Thursday, August 12, 2010
Richard Foster, the best selling Christian author, encourages us not only to read the bible but to be transformed by it and live it.
The Bible is all about human life “with God”. It is about how God has made this “with” life possible and will bring it to pass. In fact, the name Immanuel, meaning “God is with us”, is the title given to the one and only Redeemer because it refers to God’s everlasting intent for human life – namely, that we should be in every aspect a dwelling place of God. Indeed, the unity of the Bible is discovered in the development of life with God as a reality on earth, centred in the person of Jesus. We might call this The Immanuel Principle of life.
This dynamic, pulsating, with-God life is on nearly every page of the Bible. To the point of redundancy we hear that God is with people: with Abraham, with Moses, with Esther, with David, with Isaiah and Jeremiah and Amos and Micah and Haggai and Malachi, with Mary, with Peter, with James and John, with Paul and Barnabas, with Priscilla and Aquila, with Lydia, Timothy, Epaphroditus, Phoebe, and a host of others too numerous to name. These varied stories form a mosaic illustrating how the “with” life works in all circumstances of human existence, both in specific historical periods and through all times. This mosaic suggests a beautiful design for the way in which we view the Scriptures. From Genesis to Revelation we learn that “The Immanuel Principle, is after all, a cosmic principle that God has used all along in creation and redemption. It alone serves to guide human life aright on earth now and even illuminates the future of the universe. It is the wellspring of the river of life flowing through the Bible, surging with the gracious word of God to all humankind – “I am with you”. This river pours into the thirsty wastelands of the human soul, inviting us to enter with its insistent call “Will you be with Me?” Now, once we decide to surrender freely to this river of life, we must learn how to see into the Divine life within the bible, and increasingly receive that Life as our own, not just for us but for the sake of the world God so loves.
Nurturing the Intention
God not only originated the Bible through human authorship; God remains with it always. It is God’s book. No one owns it but God. It is the loving heart of God made visible and plain. And receiving this message of exquisite love is the great privilege of all who long for life with God. Reading and studying and memorising and meditating upon Scripture have always been the foundation of the Christian Disciplines. All of the Disciplines are built upon Scripture. Our practice of the Spiritual Disciplines is kept on course by our immersion in Scripture. And so it is, we come to see, that this reading and studying and memorising and meditating is totally in the service of “the life that really is life” (1 Tim 6:19).
We long with all our hearts to know for ourselves this with-God kind of life that Jesus brings in all its fullness. And the Bible has been given to help us. God has so superintended the writing of Scripture that it serves as a most reliable guide for our own spiritual formation. But as in its authorship, so in its presentation to the world, God uses human action. So we must consider how we can ourselves come to the Bible and also how we can present it to all peoples in a way that does not destroy the soul but inducts it into the eternal kind of life.
We begin by opening our lives in Christian community to the influx of God’s life, and by experientially finding, day-to-day, how to let Jesus Christ live in every dimension of our being. We can gather regularly in little groups of two or more to encourage one another to discover the footprints of God in our daily existence and to venture out with God into areas where we have previously walked alone or not at all.
But the aim is not external conformity, whether to doctrine or deed, but the re-formation of the inner self – of the spiritual core, the place of thought and feeling, of will and character. “Behold” cries the psalmist, “you desire truth in the inward being, therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart… create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:6, 10) It is the “inner person” that “is being renewed (renovare) day by day.” (2 Cor. 4.16)
While the many Christian traditions have differed over the details of spiritual formation, they all come out at the same place: the transformation of the person into Christlikeness. “spiritual formation” is the process of transforming the inner reality of the self (the inward being of the psalmist) in such a way that the overall life with God seen in the Bible naturally and freely comes to pass in us. Our inner world (the secret heart) becomes the home of Jesus, by his initiative and our response. As a result, our interior world becomes increasingly like the inner self of Jesus, and, therefore, the natural source of the words and deeds that are characteristic of him. By his enabling presence we come to “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2.5)
Reading with Understanding
In seeking to discover this with God life it is helpful to read the bible in four distinct ways.
First, we read the Bible literally. Reading from cover to cover, internalizing its life-giving message. By reading the whole of Scripture, we begin to apprehend its force and power. We enter into the original dynamics and drama of Scripture; struggling with Abraham over the offering up of the son of promise; puzzling with Job at the tragedies of life; rejoicing with Moses at Israel’s release from the house of bondage; weeping with Jeremiah “for the slain of my poor people” (Jer 9.11); bowing in awe with Mary at the messianic promise.
Second, we read the bible in context. This means allowing the way in which the author originally depicted life with God to establish the standard for understanding our life with God today. We read with a firm determination to discover the intent of the original author, and then allow that intent to control our comprehension of the passage. All this helps us grasp the way God continues to shape human life today.
Third, we read the Bible in conversation with itself. In other words, we seek to understand how the whole of Scripture gives structure and meaning to each of its parts. The unfolding drama of Scripture often raises puzzling questions that are resolved only when more obscure and difficult passages are held under the light of clearer more straightforward passages. In biblical interpretation, systematic passages interpret incidental passages, universal passages interpret local ones, didactic passages interpret symbolic ones. In this way the whole Bible guides us into a better understanding of its particular parts.
Fourth, Christians read the Bible in conversation with the historic witness of the People of God. The Church learned from the Synagogue that it is the community that reads the Bible. This, in part, is what we mean when we speak of “the communion of saints”. Christians throughout the centuries help us understand the nature of life with God and provide insight and discernment that enrich our own spiritual life. So we read the Bible in conversation with Origen and Jerome, Augustine of Hippo and Hildegard of Bingen, John Chrysostom and John Calvin, Martin Luther and Richard Baxter, Watchman Nee and Sundar Singh – and many others, including wise and mature interpreters of Scripture today. This corporate reading of the Bible illuminates for us the multifaceted way The Immanuel Principle is experienced in ordinary life. (Ed. note: for Roman Catholics, the Magisterium of the Church and Tradition would be part of our interpretation and understanding of the Scriptures.)
(extract from “Life with God” by Richard Foster, with Kathryn Helmers published by Hodders and Stoughton price £10.99 – available from Good News Books, 15 Barking Close, Luton, Beds LU4 9HG tel 01582 571011 or email toni(at)goodnewsbooks.net )
“The Word Made Flesh” by Eugene H Peterson (author of the Message) price £11.99 published by Hodder & Stoughton (available from October 2008)
Source: Good News