The Blue Parakeet: Relational Reading

parakeetMcKnight reminds us, “God speaks to us in words but God is more than the Bible. … God ≠ Bible.”

Missing the difference between God and the Bible is a bit like the person who reads Jonah and spends hours and hours figuring out if a human can live inside a whale — and what kind of whale it was — but never encounters God.

(page 88).

God communicates → Bible → with God’s listening people

You see,

If you read Deuteronomy and then read Job — I know, that is not a typical evening’s reading — you observe that Job is engaging Deuteronomy in a serious conversation. Yes, Job says to Moses, there is a correlation between obedience and blessing, but there is more to it than that, Job learned, and God reveals to us that sometimes God is at work outside the correlation of obedience and blessing.

Just as the authors converse with one another, Christians throughout the ages have conversed with one another about the same things. Thus –

God communicates → Bible → with God’s listening people in conversation

And this conversation, the authors’ conversations with each other and our conversations with one another and with scholars of ages past, helps us realize that our relationship is not just with the book, but with the being who breathed the book.

God communicates → Bible → with God’s listening people in conversation → relationship with God of the Bible

Therefore, we should not speak of the authority of the Bible or our submission to the Bible. Books don’t have authority. Persons do. We submit to God, the only authority there is or can be.

In the church I grew up in, we had a hymnbook, and it was the hymnbook nearly all Churches of Christ used. Tellingly, it’s first hymn was –

Give me the Bible, star of gladness gleaming,
To cheer the wanderer lone and tempest tossed,
No storm can hide that peaceful radiance beaming
Since Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

Refrain
Give me the Bible-holy message shining,
Thy light shall guide me in the narrow way.
Precept and promise, law and love combining,
‘Til night shall vanish in eternal day.

2 Give me the Bible when my heart is broken,
When sin and grief have filled my soul with fear,
Give me the precious words by Jesus spoken,
Hold up faith’s lamp to show my Savior near.

3 Give me the Bible, all my steps enlighten,
Teach me the danger of these realms below,
That lamp of safety, o’er the gloom shall brighten,
That light alone the path of peace can show.

I once asked my parents why we never sang that hymn. To their credit, they said we come to church to worship God, not his writings. Try this instead –

Give me [Jesus], star of gladness gleaming, [Num 24:17]
To cheer the wanderer lone and tempest tossed,
No storm can hide that peaceful radiance beaming
Since Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

Refrain
Give me [Jesus]-holy message shining, [John 1:1]
Thy light shall guide me in the narrow way.
Precept and promise, law and love combining,
‘Til night shall vanish in eternal day. [Rev 21:23]

2 Give me [God] when my heart is broken,
When sin and grief have filled my soul with fear, [Rev 21:4]
Give me the precious words by Jesus spoken,
Hold up faith’s lamp to show my Savior near.

3 Give me [God], all my steps enlighten,
Teach me the danger of these realms below,
That lamp of safety, o’er the gloom shall brighten,
That light alone the path of peace can show. [1 John 1:5]

I don’t want to criticize the hymn too harshly. There are plenty of passages that praise God’s words in similar terms. But the New Testament reveals Jesus as the ultimate expression of God’s word. And our worship should never be of the word — rather than the Word.

(Rev 19:13) He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.

[Take a moment. Ponder John’s image. Try to go 10 seconds before you abstract it.] We have this tendency to focus on the word on paper rather than the Word in heaven. Our faith is in a real person, and the words on paper tell us to look beyond the words to the person. The words matter greatly, but they aren’t the Word.

Nor are they God’s only revelation. You see, another mistake we make is to act as though God only reveals himself through the pages of the Bible. But he also reveals himself through the Creation, through the working of the Spirit, and even through believers who are persecuted in his name.

(2 Cor 4:11) For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

In the Churches of Christ, much of the problem derives from our doctrine of the Holy Spirit. So many have been wrongly taught that the Spirit only works through the Bible that we effectively elevate the Bible to deity (or lower deity to words on a page). But as we open our eyes to an active, engaged God, we begin to realize that the Bible is given us to point us toward God, not as a window allowing us to see an otherwise hidden God, but as an arrow pointing us in the direction of God who is present with us already.

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5 Responses

  1. Several years ago, I preached a sermon in which I said that there is more to know about God that what is in the Text of the Bible.

    That statement upset a few people — who, to their credit, came to me after the sermon to talk about it.

    It may be true that all we need to know about God is in the Text, but God is not limited by what can be explained to us in the Text. God is bigger than the Text.

    Regrettably, this concept can be scary to people who wish to have absolute boundaries around everything, to assure themselves of where they stand in relationship to God.

  2. I have said for years that this was true. After being labeled a heretic I was sure of it. There is a difference if you are reading the scripture to establish an institutionalized method of operating and organizing a church then that is the lens through which you will read it. So subsequently parts of scripture that have nothing to with the work, worship and organization are largely ignored or ripped from context. Examples of this are a de-emphasis of the Old Testament. I was told growing up we live by the NT. But it always bothered me that we claimed the whole Bible was true and good for teaching, rebuking and so on. As a child most of my OT learning come by visiting the Baptist church with my friends. I now realize that there are NT messages in the OT. I realized about 10 years ago that we really worship the Bible rather than the God that is trying to reveal himself through it. That is why we correct people that it was a fish not a whale. It is more important to us to get the details correct rather than a holistic picture of the scope of God’s character and nature. I believe this why people can read the Bible with earnest and sincere hearts and never be transformed. It is also why I challenge people to re-read the entire Bible asking God to remove all pre-supposed ideas, binders, and filters both conscious and subconscious asking themselves only one questions as they read; “What does this text in context tell us about the nature of God and his character. Most of the people who have done this sincerely with vigorous effort have been very blessed by a Relational Reading.

  3. Great work, Jay, and meeting an urgent need!

  4. With Jay’s permission, I mention that my book “The Sound of His Voice” (formerly “Beyond the Sacred Page”) specifically deals with this subject. You can read more about “The Sound of His Voice” at http://www.EdwardFudge.com/books.html (where there is also a link enabling you to read the first chapter online at no charge)..

  5. Edward has my permission to plug anything he wants. I’ve been greatly blessed by his writings, and would hope that all my readers would be as well.

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