Ok, so the bible is not God. But then, what is the relationship between God and the written word?
I’ll devote quite a big proportion of next week to that question as I blog about preaching. But for now let me explore an analogy with the sacraments. Marc can shoot me down – he’s doing a lot of work on this subject. But let me have a go anyway.
Here’s my thought – we tend to veer between two mistakes: a Catholic and a Zwinglian view of the bible.
The Catholic view is to see my bible reading working ex opere operato (by doing it, it’s done). I advance the book mark and it is has worked. The words go in (sort of), my reading plan gets ticked off – job done.
My response? Disengaged duty.
The Zwinglian view is to see my bible reading as memorialist. Christ is essentially absent from these words, but they’re a jolly good reminder of Him. And if I employ my imagination and proper meditative techniques, if I think these words into moral, pastoral and theological categories then my thoughts will carry me to Christ.
My response? Pietistic duty.
On the first understanding, I don’t need to do anything but go through the motions. The second understanding is a reaction to the first in which I take the spiritual task into my own hands.
But what if Christ is really and already present through the words of Scripture. The words aren’t Christ Himself. But neither are they separate such that I must bridge the gap. Instead, the words are carrying me to Christ who they constantly proclaim (John 5:39).
It’s not just reading comprehension. But neither is it my job to make an otherwise dead letter living and active. Instead the bible is already a living and lively word ever proceeding from the mouth of God and ever offering to me the Bread of life.
The bible works on me. Not apart from faith. But not by my works either. It is His work – His spiritual work – that is ever offered to me.
Here’s what I say to people from the Book of Common Prayer as I give them communion:
The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for you preserve your body and soul to everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on Him in your heart by faith, with thanksgiving.
And you say – typical Anglicans, straddling all the positions! Well – Jesus does say ‘This is my body.’ And He does say ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ It’s just that this is not the centre of communion. Feeding on Him in our hearts by faith as we feed on the bread between our teeth - this is.
So as we read our bibles we acknowledge, this IS the word of God. And we acknowledge that this reading will cause us many subsequent thoughts that bring us to Jesus in manifold ways. But essentially as we read the Scriptures we are being fed spiritually there and then with the Bread of life.
My response? Believing expectancy.
Does that work as an analogy?