Reading in the Economy of Grace

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Much of John Webster’s Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch has been ridiculously dense for me to read through.  I might yet actually write something about what I’m reading, but I’ve found this chapter “Reading in the Economy of Grace” easier to read and beneficial.

In discussing the creaturely act of reading Holy Scripture (a.k.a. the Bible), Webster says:

We do not read well; and we do not read well, not only because of technical incompetence, cultural distance from the substance of the text or lack of readerly sophistication but also and most of all because in reading Scripture we are addressed by that which runs clean counter to our will.  Reading Scripture is thus a moral matter; it requires that we become certain kinds of readers, whose reading is take up into the history of reconciliation.  The separation of reason from virtue in modernity has made this acutely difficult for us to grasp.
Nevertheless, a Christian theological anthropology will envisage the act of reading Scripture as an instance of the fundamental patter of all Christian existence, which is dying and rising with Jesus Christ through the purging and quickening power of the Holy Spirit.  Reading Scripture is thus best understood as an aspect of mortification and vivification: to read Scripture is to be slain and made alive. And because of this, the rectitude of the will, its conformity to the matter of the gospel, is crucial, so that reading can only occur as a kind of brokenness, a relinquishment of willed mastery of the text, and through exegetical reason’s guidance towards that encounter with God of which the text is an instrument.

p. 87-88

“One ironic example is our talk of Scripture as ‘the Word of God’ … The scriptural word for Scripture is Scripture.”

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James Barr’s Fundamentalism contains its misapprehensions about evangelicalism but also its penetrating insights, and one of the latter is this criticism, that for evangelicalism the Bible often has the form of authority but not the reality.  Doctrinally we are committed to a theology of the Word, but precisely that commitment can hinder us from actually being a people of the Word, because the fact that we accept that theoretical commitment provides us with a false sense of security, as if it guaranteed a real commitment to scripture.  The result is that it does the opposite.  We love to tag texts onto things, as if that made them biblical.  One ironic example is our talk of Scripture as “the Word of God”; in Scripture, phrases such as “the word of God” or “the word of truth” are not used to refer to Scripture.  The scriptural word for Scripture is Scripture.

John Goldingay, Key Questions about Biblical Interpretation, pp. 104-105.