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Monday, December 07, 2015

Close Encounters of the Philosophical Kind

Eric English is emerging. We’re not altogether sure what he’s emerging into, and it actually seems to be kind of intangible. I’m trying to grab onto it, and it’s floating away even as I type. Its essence is something like this:

“The WORD OF GOD is a moment that a human being encounters.”

I hope I’m not misrepresenting Mr. English’s position. He starts from the claim that the Bible is not the word of God, and that to assert that the Bible is God’s word is to diminish what it means to possess the ‘word of God’.

Every once in a while he says things like this:
“Sacred scripture means nothing if it is not alive inside the individual. Embodied, fully embraced.”
which in and of themselves are maybe a bit poetic and high-falootin’ (well, what do you know? Mr. English is a poet), but are not necessarily incorrect. Of course the point of the Bible is to get it inside the individual and worked out in his or her life. That is why it was given. Who can argue?

But then we get this whole ‘moment’ bit.

It sounds an awful lot like he believes there is no consequential ‘word of God’ outside of its intersection with human experience. Surely that’s not what Mr. English really means. I wish I could locate his full length polemic on this subject to look further into his thought process. Unfortunately I only have the short version he published at Patheos.com.

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” That’s really what we’re dealing with here. Mr. English seems to view the Bible as a philosophical thought experiment. The question he is asking is along the lines of “If the WORD OF GOD is not encountered by a human being, is it really the WORD OF GOD?”

And I’d have to say, yeah, it’s really the word of God, Eric.

Eric and I are agreed that the Word of God is, in its purest essence, the person of Jesus Christ. He is the message of God incarnate. Everything written to us proceeds from that and is secondary to it. Mr. English says the word of God is “Jesus Christ in his full glory and revelation”. To that I will heartily give a round of applause. Any word without Christ would be a mystery without a resolution, a fable without a moral, a photograph with nobody in it and a wedding without a bridegroom. When he explained to the disciples on the road to Emmaus what was “said in all the scriptures concerning himself”, it was because he is scripture’s theme and entire purpose.

But while I have many points of agreement with Mr. English and his enthusiasm for Jesus Christ and his centrality in all things, we part ways on this: he distinguishes the word of God from scripture.

To Mr. English, the text becomes THE WORD OF GOD in a moment when a human being encounters it (or more properly him).

Except … except … well, the whole Bible, really.

You see, in the beginning was the word … oh, let’s just do the whole quote:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
(John 1:1-3)
Now THAT’s poetry. But my rather prosaic conclusion is that the Lord Jesus existed before man. And he was the WORD OF GOD before man was ever created.
“Thou art the everlasting Word, the Father’s only Son,
God manifestly seen and heard, and heaven’s beloved one.”
said Josiah Conder way back in 1863. He was absolutely right.

The Word became flesh”, we read, an impossibility if there wasn’t already a “word” before “flesh” was ever contemplated. But “flesh”, as Mr. English insists, is the point of contact in which the ‘moment’ occurs. Or perhaps for Mr. English the moment that matters is the one in which we, two millennia after Jesus Christ actually walked this earth, apprehend his personal brilliance.

Eric English says the WORD OF GOD occurs through a compilation of acts that bring forth the WORD OF GOD within the individual — prayer, sacred scripture, fellowship, worship.

I can’t say for sure that everything he says is completely wonky. What I can say is that the WORD OF GOD occurs whether we pray, read, fellowship, worship … or simply choose to drink beer and watch the NFL. The word has nothing to do with whether I am capable of, or inclined to, comprehend it (or him). He exists and remains both utterly glorious and the reason for all things quite apart from my own trivial apprehension of his greatness (which, incidentally, I accomplish with a set of faculties for which only he can reasonably receive credit).

He was, he is, he is to come. Whether I appreciate him; whether or not we have a ‘moment’ is of utter insignificance in a universe in which God has made THE WORD both Lord and Christ.

My obligation is merely to recognize that and to respond accordingly.

What Mr. English fails to take into account is that the WORD OF GOD, Jesus Christ, cannot be known outside of scripture. Abandon the written word and you abandon everything that matters, because as much as we may feel subjectively that his Spirit is whispering about him to us, how can we recognize him apart from the written word that has made him known to us in the first place?

2 comments :

  1. Eric English seems to have forgotten one more thing.

    God is the Trinity. If the Word isn’t the Word until a human being hears it … well, how about this verse?

    "Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
    My ears You have opened;
    Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.
    Then I said, 'Behold, I come;
    In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
    I delight to do Your will, O my God;
    Your Law is within my heart.' "

    See also Hebrews 10:7 for the proper exegesis of the referent.

    If obedience is part of the Word becoming the Word, the primary obedience is that of the Son. Everyone else’s is merely a shadow of that obedience. The Word was always God’s Word because the Obedient One had it hidden in His heart from the start: “I do always those things that please the Father.”

    God is self-existent, because He needs no “other” to confirm by his/her hearing and obedience either His Person or His Word. He is all He needs to be, in Himself … Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Here is a favorite of mine, a moving Christmas tribute to the Word.

    A Christmas version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QjheuxAuIgI

    ReplyDelete