The Evangelical Calvinist

"The world was made so that Christ might be born."-David Fergusson

The Bible is About Jesus: Some Engagement with the Post-Reformed Orthodox and some “evangelical Calvinists”

It really is striking to move beyond the popular, and engage with the critical; particularly when it comes to theological matters (at least for me). I am continuing my trek through Richard Muller’s magnum opus, his: Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: Volume Two, Holy Scripture The Cognitive Foundation of Theology. There are four volumes in this series, and each volume consists bible-cover-pageof around 500 pages; so not an overnight read. I digress. I am in a section where Muller is describing the orthodox understanding of the ‘divinity of Scripture’ with particular reference to a doctrine of inspiration.

Throughout the rest of this post we will take a look at what Muller has to say about the orthodox understanding; and relative to my interests I will, in passing, suggestively note how the orthodox understanding is not that far removed from Barth and Thomas Torrance. Also there will be some reference to how bible translations work, at least from an orthodox trajectory, as accurate instruments with the capacity to point to Jesus.

Here Muller has just finished engaging with John Owen (and others) on his doctrine of Scripture as a sort of representative luminary of the whole tradition. It is a kind of summative statement that Muller explicates something about the orthodox understanding of Scripture that I find resonant with at least a motif we find in both Barth and Torrance. Muller writes:

Defining Scripture as the Word of God indicates also that “the holy Scriptures are that Divine instrument and means, by which we are taught to believe what we ought  touching God, and ourselves, and all creatures, and how to please God in all things unto eternal life.” Thus, the canonical authority of Scripture “is uniformly divine” in all of the books of Scripture, although not all of the books can be said uniformly to convey  the contents of revelation: the “idea of theology” is firmly and fully expressed “not in individual books or in the separate words (tmemata) of the books, but in the integral gathering of the canonical books (in librorum Canonicorum integro syntagmate).” As indicated above in the discussion of inspiration, despite the insistence of the Reformed that the very words of the original are inspired, the theological force of their argument falls in the substance or res rather than on the individual words: translations can be authoritative quoad res because the authority is not so much in the words as in the entirety of the teachings as distributed throughout the canon.

Scripture, then, broadly and canonically understood, in all its parts but primarily in the whole, is Divine and authentic in itself and needs no human assent in order to be so — as the sun is light even if all men were blind. The issue posed by the doctrine of authority, however, is that Scripture also be acknowledged divine and authentic in the church and identified as the rule of faith and obedience: and, granting the polemic of the age concerning the ultimate locus of religious authority, the orthodox fasten on a series of proofs of the divine authority of Scripture.[1]

Clearly, if you know Barth and Torrance there are some obvious points of departure. But one aspect that is corollary is what Muller noted here, “…the theological force of their argument falls in the substance or res rather than on the individual words….” In other words, as Torrance so often points out the words of Scripture are simply ‘signs’ (signum) that break off and point beyond themselves to their ‘reality’ (res) in Jesus Christ. As noted, in the quote, the orthodox did not take the kind of principial Christological approach to interpreting Scripture that Barth and Torrance did, but Scripture, ultimately, even for the orthodox is grounded in its reality in Jesus Christ. Even for the orthodox (according to Muller) there wasn’t a slavish commitment to the words of Scripture, at least not in a way that those words would be idolized as stand-ins for their reality, Jesus Christ. I find this line fruitful, which is why I am sharing it with you all.

Reducing what was Just sketched into Layperson terms

The Bible is about Jesus.


[1] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. Volume Two, Holy Scripture The Cognitive Foundation of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 269.


Written by Bobby Grow

May 23, 2016 at 9:08 pm

8 Responses

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  1. A helpful observation Bobby, and a good reminder to all, especially Mullerites, that Barth and TFT were working within the Reformed tradition richly conceived and cannot be excluded a priori from it!


    Jonathan Kleis

    May 24, 2016 at 12:33 am

  2. Though it has to be born in mind all this is was and will remain an in house i.e. christian preoccupation. Viz a viz the world all this is a completely alien environment. Any so apologetic christian loudspeakering will be completely counter productive.


    Rein Zeilstra

    May 24, 2016 at 2:56 am

  3. That whole thing about the words of Scripture being signs which point to Jesus sounds a whole lot like Calvin’s concept of the sacramental union between sign and thing signified.



    May 24, 2016 at 1:37 pm

  4. The quote from Muller is interesting and reflects the Westminster Confession’s focus upon scripture: “taught to believe what we ought touching God, and ourselves, and all creatures, and how to please God in all things unto eternal life” – note neither Christ nor grace are at the center of this definition nor even mentioned. Instead, its emphasis scripture’s authoritative instruction in “how to please God in all things unto eternal life”. Which is precisely why Torrance rejected the WC.


    Kurt Anders Richardson

    May 24, 2016 at 1:42 pm

  5. Well, this type of thinking precedes Calvin by centuries.


    Bobby Grow

    May 24, 2016 at 9:38 pm

  6. Amen, Jonathan!


    Bobby Grow

    May 24, 2016 at 9:38 pm

  7. That’s okay, Rein, we are Christians after all!


    Bobby Grow

    May 24, 2016 at 9:39 pm

  8. And TFT did so rightly. Of course my point was more broadly conceived, and much more general than that. And what you note Kurt is what I was getting at in my post when I talked about ‘principial’ christological approach. I’ve written further on that distinction here at the blog in a post entitled “The Men” .


    Bobby Grow

    May 24, 2016 at 9:41 pm

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