After a prolonged hiatus, the discussion of words and God’s Word continues. Apologies are due for the long delay in this discussion.
By its very length and place within a blog, this discussion cannot be exhaustive. To gain a more extensive understanding of Holy Writ as the Word of God, I suggest one dig out Augustine’s De doctrina Christiana. Paperback editions of accessible translations are available. I also highly recommend Kenneth Hagen’s Luther’s approach to scripture as seen in his “commentaries” on Galatians, 1519-1538, published by Mohr Siebeck, 1993. A preview of this gem can be accessed at Google Books. Sacra Scriptura by Hermann Sasse (edited by Friedrich Wilhelm Hopf, published by “Lutherische Blätter” in Hermannsburg) is also a joy to digest. What follows is not a scholarly exposition, but an encouragement to reflect and discuss a crucial issue in the life of the Church today (as it has always been).
Whether Holy Writ is the Word of God should not be up for grabs among those called to be servants of the Word. Unfortunately, subtle forms of gnosticism and rationalism nibble away at the authority of Holy Writ. Authority is moved from Holy Scripture to a principle which is crafted to make the reader or expositor the arbiter of to what degree Holy Scripture is true, is God’s Word, is authoritative. Often familiar Scriptural insights are transformed into means of undermining the authority of the written Word. When the witness of Holy Writ to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word of God is gnosticized, what is left of it resembles more the Bible of Marcion or the tattered remains of the Bible after Thomas Jefferson got done with it. The tautological trap of this approach is not always evident to the unwary. If, for example, the Holy Trinity is deemed a construct of the Church rather than as a faithful expression of the witness of Holy Writ, all Trinitarian references and allusions are excised or dismissed as later additions. This approach to Scripture has been mainstreamed since Adolf von Harnack (who, incidentally, was a fan of Marcion). Consequently, we no longer listen to Scripture, but to the “experts” who provide the key to understanding Scripture. Expert opinions are eerily analogous to the passwords given the initiated in the gnostic mythological systems. The special knowledge of the experts allows them to change, reject, ignore, warp, or deny the witness of Holy Writ. The new gnostics are very slippery. If they do not take the plunge into open apostacy with Spong and Crossan, they are likely to protest that they are faithful to the biblical witness and even claim that they are more biblical or literal than the orthodox Lutherans who call the apostatic (not apostolic!) revisions into question. In the end, it comes down (as it often does) to prepositions. It is a question of where the servant of the Word stands. Apo, hyper, or hypo the Word of God.
About a year ago, an acquaintance of mine, Georg Gremels (who is presently a professor at the mission seminary in Hermannsburg), spoke to an assembly of SELK pastors in southern Germany. He noted that in order to understand God’s Word, one has to stand under the Word of God. That is a very short, simple statement. It seems obvious. Yet it runs counter not only to the stance of revisionist, but also to the stance of fundamentalists. The revisionist has the neo-gnostic passwords with which to unlock Scripture. The fundamentalist sets about through to make sense of Scripture, in effect lording it over Scripture while appealing to its authority. This becomes evident in questions regarding the Lord’s Supper, where an inherent rationalism functions much like the gnostic experts in reshaping what Scripture clearly says). Scripture serves as a quarry for gnostics and rationalists who pick and choose and shape and chip at the rocks out of which they build their edifices. They in effect become masters of the Word (or so they think). The Lutheran servant of the Word understands that only under the Word of God does he remain a servant. It is not always pleasant to stand under the Word which comes down like a hammer on one’s pet ideas, fancies, or delusions. It is, however, only under the Word, that God imprints His image, the image of the Crucified, on His servant. It is the servant who has thus been stamped, hammered, chiseled and shaped who then proclaims Christ crucified rather than talking about him. The hammered servant does not offer what people’s ears itch for, but becomes himself a hammer who brings God’s Word to bear on people’s lives so that they too will have the Crucified imprinted, impressed, engraved on their hearts, minds, and lives. The servant of the Word does not snip and cut and paste and shred the Word, but submits to the Word which is sharper than any two-edged sword.
When we look at our proclamation, we perhaps do well to do some rethinking and readjusting of how we prepare to preach. I confess that all to often I have by force of bad habit approached a text from Scripture with the wrong attitude or stance. When we begin our preparations by asking, “What am I going to say about this text?” we have neglected the more foundational question, “What does this text say?” or even more personally, “What does this text say about me?” Standing under the Word leads to a different proclamation than standing over or poring over the Word does. Who is the agent of shaping the sermon? The preacher who offers up his hard earned insights? Or God whose Word has hammered and shaped the preacher and the sermon so that the proclamation is the Word of God, not a word about God? We don’t need to burn our commentaries or jettison other aids for preparation. We do need, however, to take stock of where we stand.
If we need to be labeled, may the label accurately define where we stand: under the Word of God. How does hypologian sound? A good theologian would be a good hypologian.