Biblical critics and dogmaticians in dialogue 2

Dogmaticians and biblical critics ought to dialogue more readily, for they share the same task of edifying the Church. They do not do this by their own unaided powers, but in the power of the same Risen One for whose body they exists, and for whose Person they bear witness to. John Webster has reminded is that ‘the particular task of theology is to attest the truth of the gospel in the wake of Christ’s own self-attestation’ (John Webster, Holiness (London: SCM, 2003), 3). So much as the Church seeks to do this articulating work, it concentrates on two fundamental tasks, exegesis and dogmatics. Webster rightly asserts:

‘Exegesis is of supremely critical importance, because the chief instrument through which Christ publishes the gospel is Holy Scripture. Exegesis is the attempt to hear what the Spirit says to the Churches; without it, theology cannot even begin to discharge its office. Dogmatics is complimentary but strictly subordinate to the exegetical task. It is not an improvement upon Holy Scripture, replacing the informal, occasional, language of Scripture by conceptual forms which are better organized, more sophisticated or more firmly grounded. Rather, dogmatics seeks simply to produce a set of flexible accounts of the essential content of the gospel as it is found in Holy Scripture, with the aim of informing, guiding and correcting the Church’s reading. Dogmatics attempts a ‘reading’ of the gospel which in its turn assists the Church’s reading. Developing such a ‘reading’ of the gospel entails, of course, the development (or annexation) of conceptual vocabularies and forms of argument whose range and sophistication may seem distant from the more immediate, urgent idioms of Scripture. But though technical sophistication is not without its attendant perils, it is only vicious when allowed to drift free from the proper end of theology, which is the saints’ edification. When that end is kept in view and allowed to govern the work of theology, then dogmatics can be pursued as a modest work of holy reason, transparent to the gospel and doing its service in the Church as the school of Christ.’ (Webster, Holiness, 3-4)

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