Notes: Vanhoozer’s Doctrine of the Word

While the created order so powerfully reveals God’s “goodness, wisdom, and power” (WCF 1:1) as to leave humanity without excuse for our sin, they are not sufficient to give us knowledge unto salvation, the Westminster Confession of Faith states. For this reason, God revealed Himself to his people throughout the history of redemption, and committed “the same [revelation] wholly unto writing” for the purpose of propagating the truth and establishing the church against the corruptions of the flesh, the world, and the devil. Scripture is given for the salvation of mankind and the ordering of the church.

To know God is to know the God who reveals Himself, who interacts with His creation, and he does so with words. Kevin Vanhoozer, in his essay in Christian Dogmatics, highlights God as “a personal speaker: a communicative agent who uses words to do things, mostly in relation to administering covenants and addressing his covenant people.” (Allen and Swain, p. 34) Vanhoozer argues that Scripture is the discourse of the triune Lord, God’s active arm in the economy of salvation. “The Father initiates, the Son effectuates, and the Spirit consummates the discourse that Holy Scripture preserves in writing[…].” (p. 44) He seeks a doctrine of Scripture shaped by the Trinity. He unpacks this thesis by examining the ontology (what Scripture is), function (what Scripture does), and teleology (why Scripture is and does) of Scripture.

Ontologically, the Word of God is divine discourse. By His word, God interacts with His creation, particularly by making covenants, which Vanhoozer defines as “binding words- words sealed by an oath- by which God promises to be there and do things for his people.” (p. 46) The divine discourse takes various forms in the economy of salvation: God has spoken to His people directly (Adam and Eve, Abraham, giving of the Ten Words); He has spoken through particular covenant- representatives (Abraham, Moses, the prophets, etc.); and, climatically, God sent His Word in the person of his Son to reveal Himself among us. This divine discourse is recorded for us in Holy Scripture, the body of written text inspired by God Himself. It is “the creaturely instrument of God’s living and active Word[…].” (p. 48)

Functionally, “Scripture is a creaturely ingredient that continues to function as part of the economy of triune communicative action.” (p. 50) It is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12), not simply a static recording of past speech. God uses His Word in history to accomplish his purposes. He speaks through the Word, and the Word “solicits a personal response on the part of its hearer or reader[…].” The Word is inherently missional: God sends out His Word on mission to accomplish his purpose in his creation.

Teleologically, the divine discourse is intended “to transform the reader- to form Christ in us.” (p. 53, emphasis original) Scripture is intended to be heard (or read), and in that reception the Spirit brings the effect of transformation, a response from the hearer.


Notes: Rahner’s Rule


By Andy Nestl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In The Trinity, Karl Rahner laments the lack of scholarship put “towards development within [trinitarian theology]”. (The Trinity, p. 9) Positive work in trinitarian theology has fallen so far by the way that “should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false,” Rahner says, “the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged”. (pp. 10-11) The doctrine of the Trinity, it seems, bears little to not at all on the Christian life. This stems, in part, from an imposed disjunction of theological loci in dogmatics: namely, the disjunction between the treatises “On the One God” and “On the Triune God”. Progress in trinitarian theology can be achieved in part seeing again the mutual indwelling of these two treatises.

Rahner’s fundamental thesis is as follows: “The ‘economic’ Trinity is the ‘immanent’ Trinity and the ‘immanent’ Trinity is the ‘economic’ Trinity.” (p. 22) In other words, the God who has revealed himself in salvation history as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the one true God, and this God truly is, within the divine life, as he has revealed himself. We know what we know of God through his self-revelation, and he has revealed himself in the Word by the Spirit.

While addressing difficulties connected with his thesis, Rahner states a  presupposition that seems fundamental to his project:

“We develop a theology which neither explicitly nor (more dangerously) implicitly considers a pretended possibility never mentioned in revelation; we cling to the truth that the Logos is really as he appears in revelation, that he is the one who reveals to us (not merely one of those who might have revealed to us) the triune God, on account of the personal being which belongs exclusively to him, the Father’s Logos.” (p. 30)

Rahner makes this statement in respect, particularly to the question of the uniqueness of incarnation of the Son, ruling out an ‘incarnational potentiality’ in the divinity in general. More broadly, though, this presupposition carries through the rest of his thought: that what we see of God in salvation history matches what is true of God in himself, ontologically.

Colossians: Chiastic Structure of 1:3- 2:5

Paul arranges the introduction to his epistle to the Colossians chiastically:

A: Thanksgiving for good report – Paul absent yet represented through Epaphras (1:3-8)

B: Prayer for Colossian’s growth in Christ (1:9-14)

C: Creation and new creation in Christ (1:15-20)

C’: New Creation in Colassae (1:21-23)

B’: Paul ministering for Colossian’s maturity in Christ (1:24- 2:3)

A’: Warning against deception – Paul absent in body yet present in spirit (2:4-5)

Bookending the section is the fact that, though Paul is not physically present with them and has not met them, he longs to be with them, and his co-laborer, Epaphras, is representing him. He begins (A) by giving thanks for the good report from Epaphras, and ends (A’) warning about dangers that could lead them away from their good beginning. He does not want his absence from them to discourage the young church or to take away from his apostolic authority.

Paul prays (B) that they will grow in their knowledge of God, and then shows (B’) how his ministry is for the goal of their maturity in Christ. The Colossian’s growth into full maturity forms the driving goal of the epistle (see also 2:8-10.)

And, central to the section is Paul’s Christ hymn (C) exalting Jesus as captain of creation and new creation, and (C’) Jesus’ new creation in Colossae. This is the basis and center for Paul’s argument throughout the letter: The world has died and been reborn in Christ, and the Colossians likewise have been made new in him. Paul’s goal of their maturity finds its basis here explicitly in 1:22 when he states that they were reconciled in order that Christ might present them “holy and blameless and above reproach,” if they persevere.

New Egypt

Matthew concludes his genealogy numbering the generations from Abraham to David, David to the deportation, and the deportation to Christ. But, of course, this seems to leave out an important detail: the people of the exile returned to the land. Why doesn’t Matthew include the return here?

Matthew is telling us what many Jews of the day knew to be true: although they had returned from their physical exile, they were in a very real sense still in a spiritual, theological exile. And Matthew’s point is that that exile is the one that really matters, the exile that Jesus is born into, and the one that he is sent to redeem his people from. In fact, it’s what the first Exodus was always about.

This makes sense of Matthew’s quotation and placement of Hosea 11:1. The Egypt out of which God’s Son is being called is, physically, Israel. The roles have reversed: Israel is the new Egypt, Herod is the new Pharaoh. And this is what Egypt, Pharaoh, and the Exodus always pointed toward, the New and Greater Exodus.

Creation and Analogy

Peter Leithart writes about creation and analogy on the Trinity House website:

God created everything to communicate of Himself. That is the nature and purpose of everything created. If that is what created things are, and if God is the Creator who knows and governs His universe, then created things are designed to speak of Him.


[…] When we begin from the Bible’s own assumptions about creation, and the implicit view of language that follows from creation, we expect to discover analogies between uncreated and created relations. Of course, they are not the same, and we need to specify the disanalogies along the way. But if we follow the lead of a Bible that speaks of God anthropomorphically, we should should not let the disanalogies frighten us into silence. Because human relations – king and people, father and child, husband and wife, brother and brother, friend and friend – do not reveal the Trinity exhaustively. But they are designed to reveal the communion of the Triune Persons, and to reveal them truthfully.

Read the rest here.

Baptism and Union with Christ

In Pauline thought, baptism is closely linked with union with Christ. We are baptized into union with the Lord. We are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection (Rom. 6.3; Col. 2.12). As we are baptized into union with Christ, we are adopted as “sons of God through faith,” and we become “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according the the promise.” (Gal. 3.26-29)

In fact, the way Paul speaks of baptism does not leave much room for suggesting that baptism is a “mere symbol” of union with Christ; rather, baptism actually effects that which it symbolizes. In Paul, the sign and the thing signified are not to be pulled apart. So, how do we make sense of this? How does baptism bring us into union with the risen Christ?

Paul’s answer is that baptism into Christ is baptism into the whole Christ, both head and body, what St. Augustine called the Totus Christus. Baptism is the doorway into the Church, the body of Christ:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Cor. 12.12-13)

To be in the Church, the body of Christ, is to be in Christ. Thus baptism into the Church is baptism into union with Christ.

The Totus Christus Hermeneutic of St. Augustine

Central to the hermeneutic of St. Augustine is what is known as the totus Christus hermeneutic, the hermeneutical principle that understands Sacred Scripture to be speaking of the whole Christ, head and body, Jesus and the Church. Thus, the Bible is both Christocentric and ecclesiocentric. He summarizes here:

… knowing as we do that the head and the body- that is, Christ and His Church- are sometimes indicated to us under one person (for it is not in vain that it is said to believers, You then are Abraham’s seed [Gal. 3:29], when there is but one seed of Abraham, and that is Christ), we need be in a difficulty when a transition is made from the head to the body or from the body to the head, and yet no change made in the person spoken of. For a single person is represented as saying, He has decked me as a bridegroom with ornaments, and adorned me as a bride with jewels and yet it is, of course, a matter for interpretation which of these two refers to the head and which to the body, that is, which to Christ and which to the Church.

-St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 3.31.44 (as quoted in Peter J. Leithart, Deep Exegesis)

Saint Augustine in His Study, Sandro Boticelli

Saint Augustine in His Study, Sandro Boticelli

So, when you read of Yahweh’s chosen servant in Isaiah, you are definitely reading about Jesus of Nazareth. Yet Paul, preaching in Antioch of Pisidia, can quote Isaiah 49:6 where Yahweh tells his servant Jesus “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” and say “…so the Lord has commanded us.” (Acts. 13:47) The Christ spoken of by Isaiah and Paul is the whole Christ, head and body. The Church is brought through baptism into union with Jesus, and thus becomes members of Christ. In his death, we die; in his resurrection, we are raised (Rom. 6.) We are called as disciples, then, to live cross-shaped lives of self-giving, and to bring the reality of the resurrection to bear on the world.

In Peter J. Leithart’s important work, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripturehe suggests that the “breakdown of this Augustinian hermeneutical principle has been one of the main sources of interpretive confusion among Protestants.” (p.174.) Some only see Jesus in the text, and thus allow no direct application to the Christian life. Others only find moral lessons and rule out any possibility of christological typology. A recovery of the totus Christus, however, will lead us to find our practical tropology flowing out of the christological typology. Indeed, when we see the whole Christ in the text, we learn to read like St. Paul and like Jesus.