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.

Summer Reading

Image  After a challenging semester of reading in various areas of discipline, including systematic theology, preaching, and western history ranging from the French Revolution to Postmodernity, I decided to take a two week break from rigorous academic reading. In those two weeks I limited my reading to sermon preparation and a couple of books on leadership. Grateful for the mental rest, I now feel ready to begin my Summer reading plan. My reading for the Summer, in addition to reading Garrett’s two volume Systematic Theology, will be focused on the doctrine of revelation and its relationship to preaching. Some of the works are pastoral, most are academic.

Summer tends to be my favorite time to read, as my daily pace is significantly slower, allowing me to read at a much more relaxed pace. I usually spend the first hour of the early morning on the back porch reading. After a workout, I spend the rest of the morning preparing for sermons, and perhaps, a brief meeting. After lunch, I will make any pastoral visits that need to be made as well as focus on any administrative needs. Then I read from 3:00 until I go home around 5:00. If I do not have any evening activities involving my family or the church, I will try to spend a few moments reading at home. This makes for an enjoyable and constructive Summer.

Christian Theologies of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction ed. by Justin Holcomb

The Sufficiency of Scripture by Noel Weeks

Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation (Sacra Doctrina) by Telford Work

Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today by N.T. Wright

Proclamation and Theology (Horizons in Theology) by William Willimon

Preaching and Theology (PREACHING AND ITS PARTNERS) by James Kay

A Clear and Present Word by Mark Thompson

Models of Revelation by Avery Dulles

Biblical Authority: The critical issue for the body of Christ by Jimmy Draper

Doctrine of the Bible by David Dockery


“But God reveals himself not merely as our Creator and the one to whom we are ultimately accountable for all or our words and actions. God is also our Redeemer, bringing redemption in the face of human rebellion. As God’s character provides the moral fabric to the universe, it also brings grace when we his creatures reject that moral fabric. This is to say that God brings both judgment and mercy. Judgment comes in response to rebellion; mercy is made manifest in the face of rebellion because of God’s good pleasure. Together they form the very heart of the picture of God. He is both righteous and gracious. He acts to bring both condemnation and redemption. His word is a two-edged blade; sword and scalpel, it both cuts and heals,” (265).

In the Fabric of Theology, Richard Lints offers a compelling argument for a different approach to theological prolegomena. Summarily, Lints argues that Scripture is not a simple recording of the acts of God in history, but that they (the Scriptures) are a theological interpretation of the acts of God who has worked in history to bring about redemption. A faithful theological development will bear this in mind, and so order the theological conversation around the concept of what Lints calls “redemptive history”. This redemptive history is discovered through the tri-fold examination of the textual, epochal, and canonical horizons. His argument is compelling, though incomplete.

The Wise Thief

Crucifixion (Mantegna)“The Wise Thief didst Thou make worthy of Paradise, in a single moment, O Lord. By the wood of thy Cross illumine me as well, and save me.” From the Eastern Orthodox hymn “The Wise Thief” sung in celebration of Holy Friday.

The story of the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) is often used to give misplaced theological answers to important theological questions.

Some have used it to demonstrate that baptism is not necessary for salvation. Though this is a true statement, it is unrelated to Luke’s reason for including the narrative. Such a statement would lead Augustine to speculate that the thief may have been baptized at some point.

Others would respond by saying baptism in water was not necessary for the thief since he had undergone a baptism of blood.

Many have used the story of the thief in attempts to prove that deathbed confessions are viable – another truth that is better proven from clearer biblical texts.

Chrysostom would guess that the thief lived in the desert as a man of violence robbing and murdering those who traveled through territory where he squatted.

Pope Gregory the Great would speculate the violent nature of the thief led to the murder of his own brother.

The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus would name the thief Dismas, a name still used in Orthodox circles.

Speculation of the location of the thieves in proximity to Christ has greatly influenced art, as indicated in the painting above done by the Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) and currently housed in the Louvre. Notice how Christ is subtly positioned to face the thief illuminated to His right while the thief to His left remains in darkness.

Further, notice the company gathered beneath the illuminated thief is made of Christ’s followers while the gathering around the shadowed cross is soldiers and others who mock Jesus.

The story of the thief on the cross has often been filled with speculation, which has distracted from a true understanding of Luke’s purpose of including the event in the gospel that bears his name.

Perhaps the controversial, even violent, Eastern theologian Theophilus of Alexandria aids our understanding in his most famous homily and Eastern classic, and perhaps self-reflective “The Wise Thief”.

The gate of Paradise has been closed since the time when Adam transgressed, but I [Jesus] will open it today, and receive you [the thief] in it. Because you have recognised the nobility of my head on the cross, you who have shared with me in the suffering of the cross will be my companion in the joy of my kingdom. You have glorified me in the presence of carnal men, in the presence of sinners. I will therefore glorify you in the presence of the angels. You were fixed with me on the cross, and you united yourself with me of your own free will. I will therefore love you, and my Father will love you, and the angels will serve you with my holy food. If you used once to be a companion of murderers, behold, I who am the life of all have now made you a companion with me. You used once to walk in the night with the sons of darkness; behold I who am the light of the whole world have now made you walk with me. You used once to take counsel with murderers; behold, I who am the Creator have made you a companion with me.

The story of the thief on the Cross may lend support to teaching that baptism is not a prerequisite of salvation, in distinction from Augustine. One may legitimately use the story to show the immediacy of being in Christ’s presence upon death. But ‘support’ and ‘purpose’ are two different discussions.

Supporting arguments laid aside, the thief on the Cross has very little to do with the wise thief. Rather, it has to do with the compassion of the Righteous One who receives all – even thieves – who are repentant.

With that in mind, let us who are thieves – having robbed God of His rightful glory – pray “Jesus, remember me when you come in your Kingdom” that we might hear “you shall be with me in Paradise.” For the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and it alone can make a thief wise.

Redefining Marriage and the Christian Witness

Though it was written before the recent court decisions, Houston Baptist University’s Summer 2013 edition of The City contains a helpful article to aid Christians in the conversation of homosexual marriage. Ryan Anderson writes in “Twelve Theses on Redefining Marriage” that there are “three crucial questions” that must be asked: “What is marriage, why does marriage matter for public policy, and what would be the consequences of redefining marriage to exclude sexual complementarity?”

Anderson offers twelve theses that should be considered as Christians seek to engage the public in discussions regarding the recent redefinition of marriage. In short, the redefinition of marriage – which is an overstep by the government into the realm of the religious – has destructive consequences for the family, the nation, and the church.

It destroys the family because, “It rejects the anthropological truth that marriage is based on the complementarity of man and woman, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, the social reality that children need a mother and a father.” This will have devastating consequences on the social health of children, who will eventually be adults whose social parameters are skewed or non-existent.

Indeed, the destruction of marriage begins when it is viewed as being “more about adults’ desires than children’s needs.”

This will have a direct effect on the destruction of the second institution, the nation. “Decades of social science, including the latest studies using large samples and robust research methods, show that children tend to do best when raised by a mother and father. The confusion resulting from further delinking childbearing from marriage would force the state to intervene more often in family life and expand welfare programs.”  With increased pressure to provide social aid to those who have been raised in unhealthy environment, the nation will bear the burden to provide corrective measure, or suffer the consequences of their own policies. Neither option is appealing for a democratic society.

Finally, the redefinition of marriage will be devastating to the church due to its being “a direct and demonstrable threat to religious freedom because it marginalizes those who affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman.” The redefinition of marriage is the government stealing a possession from the hands of religion and remanufacturing into an institution with which they are comfortable. In other words, it is the government seizing control of religion. History does not bode well for this arrangement.

Anderson concludes:

Many citizens are increasingly tempted to think that marriage is simply an intense emotional union, whatever sort of interpersonal relationship consenting adults, whether two or 10 in number, want it to be — sexual or platonic, sexually exclusive or open, temporary or permanent. This leaves marriage with no essential features, no fixed core as a social reality. It is simply whatever consenting adults want it to be. Yet marriage has no form and serves no social purpose, how will society protect the needs of children — the prime victim of our non-marital sexual culture — without government growing more intrusive and more expensive?

Though Anderson’s arguments are social rather than theological or scriptural (which he never claims) all twelve theses are worthy of a close reading and consideration as Christians are now in need of being able to converse about the consequences of the destruction of the family both present and eternal.