism of peoples’ different responses. It’s a tough ask, but we have to do this without implying that human hard-heartedness can somehow gazump God or frustrate his purposes. For when he speaks, his word does not return to him empty…

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2 comments

  1. I love how you distance yourself from the ‘alleged’ Barthian position…is there a bit more ‘true’ barthianism to this confession than first evident? Let me offer three thoughts in response, one for, two against:

    – Although he spends much more time on the becoming, Barth never distances himself from the being of Scripture (albeit a distorted being at times), but wants to hold both, much as you do here.
    – I’ve often wondered whether the lordship/freedom of God which is replete with CD1 is slightly misconceived. Wolterstorff makes this point somewhere, though for the life of me, I can’t remember where. I’m not sure that the lordship of God expressed in Jesus Christ is one of infinite possibility without restriction or compulsion. While I want (of course) to uphold God absolute unabated power, I find that his own character, and particularly his faithfulness to his triune-self and his promises, would probably lead me to nuance an understanding of lordship. This has major implications for revelation if we conceive of God’s revelation as an expression of himself, and thus his faithful sovereignty.
    – Lastly, I wonder whether a bit of terminological clarification wouldn’t go astray when you’re talking about revelation and the Scriptures. It feels like you have (whether inadvertantly or no) imported a Barthian understanding of revelation being a salvific encounter with God-in-Christ. However, I’m not so sure. On the basis of Mark 4, it’s clear that the word can come to people without them ultimately yielding fruit. Also, you’d have to say that Philippians 2:5-11 is a perfect example of revelation, particularly in the servant-nature of God (which Barth would no doubt like), and ends in universal homage, although definitely not universal salvation. All this is to say that Isaiah 55 can be true without salvation – the word of God will achieve it’s purpose in hardening the hearts of those whom God has not chosen. The question then is whether that is still revelation or not. Personally, I’d lean towards it being an objective revelation regardless of reception. I know that’s not particularly popular, especially in our PM world. Of course, you can’t call it ‘failed revelation’, as this would void Isa 55.

    As you can tell, I’m still thinking about all this, and will try not to drive-by comment this time!

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Dan.

      I can’t really speak in detail for Barth’s CD I — I’ve spent much more time in Book IV (which many would say represent a more mature position — or, at least, swing of his dialectical pendulum — in which he explicitly distances himself from the idea that freedom = infinite possibility without restriction or compulsion).

      You’re right. I probably do need to clarify what I’m saying — which is what I was waiting for comments to let me do! I actually tried to be careful not to import a notion of revelation being automatically saving. Passages like John 3 and John 12 (where Jesus openly wrestles with the apparent contradiction between the lack of success his earthly ministry has enjoyed and the sovereign purpose of God) — even more than Mark 4, which could be read in a way that detracts from God’s sovereignty — point us in the direction of upholding BOTH what Isaiah 55 says AND the failure of people to receive the message as the word of God (which is what it really is).

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