This week we will address one of my fundamental concerns, the veracity of God’s Word. Should you want to read why this subject is so significant to me please read my Theological Thursdays: Starting Point: Sola Scriptura posting. If you are new to this study you can find all of the previous lessons using the Knowing God category link. There are also study materials for the book available at william.meisheid.com.
The title of this chapter, Thy Word Is Truth, comes from the King James Version of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17:17 “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” It is the foundation of everything that enables us to live out our lives as Christians. When the Apostle Thomas touched the wounds of Jesus in the upper room and sealed his faith, Jesus told him:
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29
Jesus was talking about everyone who did not see him post resurrection, which includes all of us and 99.99% of all those who have accepted Christ throughout history. We have all been dependent on past witnesses and primarily the witness of the Word. Before I get onto the veracity of the Word, which is the central theme of this chapter, let me make an observation about “and yet have believed“. That is past perfect tense. Even though I was not yet born the way I interpret that statement is that for Jesus, the author and finisher of my salvation, my saving faith was already a fact, not a supposition, and was signed, sealed and delivered even while he is conversing with Thomas.
After spending two chapters establishing the significance of God’s wisdom over ours, of identifying how important it is to rely on God’s guidance in formulating and living out our lives, Packer now addresses how we access that wisdom and the access mechanism is two-fold. Yes, it is the Word, the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, but it also language and not a special priestly language designed for God talk but the everyday language of the day, written by common men trying their best to convey what God had given them to say.
However, when Dr. Packer wrote this short chapter in 1973, post-modernism and deconstructionalism had not ascended into its current prominence in the day to day understanding of things as it has in our day. While situational ethics and relativism had taken root in Packers day, the essential nihilism of our post-modern deconstructed mindset was still twenty-five years away from beginning to impact the person on the street through media, entertainment, literature, and music.
Today we have to deal with the fact that rather than argue with us over the meaning of biblical passages or engage us in reasonable debate over what God intended us to understand through Paul or Peter or John or Luke, we have to deal with outright dismissal and the argued fundamental irrelevance of anything and everything in our sacred writings. Language it is argued is only an approximate abstraction that carries no concrete reality, so whatever was written 2000-3000 years ago carries no substantive or even determinable meaning for anyone today. Instead, the ineffable creative force of the universe speaks to each heart uniquely, but only in the broadest of contexts and we cannot depend on the shifting sands of another’s poor attempts to codify the uncodifiable (read here the Bible). Rather than attack the Scriptures themselves, the approach of the Enlightenment and subsequent scholarly attempts to shred any objectionable element, which probably reached it zenith in the Jesus Seminar and their personally defined categories based on internal prejudices, what is now attacked is the ability of language itself to convey sustentative meaning and thereby the Scriptures, being rooted and grounded in language, are essentially meaningless as vehicles of truth. While I claim no deep and extended knowledge in these areas of Judeo/Christian God and Scripture bashing (just voracious reading, half of which I can never remember ), I believe that my take on this is adequately accurate.
While dealing with all of this I came to the conclusion that while the scholarly science of these current attacks is relatively new, their essence is really first century and rooted in the ecstatic mystery religions of the Roman Empire that competed with emergent Christianity and demanded a personal and transcendent experience of the indescribable and inexpressible. God was melded with us at what we would call a precognitive level in deep ecstatic spiritual moments. This approach was contrasted with Christianity, which while having a deeply experiential component, was fundamentally rooted in historical fact and objective reality, passed on by witness and written Word. If you need help here, think of the Bereans (Acts 17:11) who determined the truth of Paul’s teaching by comparing his words with God’s Words. God was assumed to be true, as defined in his revealed Word; the teaching of a man suspect until it passed the test. The reality of truth and the understanding and apprehension of God was rooted in the Word, which depended on language and its reliable meanings and constructs.
This whole non Christian milieu is contrasted with Packer’s first section heading: The God Who Speaks. Compare that with the post-modern deconstructed (PMD) god who mumbles in non verbal emotings felt by a postulated celestial detection grid uniquely created by our individual higher consciousness networked into a cosmic global mind. The God of the Bereans and Packer is personal, has direct conversations with his human creations and actually lived among them through his Son Jesus Christ and expects us to READ what he has said, expecting not a single jot or tittle to pass away until everything is accomplished. The PMD god cant speak because it is non personal and while it may possess a form of consciousness on a grand universal scale, it is a desireless ground of being, which in my opinion needs to be turned over by a good cosmic roto-tiller and shot through an ample dose of weed killer.
As William Shakespeare so aptly said, Truth is truth, to the end of reckoning. Measure for Measure. Act v. Sc. 1. So, our fight is first to make the actual words of the scriptures meaningful and worthy of consideration; not to those outside the faith, though for evangelism that can be important, but to our own understanding that has been tainted by the PMD influences around us. Our sanctification depends on it. Our ability to read, mark, and inwardly digest requires it. How can we study to show ourselves approved if we dont accept as absolutely meaningful our fundamental source material?
In the closing portion of this chapter Packer defines a Christian as those who acknowledge and live under the Word of God. It rules them, not they it. In Daniel 10:21 the angel sent to protect Daniel in the lions den tells him, But I will tell you what is noted in the Scripture of Truth. As Christians seeking to work out our sanctification (why else are you doing this study?) in fear and trembling (honor and respect) we have to choose. On what do we finally depend; on what do we judge what we see, hear, and experience?
To quote my personal story about my dependence on sola scriptura:
You have to understand that I had wallowed in subjective experience of the occult for years. I sought out the dark side and the devil found me during one hellaciously bad acid trip, where the floor of my townhouse opened up exposing the fires of hell. The devil looked at me and said, Its time to go! Through direct and dramatic experience I knew how easy it was for your own subjective experiences and the witness of others to their experiences to lead you astray. For me to go forward with my newly accepted Christianity I had to make a choice, similar to the choice I had made to follow Christ. I knew there had to be a trail, a path, a roadmap for me to use on my journey. I also knew that whatever map I chose would determine where I ended up. So, with an oppressive darkness pressing in all around me I decided that the Bible was my only possible guide. At that moment, in my van, I sealed the course of my remaining life. It was sola scriptura from that point forward.
So good Christian choose this day what you will follow; choose this day what will be the ground of your understanding. For me an my life, it is the Word. What is it for you?