Outside Of Us: A Tale of Scripture For Us

Lately, I have been referring to being a Scripture reader on my Facebook wall, and how it has totally blessed me to be a participant this way in God’s life in Christ; Scripture being the ordained ‘place’ wherein God invites us into his banqueting table at the right hand of his throne; Scripture finding its locus in the Triune speech of the Father, brought through and with the Spirit anointed humanity of Christ for us (pro nobis). I think something that really excites me about Scripture is that it is contingent on something ‘outside of us’ (extra nos), just as salvation is; and the ‘outside of us’ that Scripture is contingent upon for its point, purpose and meaning is of course, Jesus Christ! So Scripture, and this is what has really gotten me excited, even more recently, is framed from within the dogmatic category of salvation (soteriology), and this is framed within the dogmatic category of Jesus Christ (christology), and this is framed in the dogmatic category of God’s Life (‘Theology Proper’, Doctrine of God, Trinity); and thus the implication is that when we read Scripture (as Scripture reads us, Hebrews 4:12), we are actively participating in the Divine speech of God, and in his sacred act of relating to the world in his beloved Son by the Spirit’s locution. John Webster, offers some insight on how Bonhoeffer thought of this, and then Webster quotes Bonhoeffer in the following:

. . . More than anything else, it is listening or attention which is most important to Bonhoeffer, precisely because the self is not grounded in its own disposing of itself in the world, but grounded in the Word of Christ. Reading the Bible, as Bonhoeffer puts it in Life Together, is a matter of finding ourselves extra nos in the biblical history:

We are uprooted from our own existence and are taken back to the holy history of God on earth. There God has dealt with us, with our needs and our sins, by means of the divine wrath and grace. What is important is not that God is a spectator and participant in our life today, but that we are attentive listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the story of Christ on earth. God is with us today only as long as we are there.

Our salvation is ‘from outside ourselves’ (extra nos). I find salvation, not in my own life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ . . . What we call our life, our troubles, and our guilt is by no means the whole of reality; our life, our need, our guilt, and our deliverance are there in the Scriptures.(John Webster, “Holy Scripture,” 83 citing Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together,” 62.)

One of the more liberating realities about this whole construal is that if Scripture, like Bonhoeffer thought, and Webster thinks, is dogmatically placed in the category of ‘salvation’ (sanctification, more particularly) —and not in the philosophical category of epistemology, as classical Protestant Christianity has it placed [even today]— then the reality of Scripture cannot be contingent upon my defense of it and maintenance of it anymore than my salvation can. Both salvation and scripture then are contingent upon their reality and place in Christ’s life as the Self-revelation of God by the Spirit (scripture then is truly ‘outside of us’ in this way).

This takes a huge load off! For many years I was held captive by the idea that the historicity and truthfulness of Scripture was contingent upon Christians successfully defending its veracity, and insofar that the Christian (apologist) could not make a case (without a doubt) against its detractors; then my faith hang in those balances. What a relief to finally realize that if I am going to have Scripture, I have to have Jesus first (or he has me first, to be dogmatically correct). So Scripture does not come before Christ, but God in Christ comes before Scripture; as sure as God in Christ by the Spirit comes before creation. I hope this reassures you in your own engagement with Scripture, and maybe helps to provide you with some rest from the nagging sort of Christianity that you might have inherited from our Fundamentalist and classically Reformed parents.

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