So morning came way too quickly. I was eating breakfast, and I needed caffeine, quickly and massively. I pulled into a local coffee shop and ordered an espresso. I began sipping while reading the morning paper on my smartphone.
Just as the fog was beginning to clear, the phone rang. It was Stanley. “Sorry. I know I’m getting to be a pest, but I’ve been up all night worrying about our last discussion.”
Oh, great, I thought. I can barely remember last night at all! Maybe when the espresso hits …
“So,” Stanley asked, “if the Spirit is such a big part of how we read and understand the scriptures, why doesn’t that make each of us our own, you know, pope? Why aren’t we each the final authority on the meaning of the text? Isn’t this, ‘every man doing what is right in his own eyes’?”
“Stanley,” I said, “I have to get to work, and so I’ll be brief. And I’m pretty tired from last night, so I may not get this exactly right. But here’s a quick and dirty shot at an answer. And maybe in a few days, when we’ve both had some more time to pray and think about it, I can do better. Here goes —
“That’s kind of where we are now — ignoring the Spirit. Right? We assume that we’re all rational beings, unfallen, and fully capable of reading the text on our own — and every man does what is right in his own eyes. That’s why we’re so divided now as to how we read the Bible! I can’t imagine any theory that could make things any worse!
“So what’s the alternative? Well, if the Spirit is part of the discernment process, then some changes are in order. Let’s start with a few verses —
(Jer 23:29 ESV) 29 “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
(Joh 6:63 ESV) 63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
(Heb 4:12-13 ESV) 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
“So what should we conclude about the Spirit and the word? Well, we have to begin with —
“1. Humility. Whatever truth I may find, I find it by the power of God through the Spirit, not my own brilliance. It’s from God or it’s nothing.
“My intellect, just like my morality, is fallen. I’m not capable of perfect, rational thought on my own. I’ll make mistakes. I see other people make logical errors and somehow figure that I’m better than that, above such error — but my mind is just as fallen as theirs.
“It’s not that you or I can’t reach true conclusions. Obviously, we can. It’s just that we won’t always reach true conclusions.
“So a little humility would go a long way because we’re all going to make mistakes, and we’re never going to see all the truth, all the revelation that a given text has to offer.
“2. I am not uniquely indwelled by the Spirit. Therefore, my opinion is not better than yours.
“3. One element of hermeneutics that is routinely overlooked is the fact that living the gospel reveals the gospel. If my life does not reflect the gospel, I’m not a capable interpreter because I’m not as in touch with the Spirit as I need to be. The Spirit is not merely about intellectual accomplishment. The Spirit is about the gospel lived, and so we are more filled with the Spirit as we keep in step with the Spirit.
“4. Therefore, hermeneutics must be a group undertaking. It’s never just me. It’s never just me and my friends in the academy or in the ministry.
“5. It’s not even just me and the living. We must remain in communion with saints who’ve gone before — the great expositors of the past remain relevant forever because they lived it. And because they can offer a perspective from a worldview and culture unlike ours. They could see things we could never see on our own.
“We must cast as wide a net as possible to learn as much as possible from as many perspectives as possible. Although truth is unchanging, our ability to perceive it is limited, and so the more godly, spiritual people we can involve in discernment, the better.
“Hence, the more discussion the better. The more comments on a blog or E-zine the better.
“Indeed, nothing should be more concerning than the absence of disagreement, because if everyone agrees, then the Spirit is no longer revealing truth. When everyone agrees, we should be concerned that we’ve foreclosed ourselves from the Spirit by our arrogance.
“6. After all, there is no one, unique, final insight or interpretation for each passage. Rather, as needs, times, and questions change, the Spirit provides new revelation through the text. What I read in Psalm 23 today at age 60 will be different from what I read at age 30, not just because I know more, but because I have very different questions and needs.
“7. The goal, therefore, is not complete consensus, because the Spirit is a person, not a principle, revealing God’s truth from different perspectives, for different needs, to different people. Rather, the goal is cooperation — koinonia — fellowship, sharing, partnership — reading the text together, sharing ideas, disagreeing, testing, learning — to establish a common community of truth seekers who don’t necessarily agree on everything except that we are all believers in Jesus who love each other and submit to God as revealed in the text as breathed out through the Spirit.
“So, yes, we’ll still disagree, but disagreement will no longer have to create division among fellow believers in Jesus who love and submit together. Rather, disagreement will be a catalyst for further study, prayer, and most importantly — living out the text together.
“And so, if we disagree over election, we won’t draw up creeds, swear allegiance, and divide. Rather, we’ll ask how we live election as we understand the text in mutual love. And we’ll likely find that we pretty much live the same way despite our disagreements — and so we easily remain united, consider some questions still open for consideration, and refuse to draw battle lines defined by human heroes.
“‘For the word of God is living and active … .’ And I believe that with all my heart. And it changes everything.
“Oh, and Stanley, if you have any questions, you have to buy. And we’re going someplace nice.”