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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Thursday, August 20, 2009

God's Word As Dynamically Vital, by Carl F.H. Henry

[The following is an excerpt from Carl F.H. Henry's article in volume one of The Expositor's Bible Commentary, electronic edition, 1997. Henry's remarks concerning modernist attempts to relativize the absolute doctrines of God's moral law and God's absolute holiness are in tandem with the earlier posts I made from the late Dr. David Broughton Knox' book, Thirty-Nine Articles: The Historic Basis of Anglican Faith.]


The Authority and Inspiration of the Bible


Carl F.H. Henry


A.B., A.M., Wheaton College; B.D., Th.D., Northern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ph.D., Boston University, Litt.D., Seattle Pacific College; Litt.D., Wheaton College; L.H.D., Houghton College


B. God's Word As Dynamically Vital


. . . On the surface of it, to speak of the Bible as divinely authoritative may seem--and some modernist critics have formulated this as a theological objection--to elevate a second authority alongside that of God himself, or alongside Jesus Christ as Head of the church, or alongside the Spirit as the Giver of life. But does the Protestant principle sola scriptura really elevate a historical phenomenon to the level of divine majesty, ascribing too little to the living God because it ascribes too much to the Bible? Does it confer godlike worth in a subtle or sinister way on a human book with its human phrasing and vocabulary, thus putting it in devilish antithesis to the authentically divine and thereby affirming what must be devoutly resisted in the name of God, Christ, Spirit, revelation, and (some would even say) of the prophets and apostles themselves? Are the modern theological motivations for relativizing the Bible really nourished by a determination to preserve or protect the uncompromised absoluteness of God? Or does not the assault on an absolute Word or Bible and on an absolute God rather go hand in hand? Does not the substitution of exotic theological notions for the authoritative doctrine of Scripture involve the denial to God of one or another of the priorities that are rightfully and biblically his?


How remarkable it is that Scripture itself--not modern religionists--precisely and most forcefully reminds us of the uncompromisable priority and sovereignty and authority of God. How else in fact has the West--or for that matter, mankind anywhere--come to affirm the irreducible absoluteness of God except through the seemingly "absolutized" witness of Holy Scripture?


What is really at issue in the Protestant principle is not the absolutizing or "divinizing" of the relative--whether of human beings, or of holy men, or of human words at their profoundest, or of human thought at its purest. Rather, it is a matter solely of God speaking in his Word, supernaturally to and through chosen men, making his thoughts and message known to those who must otherwise have been strangers to them. The struggle against the authority of the Bible is therefore inseparable from the struggle against divine authority, even as the struggle for the authority of the Bible is a struggle for transcendent authority and against any transcendent authority higher than God. Indeed there would be no special revelation for us at all had not God chosen prophets and apostles and charged them to transmit his Word in the form not only of oral proclamation but of letter and book. The rejection of the authority of revelation in the concrete form and content of Scripture therefore works against spirit and life rather than fostering them, as critics of the evangelical principle contend.


From his insistence that "authority in the absolute sense resides in the truth alone, or, in religious language, in the mind and will of God," C.H. Dodd proceeds to circumvent any self-subsistent external authority given in objective form, whether that form is the Scriptures or the teaching of Jesus. The Bible "becomes" God's Word as man's spirit is moved to respond subjectively "to the Spirit that utters itself in the Scriptures." [1] But one can hardly consider Dodd's own declaration "an entirely non-dogmatic statement which anyone might accept as a starting-point" (words with which he dismisses an alternative view) [2] when he states that the Spirit exists and sporadically "utters itself." Indeed, Dodd concedes the circularity of his exposition of divine authority: "We look to the Bible for guidance toward religious truth; we recognize this truth by reference to our own religious standards." [3]


Dodd's emphasis that the Spirit's witness centers in "a unity of experience in which 'subjective' and 'objective' are one" [4] is not as far removed as some may think from the more recent "new morality," which affirms that love possesses a homing instinct for doing the right thing in the absence of objectively revealed principles. And situation ethics, in turn, offers no persuasive alternative to the notion of radical secularity that man himself defines the true and the good and postulates whatever gods or values express his individual distinctiveness. That is surely not what Dodd intends. But, speak as he will of biblical authority, his view of Scripture--reverently as he may handle it on many occasions--compels him finally to bracket the word "authority" when he speaks of the Bible [5] and to regard Scripture not as "the last word" but only as "the 'seminal word' out of which fresh apprehension of truth springs in the mind of man." [6] So what began as a defense of absolute truth in the mind of God alone [7] concludes without any objectively uttered and authoritatively apprehended Word of God.


There is, to be sure, but one absolute priority: the sovereign Creator and Lord of all. In principle, the evangelical believer acknowledges no ultimate authority but the authority of the living God--authoritative even above human reasoning, scientific and theological opinion, ecclesiastical tradition, cultural consensus, empirical observation, and all else. No book emphasizes as does the Bible that God is the true source and seat of authority. When he speaks of God as supreme authority, the Christian means that he acknowledges as final only the authority of the living God, who has become incarnate in Jesus Christ, man's only Savior and Lord. More specifically, the evangelical believer acknowledges the supreme authority solely of the living God, embodied in Jesus Christ, whom no man can confess as Lord except by the Holy Spirit, the divine communicator and superintendent of the prophetic-apostolic writings (John 14:26; 2 Tim 3:16). The affirmation of the authority of Scripture represents a determination not to seek the Word of God elsewhere than in the Spirit-inspired, Christ-pledged, and God-intended source of the revelational Word. Although he did not apply the principle elsewhere as fully as he might have and ought to have, Barth was quite right when he asserted that "Holy Scripture is the Word of God for the Church, that it is Jesus Christ for us ... "[8] The primitive NT churches possessed the words of Jesus only as an apostolically given word. Jesus had in fact entrusted to chosen men guided by the Spirit the whole task of interpreting the salient features of his life, teaching, and work (John 14:26). The apostles imposed their inspired writings on the early Christians not as their own word but as God's: "We also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God ... " (1 Thess 2:13).


Footnotes


[1] C.H. Dodd, The Authority of the Bible (London: Nisbet, 1952), pp. 289-90, 296-97.

[2] Ibid., p. 293.

[3] Ibid., p. 297, n. 1.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p 299.

[6] Ibid, p. 300.

[7] Ibid., p. 289.

[8] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (New York: Scribner, 1956), 1/2, p. 544).



The Tenth Sunday after Trinity.
The Collect.
LET thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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