August/September 2013 - Vol. 69
The Word of God Is Living and ActiveHebrews 4:12.

Approaching Scripture as the Word of God
by J.I. Packer
It is very important that one approaches Scripture as the word of God, not just a mixed bag of human religious reflections and testimonies, some of which are likely to be more right-minded, some less, so that our main job is to pick out which are which. This is very inhibiting to fruitful dealing with the Scriptures.

Trust or mistrust?
As I look around I see a broad division between people whose attitude to the Bible is in general one of trust, because they take the Bible as coming from God, and those whose attitude is fundamentally one of mistrust, because they see it only as a very mixed collection of human testimonies.

Some of these latter folk have been stumbled by what they’ve been given in seminary, because it has been fashionable for the last 100 years in many Protestant seminaries, and for some 40 or 50 years in many Catholic seminaries (Particularly after Vatican II), to highlight the human aspects of Scripture and dwell on differences, real or fancied, between the viewpoint of one writer and another. The effect of this can be to leave students adrift in a sea of pluralistic relativism, with a bewildering sense that the Bible offers a lot of different points of view and who is to say which is right?

All Scripture proceeds from a single source
I am not questioning the value of these studies of the human side of Scripture, but I see a need to balance that in a way that not all seminaries do. I would balance them by saying to all Bible students, in and out of seminary: “Remember, all Scripture proceeds from a single source, a single mind, the mind of God the Holy Spirit, and you have not taken its measure until you can see its divine unity in and underlying its human variety.” It is the word of God in the form of human words, giving God’s point of view in the form on everything. The unity of Scripture at that level is something that goes far deeper than its surface differences. 

Only God can fill our emptiness with an appetite for his word 
The biggest thing that keeps us from getting the full benefit of Scripture is simply that we do not feel needy enough. One of the problems of the pastoral role is that it encourages leaders to think that they are full of competence; they have got i made; they know it all. This self-sufficiency is a satanic temptation. A moment of realistic thought will remind us that we are as needy as the next person. 

I find it most helpful to remind myself at the beginning of my devotional period [daily time of personal prayer] who God is and what I am. That is to say, I remind myself that God is great, transcendent, that he loves me and he wants to speak to me right now. And I recall that I am the original sinner, the perverse and stupid oaf who misses God’s way constantly. I have made any number of mistakes in my life up to this point and will make a lot more today if I don’t keep in touch with God, and with Christ, my Lord and savior, as I should.

There is nothing like a sense of hunger to give one an appetite for a meal, and there is nothing like a sense of spiritual emptiness and need to give me an appetite for the word of God. Let that be the theme of our first minute or two of prayer as we come to our devotional times, and then we will be tuned in right. God says, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10).

The quantity of theological notions in one’s mind, even correct notions, doesn’t say anything about one’s relationship with God. The fact that one knows a lot of theology doesn’t mean that one’s relationship with God is right or is going to be right. The two things are quite distinct. As a professional theologian I find it both helpful and needful to focus this truth to myself by saying to myself over and over again, “What a difference there is between knowing notions, even true notions, and knowing God.” My times with the Bible, like those of all pastoral leaders, indeed all Christians, are meant to be times for knowing God.

[Excerpt from Encountering God in Scripture: An Interview with J.I. Packer, published by the Alliance for Faith and Renewal, Ann Arbor 1990]                                                   

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