Reading the Bible: Finding the Radical Middle

In the very helpful I believe in Revelation, Leon Morris unpacks the way that ‘revelation’, God’s speaking to us through the Bible, works. In the chapter on general (what God reveals about God’s self in the world) and special (what God reveals in God’s Word, the Bible) revelation, Morris writes in a helpful way about how the way we read the Bible in relation to the world around us, and the sources and forms of knowledge we find there, reveals something about us.

Morris writes about

… a perpetual call to men of faith to be humble as they seek to relate the revelation to the circumstances of their day. It is, of course, possible to go to the other extreme and be so ready to accommodate what the revelation says to what the best secular knowledge of the day ahas made known that the believe becomes hesitant and refuses to say anything without the consent of the secular authority. But somewhere in between is the middle ground that must be sought. Where God has spoken plainly, there what he has said must be accepted and obeyed. But we must always be  on our guard lest we read our own ideas into the revelation and dignify the result with the title “the word of God”.” p. 39

There a number of things we can take on board, as people seeking first and foremost to be faithful to what God has revealed, but also taking seriously the invitation and command to do that in a way that engages as many people as possible with the Good News of Jesus.

  • Firstly, the idea of humility. This frames’ Morris’s point. Men (people) of faith need to be humble as we go about the complex task of bringing GOd’s revelation in the Bible into contact with the circumstances of our day. This humility goes both ways – recognising the clarity of Scripture as well as the primacy of Scripture, and also, as Morris puts it so well at the end of this thought, a humble awareness of the risks and dangers of reading our our own ideas into the revelation and dignify[ing] the result. This is a helpful reminder of the posture of humility that the person of faith must have in attempting to ‘rightly handle the word of Truth’ (2 Tim. 2:15)
  • Secondly, the simple reality, as relevant in 1976 when Morris wrote as it is to faithful Christians thinking about complex issues in the life of the church today, that relating revelation to circumstance is complex. It is not easy – we are called to submit to the authority of God’s word, as well as to use our minds and the gifts of knowledge available to us to think carefully about things.There are two extremes, here, hence the invitation in the title of this post towards a radical middle.
  • Thirdly, this invitation to the radical middle when it comes to reading our Bible. We should, I think, want to be people who seek the middle ground – not for the sake of finding a compromise, but for the sake of holding in tension the idea that God has spoken, and that God’s Will and Word are revealed in such a way that may sometimes put us at odds with ‘secular authority’.

It is worth noting that Morris was writing over 40 years ago. But the challenges of intelligently and wisely reading the Bible have not changed. If anything, the ‘secular authority’ from different angles has become more shrill and strident, less sure of itself but more sure that traditional readings of the Bible are wrong. I love to read books from times before my own – and it is comforting, as I’ve written elsewhere, to remember that there is nothing new under the sun.

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