“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 didn’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).