Theology And Biblical Authority: A Review Article -- By: Carl F. H. Henry

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 19:4 (Fall 1976)
Article: Theology And Biblical Authority: A Review Article
Author: Carl F. H. Henry

Theology And Biblical Authority: A Review Article

Carl F. H. Henry*

The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology. By David H. Kelsey. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975, 216 pp. plus bibliography and index, $11.95.

Contemporary theologians appeal to the Bible in many ways to claim Scriptural legitimacy for their disparate and irreconcilable views. For this reason Professor Kelsey’s discussion of the authority and normativity of Scripture is timely and significant.

Despite frequent summation, this succinct volume by the professor of theology at Yale Divinity School will be rather difficult reading even for clergymen and seminarians. But it has a fourfold importance. First, it reverses the field of neo-protestant theologians who repudiate Scriptural authority while elaborating professedly Christian theology; it therefore appears as a long-overdue recognition that non-evangelical scholars cannot hope to be regarded as authentically Christian theologians while they are perceived as hostile to Scriptural authority. Second, it exhibits the divergent uses of Scripture by recent theologians who deliberately abandon the evangelical appeal to authoritative Biblical texts and truths. Third, it does not immediately channel the discussion of the relevance of the Bible into claims about “inerrancy” or even “inspiration,” but focuses on the issue of “scriptural authority” as a larger concern. Finally, it affirms “scriptural authority” only in a functional sense that displaces objective textual inspiration and thus extends the non-evangelical revolt against the propositional trustworthiness of the Bible while professing to preserve Biblical authority in the highest sense. Consequently Kelsey maintains the “normativity” and “authority” of “scripture” by philosophical mutation and semantic permissiveness that requires placing all these key terms in quotation marks.

The book is well organized in three parts. The first section, constituting half the volume, focuses on seven twentieth-century theologians: B. B. Warfield, Hans-Werner Bartsch, G. E. Wright, Karl Barth, L. S. Thornton, Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann. Four questions are put to each: (1) What aspect of Scripture is authoritative? (2) What makes it authoritative? (3) What logical force has it? (4) How does it bear on theological affirmations so as to authorize them?

Warfield and Bartsch emphasize what Scripture teaches—the former the doctrinal content, the latter its concepts or main ideas; Wright and Barth stress rather what Scripture reports—the former its recital of God’s mighty historical acts, the latter its rendering of God’s personal presence; Thornton, Tillich and Bultmann invoke images, symbols or myths that provide the occasion for ...

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