I've been meaning to put together some thoughts on this for a little while, but I've been mired in a bit of a summertime slump of laziness, apathy, and boredom. I've been needing just a bit of a kick in the seat of my pants to get me to write on this subject, and that came in Sunday School yesterday. In celebration of Calvin’s 500th birthday, we've been taking some time to get acquainted with the life and contributions of this father of the Reformed tradition.
Yesterday we talked about his legacy and, inevitably, our pastor, Rev Nancy, directed us to ponder the remarks made in the video about Calvin's view of Scripture. The scholars in the video gave Calvin's doctrine of Scripture a bit of a neo-orthodox coloring. They first described the sense in which Calvin bids us to look beyond the words of the Scriptures themselves to what the Spirit is saying through those words.
They also described the sense in which Calvin bids us to understand that the Bible has an ultimate target that it’s trying to hit—that it’s the Word of God in that it points always only in the direction of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.
Well, right enough. The Bible is no dead letter; it’s a living document. The Scriptures are not something that is simply acted upon by our reason or our ability to comprehend what is written or spoken; no, rather, the Word of God acts upon us. In other words, the Scriptures have a property of vivifying and transforming power about them because of the Spirit's activity moving over the face of the words printed on the page or those uttered by the mouth. Furthermore, we recognize that the Bible is the Word of God because it testifies to the ultimate revelation of God, His eternal Word, God the Son, Jesus Christ.
These are indeed affirmations that I am willing to wager that we all would accept about the Scriptures, but, does it seem to you that the scholars’ words about the Bible and Calvin's view of it and my own affirmation of those comments are less powerful and forceful than coming right out and saying that "the Bible is the only and authoritative Word of God, without error in the original manuscripts" or some other similarly worded inerrantist formulation? Maybe . . .
At any rate, though the scholars on the video are undoubtedly correct that Calvin lodges the efficacy of the Word exclusively in the work of the Holy Spirit and views Christ as its only target, it's quite plain to me that Calvin would also insist that the Bible not only contains the Word of God but is itself the Word of God and is free from all error. I'll let the Calvin scholars figure out exactly what Calvin believed in regard to the Scriptures, but this puts us in a place where I can venture forth a few thoughts.
I learned a new word from Rev Nancy earlier this summer that I had not heard before. She also brought it up in the Calvin class yesterday. That word is "bibliolatry," or, "Bible idolatry." What?! Bible worship?! What kind of nonsense am I talking?!
Yes, indeed, Bible worship does exist, and I don't think that this is just a way theologically left-leaning Protestants dismiss people who actually believe what the Bible says. Bible worship is what happens when we attempt to read the Bible as if we don't need the Spirit's guidance. This is what’s going on when we domesticate the Bible, tear it apart, and put it back together in a neat, compact, easy-to-understand system of essential doctrines and call that system the Word of God and depend on it as if it were God Himself. God and His Word, of course, are bigger than our individual interpretations or those of our particular Christian traditions, so we need to be on guard against this tendency to paint our own culturally-conditioned readings of the Bible on the sky. Otherwise, we will find that we have made an idol too of that which truly and uniquely reveals God to us.
Sometimes we forget that what is more important about the Bible is not the information it provides but the One whom it reveals. The Bible is not an end in itself. Though its message is certainly important, the message is intended more than anything to draw us to the One who breathed it forth through the writers He inspired. We must also remember that for us today it is only as the Holy Spirit hovers over the face of the words written on the page or spoken by the mouth that God and His will are truly and effectively revealed in the Scriptures.
This is enough to chew on for a bit. Stay tuned, I've got more thoughts on this coming tomorrow.
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