Scripture

Devotional Warmth & Academic Rigor

In the book The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor, D.A. Carson provides this helpful advice on combining devotional warmth and academic rigor when approaching the Bible. He shows that the common disjunction made between these two ways of approaching Scripture is a misnomer.

Fight with every fiber of your being the common disjunction between “objective study” of Scripture and “devotional reading” of Scripture, between “critical reading” of the Bible and “devotional reading” of the Bible. The place where this tension first becomes a problem is usually at seminary. Students enter with the habit of reading the Bible “devotionally” (as they see it). They enjoy reading the Bible, they feel warm and reverent as they do so, they encounter God through its pages, some have memorized many verses and some chapters, and so forth.

Seminary soon teaches them the rudiments of Greek and Hebrew, principles of exegesis, hermeneutical reflection, something about textual variants, distinctions grounded in different literary genres, and more. In consequence, students learn to read the Bible “critically” or “objectively” for their assignments but still want to read the Bible “devotionally” in their quiet times.

Every year a handful of students end up at the door of assorted lecturers and professors asking how to handle this tension. They find themselves trying to have their devotions, only to be harassed by intruding thoughts about textual variants. How should one keep such polarized forms of reading the Bible apart? This polarization, this disjunction, kept unchecked, may then characterize or even harass the biblical scholar for the rest of his or her life. That scholar may try to write a commentary on, say, Galatians, where at least part of the aim is to master the text, while preserving time for daily devotional reading.

My response, forcefully put, is to resist this disjunction, to eschew it, to do everything in your power to destroy it. Scripture remains Scripture, it is still the Word of God before which (as Isaiah reminds us) we are to tremble—the very words we are to revere, treasure, digest, meditate on, and hide in our hearts (minds?), whether we are reading the Bible at 5:30 am at the start of a day, or preparing an assignment for an exegesis class at 10:00 pm.

If we try to keep apart these alleged two ways of reading, then we will be irritated and troubled when our “devotions” are interrupted by a sudden stray reflection about a textual variant or the precise force of a Greek genitive; alternatively, we may be taken off guard when we are supposed to be preparing a paper or a sermon and suddenly find ourselves distracted by a glimpse of God’s greatness that is supposed to be reserved for our “devotions.” So when you read “devotionally,” keep your mind engaged; when you read “critically” (i.e., with more diligent and focused study, deploying a panoply of “tools”), never, ever, forget whose Word this is. The aim is never to become a master of the Word, but to be mastered by it.

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A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Creator

Encouragement is an underestimated force in our lives. It has the power to redirect our steps, change our future, eclipse our past and fill our present with courage. Scripture calls us to the great work of infusing hope in others through encouragement. In the next four posts we will develop a biblical framework for thinking on and practicing encouragement.Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PM

When you think about the most encouraging character in the Bible who comes to mind? Barnabas. Guaranteed it’s Barnabas. He was so encouraging that they renamed him “the son of encouragement.” But you see, Barnabas is a pale reflection, a faint whisper of the Greatest Encourager.

When building a framework you start with the foundation.

Take a look at this text from Romans 15:5-6, it provides the starting point for our discussion.

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Encouragement in this verse is a descriptor of the character and nature of God himself. It does not merely say that God does some encouraging here and there. It says that he is the Encouraging God—the God who encourages…we are talking about a posture, a way of existing, a way of interacting.

The most encouraging being in existence is God himself. The storyline of Scripture is replete with examples of a God who encourages, who infuses hope and who instills courage. How encouraging were the strolls with God in the garden? How encouraging was it when the original rebellion was met with clothing for naked bodies and a promise of a Serpent-Crusher?

What about the safety of the ark, the rainbow reminder that the earth will never be flooded again? What about the promise and birth of Isaac? Don’t forget the Exodus, the taking of the promised land, the provision of the tabernacle and temple, the rise of righteous kins, the comforting words of the prophets and the promises of a coming Messiah.

The Encouraging God bursts onto the scene in the incarnation—he comes walking in the flesh. In Christ we see what divine encouragement looks like. We see it in his words and actions. Read the gospels, watch Christ interact and you will see encouragement. In the good news we find our greatest encouragement, something we will see further into our blog series. The New Testament letters are filled with encouragement flowing from the gospel for the church.

The New Testament ends with a burst of encouragement. The return of Christ, the future hope, the new heavens and new earth, the end of sorrow, the presence of God, and an eternity of hope! In the next few posts we will look at four pillars of encouragement throughout Scripture. There are many anchor points we could focus on, but I have chosen four that explicitly link the language of encouragement to their themes. At the root of all encouragement is our Creator, God himself. He is the great Encourager—everything we will explore flows out of his heart and his activity.

Humor and Self-Forgetfulness

Karl Rahner has an interesting perspective on humor. He suggests that genuine humor is the expression of genuine love for another while forgetting about oneself. This is what he says about this idea.

“Not everybody, however, has a genuine sense of humor. That calls for an altruistic detachment from oneself and a mysterious sympathy with others which is felt even before they open their mouths. Only the person who has also a gift for affection can have a true sense of humor. A good laugh is a sign of love; it may be said to give us a glimpse of, or a first lesson in, the love that God bears for every one of us.”

Luther on Scripture

Martin Luther developed his theology around the conviction that the Word of God is true and strong. He believed, as do I, that Scripture is the speech of God. It is no different than the speech that brought earth into existence out of nothing. It contains that same power and purpose.

Here are three great quotes that capture some of his thinking on Scripture. We can see hints of sola scriptura (scripture alone) and ad fontes (back to the sources) in the first quote. In the second and third quotes we see Luther’s pastoral approach to Scripture. It is a safeguard against despair and temptation. It is a wellspring of hope and confidence.

“He who has made himself master of the principles and text of the word runs little risk of committing errors. A theologian should be thoroughly in possession of the basis and source of faith—that is to say, the Holy Scriptures. Armed with this knowledge it was that I confounded and silenced all my adversaries; for they seek not to fathom and understand the Scriptures; they run them over negligently and drowsily; they speak, they write, they teach, according to the suggestion of their heedless imaginations. My counsel is, that we draw water from the true source and fountain, that is, that we diligently search the Scriptures. He who wholly possesses the text of the Bible, is a consummate divine. One single verse, one sentence of the text, is of far more instruction than a whole host of glosses and commentaries, which are neither strongly penetrating nor armor of proof. As, when I have that text before me of St Paul: “All the creatures of God are good, if they be received with thanksgiving,” this text shows, that what God has made is good. Now eating, drinking, marrying, etc., are of God’s making, therefore they are good. Yet the glosses of the primitive fathers are against this text: for Bernard, Basil, Jerome, and others, have written to far other purpose. But I prefer the text to them all.”

“Oh! how great and glorious a thing it is to have before one the Word of God! With that we may at all times feel joyous and secure; we need never be in want of consolation, for we see before us, in all its brightness, the pure and right way. He who loses sight of the Word of God, falls into despair; the voice of heaven no longer sustains him; he follows only the disorderly tendency of his heart, and of world vanity, which lead him on to his destruction.”

“A fiery shield is God’s Word; of more substance and purer than gold, which, tried in the fire, loses naught of its substance, but resists and overcomes all the fury of the fiery heat; even so, he that believes God’s Word overcomes all, and remains secure everlastingly, against all misfortunes; for this shield fears nothing, neither hell nor the devil.”