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John Webster, Scripture, hermeneutics, church


John Webster’s account of Scripture grants the canonical texts an ontology determined by their divine use, discusses Scripture as an aspect of the doctrine of revelation rather than the church, and above all preserves the capacity of God’s Word to question and form believers. Yet, Webster’s proposal has met resistance from theologians who find his accent on sola scriptura inconsistent with his claim that interpretation (not simply “text”) has ontological force as a part of “sanctification.” This paper asks whether it is possible to retain a robustly Websterian account of Scripture while at the same time denying that Scripture’s primacy is separable from the interpretive tradition (thus safeguarding against individualism). Taking its cues from Webster’s own insistence that the clarity of Scripture emerges over time in the practices of the believing community, the paper places Webster’s account in conversation with the entanglement of liturgical practices, the written word, and apostolic teaching in 1 Tim 3:14–4:16. I argue that despite Webster’s assertions to the contrary, the logical telos of his account of Scripture (and what believers should embrace) is an affirmation of sola scriptura et ecclesia, since both are creaturely realities sanctified by the Spirit in the work of God’s self-communication.


Paper presented at the Los Angeles Theology Conference on January 15, 2016, at Fuller Theological Seminary.