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Hearing God's Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality (New Studies in Biblical Theology) Paperback – March 11, 2004
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"By appealing both to the Bible and to influential voices in the history of the church (notably John Calvin), Adam manages to combine biblical theology and historical theology in an admirable synthesis. His academic training, years of pastoral ministry and now principalship of a theological college ensure that this book simultaneously informs the mind, warms the heart and strengthens the will." (D. A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois)
About the Author
Adam, formerly principal of Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia, is emeritus vicar of St. Jude's in nearby Carlton. His other books include Speaking God's Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching.
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Halfway through the book however, I felt a bit lost: either I lost him or he lost me. I understand that the word "spirituality" is notoriously difficult to define. Peter Adam did not define or explain it and as such, when I was midway through, I did not know what he was getting at.
He started by stressing the importance of biblical spirituality without quite explaining what it is exactly. That was followed by what I refer to as short introductions of various books in the Old and New Testament. I kept saying, I know but so what? When I reached the chapter where he summarises Calvin's theology of revelation, I had to start again from the beginning, because he totally lost me. It was not until the third quarter of the book, when he discussed the issues in spirituality that I began to have an idea where he is going. With that, I had to again restarted right from the beginning!
Adam segregated the Christian belief into 3 schools of thought (p.40-41):
(1) The Reformed and Evangelical View
- all God's saving words and works are found within the Bible
- spirituality of the Word will focus entirely on the Bible for the content of the knowledge of God
- the witness of the Spirit within the believer and the Church will correspond with his external witness in Scripture (I don't quite understand this statement, by the way)
(2) The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some charismatics view
- in addition to the Bible, God has continued to do his saving works and words over the last 2000 years
- he has revealed new truths and supported them with new miracles
- spirituality of the Word will not only include the words of the Bible but also words given to the Church since Bible times, whether recognised by the Pope, Patriach, or Council of the Church, or given by a prophet in a local church
(3) The Quaker and Liberal View
- revelation comes direct from God today by observation, reason, experience or emotion
- it may include some ideas from the Bible, tradition of the Church but will find other parts obsolete and irrelevant
- a spirituality of discerning what God is saying at the present time, in the world around or within our own conscience
- a spirituality of the contemporary words of God
Holding the first view, Adam writes to show how the Bible is a rich and fruitful resource for spirituality. He writes to show the fundamental shape and structure of the "spirituality of the Word" and the spirituality that the Bible teaches and encourages and what it results from using the Bible. He does it through highlighting the importance of the imparting of the Word through the Old and New Testament, what John Calvin said about revelation, through some issues and examples in spirituality.
Holding the first view myself, I kept having this feeling that he is merely stating the obvious. As such, I am not sure how it would follow through with those holding the second or third view.
Spirituality is the context through which God speaks and includes creation, community and Holy Communion (and even a dumb ass to Balaam). But spirituality has to find its moorings in the Bible or it can be subjective to the miniature narrative of our own existence instead of Creator Father God. Therefore, the Bible tells us to marvel at his handiwork and consider it. Surely God is speaking to us as we do this? Surely God speaks to us through our responsibilities and duties? For me, it would be as a husband, father, pastor, neighbor and fellow human being both privately and publically. But this eclectic variety has to be anchored in the Bible so it becomes a definitive biblical spirituality where God is Father who speaks to the world and to me. We must not spoil this by substituting the bible, adding to it or exaggerating it. We must approach it in its fullness without attempting to get away with the bare minimum. Neither must we take the fullness of the Bible and use it as an argument against error or false teaching.
Throughout the Bible God `speaks.' In Genesis it was words of power and promise. In Deuteronomy it was words of proclamation. In Psalms it was living hope. In Proverbs true wisdom. In Job it was words characterized in revelation and finally, in Jeremiah God's words are put in the mouth. Therefore, in the Old Testament the Bible shows the variety of ways in which God singularly `speaks.' The same can be said throughout the New Testament. God was not silent but spoke through his Son Jesus in the Gospel accounts. In Romans God speaks like the book of Deuteronomy in proclamation. Colossians shows that God's words dwell in us (mainly through community participation in God's words); Hebrews becomes a reminder of what God has already said, while Peter and John write about God speaking living and enduring words. Finally, the Holy Spirit is speaking what he hears around the throne of God directly to his church. This is not just heard on a Sunday, but again, through creation, community and Holy Communion. I would also add that certain times, seasons, objects, actions and places can be the sacred means by which God speaks. A birthday celebration can be a sacred moment parallel to an individual baby dedication or adult baptism. God is still speaking. Again, this has to be moored in the Bible. If this does not happen then we become subject to many voices that compete for our time and attention - namely Satan and his words to Eve.
I would summarize this to a friend by taking the `weird' and `crazy' out of God speaking to us. We do not need to stand in a cemetery in the early hours of the morning waiting for `something' to speak to us! The Bible does not take us out of the world we live in and into artificial seminary to learn about God. The Bible encourages the journey through life on earth. (Matthew 6:10) "...your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." I would tell my friend that he can know God personally in the context of the world that He loves. He will not know God directly, as not even the heavens and earth He created can contain him so how much less will our minds comprehend him. But this paradox is not a contradiction of the Bible. It reveals that the incomprehensible God and Father can be known through His Son Jesus.
I would also tell my friend that God does not speak to him in the tone of Charlton Hesston, also taking the weird and crazy out of it. I would add that God speaks to him through others, through him in his day-to-day living, in him within his conscience - but also like him. So, God speaks to be like a forty-one year old English man living in the United States. Why would he speak like my father, mother, wife, children, friends or enemies? He can speak through all of these but not like them. I would not be listening. The fact remains that my friend listens to himself more than anything or anyone else. This has biblical moorings and is therefore biblical spirituality.
The fact that God has spoken, speaks now, and wants to say a lot more builds a rich God-human relationship and transforms human relationships. Through any means (creation, community or Holy Communion) the words of God shape our experience. He commands that we `love our enemies' which is utterly transforming. He also commands that we `forgive' even as we have been forgiven. We did not actually do anything to be forgiven. Grace was not given to us because we repented. Grace was extended that we may repent. God's words to us are that we forgive `others' before they say or do anything. Because this is powerfully transforming in human relationships it must proceed from a God-human relationship.
It also means that God can be speaking to me through community that is entirely `human.' Of that community, some are family, friends and colleagues. Others are enemies or not known to me. In either case, God can speak through them to me. Again, this can transform human relationships but must be balanced within the Bible, otherwise, those who God speaks through can become `special people' which God never intended. Thank God Balaam did not turn his ass into an icon to worship - ass worshipping people?