For me, a theology of the Word is definitive for what it means to be a Protestant Christian; as such, I think our theologies ought to be conditioned by their reposition upon the Word of God. There seems to be some slide in this area among Protestant retrievers; i.e. the guys and gals who are in the process of developing a ‘Reformed Catholicity’ among other nomenclature. As Protestants we should have a de jure or principled commitment to Holy Scripture and its reality in Jesus Christ as the primal initiative for all things theological and praxis. The Word of God ought to be the centraldogma of all that Protestant theology entails and is characterized by, such that when people read a Protestant theology they are thrust back, not upon the church, but Scripture, and its reality in Christ. I think this was a central motivation for the magisterial reformers, and is why we ended up with a sola scriptura. But, as Protestants, in our zeal to ‘recover’ the Great Tradition of the Church, we are seemingly being seduced back into the scholastic tradition-building tradition; and the ecclesial authority attendant with that, thus losing the actual authority of Scripture. As Protestants we say all else, in regard to a theory of authority, is subordinate to Holy Scripture; but in practice, and theological endeavor, I see something else happening.

John Calvin offers a good word on Scripture’s special place for his type of Protestant theology. In the following he is in early discussion on his concept of knowledge of God, and how he sees God’s Word as the special place that the ‘children of God’ are given to have an accurate, and thus non-idolatrous, knowledge of God. The moment we digress into Trad-itional knowledge of God, at least as our regulative authority, we have crossed over into speculative rather than revealed knowledge of God. As one of the early pre-post-Reformed orthodox Reformed theologians, Calvin understood this, in regard to the character that a Word-based theology ought to have for his Protestant brethren and sistren. He writes:

Since it is evident that God used His word with those whom He wanted to instruct fruitfully, because He saw that His form and image which He had imprinted in the edifice of the world was not sufficient, we must walk by this path if we desire with a good heart rightly to contemplate His truth. We must, I say, return to the word in which God is shown very well and painted as if living by His works, when these are considered no according to perversity of our judgment but according to the rule of the eternal truth. If we turn away from this word, no matter how quickly we go, we will never arrive at the goal because we are not running in the path. For we must take into account that the light of God which the apostle calls “inaccessible” is for us like a labyrinth to lose us unless we are led through it by the directing of the word, so that it is better for us to limp along in this path than to run quickly outside of it. That is why David, having recounted how the glory of God is preached by the heavens, the works of His hands proclaimed by the firmament, His glory manifested by the well-ordered succession of day and night, then comes down to the commemoration of His word (Ps. 19[1]). “The law of the Lord,” he says, “is without blemish, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is true, giving wisdom to the lowly; the righteousness of the Lord is right, rejoicing the hearts; the precept of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes” (Ps. 19[7-8]). By this he signifies that the teaching by creatures is universal to all, but the instruction by the word is specific to the children of God.[1]

We can understand Calvin better as we place the above quote into his teaching on the twofold knowledge of God,[2] more broadly; but for our purposes, what is important to highlight is the centrality the Word of God has for Calvin at a base level. For the Protestant there is an aversion to speculation about God, and “Godness,” just at the point that we (as Protestants) are committed to what God has revealed of Himself to and for us in Christ as attested to by the canon that Holy Scripture is.

As I broach this issue, in regard to the material and formal sufficiency of God’s Word, what you might also be alerted to is why I have chosen to go the way I have, in regard to the tradition I have, in Reformed theology. I think to be catholic, in the best sense, is to be committed to the rule of Faith, who is Scripture’s reality, Jesus Christ. I know that many believe that to be genuinely catholic these days, means to one degree or the other, that we tie ourselves into the Tradition of the Church. But I think prior to that, and more decisive than that, what it really means to be catholic is to be tied into the humanity of God in Jesus Christ; how can we be more catholic than that?[3]

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition, trans. by Elsie Anne McKee (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 37.

[2] From the quote we can also pickup Calvin’s notional thinking on the sensus Divinitatis, but again, for our purposes we are focused on the Word in this post.

[3] There are many related and underwriting threads just waiting to be pulled upon in regard to my question here, like: 1) theory of authority, 2) theory of revelation, 3) ecclesiological theory in general, 4) how we think catholicity vis-à-vis progressive historical developments etc.

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