"In time," Luther opined, "my books will lie forgotten in the dust." This was no lament on the Reformer's part. In fact, Luther found much "consolation" in the possibility -- or rather likelihood -- that his literary efforts would soon fade into oblivion. The dim view he apparently took of his own writings was intimately related to the high view he took of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, his high view of Scripture resulted in a rather dim view of all other writings, not just his own. "Through this practice [namely, writing and collecting books]," he wrote, "not only is precious time lost which could be used for studying the Scripture, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench." Making the same point in more colorful terms, Luther complained of the "countless mass of books" written over time which, "like a crawling swarm of vermin," had served to supplant the place which should belong to "the Bible" in the life of the Church and her people. In sum, Luther judged that folk would be better off reading and hearing the Bible than reading and hearing anything which he or anyone else had written, and the last thing he wanted to be found guilty of was producing words which distracted anyone from the Word.
On this score, Luther discovered hope that his own works would be soon forgotten in the sheer number of publications competing with his own in his day. "My books... will not last long. There is especially good hope of this, since it has begun to rain and snow books and teachers, many of which already lie there forgotten and moldering. Even their names are not remembered any more, despite their confident hope that they would eternally be on sale in the market and rule churches."
A second reason Luther took a dim view of his works is that he understood rather well how literary accomplishments can foster pride. In this regard, the Reformer offers some harsh -- and, true to form, fairly entertaining -- words to those who become inflated on the basis of their publications. I suspect, though it would be difficult to prove, that he addressed a proclivity he discovered in himself with his words. "If... you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books...; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it -- if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears. Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you and say, 'See, See! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books.'" If, in other words, you write with the intent of garnering man's praise, and/or find yourself thriving upon the same, then go the extra mile: deck yourself out like the ass that you are and really draw attention to yourself.
I would guess that Luther's acute sensitivity to the dangers of pride that exist to writers, and his warning against publishing towards the end of bolstering one's ego, hold special relevance in our day, where one needs merely an internet connection, rather than a willing publisher, to broadcast his/her literary words of wisdom. I suspect, in other words, that blog posts and tweets have exponentially increased the existence of that specific kind of pride which Luther names in the quote above. His words are, in any case, a worthwhile reminder of the perils that threaten anyone who finds himself or herself in a position to put words on paper (or screen) which others stand likely to read.
Luther also offers some wonderful advice on how to write in a way that isn't directed towards self-promotion and pride. "All other writing" -- that is, writing other than Scripture -- "[should] lead the way into and point toward the Scriptures," rather than lead from and obscure the same. Words written in the service of Christ, in other words, should lead others to "drink" directly "of the fresh spring" itself -- that is, the Bible.
In my judgment, Luther's works accomplish the very thing he here suggests should be wrought by "all other writing" -- they lead one into a fuller and richer appreciation of Scripture, and of the one whose person and work Scripture ultimately proclaims. Perhaps that's one of the reasons that Luther's books have far outlived his own expectations for them.
Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.
It may have been ever thus, but there seem to be an increasing number of books - often from the fields of biblical or systematic theology - that present themselves as having discovered or provided the overarching theme of the Scriptures as a whole, the lens through which the whole should be read and interpreted. At other times, there is a supposed historical precedent which, we are informed, must govern the way in which we handle not only uninspired texts, but even the Scriptures themselves. Perhaps there is even an experimental approach: we have had such-and-such an experience, therefore it must be validated by the Word of God.
Every other theme or text is then shoehorned into the grand scheme, trimmed and hammered until the squarest of pegs slide into the roundest of holes. Sometimes, there is something that is compelling about such presentations, and much light is shed on the Word of God. One might still not accept the demand that this be the point at which we stand in order to change the world, while appreciating the help given in seeing this as a weighty theme or principle. At other times, I am concerned at how blunt or even crass that process is, with some shallow little epithet becoming the cookie cutter into which every text or doctrine must be forced. We end up reading our Bibles with a combination of myopia and tunnel vision, and not just those that come of being fallen creatures.
At the same time, most of us are probably accustomed to reading the Bible through a certain set of lenses. We come to the Word of God with certain notions, and these - consciously or unconsciously, possibly even subconsciously - inform our hermeneutics. This is largely inevitable. We open the Bible with certain presuppositions, a certain system influencing if not governing the way in which we read.
As a result, we tend to find in the Scriptures what accords with our own convictions. You might recall John 'Rabbi' Duncan's attempt at self-definition: "I'm first a Christian, next a catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a paedobaptist, and fifth a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse this order." I wonder if (with necessary adjustments and extensions, depending on our beliefs) we also read the Bible through those kinds of lenses, in more or less that order?
So the key question must be, who makes the lenses and sets them in the frames? Here is a great challenge for us if we are to be faithful and humble readers of the Scriptures. Prayerfully dependent on the Holy Spirit, we must adjust our lenses and our frames to ensure that the Scriptures come into focus as they are, and not adjust the Scriptures so that they can be read through our lenses and frames.
This, I think, is one of the particular things that I appreciate about the expositions of Calvin and some of the other older writers. Please understand that I am not seeking to set up a Calvin versus the Calvinists dichotomy, or necessarily trying to endorse the system that often goes by the name of Calvinism. Rather, I am talking about the way the man handles the Bible. And I think he handles the Bible humbly and faithfully. There is no doubt that he reads with certain presuppositions, as do we all. But when he reaches a given point in his handling of a text, and noticeably where it is something which pushes his system - starkly and mechanistically considered - out of shape, he does not start trying to kick the text into shape, but he takes off his shoes, for he is standing on holy ground. And that is something we all must do.
Spurgeon once said, "Brethren, we shall not adjust our Bible to the age; but before we have done with it, by God's grace, we shall adjust the age to the Bible." If we are to do that, we must also ensure that we do not adjust our Bible to the system, but the system to our Bible. As we read, we must allow every line to have its full and honest weight, to be interpreted historically and and linguistically and grammatically in accordance with righteous standards, and to submit to whatever we find. To be sure, we do not and cannot come nakedly to the Word of God, and it would be folly to suggest that we do and can. But let us be done with shoehorning the Bible, in the whole or in part, into a preordained system. If I find it in my Bible, I must believe it. If I do not, then I am not bound by it, and neither can I bind anyone else to it. We cannot use the Bible to legitimise what we have already decided must be true. If God's Word declares it, I receive it and embrace it, even if - where reason fails, with all its powers - there faith prevails and love adores. We worship even when - perhaps especially when - we cannot fully comprehend. Let us make sure that - whatever we start with - we are continually adjusting our frames and refining our lenses to ensure that the fixed points of the Word of God inform everything else that we believe or do, and live and worship accordingly.
He told me that being himself, in the time of his youth, a student at Cambridge, and having heard much of Mr. Rogers of Dedham, in Essex, purposely he took a journey from Cambridge to Dedham to hear him preach on his lecture day. And in that sermon he falls into an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible [I am afraid it is more neglected in our days]; he personates God to the people, telling them, "Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible; you have slighted it; it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs. You care not to look into it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer." And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it, and carrying it from them; but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly, "Lord, whatsoever thou cost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us thy Bible, only take not away thy Bible." And then he personates God again to the people: "Say you so? Well, I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it." But by these actions [as the Doctor told me] he put all the congregation into so strange a posture that he never saw any congregation in his life. The place was a mere Bochim, the people generally [as it were] deluged with their own tears; and he told me that he himself when he got out, and was to take horse again to be gone, was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of his horse weeping, before he had power to mount, so strange an impression was there upon him, and generally upon the people, upon having been thus expostulated with for the neglect of the Bible.Neglect of the Bible. Careless disregard for the Word of the Most High and Most Holy. You are not entitled to it, and God is not obliged to provide it. Does your neglect and the prospect of God's response bother you? What if the Lord is saying, even now, "I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it."
Higher criticism is man picking and choosing out of the Scriptures, believing what he likes and rejecting, or ignoring, the rest. It is man failing to submit himself completely and utterly to the whole of the Scriptures. And I believe that this is one of the most urgent problems confronting us today. There are even evangelical people who no longer believe the first three chapters of the book of Genesis. They are not believing all the Scriptures. But until we come back to a belief in all the Scriptures we shall be in trouble because we are setting ourselves up as authorities, and we are not competent to deal with the problems that face us. If we pick and choose, and believe this and reject that, we will ultimately have no authority whatsoever. We are so anxious to please the modern scientists, the modern educated people, that we have lost our gospel.
The Bible is a unity. We must take it all. It not only teaches us salvation, but it teaches us creation. It tells us now God made the world and how he is eventually going to restore the whole cosmos. If you begin to pick and choose from the Scriptures, you will soon end in a state of dejection. This is what the Christian church has been doing for so long, and it is not surprising that things are as they are. Here is our Lord telling these men [on the road to Emmaus], and I believe he is saying it to us today, that we must submit to the Scriptures completely, entirely, whether we understand them or not. Whether we can reconcile everything or not, we must submit to it. We must say that we believe this is the Word of God and we believe everything it says. It is history. It is an account of the creation and the fall. All these events that are presented as facts we must accept as facts; otherwise we shall soon be doubting the fact of Christ himself and even the very being of God. Here is our Lord's own analysis. There is a unity in the Scripture that must never be broken. There is a wholeness and a completeness, and it is only as we submit to this that we can look to the real solution to our problems.
He told me that being himself, in the time of his youth, a student at Cambridge, and having heard much of Mr. Rogers of Dedham, in Essex, purposely he took a journey from Cambridge to Dedham to hear him preach on his lecture day. And in that sermon he falls into an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible [I am afraid it is more neglected in our days]; he personates God to the people, telling them, "Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible; you have slighted it; it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs. You care not to look into it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer." And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it, and carrying it from them; but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly, "Lord, whatsoever thou cost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us thy Bible, only take not away thy Bible." And then he personates God again to the people: "Say you so? Well, I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it." But by these actions [as the Doctor told me] he put all the congregation into so strange a posture that he never saw any congregation in his life. The place was a mere Bochim, the people generally [as it were] deluged with their own tears; and he told me that he himself when he got out, and was to take horse again to be gone, was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of his horse weeping, before he had power to mount, so strange an impression was there upon him, and generally upon the people, upon having been thus expostulated with for the neglect of the Bible.Underestimated light. Nothing compares to the Word of God for true illumination. The faint gleams of natural revelation and human reason are light, to be sure, but they are distant candles to the present white light of God's holy Word. And yet how ready we are to wander around in the gloom, imagining that we see well and sufficiently while we are for the most part blind.
"Put in popular terms, the apostle Paul is saying that the Bible is inherently practical. It is not your pastor's job to make it practical. It already is. It's the most practical book in the world. And the only reason we think it's impractical to hear the Word of God expounded is that we're interested in other questions and other things. But I want to tell you this: it is the questions addressed and the things spoken of in the Word of God that are truly practical. And if we are interested in other questions and other things, we're interested in the wrong things, because there is nothing impractical in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation."
From the Charlotte Observer:
In a close vote that reflected deep division, Presbyterian church leaders representing the Charlotte area signaled their support Saturday for ending their denomination's longstanding ban on gays and lesbians becoming pastors and elders.
In past years, the Charlotte Presbytery - the fourth largest in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) - had backed the prohibition. But after a spirited, civil debate in the chapel at Johnson C. Smith University, the presbytery voted 133-124, with one abstention, to reverse itself.
That means that the seven-county Charlotte Presbytery is now on record as backing a proposed amendment to the denomination's constitution that would open the door to - though not automatically guarantee - ordination of homosexuals.
In a bit of irony, the paper quotes a female Assistant Pastor in opposition to the move:
"It was the right thing for the presbytery to do," said the Rev. Tom Tate of Charlotte's Plaza Presbyterian, one of four pastors - two on each side - who addressed the gathering. "While I am glad for those affected, I am sad that the close vote says the church may be so divided."
The proposed amendment weakens "The Fidelity and Chastity" section (G-6.0106b) governing the moral conduct of church officers. The task force's recommendation, report and rationale are available here.
The revised section deletes the following language:
Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
While retaining the language below:
Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate's sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.
It's not at all clear to me how an ordained minister can pledge to live a life obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge or repent of extramarital, pre-marital, or homosexual sin.
But then again, the task force arrived at this recommendation by allowing each individual uninterrupted and unlimited time to state their opinion and desired outcomes. What emerged, in their opinion, was "a Spirit filled revelation of persons, including a broadly diverse viewpoints and positions, that was received by the group with respect and awe. The very simply process of self declaration without interruption was profound, validated persons and led to an ethos of mutual respect even though those declarations were very different."
A "revelation of persons" that "validated persons" is bound to lead to plain contradictions of the word of God and rebellion against the Head of the Church.
I have been involved in a friendly, and hopefully fruitful, discussion over at Green Baggins regarding Bible interpretation. I have been encouraged to post here some of my comments there. Because I am excerpting from a conversation, I will have to do so in the form of questions and answers. The questions cited here may not always be actual ones from there, but attempt to sum up the path of the conversation.
First Question: Isn't the Bible itself insufficient for developing a method of Bible interpretation? Don't we need to engage in critical studies, to include significant input from outside the Bible?
Writing in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, David Wells explains what our church and our culture need:
"The renewal of which we stand in need, I believe, is of both the understanding of truth and of our knowledge of the God of that truth. It is not one or the other but it is the one and the other. This written Word, this Word of dignity, accosts us because it is true in and of itself and because, as true, it is the vehicle through which we are summoned to stand before the God of that truth. It is by this Word that he, in fact, intrudes upon us, invades our private space, demands that our choices conform with his, and commands that we stand out as those who belong to another age and time, one which is eternal. It is this hearing, in fact, which will reintroduce the very unconventionality which is so conspicuous by its absence in our culturally conventional kind of believing today."
Over the past week I have had the opportunity to review advance proofs of the ESV Study Bible that is planned for publication in October of 2008. Although I have not participated in this project, I have watched it unfold with great interest and anticipation. From what I have seen so far, I believe it will be the world's best complete single-volume resource for reading, studying, and teaching the Bible.
Some readers will be aware of my enthusiasm for the Reformation Study Bible, especially the edition with the English Standard Version. "The gold standard for study Bibles," I have called it. Some will also be aware of my involvement with the Literary Study Bible that Crossway published last fall. I will continue to recommend both of those resources. However, the ESV Study Bible includes some of the best features of those study Bibles while at the same time providing a lot more.
Needless to say, the ESV Study Bible features the English Standard Version, which I believe to be the best English Bible translation for family discipleship and church ministry. Finally the ESV has the full-fledged study Bible that it deserves.
The ESV Study Bible was produced by a team of leading evangelical scholars--all of them experts in the Bible and its theology, and all of them committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. The theological orientation of the team is Reformed, with broad representation from institutions across the evangelical landscape. As one would expect, there is a wealth of grammatical, cultural, theological, historical, and archaeological information in the articles, book introductions, and verse-by-verse notes.
The ESV Study Bible makes a big impact visually. Exceptional attention has been given to producing new maps, charts, and visual illustrations of places in the Bible. These stunningly beautiful images will draw readers back to the study Bible again and again, giving them a deeper understanding of the physical geography of the Old and New Testaments.
I look forward to seeing the whole ESV Study Bible when it is finished, and to studying its notes more carefully. But what I have seen so far leads me to believe that Crossway is producing the apotheosis of the study Bible.
I look forward to seeing the whole ESV Study Bible when it is finished, and to studying its notes more carefully. But what I have seen so far leads me to believe that Crossway is producing the apotheosis of the study Bible.
Given the attention to Jim Packer's split with the Anglican Church of Canada, I wanted to draw some attention to one of his best writing projects, recently published in Scotland by Mentor under the title 18 Words: The Most Important Words you will ever Know. Originally published as a series of word studies in the magazine Inter-Varsity, Packer explores eighteen key concepts in theology, including 'Scripture', 'Sin', 'Reconciliation', 'Mortification', etc. It's great stuff: vintage Packer, as expressed in this quotation from the chapter on grace:
"... the moral law expresses the will of God for man as man. It was never meant as a method of salvation (and it is in any case useless for that purpose); it was given to guide men in the life of godliness. And grace, while it condemns self-righteousness, establishes the law as a rule of conduct ... So far from giving us liberty to break the law, grace sets us free from the dominion of sin that we might keep the law. This is the final answer to antinomianism: grace establishes the law" (p100).
What struck me most in reading these key words from the Bible is that they are not New Testament words. Part of the function of the Old Testament was to train us in the vocabulary of the New. The lexical categories in which we express the glorious Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ are drawn from an old stock.