Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Word is Alive (and Non-Negotiable)

"To the law and to the testimony. If they speak not according to this word, then it is because they have no light in them." Is. 8:20

Q: What rule has God given to direct us [on] how we may glorify and enjoy Him?
A: The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us [on] how we may glorify and enjoy Him.

For the Christian, the Bible is more than just "relevant"; not less than, but certainly more. It is "alive" (Heb. 4:12), i.e., "God-breathed" (II Tim. 3:16) and thus presenced by the Spirit of God, the same Spirit who leads to the truth (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13) and searches and reveals the "deep things" of God (I Cor. 2:10). Divine origin is nothing new: many religions claim to have received truth from God (or the gods, or the divine essence). But divine inspiration---in that the word is alive with God's Spirit, who still speaks through it to us and thus securing its authority for all time---that is a unique invention in the history of religion. It could have only been introduced (or discovered) by a religion with incarnation at its center. The Word was made text as well as flesh (Heb. 1:1-2). This is why the Confession says the Bible trumps or supersedes all other authorities: its divine origin and inspiration.
I can see my house from up here.
It trumps and supersedes all the traditions of men, even the most wise or most holy. This does not mean that the whole body of human writing is of no use to us. On the contrary, all things are ours for the taking (Phil. 4:8), and many things can be beneficial, but nothing carries the weight of authority like the Bible. The buck stops with it. It is the rubric by which all other wisdom rises or falls. Thus, wisdom and traditions of the world, from Plato and Aristotle to Descartes and Schopenhauer to even Nietzsche and Foucault, are all ours for the taking and leaving. They own nothing in us (I Cor. 6:12). Likewise, the wisdom and traditions of the Church, from Augustin and Anselm and Aquinas to Pascal and Edwards and Spurgeon to Lewis and Schaeffer, are also ours for the taking or leaving. Let them all come, but let them all rise or fall on this one foundation: the living truth of God.

I think I need some pants.
This living truth also trumps and supersedes human reason. Again, this does not mean that reason is useless or invalid, only that it does not have the final say. It can never have the final say anyway. As finite creatures, living in our unique yet limited capacity as subjective beings on one small speck in the universe, our understanding is necessarily limited, which takes true humility to see, for we all from time to time slip into the notion that we have it all figured out. "We know in part," says Paul (I Cor. 13:9), a profound statement for two reasons: (1) it asserts that we can "know," that we can have true knowledge, that understanding is not futile nor epistemology an empty exercise; (2) it asserts that our knowledge has limits, limits that only God can and will fill (I Cor. 13:10, 12). In one simple statement, we find rebuke to both the skeptic and the egoist. We find reason defended and put in its place, viz., beneath the authority of God's revelation.

Lastly, the living word and revelation of God trumps and supersedes what was once called "the light within," a Quaker term that meant the self-guidance of the "divine spark" within us, guidance without reference to any outside authority. This idea is still very attractive. You often hear the call to "follow your heart" or "listen to your guts" or some such thing. It is not all wrong. Like human reason, instinct and common sense have a place; but also like reason, that place is limited. Even more so, for our "heart" is deceptive (Jer. 17:9; Matt. 15:18-20) and deceived (II Cor. 4:3-4). To trust our hearts with reference to nothing else is to court disaster, for it is inadequate to know the truth, including the truths that only God can reveal (I Cor. 2:9-10).

Hey! Don't you tell me what to do!
"Follow your heart" has its religious versions as well, mainly in charismatic circles and in more liberal versions of Christianity, both of which refer to it as "a movement of the Holy Spirit." Liberal Christian- ity is especially egregious in this error, wielding the "Holy Spirit" like a bludgeon against even the Bible itself. Charismatic movements may use the "Holy Spirit" to justify absurd prophecies or raucous church meetings, but liberal Christian types (e.g., Rob Bell) use it to justify the complete eradication of doctrinal clarity and (by extension) the complete reversal of certain biblical positions. All this stems from ripping "the Spirit" away from any authoritative mooring other than your own whims, which is what "follow your heart" is really all about. It is an ennobling of our own self-centeredness, another means to justify our own ends.

This is what makes the Bible so offensive to many today: it is an authoritative mooring set outside and even against our own whims. It does offer wondrous possibilities, but it also demands compliance on every level. What it has revealed is the touchstone for any and every thing else, including itself. We can distinguish between "the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error" by what has been written by the prophets and apostles (I John 4:5-6). We can know who and what has or has not "light" because of the "law and the testimony" already delivered (Is. 8:20). It is a fixed point, as fixed as God Himself, for it is His word, presenced with His immutable presence and filled to bursting with His everlasting truth.
Just follow your heaAAAAAAAAAaaaaaa...!!!
-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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