The Doctrine of Scripture, Brad East (Foreword by Katherine Sonderegger). Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021.
Summary: A concise exploration of the doctrine of scripture focusing on the church’s joyful and thankful confession, “this is the word of the Lord.”
Brad East begins this work with a striking statement: “The doctrine of Holy Scripture is a matter of joy.” He notes the practice of many churches following the reading of the scriptures to say, “The word of the Lord.” to which the congregation replies, “Thanks be to God!” East, in this work, seeks to outline the doctrine of scripture in a way that is representative of a broad swath of Christianity, working from the Canon of scripture to the Rule of Faith found in the early creeds, and the ecumenical councils.
East outlines his doctrine of scripture under six one-word chapter titles:
Source: East explores what it is we mean that scripture comes from God. He explores whether we can form our understanding of scripture from scripture, who is this God who speaks, and how do we understand the inspiration of human authors, specifically, “that the words they naturally will to write are one and the same as those which God wills them to write,” yet without human writers being mere automatons.
Nature: Of what are we speaking by the terms “Holy Scripture” or “Bible”? East would answer, “each and every instance, past, present, and future, of any or all parts of any and all versions of the texts included in the canon of the church’s Scripture.” This supports the translatability of scripture, its fecundity, apparent before my eyes in the seven English versions in front of me as I write. He discusses matters of bibliolatry, biblicism, and individualized versions of sola scriptura. He likens scripture to the offices of Christ. When it is read, it speaks prophetically, it mediates salvation to the world, and it heralds the king.
Attributes. In this chapter, East develops the apostolic necessity of scripture, given the delay in the return of Christ, the holy sufficiency of scripture to accomplish God’s purpose, the catholic clarity of scripture, that scripture’s meaning is only clearly understood with the church, particularly in light of its creeds (an argument differing from the Reformers), and the one truth of scripture to which it unerringly witnesses, making known all we need for salvation.
Ends. Ultimately, scripture guides the exiled people of God in mission toward the consummation of all things in Christ. He describes four ends within this larger picture in life of believers: befriending Christ: beatitude and conversion; following Christ: instruction and edification; imaging Christ: sanctification and perseverance; and knowing Christ: communion and contemplative delight.
Interpretation: He begins with a kind of glossary of terms used in hermeneutical discussion. A highlight of this chapter is East’s proposal that the center of interpretation ought be the worshipping church of baptized believers expectant to encounter her living Lord in both word and sacrament. Private reading, for East comes secondary to this. Also, he challenges historical-critical readings that attempt to discern authorial intent, particularly because this, through the early centuries of the church was subject to Christological readings, where the words of Moses and the prophets are understood in their fullest meaning through the life and work of Christ, a principle evident in apostolic reading of these texts. He argues that we read scripture as God’s inspired word, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as a product and gift to the church of Jesus Christ, canonically, reading these writings as a collection, and interpreted through and in consonance with the rule of faith.
Authority. Here, East discusses how the divine authority of God is mediated to us through the authority of scriptures through the offices of the church. He notes ten questions the doctrine of biblical authority raises that must be worked out in the church’s practice.
This was not a book of same old, same old verities but a thoughtful framing of the doctrine of scripture that avoids the de-supernaturalizing tendencies of modern scholarship and the extremes of bibliolatry while at the same time upholding the wondrous reality of hearing the Word of the Lord together as the people of God. He avoids dangers of privatized versions of sola scriptura as well as fleshly scholarship that fails to depend on the illuminating work of the Spirit of God. He affirms the primacy of scripture and yet the importance of testing our readings of scripture against the Rule of Faith and the readings of the church over the centuries.
For me, this was doctrine at its best, doctrine that led to doxology as I rejoiced in the God who has spoken and who has provided a record of this witness (the section on the confection reminded me of the work of God in preserving and bringing together the inspired texts that constitute scripture). It reminded me of the great drama we enact each time we gather as scripture is both read and proclaimed and under the gracious work of God’s Spirit, we are enabled to hear God speak afresh. I was reminded afresh of how we have been given in scripture all we need for life and godliness. Finally, I appreciated a book that sidesteps our contemporary polemics that often divide to formulate a doctrine of scripture faithful to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.