Usually once or twice each year, I teach a course as an adjunct professor for Lancaster Bible College. This fall I’m teaching a theology course that I have never taught before. To prepare I’ve been reading the textbooks, and the first book got under my skin. I have no problem with about two-thirds of the book. But that other third? I am very concerned with that.
The book is about ideas that the author believes are false and potentially destructive to Christians. All the ideas sound good, but when you examine them closely, he believes there is a danger in them. The danger is that believing these ideas could hurt Christians emotionally and spiritually. Like I said, for the most part, I agreed with him.
But not always. He wrote a couple chapters about one particular issue, and I disagreed with his point of view on that issue. While his intent was to be helpful and biblical, I think he missed the boat. The issue that he said was destructive is that idea that God speaks inwardly to people.
The author believes that God only speaks through his word. If you want to hear from God, the only option you have is to read and study the Bible. Many Christians, teachers and preachers, however, say that we can and should listen for God inwardly, whether in thoughts or in feelings, and we can hear God speaking in those ways. This author said, “Nope. If you hear something inwardly, that’s not God, that’s you. Your mind. Your feelings. The only way to hear from God is through the written word in the Bible.”
There is no doubt that God speaks through the Bible. One of the most important aspects of our evangelical Protestant heritage is a high view of Scripture. We believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. We believe the Bible is inspired by God because the apostles themselves taught that God inspired Scripture. Here are a few examples of their teaching.
The Apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:21, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
In 2 Timothy 3:16, the Apostle Paul writes, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
When Peter and Paul refer to inspiration (“carried along by the Spirit” or “God-breathed,” they are not referring to dictation. Instead, God works along with the human author. God’s Spirit inspired humans in the process of writing the various history books and letters and poems and wisdom sayings and parables and prophecies that are all part of the library we call the Bible.
We live in a day and age and culture when we can access God’s word easier than ever before. We have wonderful tools to help us understand it. There were times in the history of the world, when accessing the written word of God was next to impossible for most people. There are still some places in the world today where it remains very difficult. Praise God for organizations that, for decades, have been bringing the written word of God to those who do not have it. Organizations like Wycliffe Bible Translators. It is very possible, Wycliffe reports, especially because of computing capabilities, that at least some of the word of God will be available to every person on the planet in the coming years. That is a joyous bit of news because we believe, as the Bible says, that God does speak through his word. The word of God is living and active. God’s word changes lives. We can hear God speak through the written word. But is that the only way God speaks?
Must people wait until they have the Bible in their language to hear God speak? Or to put it another way, is our relationship with God exclusively a relationship with God as presented in the written word? Do we only access God through words in a book? Or can we hear God speak in other ways? Can we have a relationship with God beyond a relationship with the Bible? I think we can. In fact, I think the Bible say so.
Today we are starting a five-week blog series on relationships. This series is a natural next step from our previous series on the Fruit of the Spirit. As we walk in step with the Spirit, he grows his fruit in our lives, and those qualities are primarily effective in our relationships.
So while we begin by studying our relationship with God. In the coming weeks we’ll talk about relationships in the home, in a church family, in the community (places like work, school and friendships), and finally our relationship with the world. God created us for relationship. In the earliest description of God’s creation, Genesis 2:18, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” So we will be studying what God’s word has to say about relationships.
There is a sense in which this blog series over the next five weeks will be Relationships 101. I highly doubt that I will be able to say anything you haven’t heard before. But that’s to be expected. Relationships are the stuff of life, and we talk about them constantly. When it comes to relationships, there is nothing new under the sun. That doesn’t mean, however, that we remember it all, or that we have it mastered. We need to be reminded, over and over and over again, about healthy, godly, loving relationships. We forget so fast. Or we get stuck in selfish ways of thinking and relating. Our relationships are often not what we want them to be. Relationships sometimes take on adjectives describing how unhealthy they’ve become. A dysfunctional relationship. A broken relationship. “They have a codependent relationship.” Or we just say, “Their relationship is messed up, screwed up or jacked up.”
I suspect you know what I mean because you have one or two or three or more of those relationships in your life. Maybe in your family. Every single family has them. Every single church has them. How, then, can we have healthy relationships?
It starts with God.
In the next post we’ll begin talking about how to have a vibrant relationship with God.