22 September 2005

webster on accommodation

In a book review several weeks ago I suggested that the language of "accommodation" with regard to divine revelation is, in several respects, inadequate and potentially misleading. This is not at all to deny that God's (archetypal) knowledge of himself only bears and analogical relationship to our (ectypal) participation in that knowledge through revelation. But I am not convinced that "accommodation" is the best language with which to express that relationship.

I've recently been reading through John Webster's short book Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge 2003), which thus far has been quite helpful and thought-provoking. Webster sketches a dogmatic theology of holy Scripture from within the Reformed tradition, drawing in various ways upon Calvin, Luther, Bavinck, Berkouwer, Barth, and others. He does a good job of setting Scripture in its theological context of "the self-presentation of the triune God" to the end of establishing saving fellowship with those who respond in faith.

In the process of explication his doctrine of Scripture, Webster says the following regarding the notion of "accommodation," which he recognizes to have a long tradition in Reformed dogmatics. He writes,

...the notion of accommodation is tied to an excessively neat distinction between, on the one hand, the form, manner or mode of revelation and, on the other hand, the content of revelation. The first (form) is associated with the human character of the biblical texts, the second (content) with the matter of divine wisdom to which this form is external. Although accommodation and (especially) condescension give proper emphasis to the way in which the biblical texts are what they are in the economy of God's self-revelation, the distinction between for and content can have the effect of inflaming the problem of dualism by reinforcing the idea that the creatureliness of the text is simply external and contingent. (22)

It seems to me that this note of caution is spot on and expresses well some of what I was trying to get at in my earlier misgivings.

In any case, this brief quotation will have to suffice for now. I'm not sure how much blogging I'll be able to keep up with in the next several weeks and the semester is getting increasingly busy, but we'll see.