Volume 44 - Issue 2

The Marks of Scripture: Rethinking the Nature of the Bible

by Daniel Castelo and Robert W. Wall

The genesis of this book is the journal article “Scripture and the Church: A Précis for an Alternative Analogy” (JTI 5 [2011]: 197–210), in which Castelo and Wall proposed Scripture’s analogy to the church as an alternative to the popular and yet controversial incarnational analogy. The tenet of both the article and this book revolves around English Anglican theologian John Webster’s idea that a dogmatics of Scripture must be constructed with the economy of God’s salvation at the center. Any talk of Scripture would be pointless without situating it in God’s work of sanctifying and “healing of Scripture’s addressee, which is the church” (p. 34).

Chapter 1 is devoted to situating Scripture’s ontology and teleology within the economy of God’s salvific self-presentation. Scripture is defined as an auxiliary of the Holy Spirit in forming and reforming God’s people into loving communion with God and one another. The authors prefer the term “canon” in explaining the ontology of Scripture. Scripture became what it is now through canonization by the church under the direction of the Holy Spirit. In this sense, Scripture is the church’s book from its origin. They also use the term “means of grace” to emphasize its being an ordinary but sanctified channel thorough which the Holy Spirit is nurturing the church into the likeness of Christ. Such ontology and teleology of Scripture naturally leads to the discussion of ecclesial analogy in which the Bible is taken as a theological category in itself rather than merely as epistemological source for theology.

Incarnational analogy in chapter 2 is presented in detail as a foil for the authors’ preferred ecclesial analogy. According to the authors, Scripture’s analogy to the incarnate God is plagued with inherent dangers of either deifying Scripture or degrading it as just another human literature. A more fundamental fault with the Christ-Scripture analogy lies in its structural detachment from the economy of salvation. Just like two natures of Christ, divine and human features of Scripture may not be discussed independent of their roles in the saving economy of God’s loving and regenerative self-presentation. All this inclines the authors to say that the incarnational analogy “should be put to rest” (p. 30).

Should Scripture be better compared to the church, another of God’s ordinary channels by which God manifests himself in a saving way, the authors go on to argue, the creedal confession of the church as “one,” “holy,” “catholic,” and “apostolic” might be applied to the nature of Scripture in a constructive way. Chapters 3–6 are devoted to fleshing out this Church-Scripture analogy. Each chapter begins with a dogmatic and practical account written by Castelo (a theologian) on how the church can be understood as exemplifying the mark in question, then Wall (a biblical scholar) offers a constructive account that applies Castelo’s ecclesial reflections analogously to Scripture.

First, the authors define ecclesial “oneness” not as uniformity but in terms of the church’s calling as the sanctified body of Christ, that is, a kind of unity that exists in diversity. Modern criticism has revealed Scripture’s diversity of literary genres, historical circumstances, and theological beliefs, and yet, according to the authors, these must be put in the context of God’s continual use of Scripture for salvation in Christ. Scripture’s unity is in this regard derived from Jesus’s hermeneutics of Scripture, which locates its normative meaning in his own work of salvation. In this sense, unity is less a character of Scripture than a function of God’s redemptive work through Scripture. Second, holiness of the church is no different in this regard. The church can call itself “holy,” not because of its acts but because of its relationship with God who nurtures his people to becoming holy like him. Likewise, Scripture is holy not because it contains no error but because God is able to use ordinary human writings for his holy purpose of “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Third, the church’s catholicity is a function of the universal “presence and work of the Trinity across the globe” (p. 99); it is the opposite of Constantianism, namely, collusion between a particular church and a particular political arrangement. Just as God’s church worldwide is identical in its worth and function, Scripture’s authority and usefulness reaches every membership of Christ’s global church, not to mention that every part of every scripture is appointed by God’s spirit as a textual witness to Christ. Finally, the fourth mark of the church, apostolicity, is redefined as referring to the culture of witnessing to God’s work in accomplishing the healing of the world. Being apostolic means being an apostle-like witness to God’s work of salvation in Jesus. Scripture is apostolic because it not only contains the apostles’ eyewitness to the risen Christ but also exemplifies a way of life informed by a Christo-centric or Christo-telic reading of Scripture.

The ecclesial analogy proposed by Castelo and Wall is a welcome addition to the discussion of Scripture’s nature. It is refreshing to hear the authors say that the focus in our discussion of Scripture’s nature should be on the Trinity at work in the economy of salvation. The authors’ use of the four marks of the church as a rubric for his discussion of Scripture is original and constructive. Further, this book, holistic in its perspective, does not separate the practice of Scripture from its dogmatics. It is no wonder that the authors provide practical tips on “how to read the Bible in light of its ontology and teleology” in the last chapter. Two points of criticism are in order, however, the first of which concerns the authors’ use of incarnational analogy as a foil for their preferred ecclesial analogy. They could have spoken positively and convincingly about the latter without dispensing with the former altogether, since, as the authors acknowledge, the nature of Scripture cannot be encapsulated within a single analogy (p. 21), not to mention that there are many versions of incarnational analogy, the best of which comes very close to the vision of the authors (p. 29). Second, more importantly, the ecclesial analogy may perpetuate a sort of cognitive dissonance in a Christian use of Scripture as it makes the content of Scripture secondary to its function as a means of grace for the church. But my criticism does not detract from the authors’ otherwise cordial and constructive treatment of the subject.

Koowon Kim

Koowon Kim
Reformed Graduate University
Seoul, South Korea

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