Ex humano templo loquitur: the eloquent god and Holy Scripture in the theology of John Webster
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date29/06/2021
Brash, Richard Fraser
This thesis explores John Webster’s doctrine of Scripture in context. The contexts considered relate, first, to Webster himself in his personal, ecclesial, and institutional settings. Second, Webster’s theological project is approached in the setting of the western theological academy, and is characterised as a response to the perceived problems of modernity by means of a retrieval of premodern theological resources, articulated in and for a postmodern context. Third, Webster’s doctrine of Scripture is situated in the context of his theological architectonics, with special attention payed to his articulation of the relationship between God and creatures, and the idea of revelation. These issues are treated diachronically, with a particular focus on the shift from a basically Barthian paradigm, to one significantly influenced by Aquinas and other scholastic theologians. An heuristic distinction between an “earlier” and a “later” Webster is introduced and defended as a hermeneutical key to appreciating the changes in his constructive work. To summarise the findings of the first four chapters, John Webster’s doctrine of Scripture is a (theo)logical development from his theology proper, his wider concept of the God-world relation, and in particular his understanding of the interplay between divine and human agencies in the work of creating, saving, and perfecting creatures in the economy of grace. Together, these elements form the architectonic theological structure within which Webster’s doctrine of Scripture takes both its form and its material content. At the heart of this structure, it will be argued, is the Trinitarian concept of “revelation,”which for Webster is shorthand for the saving presence of the eternal God to human creatures in the temporal/historical missions of the Son and the Spirit. Considered absolutely, this divine, saving presence is the immediate self-presentation of God in his turn to creatures, communicated to creatures by a work of divine grace. It can not therefore be equated with Holy Scripture. Scripture is, then, the divinely appointed, human-but-holy, ultimate, and instrumental witness to revelation, by means of which “accommodated” instrument God executes his rule over the church (proximately) and the world (ultimately). Webster’s doctrine of Scripture therefore does not stand or fall in isolation: it may only be truly understood, appreciated, and evaluated, as part of a greater whole. The central critical question arising from Webster’s bibliology is: What is the relationship between the divine Word and the human words of Scripture? In the last two chapters, a further, more critical, thesis will be articulated in respect of this question, namely that Webster’s doctrine of Scripture suffers from the lack of a truly Trinitarian, organic, and analogical understanding of the relationship between divine and human “speech,” and a viable concept of general revelation. Acknowledging the validity of some recent criticisms of Webster’s work, a range of sources from the Reformed tradition will be brought to bear, in an attempt to reframe these aspects of his doctrine and overcome more successfully the dualisms that Webster himself opposed.