By the Revd Dr Phillip Tolliday
I really enjoyed this article about the Word of God and Human Presumption. The words ‘Penned,’ and ‘Pinned’ function as the negative pole to the ‘Freedom of God’s Word to Speak,’ and the ‘Dialectic of the Canon,’ respectively. Although I appreciated these oppositional headings from a stylistic viewpoint I was left wondering whether the nature of the interaction was sometimes a bit stark. For example, the first opposition between ‘Scripture Penned vs. the Freedom of God’s Word to Speak,’ suggests a model of ‘penning?!’ that virtually equates with scribes taking dictation. Perhaps some do believe that’s the way things happened but others, such as Barth, take the ‘penned’ with all due seriousness. The Bible, he says, is ‘always there as a sign, as a human and temporal word—and therefore also as a word which is conditioned and limited.’(CD I/2, 507). At the same time he can write, as you point out, that the Bible becomes the Word of God as it is recollected and expected by us in faith. Given that these two emphases are found in Barth it seems to me unnecessary to opt for such a mechanical interpretation as divine dictation. I think you are right however, to point out a tension between the facticity of the text and the freedom of God’s Word. This has raised the suspicion of some evangelicals that Barth is far from being an ally to their interpretation of Biblical authority. Faced with an alternative between claiming that the Bible is the Word of God on the one hand, and the sovereignty and freedom of God on the other, we might consider the following from Barth. ‘That the Bible is the Word of God cannot mean that with other attributes the Bible has the attribute of being the Word of God. To say that would be to violate the Word of God which is God Himself – to violate the freedom and the sovereignty of God. God is not an attribute of something else, even if this something else is the Bible…The statement that the Bible is the Word of God cannot therefore say that the Word of God is tied to the Bible. On the contrary, what it must say is that the Bible is tied to the word of God.’(CD I/2, 513). All this is by way of suggesting that you can get a stimulating interaction between these two poles without opting for what might be seen as an overly naïve approach to Scripture.
In your second section ‘Scripture Pinned vs. the Dialectic of the Canon,’ I’m wholly in agreement with your claim about the ‘plain sense’ and ‘consensual reading’ in their singular form. Their singularity is, I think, their particularity to a place and time, but it cannot be justified as a singularity across all places and times. I have a question in terms of the canon: what is the relationship between the internal difference that legitimize diversity and the unity which legitimizes dialogue? It seems that you might incline toward diversity and if so, then can you explain what sets bounds for the diversity or ‘countervoices?’ I guess I’m asking whether you think the canon is flexible or fixed, and if flexible, then how pliable? To mis-apply some words from Hans Frei, ‘Does it stretch or will it break?’
Thanks Barb. It provides a lot of food for thought.