Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Plea for Reading the "Other Book"

I'm on study leave this week in Coeur d'Alene (C d'A), Idaho. This morning in a coffee shop I got the most typical question pastors on study leave get, "What are you studying?" I answered in a non-typical fashion. I replied that I'm studying nothing but instead working on two books. Those two books (one on preaching and one church planting, stay tuned for release dates) are rather heavily reliant on the use of the Scriptures in Christian ministry. I could - if I was fast on my duff -have answered in another way though. I could have said that I was intent on studying this week the "Other Book".

This post is a plea. It's a plea to read what I will call the "Other Book".

Let me explain what I mean by the "Other Book". Historically Bible teachers have said that God speaks through two books, the Bible (special revelation) and Creation (general revelation). While Christians admit the existence of knowledge about God in Creation, if we are honest we rarely actually read that book.

As a pastor I'm rather concerned with Biblical literacy. I would never recommend that people stop reading the Bible. I admit that what can be known about God in Creation is limited. But when we say something is limited (i.e the old saw about general revelation is that it's is enough to condemn a person but can't give them what they need to be saved) we are not at the same time saying that it is unimportant due to its limitations. I can't write a book a day. That's a limitation of my ability. But does that mean that a blog post a day is unimportant?

Let me assure you before I get into the substance of my plea where I stand on the Bible. We need the Scriptures or we wouldn't have them. In fact we desperately need them. They tell us about who God is, who we are, and how that unenviable situation can be resolved through Christ. And yet a person who reads just one of God's books is deficient. They are deficient of awe.

I unabashedly admit that studying in this locale is glorious. I seek to strike a balance on study leave between musings on both books. After a hefty morning and lunch of reading and thinking about the Bible and its ramification for lots of things (like preaching and church planting) I took some time to study the "Other Book". I took a walk along the shore of Lake C d'A on the campus of Northern Idaho College. Weather permitting I intend to read this "Other Book" each day of my study leave.

You might wonder at this strange plea. Is that what Christians truly need? Isn't most of our problem that we don't the Scriptures well enough? Some of our problems can be related to our misunderstandings and ignorance of Scripture. But what causes a person to pick up the Scriptures and look to them? Respect for the author. When a person believes that God in His Word gives us the understanding that we need to not only survive but thrive then they read. But no one reads someone whom they don't respect. My humble contention is that our respect - our "awe" - for God is small because we only read one book instead of two.

How do you get respect for a person? You get to know them. Once you get to know them and find them worthy of being listened to, you begin to listen to them. My contention is that regarding God we are "awe deficient". As Wynn Kenyon puts it, we have no theology of awe anymore. Perhaps reading the other book can help us with this.

This post has been long in coming. I tested these ideas on some friends back in April and continue to muse on them frequently. My musings arose in an odd way. This spring I began reading David Brainerd's diary. In the edition I picked up there was also a brief biography of Jonathan Edwards. As you might know Brainerd died at Edwards' home. Edwards' daughter took care of Brainerd unto her own death soon after his having picked up TB from him. What a sacrifice for a 19 year old!

As I've read about Edwards' and Brainerd something struck me about these two men. They frequently read the other book. Both men spent significant time in prayer while reading the other book. This resonated with me as for years I've found my best praying takes place while walking in Creation. Is there something that we modern, mostly urbanized Christians have been missing that Brainerd and Edwards got?

I think so. What enabled Brainerd to persist in his ministry despite sickness and apparent failure? What enabled Edwards to be such a powerful tool in the hand of God? They knew deeply the One they served. In part, their knowledge of Him came from reading the other book. Let me propose how I think this works.

I have a background in computers. One of the most common solutions to a problem with a computer is to push the reset button and see if simply a new session of the operating system solves the problem. For me, reading the other book has this same effect. Whatever malaise I'm in, whatever is burdening me, what seems so large is set back in perspective when I go out to see the grandeur of God. When what is in reality small to God (i.e. "why can't I find a good introduction to this sermon?" or "how can I approach this person about an unbiblical divorce they're considering?") becomes large to me, I must find a way to get a God-sized perspective.

I'm not for a second dismissing the fact that Scripture can and should help us do this. But I have to honestly admit, that at times looking at another text is the last thing I want to do. Isn't it just as Bibical to go get awed, recharged, and reset by experiencing God power, glory, and enormity in His world. Then, frequently having been re-awed by God's glory, I'm ready to go back and pray and read to prepare for what lies ahead.

Can this be abused? Sure like any gift. Tons of people with $80K and up boats enjoy Lake C d'A without ever "getting behind" (a concept I'm developing and will post on in the future) the beauty to the Beautiful One. But Christians shouldn't react knee jerk to a temptation. Instead they should recognize the tempation and use the opportunity rightly instead of simply avoiding any possibility of temptation.

You might wonder if this is a Biblical form of spirituality. Absolutely! Read Psalm 8 or Psalm 19. Listen to God's silencing of Job in the latter chapters of that book or read Isaiah 40. God is passionate about us seeing Him in His world! The question is whether you are as passionate about reading God's "Other Book" as He is.

Here's the point... pondering the spots on a ladybug, reviewing the intricate patters of a leaf, surveying the intricacies and variety of stones, sensing the enormity of God's control and power by thinking about wind or clouds or weather these all serve to re-set our thinking. They put us back on the right plane of thinking about our enormous God. Sensing His glory in Creation engaged moment by moment with the activities of 8 billion people on earth plus simultaneously upholding the bird you see as well as the physical principles of lift and gravity that allow it to fly, these kinds of thoughts help us see God anew as the Awesome One. They reassure us of God's working in the world and send us back to our calling with hope that God can intervene in my situation because I see His enormity anew.

Here's my humble plea derived from the Scriptures and some old friends in the faith. Read the other book. Read it frequently. Read it fervently. Wring it for all it's worth. It'll change your life.