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Kevin Vanhoozer at Wheaton

Posted Sunday, April 13, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Theology  
The Wheaton Theological Conference was this past weekend, focusing on the Trinity and ministry. I did not go to very many sessions (to my own loss), but I did go to the two keynote sessions with Kevin Vanhoozer. He spoke on the relationship of the Trinity to inspiration. The first session was mostly negative, in the sense that he expressed his dislike of most evangelical theories of inspiration since they do not include the Trinity. He expressed the belief that since the Trinity is part of the uniqueness of Christianity, a uniquely Christian view of inspiration must take that into account, and if a view of inspiration could mesh with a Jewish or Muslim worldview, then it would be at least deficient if not wrong. I confess that I do not share this same concern as Vanhoozer. Why is it that the Trinity must be the determinative doctrine? Do we have to take all the distinctives of Christianity and make them part of every aspect of theology? He also discussed the incarnation analogy and its use in inspiration (ala Peter Enns): just as Jesus is both human and divine, the Bible is both human and divine. But Vanhoozer suggested this analogy breaks down too quickly for it to be of use. The second night he gave his own positive take on inspiration and the Trinity. I was not exactly sure what he was arguing for, but here is my understanding of it. The Trinity is both three speech agents and one speech agent. The significance of this is that the three persons of the Trinity have always had perfect communication with each other. Scripture then is divine rhetoric: the father is the ethos, the son is the logos, and the spirit is the pathos (the persuasive power of Scripture rightly interpreted). Or to look at it another way: where is God involved in Scripture? Is the work of God the making of Scripture or the work of Scripture in the life of the reader? Barth thought that it was the latter only. The Bible became the Word of God only when it was read in faith and God was encountered in the reading. Vanhoozer speculated that Barth either did not want to tie God to a human word or he took historical criticism too seriously. Evangelicals have focused their attention (inerrancy, inspiration) on the former: the making of the Scripture. The latter is not denied, but Vanhoozer thought that it was downplayed in evangelicalism. Vanhoozer's conclusion is to take divine communication within the Trinity as a principle: "the Trinity is our Scripture Principle." Communication involes not just the saying of something, but also the receiving of something. Hence, the evangelical doctrine of Scripture must contain both the work of God in making Scripture as well as the work of God in the reader/hearer. I appreciate much of what Vanhoozer said, but I am not sure that he needed the Trinity to get there. Of course, it might very well be that I missed part of what he was saying. He is much smarter than I am, and I am not even a theologian, only a poor Old Testament student.

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