Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Scripture is a Personal Overture of Love

Ray Ortlund says the message of the Bible is that "The Lover of our souls won't let the romance die, but is rekindling it forever." And Jeremy Begbie makes a similar case in his 'Who is God? - Biblical Inspiration Revisited' in Tyndale Bulletin 43.2, 1992. Begbie is a tastily triune musician and theologian.

In his paper he says that our view of Biblical inspiration struggles between two false extremes - fundamentalism (BB Warfield) and liberalism (James Barr), and he proposes a Trinitarian alternative. Begbie says we need to ask: who is the God who inspires and who is the God who addresses us through these scriptures and not just how did inspiration happen.

Begbie reflects on five overlapping dimensions of the Spirit's agency that may illuminate the nature of biblical inspiration and which are just encouragingly true. I've cut much of the detail.

See the atoning and relating character of the Spirit. "Central here will be the recognition that the Spirit relates us to the risen and ascended Christ and to his Father in such a way that we are included in the fellowship of the Father and Son. This participation is our salvation, for it entails being freed from the self-obsession and self-concern which so cripples us. Biblical inspiration is but one moment in the Father's work of reconciling wayward human beings to himself by his Spirit through his Son. It speaks of that particular work of the Spirit by which the words of those who have been drawn into a redeeming relationship with Christ are established as his own through a long process of remembering, rehearsing and eventual compilation as Scripture... in reading Scripture it is not simply that Christ meets us; we are first of all freed internally by the Spirit to respond to Christ and through him know ourselves forgiven, accepted and claimed by the Father"  

This impacts on the inspiration of Scripture and the Spirit's breathing through them today. "T.F. Torrance has commented that both fundamentalists and liberals often fail to get beyond the surface level of the biblical texts because they forget that revelation has taken the form of a personal overture of love such that biblical words need to be read and heard with a view chiefly to the relationship which are made possible through them. It is noteworthy that for Calvin the inner testimony of the Spirit, although a conviction about Scripture's divine source, could arise only within the circle of saving faith in Christ and his Father.... "

"The Spirit frees us, opens us out to one another, enabling our particular charismata to be exercised and yet empowering us to live in communion with one another. The trinitarian grounding of this is that God is eternally in relationship and as his people we are invited to share and show forth his being-in-relatedness... a dynamic pneumatology which speaks of the Spirit constantly renewing and transforming the Church into the likeness of Christ."

He invites us to "speak of the liberating work of the Spirit..." as "God the Spirit opens, frees the humanity of the Son so that it may be the vehicle of the Father's will in the world.... In trinitarian terms, the Spirit is 'God present to the world as its liberating other, bringing it to the destiny determined by the Father, made actual, realised in the Son' (Colin Gunton)... The Spirit will indeed point us back to the Christ of the New Testament but this is in order to expose, explicate, interpret and apply the truth as it is in Christ in a way which relates that truth to the ever-new situations and questions which emerge in history, and in so far as this happens God's final future is being realised in our midst."

He concludes reflecting on the way the Spirit's ministry isn't so much about his "general immanent presence" but a ministry that has diversity and specificity - as in the gifts of the Spirit... and so the Spirit-breathed Scripture can be expected to be diverse in genre and mode of inspiration. I appreciate the way this highlights the relational purpose of Scripture, and the dynamic work of the Spirit in drawing us into relationship with Christ and the Father, through the diverse and wonderful Scriptures.


  1. This is truly excellent and the video is outstanding! Thank you!

  2. love it. Have you read Fred Sanders' chapter on this in Embracing the Trinity? Really helpful showing trinity as the answer to fundamentalist shallowness or the unsearchable depths of criticism.

    Am I right in thinking every use of the "word of the truth" or "word of God" in the NT is a reference to the gospel/christ in his gospel word, rather than the scriptures per se? I think that's related.

  3. So Warfield's view of Scripture is an extreme fundamentalist we should avoid? And Torrance and Gunton are the kind thinkers we should follow in this area? Are you sure?

  4. I don't think Begbie is saying "avoid", but he's raising questions about how Warfield derives his doctrine of Scripture and suggesting there might be some better ways to approach the subject.

  5. Dave, thanks for the comment. From what I guess is your own UCCF position, I'd be very wary of any argument that uses Torrance and Gunton as guides. Granted inspiration is one thing, but Torrance (certainly) and Gunton (I think) would deny both inerrancy and (I suspect) the infallibility of Scripture. Begbie must be very close to both these thinkers in his doctrine of Scripture.

  6. David, what I find helpful about Begbie's Tyndale paper is it's attempt to derive a doctrine of Scripture Trinitarianly... which I think is the logic he's borrowing from Torrance & Gunton who (whatever their other issues might be) are very deliberately seeking to build from Trinity. I don't think Begbie sells out either inerrancy or infallibility along the way. His argument probably needs to be read in its fullness rather than just the quotes I've cited!