Yesterday, this quote came back to me after years of sitting in the cobwebs of my brain. It was the summary statement of my Introduction to the Old Testament class that I took during my previous seminary stint. I mulled it around for a little bit, and found that this had shaped me profoundly since taking the class, and that it still really does match how view the Bible. And so, I just wanted to take a few moments today to unpack this and how it affects my approach to Scripture.
The “Bible”, this book, is the written revealing of an otherwise unknowable God. Everything in it is centered around the person and work of Christ. The Old Testament is the testimony of who God is and how He has worked through history and the hearts of people to bring about his promised unmerited redemption.
The Bible is the means by which an infinite and righteous God meets finite and depraved people. He has chosen to dress himself and his words in things and ways that we can understand. He meets us on our terms that we may know Him. This means the Bible is very comfortable within the cultures and contexts it originally came to. It is absurd to think and act as if the modern world was the first society in which the fullness of all the meanings and intentions of God in the Bible are fully met. Instead, we must fight and struggle to get at what God was saying first to “them” and now to “us”.
This is the work of Biblical Theology. Believing the Bible to have meant something essential to those that first received it, the Biblical Theologian strives at finding what God communicated then.
Hermeneutics cannot be divorced from this process; instead, our Biblical Theology is our hermeneutics. How we believed God has communicated will definitely affect our belief in what He has communicated. The Bible is itself communicative, not just the words on its pages. It’s very presence in the world accomplishes this revealing of God, and not simply the individual words and texts. It is meant to tell us who this God is, what He’s done, and why He’s done it.
Not only is the Bible a “what” (a book); and not only is it about a “who” (communicative about both the speaker and receiver); but it’s also a “why”. There is a purpose for this book and its communication, and that’s mission. God would have no need to condescend so much to speak to creatures like us apart from His desire to be known and redeem us.
Every communication of God is meant to further along God’s mission to save. There is intentionality in this book–there is purpose. The Bible is a missional book that seeks to establish the future world into the present, and it seeks to do this temporally, spatially, and socially.
As we’ve seen, the Bible is a “what” that concerns a “who” and “why”. In the last statement of the quote we see the “how”. The Bible doesn’t just communicate who God is and His plan to save–it actually does something to accomplish it. In the class, we built off of speech-act theory to explain this. The best example I’ve heard of speech-act theory in action is this: Imagine you’re driving in a car with someone and you say to them “it’s cold in here”. The phrase itself doesn’t actually make it warmer, but it may motivate someone to turn the heat on. Words make things happen.
And so it is with the Bible. It’s words aren’t just declarations in and of themselves. They actually help accomplish what they declare and form a people around them. This gives a confidence that what we have in the Bible is in fact exactly what God intends for us to have and that it is sufficient to accomplish all God desires to accomplish through it and us. Even in its messiness and historical complexity, it molds, shapes, convicts, and conforms us further into the image of Christ.
And it’s this Jesus that is the living and “en-fleshed”, communicative and missional “work-act” of God in Whom we find the fulfillment of the mission of God in the world to reconcile all things to himself.
I think much of the power of this quote comes from the fact that it is in fact a much needed re-articualtion of the Gospel itself. It tells us of a God who must communicate to us because we are alienated from Him; a God who not only communicates to us but is postured toward us in such a way that He desires to save us. He desires this enough that He would design “mission” and seek to accomplish it.
And not only all of that, He has taken the initiative to design this communication so that it might actually help accomplish this mission. He works on our behalf to bring this about, asking that we would just trust that He desires to this, and that he has done this work we could not do. And it’s in this trust that we have the hope and expectation that we might taste the knowledge, intimacy, and salvation of the communicative, missional, and work-accomplishing God.