People of the Book?
- Wednesday, May 23, 2007
He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 147:19,20)
In a recent World editorial, Marvin Olasky outlines his approach to teaching comparative religions at the University of Texas. It involves a series of questions, represented by capital letters. The third of his questions is "B or Q?" — the Bible or the Quran? Which do people follow? Since 54 percent of the world population falls into the category of Christian/Jew/Muslim, you can cover a pretty fair swath by such a division. So this can be a helpful question for helping people, as Olasky puts it, "know the basic food groups" of world religions.
Or is it? I can't speak for Jews or Muslims, and I can't really speak for all Christians. But I've been around enough, seen enough, and talked to enough people to want to ask the question: Are Christians really a people of the Book? To what extent do they orient their thinking by, take their cues from, establish their priorities on the basis of, subject the entirety of their experience to, and seek ever deepening understanding of the teachings of Scripture? To what extent can we say that Christians are people of the Book? They carry one to church, follow along during the sermon or Bible study class, and may even spend a little time each day reading a few verses. But does this make them people of the Book? Perhaps the most we can say is what Olasky does, that they "adhere in some way (often loosely) to the Bible."
But can we be satisfied with that? Are you willing to have it said of you, as a follower of Christ, that you adhere in some loosey-goosey way to the very Word of Truth? If not, what then will be your standard for determining the extent to which you are, indeed, one of the people of the Book? What does such a person look like? Or what should he or she look like? To what should we aspire in wanting to be more consistently people of the Book?
Psalm 147 gives us much to think about as we address these questions. In this psalm we are given an opportunity to make two important and instructive observations: how God uses His Word and how the creation responds to it. Taken together in the light of our having been entrusted with the Word of God, we can begin to formulate a better understanding of what God expects of us as the people of the Book.
God's Use of His Word
Psalm 147:12-20 offers a "sideways" glance at God ministering His Word and the creation receiving that ministry. We can observe three aspects of God's ministry and three aspects of the creation's receptivity which, together, can help us to examine ourselves — and we shall — in order to see a little more clearly to what extent we are truly people of the Book.
Note first of all concerning God's ministry of His Word that it is continuous. The Lord Jesus Christ — the Word of God — is continuously applying Himself to the task of upholding the universe and everything in it (Hebrews 1:3). That's not just theological talk; it represents reality. The Word of God is being continuously brought to bear upon everything in the creation. Nothing escapes its continuous attention and power. John Polkinghorne, who is both a physicist and a theologian, has done some useful thinking on the question of what he refers to as the "causal joint" between the reign of Christ in the spiritual realm and the realities of life in the physical universe. He suggests that there is "top-down causality" in which God through Christ flows "information" continuously and ineffably against all of creation, and this alone accounts for its existence and continuance.
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