Monday, October 6, 2008

MONDAY MUSINGS: Blue Parakeet, part 4

Part Two: Listening
Many years ago, in his book Knowing God, J.I. Packer made an invaluable contribution to the church when he reminded us that there is a great difference between knowing about God, and knowing God. The Blue Parakeet takes up this theme in its second part, on "Listening."

Having helped us understand the Big Story by which we must read all the "wiki-stories" of the Bible, Scot McKnight next encourages us to remember another foundational principle. The Bible is God's story, God's book, and our aim in reading it is to listen to the one speaking to us so that we may deepen our relationship with him. He calls this "The Relational Approach to the Bible."

Reading the Bible is part of a personal conversation with God. It also involves us in the ongoing community conversation that God has had with his people over the centuries. We read with the tradition of those who have known God before us, both within the Scriptures themselves and in the subsequent history of God's people. Our goal is not simply to submit to the Bible's authority and obey, though that is clear. Preeminently in this relationship we learn to love. We delight in God's words and treasure them in our hearts. We stand in awe of his wisdom. We welcome his communication as truth, not so much as an intellectual category, but in the recognition that his words reveal reality and integrity and wholeness to us. They promote "shalom." They lead us to love God and others.

Part Three: Discerning
When you read a chapter like Leviticus 19, what do you do? Scot gives a quiz at the beginning of part three of his book, asking which of the commands in Lev 19 we think we should keep, and which we may ignore. It's a great test, because right in the midst of prohibitions against wearing garments made of mixed materials, etc., we are called to "be holy," and to "love your neighbor as yourself." And ALL are backed up, not by cultural reasoning, but by the words, "I am the LORD your God."

How do we know what to apply to our lives from the Bible? Well, one thing is clear—Bible readers, including you and me, have always picked and chosen which instructions we think we should follow from the Scriptures, and we have developed patterns of discernment that guide us in working this out.

What principles do we use to adopt and adapt the Bible? Given that the Bible is not simply a rule book that straightens out all our messy situations and questions, how do we discern? Scot sets forth specific issues raised by the Scriptures, including divorce and remarriage, circumcision, women's dress, cosmology, the death penalty, speaking in tongues, and being all things to all people for the gospel's sake. He does this mainly to prompt us to think about what it means when we say we approach these kinds of matters Biblically. The main test case is raised in the subsequent chapters—the ministry of women in the church—which I will talk about in future posts.

One of the main contributions of The Blue Parakeet is its call for us to own up to our selectivity. No matter how much we may proclaim "the authority of the Bible," or "the sufficiency of Scripture," most of us tend to ignore the processes by which we read and understand and apply its teachings. But the "how" question is so important!

Also, our arrogance in assuming that we know what we're doing when we approach God's words is astounding. I am thoroughly embarrassed by so many of the papers I wrote in Bible college and the "truths" I preached in my early ministry. I also remember reading early evangelistic sermons by one who has been acclaimed as one of the greatest preachers in the 20th century. In one of those messages, his great example of the sinfulness and need for revival among his people was that some of them had started taking daily baths!

Examples could be multiplied, ad finitum, ad absurdum. Thanks to Scot McKnight for calling us to think about these things at a fundamental level.

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