As Brad East perceptively demonstrates in The Church’s Book—the text around which this conversation is based—divergences in doctrines of Scripture will be more readily explicable when considered in terms of the generative doctrinal pressures of contrasting ecclesiologies. The exploration of these doctrinal pressures East undertakes in this work is substantially a ‘meta-theological’ project, yet, as he notes in his response, his other book on the subject, The Doctrine of Scripture, is a fitting complement to it, dealing more immediately with the doctrines in question. Our ecclesiologies and bibliologies are so conceptually entangled and mutually implicatory because the Church and the Scriptures are so concretely and pervasively interrelated. As East promises, having seriously engaged in the meta-theological ground-clearing work, our constructive projects and conversations may meet with greater success, not least as they will be attended by a deepened theological self-awareness.
In his extremely gracious and thought-provoking response, East raises several issues and asks a few important questions that, in this conclusion, I would like briefly to take up.
First, East raises evangelicals’ relationship to modernist hermeneutics and historical criticism. East is, I believe, correct to highlight the existence of problems in this area. Evangelicals have all too consistently fallen prey to modern historicism, even if in rather different ways from the liberals they opposed. For such historicism, the supposed ‘real historical world’ took priority over the narrated world of the scriptures themselves and the goal became one of getting ‘behind’ the mediation of the text to that more fundamental historical ‘reality’. As Christopher Seitz observes:
Historicism has given us a Bible that points beyond itself to a vast, complex, developmental, ever-changing continuum in time and space. Historicism insists the past become truly past, distinguished from the present, except by means of human analogy, ingenious application, or a piety resistant to historicism’s acids.
Approached with such convictions, and the narrow hermeneutics that typically accompany them, the voice of the Scriptures to contemporary hearers is greatly attenuated, even though its authority may be strongly insisted upon. Such historicist approaches to the Scriptures cannot easily say, with the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 10:11, ‘Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.’ They might draw creative parallels or recognize enduring moral or spiritual principles, but the modernist assumptions about history and the text’s referentiality that are operative, coupled with the ceding of the text to the domain of the biblical scholars, greatly obstructs the fuller scriptural readings of such history that one encounters in the earlier Church.
Nevertheless, when we consider the inadvertency and inconsistency of these errors on evangelicals’ part, I believe that we can temper our judgments. Evangelicals’ deeper animating concerns were typically healthy ones of scriptural authority and referentiality, addressing the danger, on the one hand, of the Scriptures becoming a wax nose for their readers, and, on the other, the weakening of confidence in their faithful historical referentiality. Likewise, evangelicals have often exhibited a benign inconsistency, handling the Scriptures in their churches and personal devotions in ways quite at odds with the supposed commitments of their scholarship. Consequently, evangelicals can often be delivered from the chief ills of modernist approaches to Scripture by showing them more faithful ways to maintain their legitimate concerns and recalling them to their better selves.
Second, East suggests a need to expand our bibliological terminology, equipping us to consider the internal diversity of the Scriptures and the more complex processes by which they were received as Scripture by the Church. While I suspect that this is an area where some important differences between the two of us might be located, I very much share East’s desire for an expansion of the terminological and categorical tools by which we might bring this area—and differing positions relative to it—into an enhanced focus.
He proposes we adopt John Webster’s terminology of the ‘sanctification’ of Scripture, along with distinctions between the ‘making’ and ‘receiving’ of Scripture, the ‘making’ (or ‘confecting’) of Scripture being subdivided into the complex actions of ‘inspiration’ and ‘chrismation’. While he advances an expansive concept of ‘inspiration’, counteracting narrow accounts that focus merely upon ‘the discrete events of putting ink to parchment’, the more constructive element of East’s position relates to the category of ‘chrismation’, within which he especially singles out the task of ‘probatio’ or testing and that of canonization. Such additions to our vocabulary are, to my mind, in principle, most welcome.
It is within the range of issues named by East’s term ‘chrismation’ that many of the thorniest and most divisive theological questions with bearing upon the relationship between the Church and the Scripture are to be found. Construal of the Church’s role in canonization is an area with critical differences between typical Protestant and Catholic bibliologies, for instance. Here I think that East’s reminder of the importance of the bond between Scripture and the Church has illuminating potential. While it will not neatly resolve our debates on the matter, closer consideration of the concrete ways that the Church was always already related to and formed by the Scriptures can be helpful. The process of probatio that East describes was in part a process of self-examination, whereby the Church recognized those texts that had borne fruit within—or perhaps even better, the fruit of—its life.
Third, East speaks of the need for ‘a more granular treatment of the different ways different parts of inspired Scripture are inspired Scripture.’ One place whence I believe we might fruitfully begin such an investigation is in consideration of ways in which Scripture relates more closely to the end of God’s purpose for humanity than often considered. At the heart of history is the Word becoming flesh, but such incarnation should not be confined to a Christology narrowly considered. Throughout the Scriptures we see a consistent movement towards the enfleshing of the word of the Lord, climaxing in the new covenant, in which the law would be written upon people’s hearts by the promised Spirit. The Word made flesh in the descent of the Incarnation needs to be related to the descent of his Spirit at Pentecost, by whom the animating word of the Lord is written upon the hearts of his people.
This is already anticipated in the Old Testament. Israel was told that the words of the Law should be upon their heart (Deuteronomy 6:6), and was instructed to treasure, meditate upon, memorize, and teach them. In the psalms, the second person imperative of the Law receives the answering first person voice of the psalmist who has meditated upon it. The word once given as external command requiring assent now is given in the form of the free first-person utterance, into which the worshiper is invited and by which the feelings of their own heart are evoked and granted articulation. Likewise with the wisdom literature, within which can be witnessed another form of the promised indwelling of the Law. As the psalmist declares in Psalm 119:98-99:
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
Such indwelling of the word is also seen in the prophets, as the word of the Lord is placed upon their purified lips (Isaiah 6:5-7), is ingested as a book (Ezekiel 2-3), or becomes an authorizing commission by which they are animated for powerful action (Jeremiah 1:9-10). The Scriptures, then, variously represent, narrate, and effect the movement of the word of the Lord into human flesh. This, I should add, is an account of Scripture that readily invites elaboration in terms of Trinitarian theology.
Fourth, I believe that such an approach to Scripture will more effectively ground the traditional hermeneutical movements that East wants to encourage. The passage to the spiritual sense is native to the text itself, as it is to the historical realities it narrates. The tabernacle was always already en route to the Incarnation and the Church—and each Christian—as the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Exodus always awaited the greater fulfilment of the exodus that Christ would accomplish in Jerusalem. David always anticipated his greater Son. There is a movement of spiritual ascent, but also a true continuity with what preceded, something most evident in Paul’s recounting of the Exodus in terms of the realities of the Church’s salvation in 1 Corinthians 10. The spiritual reading is a disclosure of what was always there, not an alien imposition.
Here I believe that typology can greatly help us to follow the developing—and ascending—sense of the text and its referents. Typology should not be treated merely as a bridge between the testaments: it pervades the Old Testament, which routinely connects characters and events by means of subtle yet robust intertextuality (David as a new Jacob, the tabernacle as a new creation, the book of Daniel as an elaboration of the story of Babel, etc., etc.). Closer attention to such connections internal to the Old Testament scriptures can vindicate the Church’s historic spiritual reading of such texts, while also assuaging legitimate anxieties about neglect of the literal sense.
Such an approach, to touch upon some of East’s questions, also gives us some means to speak more adequately of the Scriptures’ unity in their diversity and to appreciate varied forms of a unified authority. The Law of Sinai does not apply to Christians as it did to Israel in the wilderness. Nevertheless, it is less an annulled or effaced word than it is word that requires ‘transfigural’ reading. The Law is now written upon hearts by the Spirit, fulfilled in the law of love. Yet a careful reading of the Law itself already anticipates and gestures towards this coming fulfilment, not merely in prophecy but in its own internal logic. There is continuity between the reality of the Law under the old covenant and the realities of the new covenant. Read from the perspective of the new covenant, the ‘veil’ upon the writings of Moses is removed, as the Apostle argues in 2 Corinthians 3, and we can behold the glory of the Lord. For its part, in the narration of the events of Pentecost, the New Testament presents the gift of the Spirit as the climactic fulfilment of Sinai, not its negation.
Fifth, East raises the question of scriptural clarity and sufficiency, quoting Mark D. Thompson’s articulation of a position that he regards as ‘wholly unpersuasive’. I share his assessment of the position as Thompson expresses it. I suspect that one of several issues with Thompson’s position might be a very narrow conception of ‘meaning’, perhaps focused upon overt and denotative import, when much of the ‘meaning’ of Scripture is less straightforward and sharply defined.
However, Thompson’s position—presuming that I am adequately understanding it from East’s quotation of him—seems to be a very extreme one relative to the Reformed tradition. A more mainstream expression of the clarity or perspicuity of the Scriptures can be found in the Westminster Confession of Faith (I.vii)—
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
This is a far more careful, qualified, and guarded statement. It begins with recognition of the inclarity of much of the Scriptures, before expressing the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture in a manner focused upon those things necessary for salvation. Further, it speaks of the ‘due use of the ordinary means’, which can be understood to include instruction by Christian pastors and teachers, the study of Scriptures translated into the vernacular, etc. A key aspect of the intent of the doctrine seems to be that of ensuring that all the people of God experience the Scriptures as God’s life-giving word, rather than as an arcane text empowering a class of textual experts, who must intermediate between the people of God and the Scriptures, with salvation itself being at stake.
Likewise, the doctrine of the Scriptures’ sufficiency can be expressed in more careful terms. That is, the Scriptures are sufficient for the saving ends for which they have been given: all necessary saving knowledge is given to us in Scripture. They are not, however, sufficient for every end. Nor are they sufficient in abstraction from other things that God has given us. Scripture does not speak directly to a great many matters of practical consequence, for which, while acting in accord with scriptural principle, we must operate with the light of reason and prudence.
Finally, East asks me for my thoughts on scriptural mediation. This is a question with which I have long been preoccupied. Indeed, it was a crucial part of my initial avenue into questions of bibliology. How, I wondered, was the Church’s concept of Scripture transformed by the advent of new material forms and cultures of Bibles, with their attendant changes in modes of production, dissemination, and use of the text? I’ve written briefly upon the subject here and have spoken upon it on a few occasions.
One of my concerns has been to maintain that the Church is, in many respects, divinely established as the principal medium and vehicle of the Scriptures and that, recognizing this, we cannot treat scriptural mediation as a matter of indifference. Encounter with the Scriptures in the embodied context of the assembled Church and within its liturgy should be central to our lives as Christians. I also share East’s deep wariness of ways in which digitally mediated encounters can substitute for personal presence. I would go further and express my concern about modern churches’ dependence upon audio-visual technologies in their worship more broadly, technologies that have made possible unhealthy developments in our forms of worship and ecclesiology. If we did not have forms of electronic amplification, what about our churches might have to change?
Nevertheless, although I am wary of it, I am not instinctively anti-technological. I believe that many of our problems with our technologies arise from a failure to consider and understand their distinctive characters, tendencies, and affordances, and to employ or not employ them accordingly. For example, when a group of us work through a book of Scripture on the Theopolis podcast, discussing each passage in turn, we are engaging in a distinctive and novel form of discourse that the new medium of the podcast has largely made possible. In hardly any other context or medium would one encounter conversational exegesis in such a sustained format (I think similar things could be said about my audio commentary through the entire Scripture). Despite some genuine trade-offs, I see this as largely a gift. Indeed, such a medium may even restore certain limited aspects of ancient forms of engagement with Scripture that have long been neglected by the Church in the West.
Podcasts, of course, are generally based upon the spoken word. They involve elements of abstraction, but also allow for the recovery of thoughtful and extended dialogue and speech that can easily be lost to the text on printed pages or the images upon our screens. Where they are substituting for or hindering concrete forms of dialogue and conversation they can become problematic. Likewise, when attachment to online voices of our choosing leads us to neglect or reject the oversight and teaching of a local congregation. Much greater problems can attend those media which promise us community, belonging, identity, intimacy, connection, presence, or relationship. While such media can assist us as scaffolding might help the builders of a home, like scaffolding they are no place in which to live.
As J. Mark Bertrand has noted, new technologies can sometimes make it possible to be more thoughtful and adventurous in our use of traditional ones. For instance, the advent and rise of Bible software and online Bibles can unburden our physical Bibles from the need to provide extensive navigational apparatus and accompanying resources and make possible the production of ‘readers’ Bibles’ and other physical books optimized for forms of scriptural reading that have languished since the advent of the steam printing press. While we should never throw out our physical Bibles for digital Bibles and Bible software, wisely employing such digital resources alongside physical ones may, on balance, be quite beneficial.
A fuller consideration of this question would need to reflect upon the ways in which the word in particular naturally raises questions of mediation. As the Apostle Paul himself discussed in 2 Corinthians 10, the written word is something that plays with the realities of physical presence and absence. The written text is at once a mode of its author’s presence and a sign of their absence. Losing a sense of the presence of the word—and of the Word—in our midst through an overdependence upon certain modes of technical mediation (not least the departicularization characteristic of modern mass production, reproduction, and replication) would be serious. Yet there is perhaps something about the fact that we have scriptures, rather than a direct voice from heaven, that might invite reflection upon the peculiar nature of our situation prior to the consummation of all things. The threat posed by modern media might often be that of a false and simulated immediacy, of saturated horizons without depth, within which neither the charged presence nor absence appropriate to the mediation of the word can register.
I want to thank Brad for his willingness to have this conversation; he has been a most delightful and stimulating interlocutor.
 Christopher Seitz, Figured Out: Typology and Providence in Christian Scripture (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 9.
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