Archive E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

John Webster on Evangelical Ecclesiology

As an addendum (a congruent one, I hope) to the conclusions of Peter and Steven yesterday, I thought I’d post this quotation from John Webster on the church’s relation to the Word in order to generate continued reflection.

Scripture is not to be thought of as one element of a movement of revelation which is completed by the church’s acts of reception and interpretation. Scripture is not an initial stage of a process of divine communication which is only fully realized in the life of the church–whether that life be conceived through a theological notion of tradition or through hermeneutical notions such as readerly reception. Scripture bears witness to divine revelation in its perfection. It is for this reason that Holy Scripture is to be spoken of as possessing the properties of clarity and sufficiency. Both these ways of speaking of Scripture emphasize the completeness of Scripture, the fact that in Scripture the church encounters a fully achieved divine communication: in this sense, they are parallel to the sacramental notion of ‘real presence’. Of course, neither ‘real presence’ nor scriptural clarity and sufficiency eliminate creaturely acts of reception. But they do reorder those creaturely acts. And so when, therefore, the church ‘interprets’ Scripture, it does not bestow upon Scripture a clarity which Scripture does not already possess, or bring about a completion of the event of revelation of which Scripture is only the precipitating occasion. Interpretation is not clarification or completion, but recognition, assent to the inherent clarity and adequacy of the prophetic and apostolic witness which bears to us the voice of the church’s Lord. (from the essay “On Evangelical Ecclesiology,” in Confessing God, pp. 189-90 [emphasis mine])

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.