Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Old Testament... more than human (Part 3)

booksThe human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naïvety, error; contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopaedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message.

teapot     To a human mind this working-up (in a sense imperfectly), this sublimation (incomplete) of human material, seems, no doubt, an untidy and leaky vehicle. We might have expected, we may think we should have preferred, an unrefracted light giving us ultimate truth in systematic form—something we could have tabulated and memorised and relied on like the multiplication table. One can respect, and at moments envy, both the Fundamentalist’s view of the Bible and the Roman Catholic’s view of the Church. But there is one argument which we should beware of using for either position: God must have done what is best, this is best, therefore God has done this. For we are mortals and do not know what is best for us, and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done— especially when we cannot, for the life of us, see that He has after all done it.

C.S. Lewis, “Scripture,” Reflections on the Psalms (1958, this excerpt taken from The Essential C.S. Lewis Touchstone, 1998) 403. It’s the next chapter, but “Scripture” is very much an application of the chapter “Second Meanings.”


  1. I know that some Christians in North America may find the first sentence or two in this Lewis passage to be controversial. One of the things rarely well understood during the inerrancy debates of the 1960s to 1980s was how American the controversy was and how uninterested England and Europe were over the controversy. When I read this passage from Lewis I think I understand why. Thanks to misguided men like Harold Lindsell and others, American Christians were prevented from accepting the human nature of God's Word, for it is truly a human and divine book.

    Anyhow, I love this passage from Lewis because of the striking metaphors he uses to contrast two very different approaches to reading Scripture. Abbreviated, he said, "we under grace... receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopaedia... but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message."

    1. Will I use the Word as an encyclopedia, looking for facts to support my developing theology? Will I used the Scripture to prooftext what I want to say? (In a recent debate at my Samaritan XP blog, I felt my opponent was doing this extensively.)

    2. Will I like be like herbal tea, steeping myself in the tone and temper of God's Word so as to take on its flavour, and change to resemble its message? Will I learn it from the inside out?

    The Bible: Should our experience of it be more like an encyclopedia or more like a pot of tea?

  2. Great imagery, Ken! I mean both your pics and Lewis' contrast between using the Bible as an encyclopedia versus being steeped in it like tea. I'm going to hold on to that one!

    Good job transferring this image to your post on "Preaching according to the Waltons" at SamaritanXP. I really liked that post too.