The Supremacy of God in the Theology of Samuel Rutherford (Richard)

Richard, Guy M. The Supremacy of God in the Theology of Samuel Rutherford. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008.

Given that Samuel Rutherford is the most important Scottish theologian of all time, one must ask why there is so little written about him. The same question applies to his many yet-untranslated works.  John Coffey’s standard-setting biography did much to address the problem, but it didn’t deal with his theology in full depth. There are quite a few hagiographical works about him, but they do little in the academic realm.

Rutherford’s Examen Arminianismi function as a systematic theology, as he viewed Arminianism as an attack on the whole of Christian doctrine.  Some areas, like his focus on the doctrine of God and the human will, are beyond compare.  His supralapsarianism demands to be taken more seriously.  That’s not to say he is always fair to his opponents, nor does he always give an in-depth analysis.  Earlier, I had asked why there isn’t much work on or translated by Rutherford these days.  I think I might know the answer. Turretin is still the gold standard.  Regarding divine justice, John Owen seems to have given the definitive response to Rutherford–and most of Owen’s stuff is already in English.

Abbreviations

EA: Examen Arminianismi

Key Theological Terms

Archetypal: the infinite knowledge God has of himself (26).

Ectypal: the theology which is available to the finite capacities of humans.

Duplex cognito Dei: the distinction between the knowledge of God the creator and the knowledge of God the redeemer (33).

Theologia archetype et ectypa

Like the rest of the Reformed tradition, Rutherford holds to natural theology (Divine Right, 66)..  As Richard states, “For Rutherford, natural theology not only exists, but it serves at least two important functions as well, as we will see–it renders all people without excuse before the divine tribunal; and it acts as an instrument in apologetics” (32).

Arminius, by contrast, on Rutherford’s reading, collapses the natural knowledge of God back into the supernatural knowledge with its doctrine of prevenient grace (36). Indeed, “all knowledge of the divine is supernatural.” This means, in the Arminian view, men and women already have supernatural knowledge of God prior to grace.

According to Richard, Arminius “redefines the scholastic distinction between theologia archetype et ectypa.” This means he collapses “Deus abscondita into Deus revelaturs” (42).

Scripture and Causes

Efficient cause of Scripture: God himself.
Formal cause of Scripture: divine truth
Final cause of Scripture: to teach us God’s holiness
Material cause of Scripture: subject matter

Doctrine of God

Rutherford inherited and upheld the traditional model of divine simplicity.  He did so, however, as an adherent of the nominalist schola Augustina moderna. Doing so allowed him to give a new angle on the traditional problem of divine simplicity: given that God’s attributes are identical, how can we distinguish them?  Rutherford notes that they aren’t “real distinctions (different res), nor are they formal distinctions…but they are distinctions of reason” (81).

From this He makes several deductions:  1) God isn’t perfectible; 2) He has being from himself

Rutherford’s rebuttal of Arminius on the Trinity is highly illustrative for us today. Arminius said the Father is ‘the source of the whole Deity’ (WJA, II, 693). This sounds like the Greek East, but the Eastern Fathers made sure that they weren’t saying that the Father is the source of the Son’s essence, only of his hypostasis. Arminius’s view is subordinationist.

The Knowledge of God

God’s own knowledge is twofold

Knowledge of himself.

Knowledge of objects outside himself

Simple Intelligence.  This is his natural knowledge. Knowledge of possibles.

Knowledge of Vision. This is God’s knowledge of all actuals.

Both Arminius and Rutherford held to a loosely Thomistic framework.  Arminius, however, denied that God’s knowledge involved causality (92).

Rutherford’s problem with Middle Knowledge is “that it makes the creature or fate the first cause of all things and the divine will the second cause, because God looks out of himself to see what free creatures would do before he makes his decree” (92). 

The Voluntas Dei

Although Rutherford is a voluntarist, this does not mean that the will functions independently of the intellect (95). The divine intellect logically precedes the will.  The intellect, though, does not “make” the will do anything.

Voluntas ad intra et ad extra

Ad intra: the divine will in God
Ad extra: the divine will towards objects outside of God.

Potentia absoluta et ordinata

Rutherford makes a distinction between omnipotency and sovereignty.  Omnipotency refers to the potentia absoluta.  The latter refers to the potentia ordinata. Regarding his absolute power, God can do all that is logically possible.  His decree limits this.  God’s immutability “restrains his potentia.”  Richard highlights a difficulty with this: if God’s immutability limits his sovereignty ad extra, why can’t other attributes do the same (99)?  I think there might be a way for Rutherford to get around this.  Will and intellect are primarily faculties, not attributes.  Moreover, take an attribute like mercy.  It’s easy to understand how the will acts.  It’s not clear how mercy qua mercy would act. In fact, the will would have to act for mercy to act.

Voluntas beneplaciti et signi

The voluntas beneplaciti is “the decree of God by which he determines all things” that come to pass (103).  The voluntas signi is the revealed will. These aren’t contradictory. He doesn’t command x and non-x at the same time.  However, he can permit something be done by his voluntas beneplaciti that he does not approve by his voluntas signi.

Premotion and the Voluntas efficiens et permittens

There is one more distinction. This allows Rutherford to maintain the free decisions of creatures. The voluntas efficiens is “the first and highest cause of all positive existents” (105).  This is the doctrine of physical premotion.  Richard footnotes a useful diagram by Van Ruler (“New Philosophy to Old Standards).

Prime Cause
a / \ c
Secondary Cause – Effect
    B

Supralapsarianism

Richard argues that Rutherfold has a supralapsarian framework with infralapsarian language. With the supralapsarians, Rutherford says election is prior to every other divine decree, “but [he] says nothing about reprobation” (118). (This is in the context of an unpublished mss.: University of Edinburgh Library, La.II.394, p.5). With this established, the rest of Rutherford’s comments on election are fairly standard among the Reformed.

He does speak of reprobation.  It has two acts. God passes over and withholds “efficaciou grace” (120).

He does have a positive argument for supralapsarianism. With others like Twisse, Rutherford says the “end must be acknowledged both first in intention, and last in execution” (121). God first decrees those who are to be saved, and then he decrees the means.  It would make no sense “decreeing the means to accomplish salvation before decreeing salvation itself.” 

Rutherford anticipates the argument that Turretin makes against supralapsarianism: does it make sense to speak of a decree about possible men?  Rutherford responds that “everyone who believes in the traditional doctrine of creation ex nihilo also makes a non-entity the object of the divine decree” (127).

The Atonement of Christ

Rutherford argues God is not obligated to exercise divine justice towards his creatures (134). Divine justice is an attribute ad intra. God’s will is hierarchically prior to justice. In other words, nothing ad extra can force God to exercise mercy. Lest this sound too severe, Rutherford does concede that there is a “relative necessity for him [God] to do so [i.e., act mercifully]” (135). 

This raises the other controversial issue for Rutherford on the atonement: could God have forgiven sinners apart from the death of Christ?  In terms of potentia absoluta, he could have.  Nonetheless, he has decreed potentia ordinata to forgive sinners by the death of Christ.

John Owen, by contrast, sees the justice of God as “the universal rectitude and perfection of the divine nature’, which is antecedent to all acts of his will’” (Owen, Works, X, p.498, quoted in Richard 136). Divine justice, then, is “the totality of the divine perfections.”  Carl Trueman has convincingly argued Owen’s case.  For Owen, the acts of God’s justice must conform both internally and externally (Trueman 93).

Soteriology

The material on covenant theology is fairly standard, so only a few comments will suffice. The covenant of redemption is “the relational context in which the decrees are given” (146). Richard has a good section on the nature of human willing. Does God’s grace violate man’s will?  No. Grace doesn’t “compel the will to act against its desires. It changes its desires” (174).

Conclusion

This isn’t merely a book on Samuel Rutherford. It is also a primer on Reformed categories.

Trueman, Carl. “John Owen’s Dissertation on Divine Justice: An Exercise in Christocentric Scholasticism.” Calvin Theological Journal 33 (1998), 87-103.

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A Primer on Ectypal Theology

I first discovered ectypal theology from Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. Rather than being an academic topic, ectypal theology unites theological method with Christology. I’ve done pieces on ectypal theology in the past, but the following from Willem Van Asselt’s Introducing Reformed Scholasticism does it better than anyone else.

(1) Archetypal theology: the uncreated knowledge God has of himself. It is the matrix of all forms of theology (Junius).
(2) Ectypal theology: The knowledge of God revealed to humans.

2.1) It is primarily the knowledge that Christ as mediator has of the Father. This is the ectypal theology of union and is the common principle of all other theology (Junius). Muller explains it best: “The Christological problem follows the [epistemological issue]:  if the human nature of Jesus, as finite, is incapable in itself of comprehending the infinite knowledge of the theologia archetypal, then any equation of the theologia unionis with archetypal theology must involve some alteration of the human nature of Jesus” (PRRD I:250).

The following are forms of ectypal theology.
2.2) ectypal theology is communicated to men in a twofold way: Nature and grace
2.2.1) Nature: internal principle of communication
2.2.2) Grace: external principle of communication
2.3) The union of the two two natures is ectypal. This is one of the reasons why the Reformed reject the Lutheran view of the Supper.
2.4) theologia beatorum (theology of the blessed in glory; still ectypal and finite).
2.5) theologia angelorum (theology of angels)

3) This construction, if not the idea, has its origins with Duns Scotus. Scotus distinguished between theoleogia in se (theology in itself) and theologia nostra (our theology).
3.1) This might be an improvement on Aquinas’s principle of analogy. For Scotus God is the only true theologian because only he has knowledge of himself.

Principles of Sacred Theology (Kuyper)

I am a sympathetic critic (with emphasis on critic) of Abraham Kuyper. I fully reject what he says on covenant, common grace, and the church. This book, though, is quite interesting and worth reading.

Argument: theologically science should begin organically because knowledge is inter-related.  It is the unbelieving world that can’t integrate knowledge (I:iv).

Science: a collected body of knowledge independent from the activity of the knower.  It is a “connected form of knowledge.”

If there were no organic relationship between subject and object, “then thinking man in our age would have an entirely different object before him” than in other times (II:1).  Kuyper is addressing the old problem regarding the relationship of universals to particulars.

Threefold relationship:

  1. Organic relation between object and our human nature
  2. Relation between that object and our consciousness.
  3. Relation between that object and our world of thought.

Older scholastic view of faculty: 

Faith

“The formal function of the life of our soul which is fundamental to every fact in our human consciousness” (37).

Chapter 3: The Twofold Development of Science

The Christian is determined by a palingenesis, which leads to an enlightening, which changes a man in his very being (50).  Kuyper: “This regeneration breaks humanity in two.”

Chapter 5: Theology in the Organism of Science

Theology finds its object in the revealed, ectypal knowledge of God (81).

DIVISION III

Chapter 1: The Conception of Theology

The Influence of Palingenesis upon Theology and Science

It implies that all existing things are in ruins and that there is a way they can be restored (83).

Conception: the way of knowledge which we travel.

Idea: views the end independently

Man: man is no spirit but a spiritual being and exists simultaneously psychically and somatically, so that a great deal of his inner life manifests itself without the person being conscious of it (97).

(Kuyper rebuts the donum superadditum on pp. 104-105)

Common grace: the act of God by which he negatively curbs the operations of Satan (111).

Revelation, Humanity, and History: revelation goes out to humanity taken as a whole.  Since humanity unfolds itself historically, this Revelation also bears an historic character.  Since this humanity exists organically, having a centrum of action, this Revelation also had to be organic, with a centrum of its own (112).

For Hegel and Schleiermacher, man is the archetypal theology and God is the ectypal theology.  True being and knowledge is only in man, while knowledge of God is a dim imprint.

Regeneration and Knowledge, Again

“Regeneration is not an element in knowing, but in being” (142ff). What I think he is saying is that regeneration penetrates to the whole man.

A principium of knowledge is a living agent, and it is from this agent that knowledge flows.  As such, obviously, the bible is not an agent.  Nevertheless, it is proper to call Scripture the principium unicum theologiae if understand as a plant, “whose germ as sprouted and budded” (143).

Sharpening our antithesis:  if Holy Scripture is the principium of theology, then there is an antitheis between this principium and the common principium of our knowledge (153).

Really good section on the relation of natural and special revelation.  Rather than two mechanical principles that never really integrate (e.g., as in Protestant and Roman Catholic scholasticism), they “possess a higher unity, are allied to one another, and, by virtue of this unity and relationship, are capable of affecting each other” (157).  Their unity is God, as he is the source and object of both kinds of knowledge.  

Question:  Can Natural Revelation judge Special Revelation (159ff)?

Muslims isolate the principium of knowing from the principium of being (175).  I think Kuyper means is that there is no organic connection between the two.  Kuyper mentions a “dictated inspiration” in connection.

But for the Christian, what binds these streams together–the recreative divine energy?  Kuyper wants to avoid the idea of “inspiration” as some kind of donum superadditum.

Summary of sub-section: the special principium in God directs itself as the principium of knowledge ot the consciousness of the sinner, bringing about inspiration/illumination.  As principium of being, its spiritual and material re-creative acts are called miracles.  The world of thought and the world of being do not lie side by side, but are organically connected (178).

On Miracles

Miracles organically recreate the cosmos from within.  Away with silly discussions of “violating natural law.”  Renewal in Scripture is not a new power or a new state of being, “but simply a new shoot [that] springs from the root of creation itself” (182).

Muller, Prolegomena to Theology

Overview of argument:

Archetypal theology: eternal pattern for perfect truth of supernatural revelation (Muller 234).

Ectypal theology: category inclusive of all forms of finite theology. It is formed on the basis of the archetype by a communication of grace from Creator to creature (235).

Muller ties these two categories in with Christology, following the Reformed and anti-Lutheran finiti non capax infiniti: the human nature of Jesus cannot fully share with the divine nature, which, reasoning analogously, means that the theologia unionis must be ectypal, not archetypal (250).

At this point one must step back and appreciate what Muller has done. He’s tied in epistemology with Christology almost effortlessly. He has taken the hypostatic union and shown how it forms the epistemological principle of Reformed thought—the ectypal theology (251).

Principia

“double truth” does not mean one truth is opposed to another, but that one truth may transcend another (387).

“Reason” has an instrumental function for truth (399). For example, “In a syllogism the foundation for all argument is the middle term, the common ground shared by major and minor propositions. In theology the middle term is not taken from reason, but Scripture” (403).

The “principia” of theology is its first principle(s). It must be of a higher degree than that of the conclusions drawn from it (431).
Principle of being (principia essendi): it is the principle of foundation
Principle of knowing (principia cognescendi): it is the principle of knowing

The archetype and the arche must be identical. The connection between archetype and ectypal theology is the logos prophorikos, the Word sent forth (433).
Archetypal knowledge is the principium essendi
When the archetype reveals himself, it is the principium cognoscendi.
All true theology reflects the archetype, which can only be known through a self-revelation.

Outline of Turretin, Topics 1 and 2

I read through Turretin a few years ago.  Now I have time to do a more thorough study.Image result for francis turretin

On Natural Theology

It is partly innate (derived from conscience) and partly acquired (I.3).

God (and divine things) is the object of theology: he is not to be considered exclusively under the relation of deity (per Aquinas), but as he is our God (i.e., covenanted in Christ as he has revealed himself; Turretin, I.5.IV).

Purpose of reason for theology: it has a ministerial function.

  • Truth of propositions: axiomatic judgment
  • Truth of conclusions: discursus

Faith perceives the consequent, reason the consequences (I.8.11).

The Judgment of Contradiction:

  1. Reason judging: the reason in question is that which is restored and enlightened by the Holy Spirit (I.10.1).
  2. The principle from which the judgment is formed: axioms which are drawn from Scripture
  3. Rule of consequence::

Scriptural proofs for this principle: Matt. 7:15; 16:6; Col. 2:8; 1 Thess. 5:21.

In the 11th Question Turretin affirms the use of the senses.  This allows him to reject transubstantiation.

Second Topic: The Holy Scriptures

First Question: Was Verbal Revelation Necessary?  We affirm. It must also have been committed to writing because of the need to preserve and propagate the word.

  1. Although the church before Moses didn’t have the word, and the early church didn’t have all of it, it does not logically follow that the word is inferior.

Sixth Question: From what source does the divine authority of the Scriptures depend?

Turretin points out that the “authority belongs to the genus of things ek ton pros ti….[and] should not be considered absolutely but relatively.  Therefore, Scripture cannot be authentic in itself without being so for us” (II.6.3).

The Bible on its own account is the objective cause of why I believe it.  The Holy Spirit is the efficient cause. The Church is the instrumental cause.  We can give the three-fold reply on account that threefold causes can be granted for the manifestation of anything (section 6).

Twentieth Question: What is the Supreme Judge, Scripture or the Pope?

We prove it is Scripture by:

  1. God himself: he sends the judge and we must obey him (Dt 17:10). Christ says to obey and judge by Moses and the Prophets (Lk. 16:29).
  2. When Christ sends people to the church to hear, the church is not speaking of matters of faith but of scandal (Matt. 18:17).

Review of Preus Post-Reformation Lutheranism

Like Richard Muller in the Reformed tradition, Robert Preus shows how theological prolegomena orders the rest of one’s theology. While as a Reformed Christian I will disagree with both some of his conclusions and method, I appreciate the rigor and candor in which he approaches his topic. Of first importance for the Lutheran scholastics was the purity of doctrine. Purity of the Doctrina Evangelii: doctrine serves the gospel.

preus

The middle sections of the book are the most important, as there Preus treats us to the ordering principle of Archetypal and Ectypal theology. Prolegomena as Christology: scholastics such as Calov shows how one’s presuppositions about theological method determine one’s conclusions in Christology. The Lutheran position: All personal propositions made regarding the person of Christ can be predicated to either nature. Hence, the human nature of Christ has archetypal theology. Archetypal theology is important because it grounds our theology in God. There is an original, archetypal theology in Christ, and that according also to his Human nature, again because of the personal union (167).

The final section on Scripture reads as a summary of the age-old inerrancy debate, even if it is called by a different name. Throughout one can see the backdrop of the LCMS’s war against liberalism.

Confessions of a theological hitman

A certain CREC minister one time documented some of his theological changes, most of them for the better.  I’ve done so about myself a few times on here, but I decided to tie some strings together.  I encourage you to read his piece, since that will save me some writing.  His early development mirrors mine in many ways.  S.W’s piece is thoughtful.  I have a few questions on some of his specifics, but that’s neither here nor there.

One of the difficulties that many of us in seminary faced–difficulties that are concurrent with many of these changes–is the inevitable glut of ideas.  Compounded with that  is that seminaries which are denominationally- or quasi-denominationally affiliated are inadequately prepared to deal with these various theological currents.  If your goal is to churn out “preacher boys,” then many cross-currents of scholarship will drown you.

The Federal Vision controversy was raging when I was in seminary, and I confess I did not always make wise choices.  Federal Visionism itself didn’t really make too much of a connection with me, at least not confessionally and ecclesiologically.  What some FV writers did, however, was weaken the confessional moorings, from which I drifted and began reading outside my tradition.

On one hand that’s healthy.  We shouldn’t seek theological inbreeding.   The problem I faced was that no one was capable of guiding me through these issues.  Once I was jaded enough, combined with a lot of real grievances from said seminary (which I won’t go in here, but they do deal with objective, financial realities), it wasn’t hard to seek out so-called “Christological alternatives to Calvinism.”

Many Eastern Orthodox apologists were saying that we should do all our theology around “Christology.”  Translation: the ancient Christological creeds, if interpreted consistently, will lead one away from Calvinism.    I’ll deal with that claim later.

And so for the next few years I read through–cover to cover–about ten volumes of the Schaff Church Fathers series, as well as most of their leading interpreters.  One of the problems, though, was I was unaware of the high, magisterial Protestant tradition.  Of course I had read Calvin.  Three times, actually.  All the way through, even.  I was not familiar with the second- and third generation Protestant Scholastics, however.

I suspect most of us aren’t familiar with them, and how could we be?  The average Evangelical publisher won’t touch these writers.   Banner of Truth, specifically, won’t deal with the uncomfortable aspects of Rutherford, Gillespie, and the Scottish Covenanters.

Taking the Scholastics Seriously

When I was reading through a lot of Orthodox sources, an argument I kept seeing was that all Western traditions hold to the Thomistic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity, which reduces to absurdity; therefore, Protestantism is philosophically absurd.  The problem, though, is that I started to see several things:   a) some fathers held to a similar thesis (Nazianzus, Athanasius), b) some Reformed writers might have held to that thesis, but there wasn’t enough evidence either way to convict them, and c) the Reformed writers who did hold to that thesis had very good reasons for doing so (archetypal/ectypal).  Further, the Essence/energies distinction entailed its own set of problems, and it is not always clear that many early Eastern fathers even held to that distinction.

The doctrine of authority was always looming in the background.   Anchorites have several sharp arguments against sola scriptura.  I bought in to some of those arguments, but I had done so without reading the Protestant Scholastic responses to them.   Once I began to see that a) many Protestant Scholastics could not be seen as breaking with the medieval tradition on the canon, and b) the archetypal/ectypal distinction when applied to epistemology, leading to Scripture as the principum cognoscendi, I was then able to embrace sola scriptura with integrity.

Corollary of the above point:  how many convertskii have read Richard Muller?  Once I read Richard Muller I realized that much of what I had been parroting was wrong.

The Institutional Problem Reasserted

It is my personal belief that Richard Muller’s four-volume Reformed and Post Reformation Dogmatics will go down as one of the game changers in Reformed historiography.  Unfortunately, most remain unaware.  Baker books should issue this set in singular volumes, better allowing seminaries to use volume one as an introduction to Reformed theology course.  First year seminarians, even the better read ones, are woefully unprepared.

Publishers need to seek out translators and get Muller’s sources into English post-haste.   There is no excuse for Rutherford and Gillespie not being mainstreamed in the Reformed world.  I can read and translate Latin, for what it’s worth.  I just don’t have the time and others are better capable.

One of the reasons these works remain untranslated I suspect, is that they also entail certain conclusions about God, salvation, God’s law, and ecclesiology, conclusions which would likely cast judgment on some publishing houses.  I say no more.

John Webster: Holy Scripture

Holy Scripture: to depict these texts in light of their divine self-communication (Webster 5). It is a “short-hand for the nature and function of these communicative acts.”

Scripture has its place as an act of the God who speaks to and sanctifies his people (8). Webster makes an unusual move: he speaks of the sanctification of Scripture. It is the holiness of Scripture which is an aspect of God’s using creaturely reality to attest to his revelation (this is what we normally call the self-attestation of Scripture). The sanctification of Scripture always refers back to God’s activity.

Revelation

Webster notes a problem when revelation is collapsed into prolegomenal foundations: it isolates revelation “from material dogmatic discussions” (12). Webster proposes an alternative, identifying revelation as “the self-disclosure of the Triune God” (13) in which God establishes mercy and fellowship with human beings.

The content of revelation is God’s own proper reality (14). It is divine “self-presentation” and not merely facts about God. But not only is God not merely the content of revelation, he is the subject. Further, revelation is not merely God’s self-displaying, but it is the establishing of fellowship and overcoming human opposition. In fact, Webster concludes: “revelation is reconciliation” (17). I disagree, but more on that later.

Sanctification

Webster’s emphasis on the sanctification aspects of Holy Scripture is much appreciated. Whatever else the Bible may mean in relation to political theology or historical criticism, if it is not first anchored in the sanctifying acts of God towards his people, then we have divorced Scripture from life.

SCRIPTURE, CHURCH, AND CANON

The Church does not create Scripture, but is called into being by God the Word. If it is called into being, it stands in the relation of hearing. Webster notes, “The church’s being is ectopic” (47); it’s place is in the being and creative act of God the Word.

Invisibility of the Church: it is in-visible in that it is not identified/seen in the world’s social institutions.

Apostolicity and Tradition: tradition is just as much an act of hearing than a fresh act of speaking (49). Further, the church’s “acknowledgment of Scripture’s authority is not so much an act of self-government, but an exposure to judgment” (57).

Canonisation
The canon is an extension of Christ’s communicative presence in his church (58). The Church’s speech is generated and controlled by Christ’s own self-utterance (60).

We do not deny the canon is the church’s act; we are simply clarifying what kind of act it is (62). It is an act of assent rather than self-derived judgment. It is an act of confession of that which precedes and imposes itself upon the church. It is an act of submission before it is an act of authority. The act of canonization has a backwards reference. The church and all of its acts are ostensive–pointing above and beyond itself.

Reading in the Economy of Grace

“Grace establishes fellowship” (71). Reading erodes spontenaity and subjects the reader to different modes of learning. Bonhoeffer: we must be wary of positing an archimedean point of judgment outside of Scripture. We should inculcate a habit of “listening” that draws us into the story extra nos (83).

self-interpreting: only so by virtue of its relation to God.

Helpful Points

Webster avoids predicating divine attributes to Scripture; it’s relation to God is instrumental (23). This might appear a sop to liberalism, but a moment’s reflection will prove its obvious point: No one believes the pages of the bible as such are divine, for they wear away (which an attribute like eternity cannot). Therefore, the bible I have is a copy of something. A copy of what, precisely? This isn’t Barthianism. It’s common-sense. Let’s go back to the Augustinian use of res/signs. What’s so bad about looking at my individual copy of the Bible as a sign to God’s res? I really don’t see how one can avoid this conclusion. We don’t have the autographa, but if we want to maintain a strong doctrine of inspiration (or better, ex-piration), then we have to use some form of Augsutinian signs.

Webster suggests we should prioritize the model of “Scripture as prophetic testimony.” It fits in with speech-act concepts. It is “language that depicts a reality other than itself” (23). However, Webster suggest we best see Scripture as “a means of grace” (24). What do we mean by means? He warns us not to view “means” as something that makes the divine reality present where it wasn’t present before, giving a quasi-divine and magical connotation to the “means.”

Disagreements

Webster says revelation is reconciliation (16). Does he mean all acts of revelation are reconciliatory? Surely he can’t mean that, because Paul says the ‘wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). This aspect of revelation is not saving. It is judgmental and even damning.

Practical conclusions:

We should insist on Scripture in usu et actione (7).