Jesus Loves Me This I Know. God and the Bible

“Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so …” the famous Sunday School song that I am sure most of us know, even if we brownbibledidn’t attend Sunday School as kids. This is such a loaded little song that even famous theologians like Karl Barth will appeal to it to answer deep theological questions (like he once actually did). It is loaded because it signals something broadly Christian, but more pointedly it presupposes on the Protestant premise that Scripture is authoritative (something like the theology of sola scriptura is supposed to signify). It almost seems as if the Bible comes before Jesus, at least insofar as this is the place where the Christian can come to “know” that Jesus loves her or him. Indeed, classically understood this is how the Bible has functioned for the Protestant; it is a kind of epistemological seed bed and foundation for how we can know God. But is this the best way forward when considering a doctrine of Scripture? Is this really Dogmatically respectful of the place that Scripture has within the economy of God’s Self-revelation, or is there a better way to think of Scripture vis-á-vis God?

John Webster (along with Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, et al) thinks there is a better way to order things when it comes to conceiving of Scripture. So that when we sing the song ‘Jesus loves me’ the reality that serves as the basis for that is a theological reality, and it is out of this reality, out of the reality that God loved us (ever before creation) that Scripture finds its reality. Scripture is part of creation, it is written words by God’s human emissaries (the Prophets and Apostles), as such if we follow a properly oriented theological order, we will reason, theologically back to the reality that God first loved us that we might love him. Yes, we do know this by way of the Apostolic deposit that we also call the New Testament, but as with all theological reasoning what we are doing is attempting to think about the way things fit together within God’s economy of things; so it is somewhat of a dialectical spiral when we attempt to think God and Scripture together. We think God in Christ from Scripture, but as a result we realize that we would have no Scripture without God; and so we have a basis for understanding why we have Scripture to begin with—because God is love, and elected to not be God without us, but Immanuel, God with us.

I realize this might be kind of abstract and so hard to wrap your head around. But I think that once you do you will be set up to better appreciate the ontology of Scripture, or Scripture’s relationship to God (and you won’t feel the burden to prove or sustain the veracity of Scripture, you will be free to actually hear from the Lord, and even be contradicted by him through his Holy Word).

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6 Responses to Jesus Loves Me This I Know. God and the Bible

  1. Ivan says:

    This does seem confusing. We start from God when doing theology yet we need to read scripture to know who God is. Doesn’t that imply that we actually start from scripture when doing theology though?

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  2. Bobby Grow says:

    Ivan,

    Does God logically precede creation or follow it? That seems clear and straightforward.

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  3. dtkleven says:

    Hey Bobby,

    is “illumination” possibly a nice stepping stone to understanding your point? illumination is kind of the immediate point of contact between my epistemology and God’s saving economy of love. Further, illumination takes us straight into God’s own trinitarian life, as the Spirit takes the things of the Father and the Son and reveals them to us, in Scripture, as part of his saving work ad extra, which is the way it is because The Triune God is Who He Is.

    I think I’m saying “I totally agree with you” 🙂

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  4. Bobby Grow says:

    dtkleven,

    Illumination is an interesting and pretty Augustinian concept. No, that’s not exactly what I had in mind. I’ll have to do another post where I flesh this issue out further. I don’t have a problem with illumination/inspiration distinction, but that’s not really the point here. I’ll explain more later.

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  5. Ivan says:

    I guess what I’m trying to get at is that it does seem unavoidable to not start from Scripture when we can’t know God except from what he has revealed to us through Scripture. We know that “Jesus loves me” because that is what we read in Scripture. Apart from Scripture we wouldn’t know that. I’m genuinely trying to understand how we can start from God and not from Scripture when God is unknowable apart from Scripture (and Jesus, but we can’t know who Jesus is apart from Scripture). BTW, how does it look like when one starts from in God in comparison to when one starts from Scripture?

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  6. Bobby Grow says:

    Ivan, it is a logical and even chronological point; thus is the work of Dogmatic Theology. The point is is that it is God who is primary before Scripture. Yes Scripture is a special place but it is not the end or the central place; scripture is a sign of the its reality in the living God, Jesus Christ. Scripture did not give us scripture but God in Christ did. So scripture like Calvin said is like spectacles, we look through it yes but only to its reality and as we come to know the reality then scripture finds its rightful place in the economy of and domain of God’s life in Christ for us.

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