To understand the nature of gospel preaching, we need to understand the nature of the Scripture itself. There is a fundamental syntactical distinction between saying “we question the Bible” and “the Bible questions us.” It is common, in congregations, to hear of subjects like “Using the Bible in Small Groups.” But we do not “use” the Bible; if we attempt to do so, it will slip away from us, leaving something opaque and very much less dynamic in its place. Contrary to the story line in many “spiritual” journals, the biblical narrative does not tell of our journey toward God; it is the other way around. The right approach is not “What questions do I have to ask of the Bible?” but “What questions does the Bible have to ask of me?” God does not wait for Adam to start looking for him; it is God who comes looking with the question, “Adam where are you?” – the first words spoken to fallen humanity. God says to Job, “Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you will answer me.” God is the one who says, “i will shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jer. 33:3 KJV)
Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion, pp. 19-20
I remember Boo Helfin1 , my Old Testament professor at Southwestern Seminary, stewing when he heard someone say “I teach the Bible.” He was far to kind to call someone out in public for such an unintentional slip, but he would definitely rant to us, his students, so that we would learn that the Bible doesn’t need us to teach it anything, instead it is we who need to be taught by the scripture.
Just read this quote from Frederick Douglass and loved it.
“Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked.”
In addition I found the passage in the appendix of Douglass’s work “Life of an American Slave”.
I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of “stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.” I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me.
Reading From Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale right now and was struck last night by the following quote from it.
The Bible is kept locked up, the way people once kept tea locked up, so the servants wouldn’t steal it. It is an incendiary device: who knows what we’d make of it, if we ever got our hands on it? We can be read to from it, by him, but we cannot read.
The Handmaid’s Tale, p.87
Reminds me that the word of God in the hands of the oppressed has often a thing feared by those in power. This book that so many have but few seem to read contains the word of the freedom giving God. The powerful often try to us the Lord’s words as a means of control but His truth always seeps through their control and that truth ultimately will make people free (john 8:32). He sets the captives free and that is something their captors dread.
Just finished Sabbath as Ressitance by Walter Brueggemann and it is so good. Was reading it with the small group that Pam and I belong to. BTW we are officially the most awesome small group in the world because the Oberstadts made coffee cups for everyone saying so.
Anyhow here’s a quote from Brueggemann’s book that I believe summarizes pretty well what he is saying throughout the book.
Sabbath is the practical ground for breaking the power of acquisitiveness and for creating a public will for an accent on restraint. Sabbath is the cessation of widely shared practices of acquisitiveness. It provides time, space, energy, and imagination for coming to the ultimate recognition that more commodities, which may be acquired in the rough and ready of daily economics, finally do not satisfy. Sabbath is variously restraint, withdrawal, or divestment from the concrete practices of society that specialize in anxiety. Sabbath is an antidote to anxiety that both derives from our craving and in turn feeds those cravings for more. Sabbath is an arena in which to recognize that we live by gift and not by possession, that we are satisfied by relationships of attentive fidelity and not by amassing commodities. We know in the gospel tradition that we may indeed “gain the whole world” and lose our souls (Mark 8:34–37). Thus Sabbath is soul-receiving when we are in a posture of receptivity before our Father who knows we need them (Luke 12:30). p. 84.
There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community, p. 98-99
“Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16) Those who remain alone with their evil are left utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. For the pious community permits no one to be a sinner. Hence all have to conceal their sins from themselves and from the community. We are not allowed to be sinners. Many Christians would be unimaginably horrified if a real sinner were suddenly to turn up among the pious. So we remain alone with our sin, trapped in lies and hypocrisy, for we are in fact sinners.
However, the grace of the gospel, which is so hard for the pious to comprehend, confronts us with the truth. It says to us, you are a sinner, a great, unholy sinner. Now come, as the sinner that you are, to your God who loves you. For God wants you as you are, not desiring anything from you – a sacrifice, a good deed – but rather desiring you alone. God has come to you to make the sinner blessed. Rejoice! This message is liberation through truth. You cannot hide from God. The mask you wear in the presence of other people won’t get you anywhere in the presence of God. God wants to see you as you are, wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and to other Christians as if you were without sin. You are allowed to be a sinner. Thank God for that; God loves the sinner but hates the sin.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 93.
I’m about to head out to do some work but was just re-reading a passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic “Life Together” and loved this passage. I love the way Bonhoeffer writes and I love this passage. He has more trust in the grace of God than he does anything else. That’s a good thing to trust in. I believe our sins are destructive to us and God wants to save us from that, and from ourselves, but at the end of the day it is all about God’s grace and not our effort.
Martin Luther puts it more succinctly. “Sin boldly, but let your trust in Christ be bolder.“
At Pam’s suggestion I have begun reading Marilynne Robinson’s book “Gilead”, which is written from the perspective of a dying pastor. It is good thus far and according to Pam it gets amazing at the end. Her suggestions a usually spot on so i look forward to the end of the book.
Just read the portion and really liked it.
I was sitting there listening to old Boughton ramble along (he uses the expression himself) about a trip he and his wife made once to Minneapolis, when Jack broke in and said to me, “So, Reverend, I would like to hear your views on the doctrine of predestination.”
Now, that is probably my least favorite topic of conversation in the entire world. I have spent a great part of my life hearing that doctrine talked up and down, and no one’s understanding ever advanced one iota. I’ve seen grown men, God-fearing men, come to blows over that doctrine.
I like the passage because I understand the feeling. Predestination is an oft spoke about doctrine that very rarely seems to help either the speaker or the listener follow God. I believe it can help the follower of Christ but I just haven’t experienced many conversations where that has been the end result.
Alone. Yes, that’s the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn’t hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym.
Stephen King, Salem’s Lot.
I feel like this is super good advice for today.
But, in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that’s going to be human and isn’t yet, or used to be human once and isn’t now, or ought to be human and isn’t, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet.
Mr. Beaver, Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, p. 147
I’m presently reading “Resident Aliens” by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon and just read the following quote which goes along well with my thoughts from yesterday.
… the fundamental issue, when it comes to Christian ethics, is not whether we shall be conservative or liberal, left or right, but whether we shall be faithful to the church’s peculiar vision of what it means to live and act as disciples. p. 69
Yep, that about sums it up.