Reading with Zwingli

I know for certain that God teaches me, because I have experienced it: and to prevent misunderstanding, this is what I mean when I say that I know for certain that God teaches me. When I was younger, I gave myself overmuch to human teaching, like others of my day, and when about seven or eight years ago I undertook to devote myself entirely to the Scriptures I was always prevented by philosophy and theology. But eventually I came to the point where led by the Word and Spirit of God I saw the need to set aside all these things and to learn the doctrine of God direct from his own word. Then I began to ask God for light and the Scriptures became far clearer to me… than if I had studied many commentators and expositors. Note that it is always a sure sign of God’s leading, for I could never have reached that point by my own feeble understanding. (H. Zwingli, On the Clarity and Certainty or Power of the Word of God)

BooksI’ve been reading Holy Scripture by John Webster with a few guys, in a book group, at College. It is a cracking read.
This quote from Zwingli came in the middle of a chapter entitled ‘Reading in the economy of grace’. The chapter is a theological analysis of how a Christian reads Scripture.
It’s a bombshell – throughout the book Webster essentially denies one of the central presuppositions that undergirds critical Biblical scholarship – and ultimately Modernity itself: that knowledge is, in principle, equally open to any knower.
Crudely put, one of the central philosophical assumptions of our society is that it doesn’t matter who you are, a Fact is a Fact. Certainly there have been endless critiques of this assumption through Post-Modern philosophy, yet they all seem to end with a collapse into solipsism – the knower can only know him or her self. Obviously, this is less than satisfying when applied to a theory of reading Scripture. Indeed, it is downright idolatrous.

Webster manages to dismiss the Modernist assumption while avoiding the barrenness of a Post-Modern alternative.
Starting with any of these notions, according to him, will get your theology all bent out of shape, because, when it comes to knowing God, it really does matter who you are.
I’ve got plenty of questions for Webster – big, meaty ones. I’m suspicious that his answers are just too simple. But I’ve got to love a guy that, today, moved me to want to quit Theological College, and just read the Bible.

For Zwingli, then, the real nature of the interpretative situation is best described as as struggle to replace mastery by teachableness. (Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, John Webster)

6 thoughts on “Reading with Zwingli

  1. Thanks mate,
    the feeling's mutual.
    Maybe that's a weakness with Webster, he proclaims the importance of Church to a full doctrine of Scripture, but he doesn't really talk much about reading in community with each other?


  2. It is a very cool idea though. It resonates with me. It makes sense when we believe that God not only made the world but acts in the world and sustains it.
    Talking about 'reading in community' I just started reading 'Total Church by Timmis (and someone else) and they dropped the idea that the preparation for preaching need not be one individual locked in his study. I am still reading to find out how they suggest it should work in practice but it sounded interesting.


  3. I've heard a lot of good things about Total Church. You'll have to give me updates.
    The concept of 'reading in community' does place the preacher in an interesting position – being both the one who addresses the congregation with the words of God, and one of those addressed.


  4. Will do…
    btw, Your blog is looking very cool at the moment.
    Oh and I was at the FOCUS Getaway on the weekend – it was really good, heaps of first years, great talks, beach etc. I felt rather old though – makes up for feeling very young at uni.


  5. Thanks,
    ah, the first years. They get smaller and more innocent every year. I'm going to try and get down for Focal Point again this year. I miss the hunger for knowing and following Jesus that Uni people have.


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