Tag Archives: John Webster

Remembrances of John Webster

Two years ago this month John Wester passed away. A series of appreciations and reflections on his influence were collected by the Henry Center for Theological Understanding’s online theological periodical Sapientia. Respondents included Geoffrey Fulkerson, Joseph Mangina, Tyler Wittman, Justin Stratis, Michael Allen, R. David Nelson, Stephen Holmes, Darren Sarisky, Scott Swain, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Fred Sanders. As you can imagine, just contemplating Webster’s contributions generate rich material. For a sample, let me suggest starting with Fred Sander’s “Making Christology Safe for Christology” to get a taste of Webster’s challenge to an important stream in the contemporary theological scene, and then proceed to the others.


Darren Sarisky on Webster-style theological theology

…operating theologically entails that the discipline cannot frame an account of its own procedures without direct recourse to theological categories…

This requires, first, that theologians grant God priority in their study, rather than allowing a philosophical account of the subjective conditions of the enquirer to determine their method. The problem with a transcendental anthropology is that it grants only the slightest formative role to theology in conceiving of the nature of the human knower, and, among other things, this obscures the way in which theological reason is caught in the dynamics of the fall and regeneration. Taking one’s cue from a theological ontology, by contrast, sets the discussion of theological inquiry into an entirely different register. In this case, who the human inquirer is is spelled out by recourse to a theological anthropology; the proximate objects of study, written texts, are understood as part of the deposit of ecclesial tradition; and the practice of intellectual reflection can be unpacked as an episode in the history of the reconciliation of God and human beings, one in which inquirers together form the company of the saints. What makes the crucial difference is that each of these topics is viewed sub specie divnitatis.

from Theological Theology: Essays in Honor of John Webster, Eds. Nelson, Sarisky, and Stratis (Bloomsbury, 2015), 3.

Three Conceptions of Christianity’s Dogmatic Center

A. Steven D. Paulson (traditional Lutheran)

The proper scopus for theology is not Trinity, incarnation, and deification, but law, sin, and grace, for when law and gospel are properly distinguished then and only then will the doctrines of Trinity, incarnation, and deification come to true expression.

from Lutheran Theology, (T&T Clark, 2011), 30.

B. John Webster (20th C. theology’s general consensus)

In sum: the only Christian doctrine that may legitimately claim to exercise a magisterial and judicial role in the corpus of Christian teaching is the doctrine of the Trinity, since in that doctrine alone all other doctrines have their ultimate basis.

from “The Place of the Doctrine of Justification” in What is Justification About? Reformed Contributions to an Ecumenical Theme. Eds. Weinrich and Burgess. (Eerdmans, 2009), 38.

C. Katherine Sonderegger (a recent — and ancient? — proposal)

We are advocating here for a proper starting point in the Oneness of God [instead of God’s Threeness], a beginning favored by Thomas Aquinas and many Reformers, but … disputed by Peter Lombard and many modern dogmaticians [e.g., Barth, Rahner, Jenson, Webster, and many others]. … Thomas differs from the Lombard on a key point. Peter Lombard considered Augustine’s De Trinitate to be the central governing authority for the doctrine of God; De Deo Trino would begin and ground the teaching on God. Thomas orders doctrine differently: for him De Deo Uno would stand at the head of the doctrine of God.

from Systematic Theology: Volume 1, The Doctrine of God, (Fortress, 2015), 7-8.

On directions in which to extend one’s critical vocabulary

1. Raimond Gaita

There is a permanent tension between academic practice and the example of Socrates, which is why philosophers cannot simply appeal to their authority as people who have mastered a subject to justify their entry into a discussion that requires some depth and wisdom. If they do enter it then they must not only expect, but also accept as proper, the extension of the critical vocabulary in which their remarks are to be assessed – that, for example, they are shallow, naive, callow, fatuous, or even corrupt.

from Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception, 2nd ed. (Routledge, 2004), 322.

2. John Webster

Much can be discerned about a theological proposal … by observing the sequence in which … topics are addressed and the proportions allotted to each, as well as by probing the material claims made about them. [89]

Sometimes [dubious proposals] may be warranted by appeal to elements of the Christian faith, often rather randomly chosen, abstractly conceived, and without much sense of their systematic linkages. [202]

from The Domain of the Word, (Bloomsbury, 2014), emphases added

See also: Lash and Tanner

On complicating the relationship between objects and methods of reflection

1. Ludwig Wittgenstein

318. […] there is no sharp boundary between methodological propositions and propositions within a method.

from On Certainty

2. John Webster

Determining the possibility, nature, and responsibilities of theology requires appeal to material theological doctrine. Indeed, prolegomena to systematic theology is an extension and application of the content of Christian dogmatics (Trinity, creation, fall, reconciliation, regeneration and the rest), not a ‘pre-dogmatic’ inquiry into its possibility. “Dogmatics does not wait for an introduction” [Hoeksema].

from The Domain of the Word (Bloomsbury, 2014), 133.

John Webster on the perennial nature of the intellect’s depravity

Thanks are owed to Resident Theology for flagging the following quote (HERE):

[W]e would be unwise to think of the depravity of the intellect as a peculiarly modern occurrence, a collateral effect of the naturalization of our view of ourselves. It assumes peculiar modern forms, such as the association of the intellect with pure human spontaneity and resistance to the idea that the movement of the mind is moved by God. But these are instances of perennial treachery; if our intellects are depraved, it is not because we are children of Scotus or Descartes or Kant, but because we are children of Adam.

from “On the Theology of the Intellectual Life,” in Christ Across the Disciplines: Past, Present, Future. Ed. Roger Lundin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 107.

Juxtaposing Comic and Tragic Theological Accents

There are few theologians I admire as much as Nicholas Lash. In fact he’s the subject of a thesis I’m currently writing. That fact in itself, however, is nothing remarkable. What I do find puzzling, though, is the fact that I would also consider John Webster to be one of the few other theologians whose work is comparably masterly. So here’s my rub: in more than a few respects they seem to operate more or less on the bases of antithetical premises. Whereas Lash’s sensibilities tend toward the critical, interrogative, and multidisciplinary, Webster, on the other hand, prefers a constructive, declarative, and monodisciplinary posture. Though I’ve tried to register what light the juxtaposition of these two theologians may bring to view before (e.g., here), I thought I’d like to do so again. If nothing else, I hope this post may at least serve as a modest reminder of the fact that you’re actually still allowed to like (and learn from) those you disagree with.

  1. John Webster

In order to speak about conflict (including the conflict of theological controversy) theology must first speak about peace, because peace, not conflict, is the condition of creatures in both their original and their final states. In order to speak about the peace of creatures, furthermore, theology must first speak about the God of peace, who is the principle and pattern of created tranquility. … Apart from the gospel of peace, conflict and peace are not transparent, self-evident realities, and our knowledge of them is at best half-knowledge. Conflict threatens knowledge of God and of ourselves, and hinders the tranquil operation of reason. Though in conflict we commonly pretend to a sharpened sense of our situation, this is an illusion born of the drastic simplification of the world which comes upon us in the grip of strong passion.

from “Theology and the Peace of the Church,” in The Domain of the Word, (Bloomsbury, 2012), 150.

  1. Nicholas Lash

There is no trace, in the Scriptures, of the banality, the cliché-strewn abstractness, which disfigures so much of our talk of life, and love, and justice. Our mistake, perhaps, is to suppose the brightness of the world to be imaginable without reference to the dark in which it dawns — unlike the psalmist, who writes so well about creation’s flourishing because he feels the garden-world’s fragility: its vulnerability to drought and desert storm.

Without in any way compromising the announcement of God’s sovereign faithfulness, and hence the primacy of life to death, of peacefulness to conflict, daylight over dark, the Scripture interweaves the strands into a single, sometimes quite disturbing tapestry.

from Seeing in the Dark, (Darton, Longman & Todd), 148.