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…