Reading Scripture for Information or Instead for Encounter with the Living Voice of God: A Trinitarian Account of Scripture Reading

When we read the Bible as Christians we are doing so from a certain disposition, or we should be. When we read the Bible as Christians we aren’t primarily doing so in order to map out all of its ancient near eastern context, or figure out where all the chiasmus and inclusios are, or to understand how this syntax matches up with that syntax, or reconstruct a ‘historical Jesus’ and/or ‘Apostle Paul’ who fits within all of the historicist apparatus we can avail ourselves of; no, when we read Scripture alongside the rest of the saints, presently and in the history (and in the heavenlies) we are scriptureribbonseeking to hear from God, to hear His living voice viva vox Dei. Christians, if they do in fact read Scripture at all, need to get back to this confessional Christian approach and reading ethic; one where God’s voice in Christ has the primacy and not our biblical studies guilds, or our personalist and individualist postures.

Thomas Torrance, along with John Webster (elsewhere) articulates the importance of approaching Scripture as if it is the holy ground upon which, indeed, we move beyond reducing it all down to manageable propositions, and instead allow the wild nature of Scripture to reign supreme in our lives as it mediates God’s Word to us by the Spirit’s activity in our lives in the event of justification and process of sanctification. Here’s what TF Torrance writes:

In a faithful interpretation of the New Testament we many not treat the words employed in it as if they were no more than transient linguistic symbols detached from any objective content in divine revelation, and as if they were not lively oracles through which God speaks to us in Person. Rather must we treat them as words which the incarnate Word of God has deliberately assimilated to himself in communicating and interpreting himself to us in the course of his reconciling activity. That is to say, in the words of the Bible through which the Word of God’s trinitarian self-revelation reaches us, we have to do not with some divine Word detached from his Being and Activity, but with the very Being of God speaking to us and acting upon us in an intensely personal way. In and through them we encounter the living Word who is identical with God himself, the Word in whom we have to do with the Person and Act of God, the Son made man in Jesus Christ, and are thereby summoned to personal commitment of faith in Christ and through cognitive union with him to have knowledge of God the Father. Thus we interpret his human words as the direct personal address of God in whom he communicates to us not just some information about himself but his own divine Self, and therefore interpret them not from a centre in the man Jesus detached from his Deity, but from the organising and controlling centre of his divine-human reality. To indwell the words of Christ, therefore, is to participate in the mutual indwelling of God and man in him, or the mutual indwelling of the Father and his incarnate Son. And so through union with Jesus Christ we are drawn by the Spirit of the Father and of the Son into the Communion of the Father and the Son.[1]

I think this challenges the typical evangelical and Reformed way of approaching Scripture; it is less about epistemology and gaining information about God, and instead more about ontology/soteriology and having a personal encounter with the risen Jesus as he’s given spiration by the Spirit’s resurrection. It is about participating in the triune life through Christ, and understanding that there is no rupture between the person and work of Jesus; and no rupture between the consubstantial being of the Son with the Father, and the Son with humanity as he mediates that in his consubstantial life of being both God and man in his singular person as the eternal Son (Logos).

Reading Scripture in this frame, then, is a dialogical exercise. In other words, it pivots on prayerful relation to God through Christ, and understanding that He has freely chosen to meet us as we meet him in the intersection of His life as human, in Christ, and realize that the communicative context for that, for us, takes place primarily in the triune speech act known as Holy Scripture. Practically, the way this works itself out is by simply prayerfully and consistently reading Scripture; or as Torrance said it ‘indwelling’ Scripture, allowing it to wash over us over and again, and understanding that its context cannot be detached from its giveness in the incarnation of God in Christ.

None of this is to intimate that understanding the linguistic realities of Scripture, its cultural situadedness, so on and so forth have no place; it’s just to recognize that none of that should have primacy of place. Scripture has a context, and it is God’s triune life in Christ for us. When we read Scripture it shouldn’t primarily be an intellectualist activity (as I fear way too many Christians think), but instead a devotional and doxological activity where we are set apart  (Jn. 17.17) ever amore ever afresh as we encounter the living voice of God in the christological context of His life found in and throughout the pages of Holy Writ. Scripture and its reality in Jesus Christ should act upon us ever before we attempt to act upon it.

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Pesons (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 42.

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7 comments

  1. Tried to leave a response but could not for some reason.

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  2. Well that one worked so i guess i will try and restate some thoughts..
    I’m in wholehearted agreement with your post.
    It’s so timely and desperately needed in the Church today. We need to understand that Christ is the substance of our communication and that we are wholly dependent upon Him for a revelation if Himself.
    It is only through beholding Christ that we are changed into his likeness. Unless we behold Him we will never change. Conversely if we behold something other than Him as our goal then we will necessarily fall into idolatry.

    Unless we understand how dependent we are we will always be a slave to a false image of God based on our own reason – a god in our own image.

    The boxes we make for God in a sense are only prisons for ourselves.

    Our knowledge can not be a result of investigation but rather revelation.

    We have made our exegetical / scientific methods (which are slaves of our rational thinking) and the delivery of homiletical propositions rather than the very living Word of God the goal. This needs correction as your post alludes to.

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  3. Hi Richard,

    Thanks, and I agree. Good words, amen!

    Not sure why you couldn’t make a comment the first time. Let me know if that continues to be a problem.

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  4. I would agree with this post, but I am curious as to how this would look practically for everyday reading of Scripture.

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  5. Just prayerful read Scripture. I think we often over complicate things. Let the reality of Scripture act on you by simply being awash in it.

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  6. I am curious about this framework. I certainly think there is MUCH merit in simply reading Scripture without the normal hermenutical underlying assumptions (reason/logic, grammar/historical perspective, cultural framework and tradition, etc.) coming to the surface. I can see how this process should be more Spiritual and relational rather than simply intellectual. I have a fear however, that persons might very well come to some very different emotional and more importantly mental conclusions after partaking in this “existential” process. Perhaps I need to trust more in the unifying work of the Spirit.

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  7. Quistian,

    It doesn’t have to be an either/or but both/and. My fear, truly, is that people (and they don’t!) in the main don’t actually devote lots of daily time to bathing in and simply inhabiting Scripture. The way Bible read thrus are set up, for a year, actually, in my view, robs people of actually allowing the flow of Scripture’s canonical context to get into their lives, and the fresh reality of Jesus that is present therein. People, even if they do attempt to read through the Bible, often are taught to do that in a piecemeal, fragmented way. Something is better than nothing, but I think things need to be reprioritized for Christians in this regard. Exegesis has its place, but there is something to be said, also for diaological, doxological, prayerful Scripture reading.

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