The Church’s Book—A Theopolis Conversation with Brad East

In the latest Theopolis Conversation, I discuss Brad East’s recently published work, The Church’s Book: Theologies of Scripture in Ecclesial Context, which explores the relationship between bibliology (the doctrine of Scripture) and ecclesiology in the work of Karl Barth and three of his theological successors: John Webster, Robert Jenson, and John Howard Yoder. The book is complemented by East’s other recent release, The Doctrine of Scripture, within which he discusses the relationship between the Church and the Scriptures.

Within the opening essay, I review The Church’s Book, concluding with a number of reflections upon the tightness of the connection between Scripture and the Church:

In the Church’s life and worship, the Scriptures have a rich and multifaceted presence. We are summoned with the words of Scripture, we confess our sins with the words of Scripture, we are absolved with the words of Scripture, we sing the words of the Scripture in the psalms, we hear the words of Scripture in its public reading, memorializing the great acts of the Lord recorded within it, we confess our faith in a summary of the witness of the Scriptures, we greet each other with words from the Scripture, we are exhorted and encouraged from the words of the Scriptures, we pray the words of the Scripture in the Lord’s Prayer, we celebrate the Supper according to the word of the Scripture, and we are blessed and commissioned by the word of the Scripture. Every part of the Church’s life and practice is pervaded by Scripture. It is the very fabric of our communications by which we are rendered a community. While East attends to contrasting approaches to exegesis, he does not sufficiently attend to the bibliological and ecclesial implications of other forms of scriptural practice, such as meditation or memorization.

East responds in the second essay, within which he raises questions about issues such as scriptural interpretation, perspicuity, and sufficiency.

If it is true that different parts of Scripture are Scripture differently, what are the implications for both the authority and the attributes of Scripture? As I mentioned a moment ago, gentile Christians are used to Scripture’s differentiated authority in practice, given that they (we) are not Torah observant. In one sense, then, some part of the Bible “does not apply,” owing to one’s time, place, or genealogy. The Law of Moses is still the word of the Lord, and it surely has something for me to attend to—for from it and through it I may be instructed, enlivened, convicted, rebuked, judged, enlightened, or otherwise brought to spiritual ecstasy by the Lord of Sinai—but its plain sense, in the form of obligations or prohibitions, does not bind me.

I wonder how far this commonsense hermeneutical observation extends. Does it apply to the New Testament? Does it (ever) apply to tacit doctrines or explicit commands in the apostolic writings? By what theological or other criteria would we make such a judgment?

In the concluding essay, I respond to a number of East’s questions and present some more of my own bibliology and its relationship with my hermeneutics:

Here I believe that typology can greatly help us to follow the developing—and ascending—sense of the text and its referents. Typology should not be treated merely as a bridge between the testaments: it pervades the Old Testament, which routinely connects characters and events by means of subtle yet robust intertextuality (David as a new Jacob, the tabernacle as a new creation, the book of Daniel as an elaboration of the story of Babel, etc., etc.). Closer attention to such connections internal to the Old Testament scriptures can vindicate the Church’s historic spiritual reading of such texts, while also assuaging legitimate anxieties about neglect of the literal sense.

Such an approach, to touch upon some of East’s questions, also gives us some means to speak more adequately of the Scriptures’ unity in their diversity and to appreciate varied forms of a unified authority. The Law of Sinai does not apply to Christians as it did to Israel in the wilderness. Nevertheless, it is less an annulled or effaced word than it is word that requires ‘transfigural’ reading. The Law is now written upon hearts by the Spirit, fulfilled in the law of love. Yet a careful reading of the Law itself already anticipates and gestures towards this coming fulfilment, not merely in prophecy but in its own internal logic. There is continuity between the reality of the Law under the old covenant and the realities of the new covenant. Read from the perspective of the new covenant, the ‘veil’ upon the writings of Moses is removed, as the Apostle argues in 2 Corinthians 3, and we can behold the glory of the Lord. For its part, in the narration of the events of Pentecost, the New Testament presents the gift of the Spirit as the climactic fulfilment of Sinai, not its negation.

Read the whole series here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Church History, Controversies, Hermeneutics, My Reading, Reviews, Scripture, Technology, The Church, Theological, Theopolis. Bookmark the permalink.

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