John Webster on theological interpretation

John Webster on the theological interpretation of scripture

The task of biblical interpretation is a function of the nature of scripture; the nature of Scripture is a function of its appointment as herald of the self-communicative presence of the risen one. […]

Proposals about “theological interpretation” of the Bible commonly lack an ontology of scripture. Theological interpretation is often described as a distinct hermeneutical strategy or interest — a matter of reading for certain theological themes (rather than proceeding no further than historical or literary content), or, perhaps, a matter of reading under the tutelage of the church’s traditions of interpretation, or of reading virtuously. Much can be said in favor of these claims, but they will only prove fruitful if grounded in a theological account of what Scripture is. Questions about interpretive methods can only be settled “metaphysically,” that is, by working out what the text is, who we are as its interpreters and what ends we are to pursue as we read it. The core of such an account is, of course, the doctrine of the triune God, who alone is the ratio essendi et cognoscenti [the logos of being and knowing] of all creatures.

from The Domain of the Word, (T&T Clark, 2012), 32-3.

Interdisciplinarity: Theological Threat or Opportunity?

Interdisciplinarity: Theological Threat or Opportunity?

The following are two antithetical(?) proposals. My problem is that I find myself attracted to both of them. Each, I’m persuaded, lays claim to a measure of wisdom; neither can be ignored altogether. But what is the alternative perspective that “sees round them both”? That’s a question that has occupied my attention for quite some time now. I hope to treat it at greater length at some point. For now it will have to do simply to register the dilemma.

A. Nicholas Lash

Theologians would do well to keep in touch with practitioners in other disciplines, whose methodological problems significantly overlap with their own.

from Change in Focus, (Sheed&Ward, 1973), 180.

B. John Webster

… it [is] increasingly difficult for practitioners […] of theology to state with any clarity what is specifically theological about their enquiries. […] they have been pressed to give an account of themselves in terms drawn largely from fields of enquiry other than theology, fields which, according to prevailing criteria of academic propriety more nearly approximate to ideals of rational activity. And so the content and operations of the constituent parts of the theological curriculum are no longer determined by specifically theological considerations, but by neighboring disciplines — disciplines which can exercise that controlling function because their lack of determination by theological conviction accords them much greater prestige in the academy. This process of assimilation means that, for example, the study of scripture, or doctrine, or the history of the church draw their modes of enquiry from Semitics, or the history of religions, or social anthropology, from philosophy, or from general historical studies.

from “Theological Theology,” in Confessing God, (T&T Clark, 2005), 22.

On scripture’s role as theological authority

On scripture’s role as theological authority

A. Robert Jenson

There is no mandate to reproduce all apostolic theologoumena. Indeed, they are not guaranteed to be especially felicitous; we turn to the apostolic church not for the certainly best thought-out instances of gospel-speaking but for unchallengeable instances. … apostolic reflective activity — however profoundly or superficially done — must have been the right sort of thing to be doing.

from Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 The Triune God, (OUP, 1997), 32.

B. David Kelsey

As its “authority,” scripture is “normative” for a proposal’s Christian aptness, not for its origin.

from Proving Doctrine, (Bloomsbury, 1999), 193.

C. John Webster

Scripture is not so much a source or norm of theology as its idiom.

from “Authority of Scripture,” Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, (Baker, 2005), 724.

D. Rowan Williams

Revelation is addressed not so much to a will called upon to submit as to an imagination called upon to ‘open itself.’

from “Trinity and Revelation,” Modern Theology vol 2, no 3, (1986): 209.

The New Testament is less a set of theological conclusions than a set of generative models for how to do Christian thinking.

from On Christian Theology, Oxford, Blackwell, 2000, 22.

John Webster on the theological location of scripture

John Webster on scripture’s systematic horizons

A ‘doctrine’ of Scripture cannot be extracted from the web of theological convictions of which it is part. Doctrines of Scripture are never freestanding—even in those modern neorationalist theological schemes in which bibliology undertakes the role of epistemological foundation for everything that follows. Rather, doctrines of Scripture are bound up with (sometimes driven by pressure from) theological teaching about the nature of God and God’s communicative or revelatory acts, about Christ, Spirit, church, salvation, faith, and much else. Moreover, it is not only doctrinal convictions that exercise this kind of pressure on how the nature of Scripture is construed, but also other basic (and often subterranean) attitudes that form the particular dogmatic ‘dialectic’ with which a theologian speaks — views about distinction between God and the world, about the human historical condition, about knowledge and its media, about the operations of language.

from Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible, (Baker, 2008), 106-7

John Webster on Barth on self-knowledge

John Webster on Barth on self-knowledge

The earlier parts of CD III/2 devote much space to securing one conviction which is basic to Barth’s anthropology and ethics: the conviction that because human persons cannot be defined remoto gratia, apart from the covenant of grace which is the creature’s end, attempts to reach self-definition through self-reflection yield only delusion. “The self-contradiction resulting from our contradiction of God is serious. It really prevents us from understanding ourselves. We are not clear nor transparent to ourselves, nor can we see ourselves from any higher standpoint. We are totally and not just partially incapable of occupying any independent vantage point from the height of which we might penetrate and judge ourselves.” The point here is not simply that Barth, like Calvin, has a profound sense of the ruinous effects of sin on human self-knowledge. It is also that in laying out a procedure for constructing anthropological doctrine, Barth declines to set theological language about humanity in a wider context of human self-reflection.

from Barth’s Ethics of Reconciliation, (Cambridge, 1995), 66.