Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Do You See the Relevance of the Word?

I recently reread a post I did a couple of years ago, quoting from an article by David Powlison entitled "Do You See?" (reprinted in Counsel the Word). It's a very helpful analysis of the relevance of Scripture and how this plays out in practice among evangelicals.

Powlison asks his readers what they see when they look at the Bible:

What do you see when you look at your Bible? Do you see a book crammed with relevance? Do you see a book out of which God bursts as He speaks to what matters in daily life? Is your Bible packed with application to the real problems of real people in the real world: inexhaustible, immediate, diverse, flexible? Or is the Bible relatively thin when it comes to addressing human struggles?

Powlison then explains the two kinds of contemporary Bible‑believing, evangelical Protestants that he sees.

One sort has a Bible crammed with relevance to human life. The other sort has a Bible of modest utility. This difference in seeing underlies many of the conflicts and misunderstandings within Christian counseling.

He first discusses those Bible-believers whose Bible is only a moderately useful resource.

They may honor the Bible with noble‑sounding descriptions. God’s Word provides a framework of ultimate meaning. It is a “resource” for comfort in trials or for “spiritual” strengthening. Scripture maps out the way of ultimate salvation. It is useful for “theology,” for theoretical truths about God, heaven and hell, life and death, the kingdom, “the Christian view of…” It is an honored authority for reflecting on the “large” questions of life.

What is wrong with that paragraph?

On the surface, nothing, except that all is rather vague and highflying. Even theological liberals have uttered similar sentiments. The divide comes when you ask whether the Bible is truly useful in the trenches of daily life. Here this sort of Bible‑believer turns to other sources for insight and guidance. Some turn to new and personalized revelations, prophecies, leadings and intuitions. Others turn to the secular psychologies for understanding and guidance. In either case, the Bible doesn’t say enough about what really matters in daily life.

Powlison identifies these people, with their relatively thin Bible, as having a vision defect.

Their Bible is seen as a child’s eight‑key, tin toy piano. Those eight white keys may be of central importance in music theory: the key of C‑major, beginning with middle‑C, sounds the basic do‑re‑mi after all. They’ll do for the Sunday School songs. But you can’t play much of depth and interest. No sonatas. No fugues. No concertos. You can’t sound the nuances, the variations, the minor keys of life. And no mature pianist would bother plunking around on an eight‑key tin piano. There are more interesting and flexible instruments around.

He then goes on to describe the other type of Bible-believer:

But for the other sort of Bible‑believer the Bible is a grand piano. In fact it’s a grand piano, plus the rest of the orchestra, plus the great composers, plus the great pianists, plus the great conductors. It sounds all the notes, all the tones, all the rhythms, all the keys, all the special effects, all the nuances. That’s the vision biblical counselors have of the Bible. It’s crammed. The Composer, Conductor and Musician is active.

When people with thin Bibles hear people with crammed Bibles talk about the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling, they hear, “Something thin and incomplete is sufficient for a very complex job.” That sounds ridiculous. Biblical counseling sounds absurd, doctrinaire, obscurantist, the rantings of small‑minded know‑nothings who glory in their ignorance.

But when people with crammed Bibles speak of Scripture’s sufficiency they mean—or ought to mean— “Something living and active, inexhaustibly rich, comprehensive and relevant, is sufficient for a very complex job.” That sounds reasonable. And when in the trenches of face‑to‑face ministry the Lord Himself speaks to people, that profession of vision is vindicated.