God’s Word, human words

I have these two different books that offer to teach me how to understand the human and divine nature of the Bible.

The first, and most recent, is Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible. Here is an extended quotation in which he sums up his views on the inspiration and authority of Scripture:

I’ve suggested in this chapter that inspiration is not dictation but divine influence, on both the writer and the readers. I’ve suggested that divine influence on the writers was not qualitatively different from the way God inspires or influences us by the Spirit today. The difference between biblical texts and some contemporary writers also influenced by the Spirit is that the biblical authors lived closer to the events of which they wrote, their writings served as instruments through which God spoke to the community of faith over long periods of time, and these writings are the founding documents of our faith. This view allows us to value the Bible, to hear God speaking through it, yet gives us permission to ask questions of the biblical text and to recognize that some things taught in scripture may not represent God’s character nor his will for us today, and perhaps never accurately captured God’s will.

The second passage comes from John Stott, who unfortunately does not have Hamilton’s habit of writing summary paragraphs that capture his major points in one nice bundle. But his discussion of the nature of Scripture in his book Between Two Worlds does highlight some of the contrast with the vision of the Bible that Hamilton develops in his book.

To define Scripture as ‘God’s Word written’ says little if anything, however, about the human agents through whom God spoke and through whom his Word was written down. Hence, the need for the qualification I said was necessary. When God spoke, his normal method was not to shout in an audible voice out of a clear blue sky. Inspiration is not dictation. Instead he put his Word into human minds and human mouths in such a way that the thoughts they conceived and the words they spoke were simultaneously and completely theirs as well as his. Inspiration was not in any way incompatible with either their historical researches or the free use of their minds. It is essential, therefore, if we are to be true to the Bible’s own account of itself, to affirm its human as well as divine authorship. Yet we must be careful to state the double authorship of the Bible (again, if we are to be true to the Bible’s own self-understanding) in such a way as to maintain both the divine and the human factors, without allowing either to detract from the other. On the one hand, the divine authorship did not override the human authorship; on the other, the human authorship did not override the divine inspiration.

It is probably not inconsequential to the differences in emphasis between Stott and Hamilton that Hamilton’s book starts with questions raised by people about the Bible and how we should read it. Stott, in contrast, starts by speaking of convictions of God and God’s activity before drawing some conclusions about the nature of Scripture from this theocentric point-of-view. Also likely important is the fact that Stott’s book is for preachers and Hamilton’s is for a general audience.

If Fundamentalists — whom both Stott and Hamilton distance themselves from — place an over-emphasis on the divine action in bringing Scripture into existence and secularists reject any divine action, then we can see both Stott and Hamilton trying to find a Chalcedonian balancing point. I hear Hamilton leaning more toward human agency with his democratic pneumatology.

The inconvenient Jesus

It isn’t long before we realize that to find God and to accept Jesus Christ is a very inconvenient experience for most people. It would involve rethinking our whole outlook on life and lead to major changes in the way we live. … We do not find because we do not seek. And the truth is that we do not seek because we do not really want to find.

— John Stott, Basic Christianity

How dare we speak

We should never presume to occupy a pulpit unless we believe in this God. How dare we speak, if God has not spoken? By ourselves we have nothing to say. To address a congregation without any assurance that we are bearers of a divine message would be the height of arrogance and folly. It is when we are convinced that God is light (and so wanting to be known), that God has acted (and thus made himself known), and that God has spoken (and thus explained his actions), that we must speak and cannot remain silent.

— John Stott, Between Two Worlds