by John M. Frame
A Review Article
[This article was published originally in Westminster Theological Journal 39:2 (Spring, 1977), 328-353. Used by Permission.]
Although the authority of Scripture has been one of the chief preoccupations of twentieth-century theology, it is surprising that there has been so little genuine progress in understanding the subject. On the conservative side, following the Warfield corpus, I count only Meredith G. Kline’s The Structure of Biblical Authority, Cornelius Van Til’s A Christian Theory of Knowledge, and possibly Herman Ridderbos’The Authority of the New Testament Scriptures as providing significant new light on biblical authority.1 The more fashionable theological schools have produced, on the whole, more sophisticated studies than the orthodox, and the seminal works of Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann, Gerhard Ebeling, Austin Farrer, Paul Tillich, and others must be praised at least for raising important issues. Most liberal theology, however, like most orthodox theology, merely echoes a few paradigmatic treatments; and even the leading thinkers in the academic theological mainstream have often been bogged down in the tiresome business of reconstructing the historic doctrine to make it agree with modern science and/or philosophy. This accommodationism not only produces doctrines of Scripture devoid of all relevant offensiveness, Christian distinctiveness, and practical impact; it also sidetracks these theologians from the really useful task of thinking through what is at issue in controversies over Scripture.
There is promise, however, of better things to come. The challenge
* David H. Kelsey: The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975. ix, 227. $11.95.
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of analytic philosophy has, since the late 1950’s, caused theology itself to become more analytic, more interested in clarifying issues, less satisfied with merely advocating positions. On the question of biblical authority, the work of James Barr, Langdon Gilkey, F. Gerald Downing, and others in the early 1960’s has pioneered in implementing this sort of concern, and others have followed since that time. In the last ten years, several important contributions of this sort have emanated from Yale Divinity School, specifically from Professors Brevard Childs, Hans W. Frei, and Paul L. Holmer.
David H. Kelsey, the author of the work before us, is also a professor at Yale and an analytically-minded theologian, but he very nearly transcends the young tradition of which he is a part. In shedding fresh light on the subject of biblical authority, his book is the most helpful volume of the group and possibly the most significant writing on the subject since Warfield.
The kind of work Kelsey does precludes him from easily achieving the sort of popular fame which attaches to some theologians; yet, he has become a most important figure in the theological field and ought to be recognized as such, at least by those fellow-scholars who have done some thinking about tile issues with which be deals. His first book, The Fabric of Paul Tillich’s Theology, is in my view the best introduction to Tillich’s thought and one of the most accurate and incisive critiques of it. The volume here under review, an expansion of his article “Appeals to Scripture in Theology” (Journal of Religion, 48 , 1–21), discusses biblical authority from an entirely new angle, using important new analytical tools, new categories (unfortunately, but perhaps necessarily, producing a new jargon), making significant new suggestions. Although the book is open to serious criticisms, anyone concerned in a scholarly way with tile question of biblical authority must do some hard thinking about it. Therefore, the book merits a “major review.”2
The freshness of Kelsey’s approach derives largely from the fact
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that he is concerned, not with what theologians have said about biblical authority (their “doctrines of Scripture”), but rather with how they actually use Scripture to “authorize” their theological proposals (pp. 2, 3, 4, 152, 210). As far as I know, except for Kelsey’s earlier article, this is the first time such an approach has ever been attempted. The inquiry raises an immensely broad range of new questions and topics for discussion. Kelsey wisely restricts the scope of the present book; he does not attempt to survey all the theological uses of Scripture, but simply to examine several different kinds of use and to discuss certain significant questions about them (p. 4).
We shall discuss the following theses, which summarize the argument of the book: ( I ) that it is useful and in some respects necessary to consider these issues from a “theological position neutral” standpoint; (2) that the theological uses of Scripture are far more diverse than is usually supposed; (3) that one’s use of Scripture is logically dependent upon his conception of Christianity and vice-versa; (4) that “authority” refers to functions which Scripture performs in the church; (5) that Scripture performs its functions only when God himself enables it to do so; and (6) that theologians ought to and do decide How to use Scripture on the basis of an “imaginative construal” of Scripture and of Christianity as a whole.
1. Theological Position Neutrality
Kelsey wishes to study theologians’ uses of Scripture without theological bias. He does not wish to favor one doctrine (or use) of Scripture above another (p. 2), and he even denies that he makes any historical, exegetical, or theological claims (p. 9). He calls tile book an essay “about theologies” (p. 9). Some might describe it as “ meta-theology” or “prolegomena,” but Kelsey himself does not. Even these terms, however, do not adequately connote the sort of neutrality to which Kelsey aspires; for they might be understood as involving an argument for a particular “theological method.” Kelsey denies any such purpose: the book “is a study of theologians’ methods, not an exercise in ‘theological methodology’ “ (p. 7). Does he wish, we might ask, to make any proposals at all, to commit himself on any question ? Indeed; but be insists that his proposals are “purely formal” (p. 194), and he even concludes his essay by drawing “ purely formal morals” (p. 207).
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It is hard to imagine anyone being so enthusiastic about formality! Why? There are, I gather, three reasons: First, Kelsey believes that such neutrality is virtually necessary for a fair representation of the different viewpoints and approaches under discussion (pp. 2, 8, 191, 195). Second, he wishes to develop a theory which is generally applicable (pp. 191, 209f.), meaning, apparently, a theory which could not be objected to on any theological grounds whatever. Third, he wishes to avoid begging questions about the proper use of Scripture and about the nature of theology and Christianity (pp. 8, 194).
As far as I can tell, Kelsey never asks in the book whether such neutrality is possible. This question is controversial enough in contemporary theology and crucial enough for Kelsey’s argument to have deserved some explicit consideration. Yet, ironically, that question is, precisely, “begged.
The general argument against the possibility of such neutrality is available in such diverse sources as Van Til, Barth, and Kuhn. The office of the book reviewer, however, warrants a more ad hominemapproach. Whether or not neutrality is possible, Kelsey has not achieved it; for he begs a number of theological questions in addition to the question about neutrality itself. Theological judgments abound in the book. Kelsey’s critiques of significant theological arguments are among the book’s most interesting and useful features. Some of these, to be sure, do not violate the book’s basic neutrality, for Kelsey argues in some cases that even if the critique fails, his basic meta-theological argument can be sustained (pp. 29, 209ff.). In these cases, then. the meta-theological point does not prejudice the particular theological issue in view, nor vice versa. But there are other cases where the claim to neutrality is open to more serious challenge, particularly those cases where Kelsey charges theologians themselves with inadequate neutrality. He argues, for instance, that ,’most doctrines about ‘the authority of Scripture’ are very misleading about the sense in which Scripture is ‘authority’ precisely for theology” (p. 2). This sort of criticism would be telling if the theologians in question were engaged in the same task as Kelsey, the analysis of how theologians actually use Scripture, and were producing analyses distorted by theological bias. But theologians other than Kelsey have never engaged in this sort of task before, to my knowledge, and they certainly do not engage in it when they are formulating “doctrines about the ‘authority of Scripture’.” Instead, such doctrines attempt to show how Scripture ought to be used in
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theology, regardless of how this or that theologian actually uses it, and it is difficult to see how such a doctrine could be challenged by a “theological position neutral” analysis without that analysis abandoning its neutrality. (For further examples of this problem, see discussions beginning on pp. 152, 191, 209.)
Even if unacceptable, it is understandable that Kelsey would advocate neutrality for a meta-theological analysis; but why does he want to require the same neutrality of theologians ? How can theology itself be “theological position neutral” ? Clearly it cannot be, nor can Kelsey himself be neutral insofar as he takes positions on theological doctrines. There are no “purely formal morals for doctrines about Scripture.” The only morals for doctrines are doctrinal morals. The problem is that Kelsey wants to have it both ways: he wants not only to maintain a neutral stance, but also to make an impact upon doctrinal discussion. He wants to criticize theologies, but he refuses at the outset to allow the relevance of theological criticisms against his own work (p. 9). Such a double standard is inadmissible. If Kelsey has the right to charge the doctrines of Scripture with being misleading, then a theologian has an equal right to argue, for example, that Kelsey is demanding consideration for certain “uses” of Scripture which are theologically illegitimate uses, thus misuses. We cannot credit Kelsey, therefore, with having achieved the neutrality he seeks; moreover, we find it difficult to imagine how one ever could achieve such neutrality on an issue of such theological import.
Nor is it evident that neutrality is really necessary to accomplish the task. Regarding the three reasons listed earlier: First, it is not necessarily the case that fairness in analysis demands neutrality. Kelsey himself claims only that a non-neutral approach runs a “risk” of being unfair. I would concede that theologians often distort one another’s positions in order to make theological points, and Kelsey is right in urging us to guard against that danger. However, a perfectly “neutral” approach, were it possible, would certainly distort the positions under analysis by failing to bring to bear on those positions the relevant theological judgments.
Second, it is not evident that any analysis can be “generally applicable” in Kelsey’s sense. It is legitimate and useful, of course, to attempt an analysis which will deal adequately both with good and with bad uses of Scripture. Nor can there be any objection to categories which express features common to both kinds of use. In these senses. an analysis of the uses of Scripture in theology may be, and
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sometimes ought to be, “generally applicable.” But it is neither desirable nor possible to produce an analysis “generally applicable” in the sense of “unobjectionable on any theological position.” Again, if Kelsey wants to object to theologies, he must allow them to object to him.
Third, as we have seen, it is not as easy as Kelsey thinks to avoid “begging questions.” In my view, to avoid begging theological questions entirely, one would have to refrain from all value-judgments and even from description ! But clearly there is no need to carry on this study with a theological tabula rasa . One may, or ought to, postpone certain questions until after he has dealt with others. But to postpone all theological questions until one has dealt with matters under “neutral analysis” is unnecessary, impossible, and prejudicial. If the authority of Scripture is comprehensive—if it must be heard on all matters of human faith and life—then it must be heard even in the analysis of theological uses of Scripture; and that imperative puts an end to neutrality in this realm. In this sense, meta-theology of all sorts must be part of, or at least subject to, theology. No doubt theology must also take account of the facts of contemporary life, including the way theologians use the Bible. Thus there is surely a legitimate reciprocity between theology in the traditional sense and the sort of analysis Kelsey proposes—reciprocity, but not neutrality. If scriptural authority is not “comprehensive” in the above sense, then neutrality becomes religiously and methodologically, if not psychologically, possible. But to deny the comprehensiveness of Scripture’s authority at the outset, is that not itself “prejudicial”?
2. The Diversity of the Theological Uses of Scripture
It was a serious mistake for Kelsey to attempt and claim neutrality; yet, that mistake did not prevent him from making some important observations about the uses of Scripture in theology. To that positive analysis we must now turn. Kelsey argues that are much more numerous and diverse than generally thought. To establish this point, he presents “case studies,” analysing certain selected uses of Scripture by seven theologians (B. B. Warfield, Hans-Werner Bartsch, G. Ernest Wright, Karl Barth, Lionel Thornton, Paul Tillich, and Rudolf Bultmann). In regard to each case, he poses the following “diagnostic questions”: “ (1) What aspect (s) of scripture is (are) taken to be authoritative ?
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(2) What is it about this aspect of Scripture that makes it authoritative ? (3) What sort of logical force is ascribed to the scripture to which appeal is made? (4) How is the scripture that is cited brought to bear on theological proposals so as to authorize them ?” (pp. 2, 3)3 He finds that the cases studied present a wide variety of answers to the questions and thus reveal substantial diversities in the theological uses of Scripture. For various reasons, I shall postpone consideration of question (2) to a later point in the review, discuss (1), (3), and (4) here, and also consider a fifth question which Kelsey treats in a different section of the book, namely, What uses of the cited scriptures in the church are being advocated by the theologians considered? (pp. 147ff.).
(a) Diversities in authoritative aspects. Kelsey argues, first, that there is a diversity in the aspects of Scripture taken to be authoritative. For Warfield, he argues, it is doctrinal content that is authoritative (p. 21 ) ; for Bartsch, the authoritative aspect is “biblical concepts” (p. 26) ; for Wright and Barth, “narrative” (pp. 32ff.) ; for Thornton, Tillich, and Bultmann, “images,” “symbols,” and “ myths” respectively (p. 56). These correlations, Kelsey reminds us, pertain only to the particular cases studied and do not constitute analyses of any theologian’s position taken as a whole. For example, it would clearly be unfair to say that for Bultmann all revelation is mythical in character or that for Warfield revelation is exclusively propositional.4
Here and elsewhere Kelsey is a bit inclined, I think, to exaggerate diversities. Clearly, for instance, one who appeals to biblical “doctrines” will not be able to do so without at the same time making
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appeal to biblical concepts and narratives. Kelsey’s analysis of Warfield shows just that. In formulating the “doctrine” of Scripture, Warfield appeals to biblical concepts (theopneustos, pherein) and to biblical narrative (John 10). Kelsey’s suggestion that Warfield appeals to “eternal truths” (p. 100) (as opposed to what?—truths about historical events ?) strikes me as entirely gratuitous. Warfield does appeal to doctrine, but in doing so appeals to many aspects of Scripture. The case is somewhat more convincing in regard to the other theologians, but even in those instances I think Kelsey would have been better advised to state his point as a difference in emphasis rather than as a radical difference in approach.
Nevertheless, the basic point is sound. There is a difference between appealing to doctrine and appealing to concepts. Even though the latter is generally involved in the former and vice versa, one may appeal to concepts as an alternative to doctrine (possibly, as James Barr has argued, out of distaste for “propositional revelation”). The same holds for the other categories. These differences, furthermore, are important. When two theologians appeal to the same scripture passage to support opposing theological positions, diversities of this sort may sometimes underlie the confusion. One theologian may be appealing, for example, to the doctrinal teaching of the passage, another to its juxtapositions of symbols. Even those who, like this reviewer, wish to take all aspects of Scripture as authoritative must do further thinking about how the different aspects ought to function in theological discussion. For they do function “differently.”
(b) Diversities in logical force. Furthermore, argues Kelsey, there are differences in the ways theologians interpret the aspects of Scripture to which they appeal. Two theologians who agree in appealing to thenarrative aspects of Scripture (Kelsey’s examples are Wright and Barth) may nevertheless disagree on how that narrative is to be “construed.” Wright, according to Kelsey, takes biblical narrative as description of a segment of world history from which redemptive truths may be inferred. Barth, however, takes the narrative as a story describing an agent (Jesus Christ) (p. 50). And although Thornton, Bultmann, and Tillich agree in appealing to “non-informative force as expression” (p. 85)5, they disagree in their
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“ construals” of that expressive symbolism, Thornton taking it to symbolize cosmic processes, Bultmann radically private, inward subjective transformations, and Tillich a subtle mixture of both (pp. 83ff.). Again, these differences are important, and they do indicate significantly different ways in which Scripture may be appealed to as “authority.”
(c) Diversities in mode of authorization. Even if two theologians agree in citing the same “aspect” of Scripture and in “construing” that aspect in the same way, they may still differ in the way they use that Scripture in a theological argument, in the way they use that Scripture to “authorize” a theological conclusion. Here Kelsey employs a schematism borrowed from Stephen Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument which distinguishes various types of propositions used in arguments and the functions played by each type in the establishment of a conclusion. In this schematism, an argument consists of a conclusion (C) derived from various data (D). The move from D to C is justified by a warrant (W) which, in turn, is justified (if justification is needed) by backing (B). The conclusion may have various qualifiers (Q) attached (“presumably,” “possibly,” “probably,” etc.) and may be left open to rebuttal if certain “conditions of rebuttal” (R) are established—Kelsey argues (i) that Scripture may function in theological argument6 as D, W, B, Q, R or C or in various combinations of these ways; (ii) that extra-scriptural propositions are also frequently found at each of these points in the argument, though it is logically possible for an argument to consist entirely of scriptural references (145) ; (iii) that within a single argument, therefore, there are many possible combinations of scriptural and
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extra-scriptural premises; (iv) that even the “scriptural premises” in an argument may be of many sorts-direct quotations, generalizations about patterns of Scriptural material construed in different ways (above, a, b), etc.
(d) Diversities in church function. Kelsey regards tile theological use of Scripture as one phase of the general use of Scripture in the church. The theological use, therefore, reflects the diversities found in the more general uses. In the church, (i) Scripture is seen as having various functions, asserting (doctrines), proposing (concepts). rendering (an agent), expressing (redemptive events in symbols), occasioning (new redemptive events in the present) (p. 147; see 2a, A above) ; (ii) these functions solicit different sorts of responses from their bearers (belief, decision, worship, etc.) (pp. 148) ; (iii) the functions are open to different sorts of assessment (logical consistency, factuality, felicity in expression, etc.) (1). 148) ; (iv) Scripture in its various functions serves as authority over diverse sorts of phenomena (theological formulations, belief, inner subjectivity, etc.) (pp. 148ff.).
(e) Conclusions regarding the diversities. Evidently, then, “authorizing a theological proposal on the basis of Scripture” may refer to a great many different sorts of argument. From this diversity, Kelsey draws two more specific conclusions. First, he argues that Scripture is generally brought to bear on theological proposals “indirectly rather than directly” (p. 139). Of the many sorts of possible arguments, lie recognizes only two as “directly” authorizing the conclusion by Scripture: when the W is a Scripture quotation, and when the D are Scripture quotations and the W self-evident (p. 140). Only in these two cases does Kelsey find it appropriate to speak metaphorically of the theological conclusion as a “translation” of Scripture (pp. 122, 143, elsewhere). In other cases, Kelsey finds the metaphor inappropriate because (i) in those cases, one is not simply conveying biblical concepts in different words as a translation would do, but one is redescribing the biblical subject-matter in different concepts (187ff.) ; (ii) in those cases, the use of the translation metaphor begs the question of whether the text has contemporary meaning (p. 190) ; (iii) where scripture is indirectly used to establish a conclusion, the translation metaphor misleadingly suggests a direct use (p. 190f.).
Kelsey’s concept of “directness” is not entirely clear. Notice that it depends heavily on the notion of Scriptural “quotation” as opposed
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to general claims about biblical teaching. But quotation from what? The original manuscripts, which are now lost? Modern critical editions of the original language texts? English translations? Paraphrases? If the first of these is required, then there is no “direct” use of Scripture after all. But if other possibilities are admitted, then the “direct” use of Scripture may involve appeal to texts and/or versions which are in part the product of much sophisticated linguistic, historical, and theological research. And if appeal to such sources constitutes “direct” use of Scripture, why should we then exclude appeal to theological generalizations about scriptural teaching—generalizations which presuppose no more (and often legs) extra-scriptural reasoning than do translations and textual editions? Furthermore, Kelsey accepts certain arguments of Warfield and Bartsch as constituting “direct” uses of Scripture (pp. 23-28) : but on Kelsey’s own account, neither of these men bases any conclusions simply upon isolated Scripture quotations. Both appeal to “patterns”—of doctrinal teaching in Warfield’s case (p. 23), and of biblical concepts in the case of Bartsch (pp. 27ff.). If, then, it is possible to draw a sharp line between “indirect” and “direct” uses of Scripture in theology, Kelsey has not succeeded in drawing it. This failure in turn raises questions about his critique of the “translation” metaphor. His argument (iii) (above) assumes the sharp distinction which he has failed to establish. Argument (ii) assumes the necessity of “theological position neutrality” (again, even for theology!) which we rejected in section 1 of the review. Argument (i) betrays (as does Kelsey’s direct/indirect distinction) a somewhat naive conception of what translation is all about. If someone translated “white as snow” into the phrase “white as the swan” (for a culture which has no knowledge of snow), has he conveyed the same concept in different words, or has he redescribed the subject matter using different concepts? Again, it would seem that no sharp lines can be drawn. Translation, like theology, is a highly sophisticated business, presupposing not only knowledge of the words in the original language, but also much knowledge of the linguistic background of those words, their uses in other literature, the uses of such words in the original culture, the linguistic equipment of the “target-language,” the culture and history of the speakers of that language, etc. Where Scripture is concerned, there can be no sharp line drawn between “translating” on the one hand and “teaching,” “applying to the cultural situation,” or “theologizing” on the other, which suggests that
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‘translation,” in all its diversity, may be a more appropriate metaphor for theologizing than Kelsey supposes. Had he been as aware of the diversity of factors in the translation process as he is of the diversities in theology, lie would have recognized that.
Nevertheless, Kelsey has provided a valuable service in showing hat theology is generally much more than the metaphor “translation” suggests, when that metaphor is viewed naively. Theology is merely a restatement of Scripture into fresh terminology. As Kelsey puts it, theology is “practical,” “critical,” “reformist” (p. 159), a means of applying Scripture to the concrete needs of church and society. And, of course, even on the broadest interpretation, “translation” can only be a metaphor; for theology may, and must range far beyond the language of Scripture in performing its task, far beyond any formulation that would be acceptable as a “translation.” Although there are no sharp lines, there are enormous differences of degree.
Kelsey’s second conclusion from the diversities in the theological uses of Scripture is that it is “meaningless” to contrast authorization of a conclusion by Scripture with authorization by something other than Scripture (pp. 135, 145). All arguments in which Scripture s used “indirectly,” Kelsey argues, employ extra-scriptural material at some significant point. Can we say that an argument using Scripture as D and, for example, ontological analysis as B is “more scriptural” than one which uses, for example, historical research as D and Scripture as B ?
Kelsey’s point here is also somewhat overstated; but it is most important when pared down to size. For one thing, there is clearly a difference between arguments which use Scripture and arguments which make no use of Scripture at all. Now B-propositions (“backing”) function to justify warrants (W). One who offers ontological analysis as B (Tillich is Kelsey’s example, p. 132) is essentially presenting a non-scriptural argument for a warrant, unless he justifies the ontology, in turn, with an argument employing Scripture. If the passage from B to W may be viewed as a distinct argument (and there is no reason why it cannot be), then there is a significant sense in which we may describe it as a non-scriptural argument. And clearly these abound in theological writing. They may be inevitable, but it is not meaningless to distinguish them. For another thing, although we reject Kelsey’s sharp distinction between “direct” and “indirect” uses of Scripture, we cannot deny that some uses are
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“more direct” than others. And it is not meaningless to point out that in some theologies the appeal to Scripture is very indirect indeed !
Despite these qualifications, however, Kelsey’s basic point still stands: Most theological arguments employ both scriptural and extra-scriptural premises, and those which employ scriptural premises use them in widely different ways. If theology is “application” rather than “translation” in some narrow sense, this is what we would expect. If theology must bring Scripture to bear on the world. then it must speak of the world. Clearly we may not condemn an argument as “unscriptural” merely because it makes use of extra-scriptural premises. Whatever sola scriptura may mean, it does not require the exclusive use of scripture references in arguments.7 Even translation, as we have seen, presupposes extra-scriptural knowledge. In general, none of us is able to understand the “meaning” of any Scripture text without some such knowledge (the structure of English, for example). Thus caution is needed in evaluating whether or to what degree or in what way the conclusion of a theological argument is “based on Scripture.” We must be more aware of the variety of ways in which Scripture can be used in argument; and to this end nothing is more helpful than Kelsey’s analysis.
3. The Logical Interdependence of “Scripture” and “Christianity”
Granted all the diversities, is it possible to find any unity among the theological uses of Scripture? Kelsey addresses this question by analyzing the role of biblical authority in the life of the church. That argument will claim our attention in this and the next two sections of the review. In this section, we will consider Kelsey’s argument that one’s concept of “Scripture” is largely determined by his view of Christianity as a whole.
Scripture is “scripture,” Kelsey suggests, only insofar as it is necessary to the establishment and preservation of the Christian community (p. 89). This function is part of the meaning of “Scripture.” On the other hand, the use of Scripture to nurture, criticize, and reform itself is part of the definition of “church” (p. 93f.).
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“Church” and “scripture,” then, are defined in terms of one another (p. 94). Kelsey finds this correlation to obtain in all the cases investigated in the book.
“Authority,” furthermore, says Kelsey, is “part of the meaning of Scripture,” and “authoritative for theology” is “analytic in” “authoritative for the life of the church” (p. 97). Theology and church, moreover, both are defined by the structure of Christianity as a whole (pp. 8, 164f.). In the course of this argument, Kelsey makes some interesting comments about “tradition” and “canon” which we cannot discuss here except to say that he defines these also in terms of the church-Scripture-Christianity complex.
There is not much to criticize in this discussion as such. The interdependences among Christian doctrines are important, and Kelsey is right to call our attention to them in this context (cf. my Van Til: the Theologian, p. 10ff., passim). I wish he were a bit more guarded in his use of the expressions “part of the meaning of” and “analytic in,” view of the criticisms of this language by such as J. L. Austin and W. V. Quine, though I do not regard those criticisms as fatal for the kind of point Kelsey is making. More seriously, the discussion at points seems insensitive to the implications of the reciprocal character of these relationships (see next section). Further, Kelsey does not in my mind adequately justify his selection of relationships for analysis. He argues, as we have seen, that the concepts “Scripture” and “church” are mutually dependent, and then concludes from that fact (and others) that the discussion of scriptural authority belongs in the locus “practical theology” (pp. 208f.), rather than in the context of a doctrine of “revelation” or “Word of God”. The idea is actually rather attractive to me, but I do not believe Kelsey has established it. In order to establish such a conclusion, it seems to me, Kelsey must argue, not only that “Scripture” and “church” are mutually dependent, but that “Scripture” and “revelation” are not. At one point, he does suggest that “revelation” is not a singular or even coherent concept (p. 209), but to avoid compromising his neutrality (p. 210), refuses to press that point; rather, lie argues that such legitimate theological questions are “begged” by the assimilation of Scripture to a doctrine of revelation. But the assimilation of “Scripture” and “church” also assumes the coherence (and to some extent the singularity) of the concepts under discussion. If the one assumption violates “neutrality,” then the other does too (showing, again, how difficult it is to maintain neutrality!). The point is that Kelsey’s argument shows the “logical
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home” of bibliology to be ecclesiology only if the same sort of argument cannot be made for other loci. And he has not shown that a case for other loci cannot be made.
Yet I tend to regard questions of theological encyclopedia as of no great moment, and thus I do not regard the above issue as being very important, though apparently Kelsey does. The general argument is sound, and the point is valuable: our view of Scripture is determined, not only by our perception of Scripture, but by our general understanding of Christianity. Warfield was right in saying that the doctrine of Scripture is not a doctrine from which the rest of theology is unilaterally deduced; rather, on the contrary, our doctrine and use of Scripture are deeply influenced by our understanding and experience of the whole Gospel.
4. Authority as Function
From the interdependence of Scripture and church, Kelsey concludes that the authority of Scripture is “a function of the role played by biblical writings in the life of the church when it serves as the means by which we are related to revelation” (1). 30). To call Scripture authority always means “that the texts ought to be used in certain ways” (p. 152). To acknowledge the authority of Scripture is to adopt a policy, to commit oneself to using Scripture in these ways (pp. 109, 151, 177). To understand authority as “function,” Kelsey argues, is not to lose sight of the normativity of Scripture. The “functions” of Scripture are precisely to govern, to rule the church and its theology in various ways. And these functions are not conferred upon Scripture by our “policy decision” to use it in those ways; rather, Scripture deserves to rule, whether we choose to use it or not (p. 152).
The main problem here is Kelsey’s unclarity as to what the alternative is and as to why that alternative should be rejected. Evidently. the alternative to a “functionalist” view of authority is one which connects authority in some way or other with “properties” of Scripture. Sometimes be describes the alternative as a view which regards authority itself as a “property” of Scripture, which regards authority as the name of a property (pp. 30, 108). Elsewhere, he describes the view lie opposes as one which ascribes authority to Scripture “in virtue of” some property (pp. 29, 47, 91, 211 ; cf. p. 109). Kelsey’s arguments are fairly persuasive on the first inter-
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pretation, rather unpersuasive on the second. It would certainly be odd to define authority as a “property” of Scripture (taking “property” not as “characteristic,” which authority certainly is, but as a sensory phenomenon on the order of red or heavy).8 Even here, I doubt that the lines are as sharp as they have sometimes been taken to be.9 Certainly, though, Kelsey is right if he means that “authority” must be defined not only in terms of the Scripture itself, but in terms of its function in God’s economy and in human life. However, it is another matter to deny that Scripture is authoritative “by virtue of” one or more properties. Certainly, to use Kelsey’s own illustration, the functions of a ball in a game are determined in part by the properties of the ball. If the ball is not elastic, then it cannot be used, for example, for dribbling. Some properties, clearly, are necessary (though not sufficient) conditions of some functions. And where there are such relations between properties and functions, there can be no objection to saying that something has a function at least partly “in virtue of” a property. Now in the case of Scripture, clearly properties such as doctrinal truth, edifying conceptual and symbolic structure, etc., are relevant to its authority and would be regarded by the theologians in Kelsey’s “cases” as necessary, though not sufficient conditions of that authority. And if x is a necessary condition of y, does not y exist (at least in part) “in virtue of” x ? Conclusion: we may accept, with some qualification and definition, Kelsey’s argument that “authority” is not the name of a “property” of Scripture; but we cannot accept his view that authority is in no sense based upon such properties.10
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I suspect that Kelsey is led into this mistake through a misunderstanding of the church-Scripture relation (his analysis of which we discussed in the last section). Although Kelsey acknowledges that “church” and “Scripture” are “reciprocal” in the sense of being definable in terms of one another, in some of his arguments he makes the relation appear more unilateral than reciprocal. It seems sometimes as though the concept “Scripture” is wholly determined by the concept “church” and not at all vice versa (pp. 98, 109, 165f.). Here, Scripture’s church-function is not only “part of the meaning” of “Scripture”; it is the wholemeaning, and that whole meaning then turns out to have little or nothing to do with the properties of Scripture, curious as that may seem. I would argue on the contrary that even if “church function” is the wholemeaning of “Scripture,” the properties of Scripture as a book must be taken into account in defining the nature of the church itself and of Scripture’s function within the church, and hence those properties must also be taken account of in definitions of Scripture’s “authority.” And “church function” ought not to be regarded as the whole meaning of “Scripture” in any case.
But there is nothing wrong with saying that “authority” names function(s) of Scripture in the church (including the church’s ministry to the world, p. 92). The fact that these functions are highly diverse (or, put differently, that the function is highly complex) does not render “authority” an incoherent or useless concept. The complexities can be charted, interrelated, and seen in their unity as well as their diversity. Kelsey’s book does that to some extent, and Kline’s Structure of Biblical Authority shows the unity among the diversities in great depth. Such analysis will never be exhaustive; but it may be adequate for the needs of the church.
5. God as Present in the “Right” Use of Scripture
Kelsey argues that theological proposals are not assessed on the basis of Scripture alone, but on the basis of a complex “discrimen.” Following R. C. Johnson, Kelsey defines discrimen as a “a configura-
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tion of criteria that are in some way organically related to one another as reciprocal coefficients” (p. 160, quoting Johnson’s Authority in Protestant Theology, p. 15). In this case, the discrimen is “the conjunction of certain uses of Scripture and the presence of God” (p. 160; cf. pp. 193, 215). The definition of discrimen is inexcusably, almost ludicrously, vague, making Kelsey’s point most difficult to evaluate. Note first that Kelsey’s identification of the discrimen is supposed to do justice to the views of all the theologians discussed, from Warfield to Bultmann. In Warfield, Kelsey finds his discrimen exemplified as follows: “When heard by minds illuminated by the presence of the Holy Spirit, the texts may be said to teach revealed truths” (p. 94). Now, it is true that for Warfield one does not learn the truth of Scripture apart from the Spirit, and so it could be said, albeit with some awkwardness, that Scripture does not “teach” truth apart from the illuminating work of the Spirit (although Warfield would say that Scripture is true apart from any present, continuing work of the Spirit). Nothing in Warfield’s writings, however, even remotely suggests that the presence of the Spirit is a second “criterion” in addition to Scripture, as the description of thediscrimen implies. The apparent implication that in assessing a theological proposal we add one factor (Scripture) to another (God) and somehow calculate the result is anathema to Warfield; and although such a method may be implicit in the views of the other theologians studied, we cannot feel that even they would be happy with this way of putting it. There is something very odd about describing the Holy Spirit as a “criterion.” For criteria are generally principles, not persons, unless they are persons who tell us what to do by speaking to us. Few theologians, moreover, want to regard the Spirit either as a principle or as a person who speaks to us outside the Bible. Further, a criterion is usually something which we employ at our own discretion, knowing how to “use” it with the confidence that when rightly “used” it will produce proper evaluations. Is God-as-criterion subject to such manipulation ? Kelsey is rightly critical of this sort of notion in a related context (pp. 214ff.) ; but without some such idea, how can we describe the Spirit as a “criterion” at all ? Is the criterion here, perhaps, not God himself, but our assessment of how God is acting in the world today? If so, then Kelsey ought to say so, for clarity’s sake, and then admit that the analysis simply does not apply to Warfield and that on that account its theological neutrality breaks down at this point. Thus
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the discrimen is unclearly described, and however interpreted it is difficult to see how it applies to all the theologians discussed.
However one interprets this principle, it does appear that “criterion” is being used in a fairly eccentric sense. If we simply give tip any attempt to understand it, another possible interpretation emerges. If we begin with Warfield’s doctrine of illumination (which Kelsey feels is consistent with his principle) and also with Kelsey’s own discussion of the Scripture-tradition relation (pp. 94ff.), we might understand thediscrimen as follows: Scripture alone is criterion (using “criterion” straightforwardly), and the presence of God is needed for that criterion to be rightly used. This understanding of the discrimen is, at least, intelligible, and not obviously at odds with theological positions under discussion.
Now at the end of the book, Kelsey argues for a lowering of our expectations with regard to doctrines of Scripture. He says that in the past doctrines of Scripture have been thought necessary so that we may be “sure of developing theological proposals that are tritly in accord with scripture …” (pp. 214f.). However, he replies, no doctrine of Scripture can assure us that our positions will conform to Scripture; for the divine presence is part of the discrimen, and no doctrine can map in advance the workings of God. Now there is some confusion here. So far as I know, doctrines of Scripture have not often if ever claimed to guarantee the truthfulness of theological proposals consistent with them. It would surely have come as no shock to B. B. Warfield that there are errors in theologies with sound doctrines of Scripture and truths in theologies which teach erroneous doctrines of Scripture. It has been felt, however, that a sound doctrine of Scripture is needed if one is to be properly and fully motivated to seek scripturality in doctrine. That latter contention seems to me to be unexceptionable. It has also been asserted, I think with justification, that Scripture itself teaches us some things about the divine working with the Word, and that there is nothing arrogant about trusting God’s promise to be present with the Word under certain circumstances. To that extent, a doctrine of Scripture may indeed “map in advance” the workings of God, since God has graciously mapped them himself beforehand.
Yet, there are plenty of things that a doctrine of Scripture cannot do, and our reformulation of Kelsey’s discrimen may help us to see these more clearly. “Scripture is criterion, but we cannot use the criterion rightly apart from the divine presence.” A doctrine of
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Scripture, first, is limited in the extent to which it can formulate the nature of Scripture’s “authority.” We have seen that there is enormous diversity in the workings of this authority, and we cannot hope to formulate them exhaustively; rather, we must always be ready to be surprised as Scripture takes on unexpected functions in governing our lives and theologies. Second, no matter how fully the authoritative functions of Scripture are set forth, no doctrine will guarantee that we will make right use of them (using “right” for either conceptual or for moral-religious adequacy). Yet, if Scripture is “sufficient” with respect to any doctrine at all, it clearly must be “sufficient” in setting forth the norms for its own use. Even if we cannot set forth those norms exhaustively, somehow they must be there. We cannot accept Kelsey’s apparent position that these norms are indeterminate, or that they are communicated through some divine influence apart from (though “organically related to”?!) Scripture. And certainly we cannot accept any claim that such a view is “theological position neutral” !
One more point about the discrimen: Kelsey is quite right that one’s view of and use of Scripture is deeply influenced by his conception of the mode of God’s presence among the faithful (pp. 160ff.). See my “God and Biblical Language,” in Montgomery, ed., God’s Inerrant Word, for another approach to this relationship. Kelsey’s typology of modes is interesting and helpful (pp. 161ff.). But this influence results not because God’s presence is a second criterion found along with Scripture in these theologies, but because these theologies want to regard Scripture itself as a mode of God’s presence.
6. Imagination as Ground for Construal
In section 2 above, we saw that Scripture is used to authorize thought and life in the church in a wide variety of ways. How do we decide which uses are legitimate? Do we make that decision on the basis of Scripture? If so, we are caught in a form of circularity. For in order to use Scripture to make that decision, we must have already made it.
Kelsey wants to acknowledge a certain circularity here: the biblical texts do influence our understanding of their function (in his term, our “construal” of Scripture), and our construal influences our reading of the texts. But Kelsey wants to avoid any vicious cir-
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cularity; as we have already seen, he does not like to “beg questions.” So in discussing Warfield he rejects a fully circular relation between believing in scriptural authority and believing in plenary inspiration. We believe in plenary inspiration, says Warfield, because plenary inspiration is taught in Scripture and we believe Scripture to be authoritative. “But why is scripture authoritative ?” asks Kelsey. “Surely, the answer cannot be, ‘Because the doctrine of plenary inspiration so teaches’. That would beg the issue” (p. 24). On Kelsey’s interpretation, Warfield does not beg the issue; rather, he accepts biblical authority, essentially, on the basis of his experience of Scripture as a “holy object” (pp. 17f., 24).
Kelsey wants all of us to do what he thinks Warfield did. Biblical texts are “relevant” to our “construal” of Scripture, but not “decisive” (pp. 159, 166f., 197ff., 201, 206). Were the texts decisive for the construal, he seems to think, the question would be “begged,” the circularity would be vicious. What is decisive, then? “An act of the imagination that a theologian must necessarily make prior to doing theology at all” (p. 170). This imaginative act involves a decision about the “point” of doing theology, about the “subject matter of theology” (p. 159). It involves an “imaginative characterization of the central reality of Christianity, ‘What it is finally all about’ “ (p. 205) ; it involves an “imaginative characterization of the mode of God’s presence” (p. 170). It also seems to me, because of the general structure of Kelsey’s argument, that it is in this act of imaginative judgment that we accept Christianity as true, that we accept whatever justification we acknowledge (if any) for the whole complex of Christian idea, activities, etc. Kelsey does not quite say this, but I think it follows from a comparison of his language about “imaginative construal” with his language about the justification of Christianity (pp. 6, 153f., 165ff.). Furthermore, most relevantly to our present discussion, the imaginative construal determines his view of how Scripture’s authority ought to function in theology and church (p. 151).
Where does this imaginative construal come from-? Out of thin air ? Kelsey says that “the only ‘explanation’ that can be given is genetic …” (p. 183). This seems to mean that there is no logical or rational necessity for making a particular construal rather than another. One may describe how a particular construal comes about, what “shapes” it, what influences it (pp. 183, 205), but one may not
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adduce grounds, evidence, or argument at least as “decisive” considerations. The construal has causes, but not reasons.
Scripture, then, influences the construal, not by providing grounds for one rather than another, but by genetically “shaping” our imaginative process. Even so, Kelsey is willing to speak of Scripture as exercising “controls” over the imaginative process, or as setting “limits” for it (pp. 170ff., 196f.). The “patterns” in Scripture exclude some outrageous construals and positively provide a “limited range of determinate possibilities” (p. 196). For those who accept the idea of Scripture as “canon,” furthermore, Scripture further limits the imagination by requiring the various patterns to be related to one another so as to exhibit the “wholeness” of the canon (pp. 196f.). Kelsey also urges that theological imagination is limited. not only by the text of Scripture, but also by the use of Scripture in the common life of the church (1). 205). This use requires that imaginative construals of Scripture be capable of rational assessment, though they are not themselves the products of reasoned argument (1). 171) ; the construal must also be “seriously imaginable” by people in the connutinity, though Kelsey grants the legitimacy of a theologian trying to stretch the limits of what is seriously imaginable in a particular situation (pp. 172f.) ; further, the imaginative judgment must be responsible to the whole range of church tradition (pp. 174f.).
But now we must ask: do these factors limit the imaginative construal decisivelv? Kelsey’s descriptions of them suggest that they do: a construal which conceives of God’s presence as “demonic,” he says, is beyond the “outside limit” of possible construals (p. 196). Yet his general principle is that the imaginative act is “logically prior” to any decisive limitation on theological thinking (pp, 151, 170, 201). The imaginative act is creative, free, and for that reason scripture (and presumably tradition) can have no decisive bearing upon it (1). 206). Kelsey is not clear here, but it would seem that even the “outside limits” imposed by Scripture upon imagination are only relative guidelines. The criterion of rational assessibility presents a special problem here. Not only is this “limit” relativized by Kelsey’s general principle, but further: if imaginative construals were capable of rational vindication, it would be hard to escape the conclusion that they can be rationally necessary, that is, subject to other than “genetic” explanation. Thus it appears as though the
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alleged “controls” on imagination are at most only advisory in character, and probably pragmatic, as if Kelsey were saying, “These are the sorts of proposals most likely to gain general acceptance in the church.” If one is not swayed by such considerations, lie may ignore them with no rational or religious penalties. Imagination in essence is autonomous.
This from a writer who claims to be “theological position neutral”! But the notion of an autonomous theological imagination is theologically intolerable, to this reviewer, to B. B. Warfield, and, I suspect, to most theologians when it is stated in such straightforward terms. Here, Kelsey’s interpretation of Warfield is somewhat in error, though it does reveal some unsettling truth about Warfield. It is true that in Warfield’s view plenary inspiration is not the one doctrine upon which all other doctrines are built: the other doctrines might well be true even if the Bible were not plenarily inspired (pp. 21f.). It is also true that Warfield appeals to “experience” of a sort to support his view of plenary inspiration: both the corporate experience of the church in affirming this view throughout its history and the individual experience of the believer who has heard Scripture used this way at his mother’s knee (pp. 17f.). We may further grant, with Kelsey, that Warfield was not fond of circular argument, and when asked why we ought to receive the teaching of Scripture concerning itself tended to resort to what we might call a “theological position neutral” apologetic. Thus, Kelsey’s construction of Warfield’s view—that it appeals ultimately to our experience of Scripture as a “holy object”—is not as far from the truth as it might initially appear.11 But, however inconsistently, Warfield clearly makes the argument from experience subordinate to the argument from exegesis, and in a passage quoted by Kelsey himself: “The church doctrine of inspiration was the Bible doctrine before it was the church doctrine and the church doctrine only because it
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was the Bible doctrine” (p. 18 quoting Warfield, op. cit., p. 114). Kelsey denies to Warfield the right to make the experiential-historical argument secondary to the exegetical, and granted Kelsey’s neutralism this is understandable. This procedure also produces a more consistent position than Warfield’s own; but it is one which Warfield himself did not hold. Warfield held both to a form of neutralism and to the subordination of experience to exegesis. This is inconsistent, to be sure, and Kelsey has the right to try to achieve greater consistency; but he does not have the right to make Warfield more consistent than he actually was. The basic point: Warfield did not, and could not, allow for the kind of autonomous theological imagination that Kelsey advocates. To Warfield, Scripture was the supreme rule for all human activities including those of the imagination. Warfield had much to say, particularly in his writings on perfectionism and in his shorter writings, about the believer’s subjective experience; and he constantly asserted the authority of Scripture as judge of such experience.
To assert the autonomy of imagination, then, is to abandon any claim to theological neutrality. Warfield denies the autonomy of imagination on theological grounds, and so does Scripture (note the phrase “vain imaginations”).
What about circular argument? Well, I have argued (“God and Biblical Language,” op. cit.) together with Van Til and others that circularity of a sort is inevitable when one is giving reasons for an ultimate criterion. Even Kelsey’s appeal to imagination as ultimate must, in the end, be based on his own “imaginative construal” of what Christianity is all about. For his view of theology is, as we have seen, very different from Warfield’s and may not, therefore, be urged as a neutral starting-point acceptable to all positions. Imagination is not unilaterally “prior to” theology; even our most basic imaginative construals of Scripture are governed by theological considerations and vice versa. (Note the importance in insisting upon reciprocities in the Scripture-church-Christianity relation, cf., section 4 above.)
Yet Kelsey has performed a service in showing the extent to which, and some of the ways in which, imagination is involved in theology. We must never assume that sola scriptura excludes the use of imagination, any more than it excludes the use of extra-scriptural premises. Imagination is needed if we are to achieve anything more than a mere repetition of Scripture. Only by imagination can we
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discern the best ways of summarizing, applying, communicating Scripture. Only through imagination may we discover those metaphors by which the whole sweep of the message can be visualized.
The morals I draw from my study are not the same as those Kelsey recommends, and mine make no claim to being “purely formal.” First, this study reinforces my previous conviction that attempts at theological neutrality are futile, that we cannot find some supratheological common ground on which to carry on meta-theological discussion, and that we ought not to try. Second, “authority” is a much more complicated concept than has been dreamt by most writers. There is an enormous field here for future research, and theologians ought to get busy on it, rather than merely repeating tile standard arguments for various positions. Third, one’s view of biblical authority is indeed a function of his basic religious commitment, an aspect of his commitment to Christianity as a whole. It is precisely for this reason that it cannotbe discussed from a neutral standpoint. And one’s nieta-theological views of Scripture are determined by his commitment as much as are his theological views. But the relationship is also reciprocal: one’s view of Scripture also influences the shape of his general commitment. Circularity here too is unavoidable. Fourth, authority is a complex of functions by which Scripture rules the church (and through the church, the world) ; but this authority exists in part because of the objective properties of Scripture, and because of its origin in inspiration. Fifth, the presence of God, though not a second criterion in addition to Scripture, is indispensable to the right functioning of Scripture in the church. Sixth, imagination is no autonomous (neutral!) basis for theology; rather, imagination and theology influence one another in many subtle, complicated ways.12 Yet imagination is absolutely crucial to the proper functioning of Scripture as “authority” in the church.
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Now this review has been largely negative, but it has also attempted to show in detail the interesting issues raised by this book. In raising those issues, Kelsey has done something of immense importance. In struggling so valiantly with those issues, Kelsey has done his job well, despite our objections. My overall feeling about the book, despite the criticisms, is highly positive. Kelsey has written something whichdeserves to be criticized at this length. He has elevated discussion of these matters to a new height of sophistication. His insights are indispensable, his mistakes eminently worth thinking about. My concluding advice is for you to buy this book, even at the outrageous price. Anyone who does not at least read it, will I expect, have nothing theologically interesting to say about biblical authority.
Westminster Theological Seminary,
1 G. C. Berkouwer’s Holy Scripture, recently made available in English, is a work of prodigious scholarship, amazing subtlety, and infectious spirituality. Berkouwer is eloquent in urging attention to difficult questions, and he is helpful in pointing out “contexts” in which the answers to such questions will be found. Yet, he does not provide much fresh clarification of the questions or very adequate answers to them, and many of his attempts to do so are, in my opinion, counter-productive.
2 In writing this review, I acknowledge the help of Miss Tiina Allik, a former student of mine and presently a student of Kelsey, who has shared with me at length some of her well-thought-out critical reflections on the book. I also have consulted a manuscript of Dr. Carl F. H. Henry (unpublished at the time I received it) dealing with Kelsey’s approach to Warfield. I have profited from both accounts. My remarks on the “translation metaphor” owe some indebtedness to Professors Poythress and Dillard of Westminster. I am myself, however, solely responsible for any inadequacies in this review.
3 Cf. 15. There appears to be an error on 15, where the chapter numbers are correlated with the different “authoritative aspects”. I believe that chapter numbers 4, 5 and 6 are wrong and should be replaced by 2, 3 and 4.
4 One of Kelsey’s own quotes from Warfield suggests that Warfield advocates (if he does not actually employ) appeal to more than merely “doctrinal” aspects of Scripture (at least as the term “doctrinal” is commonly used today) : Christians, says Warfield, “receive its statements of fact, bow before its enunciations of duty, tremble before its threatenings and rest on its promises” (p. 17, quoting The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 107. Warfield’s language, in turn, reflects that of the Westminster Confession of Faith, XIV, ii, which recognizes quite explicitly the diverse functions of different “aspects” of authoritative Scripture.
5 Cf. pp. 100, 148. 1 would question Kelsey’s use of “non- informative” here. If [ understand him, he himself modifies this characterization in regard to Bultmann (p. 100), and I am not sure of its aptness in regard to the others. The question is difficult, of course, and I doubt if these theologians have achieved complete consistency on the point. Many theologians, of course, have wanted to eliminate or at least de-emphasize the “informative” aspect of revelation; yet, if one appeals to revelation in any sense to “authorize” a (necessarily propositional) theological view, it is hard to avoid (at least implicitly) a claim to have received revealed information.
6 Kelsey also acknowledges theological uses of Scripture other than as premises in “arguments” as “argument” is defined by Toulmin (p. 123f.). These “non-argumentative” uses may, of course, influence the structure and conclusions of arguments in various (sometimes subtle) ways. The existence of such uses, then, complicates the picture still further, adding yet more “diversity” to the theological employment of Scripture.
7 What it does mean, I think, is that “only Scripture” has ultimate authority and that the theologian’s use of extra-scriptural as well as scriptural material ought to have the goal of proclaimingScripture (including its application), not some other message. Cf. my Van Til the Theologian (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Pilgrim Publishing Co., 1976), pp. 24ff.
8 It is equally odd to define “inspiration” as a “property” as Kelsey does on p. 91. Surely inspiration is essentially a fact about the genesis of Scripture, no more easily assimilable to redness and heaviness than is authority.
9 We cannot simply take for granted the old philosophical distinctions between “sensation and reason … .. impressions and ideas,” “things, properties and relations,” or the more recent “observations and theory.” This question is closely related to that regarding analyticity, concerning which we have remarked (section 3) on the need of a more sophisticated treatment in the book under review.
10 Sometimes Kelsey writes as though the point were a matter of emphasis: one claiming authority for Scripture does not “so much offer a descriptive claim …” (p. 89, emphasis mine). Notice also his frequent phrase “part of the meaning,” which suggests that perhaps some of the meaning of “authority” may have to do with “properties” of Scripture. At other times, however, it seems to be a question of black-or-white: “authority,” he says, “turned out not to be drawing attention to a property … but rather …” (p. 109). 1 would be more sympathetic to his conclusion if it were clearly stated as a matter of emphasis. But even then, the treatment would require explicit reference to balancing considerations.
11 So far as I can tell, Warfield never speaks of Scripture as a “holy” or “numinous” object, and that terminology carries connotations inconsistent with Warfield’s general position. This point, however, is not of great importance in evaluating Kelsey’s basic argument. On the whole, Kelsey’s treatment of Warfield is one of the most careful, balanced, and fair analyses I have read from one who does not hold to plenary inspiration. It is good to see a scholar from the theological mainstream who describes Warfield so fairly and who, moreover, takes Warfield’s theological position so seriously—as one which must be “done justice” by any meta-theological scheme.
12 Kelsey is generally most sensitive to complications, rightly suspicious of oversimplification. Why is it that on the question of neutrality, tile Scripture-church relation, and the imagination-theology relation he has jumped at such easy answers? Is it, after all, desire for a “starting point” (cf., his criticism of this notion, pp. 135ff.)? Is he searching for something that exists in a logically safe realm, beyond the possibility of criticism, now that “criticism” has allegedly made Scripture itself so problematic? If so, the search is all the more forlorn: it is not only hopeless; it is an idolatry. It is an Attempt to find a replacement for Scripture as Word of God. Or is his problem merely a too-rigid attachment to the analytic/synthetic distinction, or a determination to avoid “circularity” at all costs, without regard to the evidently circular way in which many arguments actually function? Wherever the problem lies, we hope that it will not continue to blemish his otherwise perceptive work.