Tilling the Soil for Spring

While I work on writing a novel, I am also gearing up for a project more people would recognize as coming out of my academic background. Over the years I have had various thoughts about the nature of Scripture, about its multiple senses, and about its role in Christian life, and now and then someone tells me, “Hey, that’s really helpful!” When these people are theologians and biblical scholars themselves, it tells me that my ideas are either old enough or new enough to be worth writing out. So my project is simply to lay out the various dots that have occurred to me and see if I can connect them.

Right now I am reading Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation, by Telford Work, a Pentecostal theologian who is himself living and active at Westmont College.  (Work also authored the Brazos Theological Commentary on Deuteronomy.)  Years ago, my then-colleague Gregory Vall told me that Work had “really nailed it,” so I bought the book and planned to read it. But because the print is slightly small, and because my ability to read even slightly small print has vanished with time, it never happened. But as I revved up for this work I discovered that the book is available for Kindle! So I’m a bit more than half way through.

In some places it is the closest thing I have found to my own thought. In other places, Work’s work (couldn’t resist) feels a bit forced. What I finally realized is that his entire dissertation was a kind of brainstorming project: What would happen if I thought stage by stage through salvation history, related each era to as many theological doctrines as possible, and then related all those to Scripture? Like many brainstorming projects, the result is brilliant and flat by turns, but the ups far outnumber the downs. It is certainly the most theological, as in God-centered, account of Scripture that one is likely to find.

This passage stood out to me as a Catholic:

Attending to Mariology saves bibliology from a host of errors. It respects the role of prophets and apostles as logotokoi, “Word-bearers” whose human bodies introduce God’s eternal Word into the world in human language. By highlighting this real unity of divine Word and human words in the prophets’ Spirit-conceived speech-acts, it explains how they can truly be prophets and apostles. Mariology’s emphasis on God’s prior initiative highlights God’s sovereign election and sanctification of the speaker as well as the speech, accounting for the privilege of those who speak on God’s behalf…. The Bible is only God’s true story if God is its ultimate author.

….Yet at the same time, Mariology deeply honors the full humanity of biblical speech on account of the full humanity of all who bear it. [Mary’s] agency in the Son’s arrival is both an event that could not have come from her initiative alone, and one that needs and receives her cooperation.

….In this way a truly Marian analogy for inspiration leads the reader of 2 Peter 1:20-21 away from the textual Docetism (cf. Luke 2:52, “and Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature”) and monotheletism (again, cf. Luke 1:38) of crude verbal-dictation theories (what Fackre calls “oracular” accounts of inspiration).

In the next paragraph, Work flashes his Pentecostal membership card by asserting Mary’s sinfulness and drawing some conclusions from that premise. I think one can get the conclusions he wants just as easily without claiming that Mary sinned in her own life, but working through that might be a topic for another post.

Just now I am getting into what for my project is the most exciting part, namely the relationship between Scripture and Church. Given his very different ecclesial background, I’ll have to see whether he ends up so far from my own confession as to be only slightly helpful or whether the early, very promising premises will prove illuminating for my own (lower case) work.

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Author: Dr. Holmes

Dr. Jeremy Holmes teaches Theology at Wyoming Catholic College. He lives in Wyoming with his wife, Jacinta, and their eight children.

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