Holy Spirit & Bible then and now

I was going on about not having had an opportunity yet to pick up a copy of Adam Hamilton’s new book on the Bible, when someone very graciously sent me a copy. It arrived today. Is there anything better than free books in the mail?

Rather than skip to the chapters on hot-button issues, I skimmed through many chapters of the book and then went to the back where Hamilton turns from questions and critical reflection to what he calls an “honest and reverent view of Scripture.”

Here is one paragraph in which he summarizes things:

To reiterate the basic premise of this book: You are not dishonoring God by asking questions of scripture that seems inconsistent with modern scientific knowledge or geography or history. And you are not being unfaithful to God if you ask questions of a verse that seems inconsistent with the picture of God seen in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is possible because you recognize that the Spirit’s inspiration of the human authors of scripture was similar to the Spirit’s work in your own life. The Holy Spirit prompts you but does not dictate. The Spirit whispers to you, but you don’t always hear correctly. The Spirit’s work in your life does not make you inerrant or infallible.

Hamilton’s emphasis on the Spirit reminds me of his charismatic background. I take his argument to be that the Holy Spirit today inspires people the same way it inspired the biblical authors, so our experience of the Spirit can and should inform our encounter with the Bible.

This might lead to ask why we treat the Bible as special. Aren’t worship songs and religious writings of our day — or other religions — just as inspired as the Bible, then? Hamilton responds to these questions in his chapter about whether the gospels can be trusted when they tell us about Jesus. He argues that the historical proximity of the authors — at least the New Testament ones — to the events they describe and the value the church has found in the writings warrant our giving them special attention and authority. I take this as saying the Bible’s authority comes from the circumstances of its writing and its usage in the church, not the unique nature of its inspiration.

In the end, if I am close to reading Hamilton correctly, most of the arguments that he makes on specific questions, including his controversial “three buckets” framework for classifying parts of the Bible, come down to this matter of what it means to say the Bible is inspired.

I’d be interested in the thoughts of others who have read his book or who have thoughts arise by reading my all-too-brief description of this point.

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7 thoughts on “Holy Spirit & Bible then and now

  1. Thanks for this summary of things, John, brief as it may be. I have not read his book and don’t have any intentions to (but if one showed up for free in the mail I might) 🙂

    This past Sunday I preached a sermon titled “God’s Word Can’t Be Trusted” which is part of a series called “Satan’s Favorite Lies.” If anyone is interested it can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEX-K94ue-k

    But some of the beginning points I make there are that the words of God are unlike our words in every way. They are “pure” (Psalm 12:6), “every” word is “true” (Prov. 30:5), they are “living” and “active” (Heb. 4:12), they can create new things (Gen. 1), they are a light to my path (Psalm 119:105)….etc. These words are holy words, and the moment I place my own words on par with them, or my thoughts on par with them, I am on a slippery slope of prideful arrogance and need to repent.

    1. You illustrate well, Chad, how our understanding of the nature of the word of God has powerful influence on our reading of the Bible. You also point out helpfully that there are many more places in the Bible that speak of God’s word than 2 Timothy 3. I think we get too reserved when we say the Bible does not testify to its own nature. There is room, of course, for fruitful conversation about whether there is any distance between “the Word” and these writings we have in the Bible, but I am wary of efforts to make the distance between those as wide as possible.

      1. I really liked your point, John, about the much needed consideration for the distance between “the Word” and these writings we have in the Bible. Because there is a gap often times….even a chasm in some areas. This is, in my personal experience studying the Bible, where the rubber meets the road when it comes to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in relation to Scriptures. It is this “gap” that draws us to the undeniable need of the Spirit of God, and it is within this undeniable need the Spirit of God shows up to those who seek Him. Without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit….without His guidance into understanding we will never rightly see or hear “the Word” revealed in these writings we find in the Bible. Left to our own devices and intellect, we will always be found stretching or shrinking these gaps in order to maintain personal philosophies and belief systems. Left to our own devices and intellect, we will always be found guilty of abusing the Holy Scriptures for some sort of self centered gain at the expense of others. This is why….and I will conclude this thought with this….this is why it is of absolute necessity that we read and study the Bible in the posture of humility and prayer with a seekers heart

      2. Thanks, John. When our seminaries have classes which teach a “hermeneutic of suspicion” I think we need to stop and ask what is going on here. As Duane said, and I agree, we must come to the word with humility.

        Today on UMC Holiness I posted a blog which sort of captures some of the main points of my sermon linked above. If interested it is here: http://umcholiness.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/give-me-that-book/

        My hope is to be as in love with God’s words and needy of them as I presume Wesley was, and others before and since his time. We are always submitting to something. The Bible seems like a better bet than all other offers if you ask me.

        1. I really enjoyed your link, Chad, and agree with all that you taught. I share your hope to never be content or satisfied with the love of God’s words I have today. Without that “being in love” with God’s words it is inevitable that sooner rather than later we neglect, and finally abandon true study of the Bible. Soon after this, if not in the midst of, we neglect, and finally abandon true prayer. And soon….rather very soon…..the world captivates then captures our thoughts. And then we are that person that gets swept away in the chaos swirling in our churches today. At least that is where I once found myself.

        2. I have never understood how the hermeneutic of suspicion is at all intelligible as a Christian approach to the Bible. In other forums, though, someone at this point would draw attention to the fact that I am a white middle-class male.

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