A brief review of “Living and Active” by Telford Work (ch. 1)

Product DetailsTelford Work’s Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation  is a constructive, systematic work of immense breadth that is rarely seen today. Work has sought to construct a theology of Scripture founded upon the Trinity in an effort to avoid the personalism of liberal bibliology and the vapidity of a perceived static Fundamentalism. Central to Work’s argument, a theology of Scripture must fully incorporate a proper doctrine of the Holy Spirit while not ignoring God’s choice of human agency, and thereby show the role of Scripture as God’s means of salvation. This is a noble task, indeed.

In chapter one, Work interacts with four theologians of import regarding a proper doctrine of Scripture. First, Athanasius’ On the Incarnation is examined for its utilization of the logos as key to the interplay of divine and human agencies for the inspiration of Scripture. Just as hypostases of Christ perfectly intermingled divine and human, so does the hypostases of Scripture present an inseparable interaction of divine and human. As such, Athanasius has presented a pre-chalcedonian Analogy of Being. In Work’s reading of Athanasius, “The relationship between logos and Scripture remains ambiguous as On the Incarnation closes, but it is strong enough to confer on the biblical Word an epistemological power second only to that of the incarnate Word himself,” (44).

This leads Work to reject Athanasius’ project as profitable for a trinitarian doctrine of inspiration for the following reasons:

  1. Athanasius’ intent was not to develop a doctrine of inspiration, but a doctrine of soteriology and Christology.
  2. The matters of ecclesiology are not foremost in Athanasius’ development, and therefore utilizing his model leaves no room to develop a view of inspiration that edifies the Church.
  3. Athanasius’ view of Creation after the Fall, and Christ’s focus on the Church to the neglect of the Creation, almost leaves the world irredeemable, as if to expect another creation ex nihilo. 
  4. Athanasius’ eschatology is overrealized, that it leaves postmillenialism as the only viable alternative.

Next, Work turns to Augustine’s De Doctrina to examine its usefulness to bibliology. Augustine’s work differs from Athanasius’ in that, where Athanasius is primarily interested in Christology, Augustine is focused on epistemology. In Book 1 Augustine focuses on the theological concepts of a God who has revealed himself. In Book 2, he seeks to demonstrate how the Christian minister can best communicate the “signs” of Scripture. Work uses this concept to show how Augustine could be useful for a doctrine of inspiration by stating, “The intrinsic connection between the divine ethos and the biblical logos means two things for Trinitarian bibliology. First, it means that God is literally invested in the words of Scripture. Second, it means that in speaking, God puts himself at risk” (61). Work contends that, from Augustine, we learn that just as Christ was able to become incarnate without his ontology undergoing change, so does the Word of God not suffer change in the process of inscripturation. God has bound “his character to human words — dwelling in them, in effect, even in the face of human ignorance, misinterpretation, and manipulation. The kenotic character character of Scripture is a function of the Analogy of the Word,” (66).

Third, following Athanasius and Augustine, Work examines Barth’s trinitarian development of the threefold Word. Barth, famous for his rejection of the analogia entis would also reject any vestigia trinitatis within the world, except for in his understanding of the second form of the Word, Scripture. Barth demonstrates his trinitarian view, most notably in the layout of I.2 in his Church Dogmatics. Here, he deals with the second form of the Word, the written, under the topics of the triune name — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — assigning to each one a particular role in the inspiration of the Bible.  Just as the Son is the sign of the Father, so is the Bible the sign of divine revelation. Such a view leads one to an inescapable modalism, at least in function if not ontology.

Finally, Work treats Balthasar’s “quasi-sacramental” view as a possible method for developing trinitarian bibliology.  Where Barth’s development is primarily christological, Balthasar leans toward a pneumatological development of inspiration. However, Balthasar’s “witness to the Spirit” is akin to Barth’s own “witness to the Word” in the ontological understanding of Scripture. It is in this pneumatological Christology that Work finds what he deems to be a proper Analogy of the Word, or more particularly, it is in Mariology that Work finds his embraced Bibliology. Namely, that just as the Spirit was responsible for placing the Christ within the womb of Mary, so is the Spirit responsible for placing revelation in the words of Scripture. Work concludes that Balthasar offers the best understanding of the relationship of the human and divine to inspiration stating,

But when combined properly, mirroring the Son’s and Spirit’s relationships in the biblical narrative of Jesus’ life, Word-Christology and Spirit-Christology keep bibliology in orthodox Trinitarian perspective. The two approaches hold together both Jesus’ uniqueness and his universality as God with us. By analogy, they hold together Jesus’ uniqueness in revealing God in the created order, and the commonality between charismatic speech and the charismatic speech of Israel’s lawgivers, prophets, apostles, and grafted-in Gentiles. Together they simultaneously draw and blur the lines between the incarnate Creator and the creatures whom he adopts as brothers and sisters, and allows to act in his name. They portray a Christocentricity that elevates the biblical Word even as it firmly subordinates it to Father, Son, and Spirit, by locating its power in the power of the Triune God. They demand close attention to the actual course of Scripture in human history, while never forgetting that human history is salvation-history moving towards the realization of God’s will.

Though Work has made a noble attempt to properly exalt the inscripturated Word, his project does not escape the inherent tendency to view Scripture as adoptionistic. Mary was chosen as the instrument through whom God would initiate the work of the Incarnation through the placement of the Son into her womb by the work of the Spirit. Likewise, the words of Scripture become the chosen vessel into which God chose to inject the logos by the means of the Spirit. If Work is correct, then the words of Scripture are simply God’s adoption of men’s words as they flowed from human pens, rather than being God’s words to mankind. Thus, God’s revelation is nothing more than God using what man created. Rather, Peter seems to understand that the words belonged to God before they belonged to Man as they “spoke from God.”

Though Work’s thesis is intriguing, if not imaginative, it must be rejected on the grounds that it necessarily makes the actual words of Scripture original to Man and endorsed by God rather than being original to God and embraced by Man.

One thought on “A brief review of “Living and Active” by Telford Work (ch. 1)

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