Grudem’s, Ware’s, et al.’s evangelical Biblicism; it should be abandoned

I still think, as the first post I wrote on all of this indicated, the Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, et al. and this whole EFS (Eternal Functional Subordination) debate is a result of Grudem’s, Ware’s, et al.’s commitment to an evangelical Biblicism. The belief that Scripture ought to be able to answer—in propositional form—all of the systematic questions that we want it to answer; questions formed holy_bibleby an evangelical sub-culture that expects absolute, rationalist certitude in regard to what God has ostensibly revealed in Holy Scripture. Whether the question has to do with male-female gender relations, or whether its pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib, pre-wrath, or if whether the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father; whatever the question is at the moment, there is an evangelical expectation that if we squeeze Scripture hard enough, and just the right way we will get the absolute results we are looking for.

But that’s not how Scripture really works; at least I don’t think so, and neither does Angus Paddison and P.T. Forsyth. Note as Paddison elucidates (and cites) Forsyth’s doctrine of Scripture:

As can be seen from our explorations thus far, Forsyth first and foremost locates Scripture in relation to God’s activity, an action best regarded as ‘not merely a gospel of definite truth but of decisive reality, not of clear belief but of crucial action’. This plea that we attend to a lively activity of God – rather than a series of propositional truths about God – explains Forsyth’s resistance to dry freezing Scripture and regarding it as little more than ‘an arsenal of Christian evidences’. Scriptural reading is to resist having commerce with stupefied orthodoxies. Christian faith is not ultimately faith in doctrines but rather a faith in those realities and powers which Scripture and doctrine attempt to articulate. The power of Jn 3.16 is not that it is a message about God’s love for us; it points to God’s love enacted for us. Finely-wrought doctrinal systems are prone to misunderstand faith as an intellectual assent to truths articulated, rather than the soul’s ‘direct contact with Christ crucified’. Biblical readers who domesticate the Bible into systems of orthodoxy are liable to forget that it is the theologian’s ‘hard and high fate to cast himself into the flame he tends, and be drawn into its consuming fire’. To be ‘biblical’ is therefore to apprehend that Scripture’s core

is not a crystallization of man’s divine idea, it is not even a divine declaration of what God is in himself; it is his revelation of what he is for us in actual history, what he for us has done, and forever does. (PTF)

Being biblical is a matter of apprehending correctly God’s redemptive activity into which Scripture has been drawn and is now located.

No belief is scriptural simply because it be met with the Bible. We do not believe in the contents of the Bible, but in its content, in what put it there, and what it is there for. For it is a means, and not an end. We believe in the Gospel, the Gospel of God’s Grace justifying the ungodly in Christ’s cross and creating the Bible for that use. (PTF)

Scripture is located by the gospel, before it is located by us.[1]

This is not to say that this dialogical approach to Scripture undercuts any meaningful way towards ‘knowing God’ through Scripture; just the opposite. But what it does say is that our expectations, when approaching Scripture, should be transformed by the One we encounter in Scripture.

What does this do to the way Grudem, Ware, et al. approach Scripture, or what should it do for anyone who approaches Holy Scripture? It should depressurize the hot air we often bring to Scripture, and reorient our understanding of Scripture as the place we encounter the living voice of the living God. It should destabilize our equilibriums in such a way that philosophical certitude, and self-assured posture are no longer the requirements we expect Scripture to meet.

I think the Patristics, by and large, particularly at the ecumenical councils, approached Scripture more in the way that PT Forsyth understands it, and less in the way that Grudem, Ware, et al. do.


[1] Angus Paddison, Scripture a very Theological Proposal (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 18.

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