What is the role of the Spirit in ‘critical’ study of the Bible?


There is a widespread view that the work of the Spirit and the work of critical study of the Bible are like oil and water—they simply don’t mix. This is reinforced from both directions. People who read the Bible devotionally often look distinctly nervous when the subject of ‘academic’ study of the Bible comes up. Where mosques and other places of worship have a rack by the entrance where you can take off your shoes and leave them outside, it feels as though for many churches there is a similar rack by the entrance where you can leave your brain as you come in. (It might be metaphorical, but it is there!) On the other hand, there are many in the academy who see ‘committed’ reading as polluting the ‘objectivity’ of the academic process.

The general nervousness about all this is sometimes expressed in relation to university courses. Christians shouldn’t study theology because it will undermine their faith. I have seen the (ironically) unthinking imposition of a liberal ‘fundamentalism’ imposed on Christian students in a very damaging way, but this is less likely today, not least because of the growth of evangelical critical thinking. In fact, it is vital that we connect head and heart in our articulation of faith, for our own wellbeing but also to be effective in an increasing sceptical and post-Christendom context—though there is still a question as to whether a university course is the right place to do this for everyone.

However, the most compelling reason for holding together the work of the Spirit and the task of critical judgement together is because this is just what the Bible does. The Spirit and judgement are brought together explicitly in John 16.8, where Jesus expounds the Spirit’s role in discerning the difference between what is holy and what is not through a process of critical discernment. (The Greek for ‘judgement’ is krisis from which we get the word ‘critical.’) We see the Spirit at work in explicit actions of judgement in Acts 5, in the (baffling to the modern ear) account of Ananias and Sapphira. And against the Corinthians’ superficial ease with judging each other, it is striking that Paul does not reject the notion of judgement as such, but reconfigures it through the lens of the work of the Spirit. Early on, in 1 Cor 2.15, Paul asserts that ‘The spiritual person makes judgements about all things’, and in context we should understand this as being ‘the person with the Spirit’ which is Paul’s definition of a follower of Jesus (1 Cor 12.3). In fact, discernment between people and the ‘spirit’ in which they are operating is one of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12.10), the word being again a compound of krineo ‘to judge’.

So why have we ended up ourselves with seeing a gulf between the ideas of judgement and discernment, a discriminating evaluation of different viewpoints on the one hand, and the work of the Spirit on the other? In part, the answer is rooted in the Enlightenment paradigm of rational enquiry that has shaped our intellectual life. Discernment is the work of the autonomous, sensing self who sits at the centre of his or her world, and needs no outside agency to help in this process. Indeed, any outside agency is just that—outside the individual, and therefore not to be trusted until sifted and evaluated by the individual.

But another reason is the way we have configured our expectations of the work of the Spirit as we read Scripture within our pietistic spirituality. As I reflect on the pattern of Bible reading I was (helpfully) inducted into, I see four strands to it:

1. Immediacy. We expect to open the Bible and immediately to hear God say something to us. Some years ago a joke was doing the rounds about someone who read the Bible by opening a page and sticking a pin in it. First he read Matt 27.5 ‘Judas went and hanged himself’ and thought that that couldn’t be right. So he did it again and read Luke 10.37 ‘Go thou and do likewise’, and was sure there was some mistake. So he did it a third time, only to read John 13.27 ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’ The reason that this is funny is because it reflects a lot of people’s approach to how to read the Bible devotionally. We don’t expect to have to wait for an answer or to do any work in listening for it.

2. Clarity. We not only expect God to speak to us, we also expect God to speak clearly, without ambiguity. A popular Christian poster once depicted Abraham hearing God’s call and responding by asking a series of questions, each of which because a question mark that he then had to carry. At the end he has more to carry than he can cope with, and the final slogan was ‘It is hard to be a disciple with all these questions.’ The moral was clear: if you are uncertain about what God is saying, then you lack faith. A vicar of a church I used to attend had a motto: “If God asks you to jump, the only question you ask is ‘How high?”‘ I didn’t find it helpful.

3. Relevance. When God speaks, immediately and clearly, we often expect it to have a direct bearing on our world. One of the things dogging the debate about same-sex marriage is just this question: it is asserted that the Bible has nothing to say, because it does not directly address the context we are in and the questions we have. But the same is true on every issue! It is assumed that, if the Bible is not immediately relevant to our context, it has nothing to say.

4. Familiarity: For many of us, when we first came to faith and the Spirit of God breathed new life and understanding into our lives, it was a strange and wonderful thing that this God continued to speak to us through the pages of Scripture. But often an odd thing then happens. At some point or other, this becomes ‘our’ book, and we feel we know it. It is reassuring and familiar. We know what it says, and it no longer surprises us. I notice this most clearly when I am looking with people at familiar passages and pointing out that (as in the case of John 3.16) most people misunderstand what the text is actually saying.

There is a sense in which all these things are true; God does speak clearly to his people (note the plural!) and form them through the faithful reading of scripture. But I cannot help thinking that these expectations are formed as much by Romanticism (as a reaction against the aridity of rationalism) as they are by Scripture itself. And when we engage in critical study of some sort, there is a rude awakening, because we experience four quite different things:

1. Delay. Spending the best part of a decade in a theological college, where we read the Scriptures in chapel before studying them in class, was instructive. At the end of the reading, when the reader said solemnly, ‘This is the word of the Lord’ there was quite often a collective sense of wanting to respond ‘What is? In what way? And what does it even mean?’

2. Ambiguity. It is quite difficult to be confident in the clarity of God’s word to us when there are 18 possible interpretations of this particularly verse, with three main contenders who have a strong case but are mutually contradictory.

3. Distance: The more I read and study the Scriptures, the more I am clear that the biblical writers lived in a very different culture from ours, and so begin and continue with some very different assumptions about the way the world works. Of course, they share the same humanity and the same faith in God, but it is expressed in ways that are at a distance from our own world.

4. Strangeness. Richard Dawkins has got at least one thing right; the Bible is a strange book, and we should worry when we feel it is too familiar. When I was driving a lot a few years ago, I listened to a recording of John’s gospel read by David Suchet. When I had listened to chapter 6, 7 and 8 my overwhelming feeling was that this Jesus was a very strange person indeed. It might have been the context I was in, or my mood, or David Suchet’s voice—but I have a feeling that it was really something to do with John’s gospel and Jesus I found in it! There is a wonderful short essay at OnFaith explaining why it is best to categorise the Bible as fantasy literature, because it is so strange.

Prophet_Elijah_on_Mount_Horeb.Daniele_da_Volterra-2Before we try and resolve these things, we need to note one point of encouragement: these latter four have been the widespread experience of the people of God, and they are the things which prevent us domesticating God and making him in our own image. Think of Elijah on the mountainside in 1 Kings 19; if ever anyone should think that God was clear and unambiguous in what he was saying, it was Elijah, yet here he is baffled and bemused. Or think of Daniel wrestling with Jeremiah’s prophecy in Daniel 9. Or of John the Baptist trying to make sense of Jesus in Matt 11.3. Or the Council of Jerusalem wrestling with God’s new work in Acts 15. If we experience these four things in our reading of Scripture, we are in good company!

Nevertheless, there is a serious challenge in handling these pairs of tensions.

Immediacy — Delay

Clarity — Ambiguity

Relevance — Distance

Familiarity — Strangeness

There are two possible responses to this dilemma. A common one is to retreat from the right hand side, and take refuge in the left. There are multiple problems with this. For one, we deny that the dynamic on the right is present in Scripture. For another, we also have to deny that we find the dynamic on the right present in our own experience and in the experiences of others in our fellowship. To stick with the left means closing ourselves down culturally and relationally, and in the end refusing to grow and learn. We get stuck in a nostalgic moment that is frozen in time, some short while after we first came to faith.

But an equally popular response is to move to the right and abandon the left hand side. This can be found easily enough within academic theology, either amongst those of no faith or those who would have formerly described themselves as people of faith. And it is not uncommon to find this response amongst people who were told that, to be disciples, they had to remain on the left hand side, so when the dissonance became too much, they ‘popped’ over to the right. And this side, in its fullest form, is not hospitable to faith. As Paul Ricoeur highlights, criticism creates a desert, because putting the ‘self’ at the centre as the perceiving subject makes all other things the object of study, to be scrutinised and assessed rather than engaged with—to be treated with a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ rather than a ‘hermeneutic of retrieval’. Yet, Ricoeur goes on to say, those who wish to live authentic lives long to be ‘called again, beyond the desert of criticism.’

This kind of response is also found (it seems to me) amongst those who say ‘The evangelical/charismatic tradition was important to me in the past’ but cannot own it now. Very often the things on the left are the things that brought them to faith, but they feel that the things on the right are the ones that are bringing them maturity. This creates a real paradox, in that it appears that ‘mature’ faith does not have the power to bring others to new faith—which must be at odds with just about every thing that we read in the Bible itself.

It is, in fact, possible to live with and continue to inhabit both sides of this dilemma—but to do so requires the formation of a particular attitude, or (perhaps better) the formation of certain characteristics or qualities.

The first is patience. If ‘love is patient’ (1 Cor 13.4) and if we love God, shouldn’t we be patient with God? We usually think of an unanswered prayer as one that has not been answered instantly, rather than (for example, from ‘Heavenly Man’ Pastor Yun’s story) after five months of intense intercession. Are we prepared both to listen carefully, expecting to hear God, but also patiently, read to wait if we don’t hear immediately? Just such patient attentiveness is surely the mark of maturity here.

The second is discernment, which is perhaps the supreme gifting of the Spirit. I explored previously how ‘judgement’ was closely associated with the work of the Spirit; it must also surely be connected with the prophetic, which involves discerning what God is doing and saying, and this explains why they are linked together in 1 Cor 12.10. Discernment or judgement is only needed when there is ambiguity or a conflict of views; where there is clarity and unanimity, discernment has no function.

20110215_33681The third quality needed is the perhaps surprising one of discipline. In his Grove booklet Scripture and Authority TodayRichard Bauckham talks of the need for a ‘historically disciplined imagination’ in the process of constructing meaning as we read Scripture. Since there is a distance between the context we are in and the context of the text, there is a challenge to connect the two. Meaning cannot reside in the text alone, as this leaves it at a distance from us. Neither can meaning reside in ourselves as readers, since we then make the text mean what we want it to. No, meaning must reside in the disciplined interaction between modern reader and ancient text if we are going to be genuinely open to what God is saying to us through it.

Finally, in entering the strange and often unfamiliar world of Scripture, we need the quality of wisdom. Richard Briggs suggests (in Reading the Bible Wisely) that this is the key virtue we need. There is familiarity in Scripture—in the characters and their situations we often find our own situations mirrored. But we need to be wise in this, and deep familiarity is one that has to be learnt, as we recognise that Scripture’s logic and outlook is often very different from our own.

These four things then take their place in our experiences as follows:

Immediacy — Patience — Delay

Clarity — Discernment — Ambiguity

Relevance — Discipline — Distance

Familiarity — Wisdom — Strangeness

It is clear that the work of the Spirit in these four areas is essential for our reading. (If you are in doubt of that, consider a context of Bible reading where these four qualities are absent.) But it is also clear that the Spirit’s role is not to bring additional information, or to be part of a technique, or to supply a magic answer that we would not otherwise have had access to. The role of the Spirit in us as readers must be analogous to the role of the Spirit in the first writers of Scripture—forming them, giving insight and allowing discernment, rather than dictating words.

To hold on to both sides will involve both criticism of possible meanings of the text we are reading, but also a realist commitment to discern and to act on what we find. To do this, we need to emulate Paul’s approach in 1 Cor 14.15: I will (pray/study) with the Spirit but I will (pray/study) with my mind also. And if we do so, this will be very attractive to others. People do want answers but they don’t just want simplistic answers, and answers that have been sifted and thought through will be answers that have credibility.

(Previously published in a revised form as two separate posts in 2014, and before that as a lecture on spirituality and the critical study of Scripture.)

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40 thoughts on “What is the role of the Spirit in ‘critical’ study of the Bible?”

  1. “Meaning cannot reside in the text alone, as this leaves it at a distance from us.”
    I reflect on this assertion as follows, taking an example:
    “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)
    The text declares that these are the words of the Sovereign LORD Is that not meaning? The Holy Spirit convinces those in whom he graciously works that God did say those words.

    Phil Almond

  2. “But it is also clear that the Spirit’s role is not to bring additional information.”

    I’m not sure that’s clear to me, Ian.

    After all, our God is the God who promises new creation, new things, and who unfolds revelation through the centuries, including the centuries it took for the scriptures to emerge.

    And in addition, we are given lives and experiences which add to our feeling and understanding. We are given consciences by God. Above all, yes, we are given the Holy Spirit.

    I might argue that the Holy Spirit uses our lives, our experiences, our consciences… as well as the Bible… to provide us with new imagination, new insights about the world, new perspectives.

    And these may help inform what we read in the scriptures, and help passages speak more vividly to us. Scripture itself doesn’t change, but our interaction with it may. That, to me, can be a dynamic work of the Spirit.

    When people 2000 years ago read about Noah’s Ark, they may well have been willing to believe it was a true and historically factual narrative (though some may indeed have seen it as myth – but there was little scientific reason for them to disbelieve the facts).

    Today, in the light of the ‘additional information’ of science, it is almost an obstinacy to still believe it was a historically factual narrative. Arguably a theological cowardice and escape into fundamentalism. Today, the enlightenment of new scientific information can help readers understand more clearly that they are dealing with myth, and all its powerful imaginative effects.

    We also, of course, have ‘additional information’ about psychology, evolution, the patriarchal elements of religion and the potential harm for women, women’s roles in society, contraception, physics, modern medicine, human rights, astronomy. There are all kinds of new information, working through the experience of our lives, and demanding exercise of conscience.

    In all goodwill, I may have misunderstood the comment you made which I quoted at the beginning of this post. I like much of the rest of your article. The ‘four things’ where the Spirit guides us between immediacy and delay, for example, seem really apposite to me. I believe that is one aspect of how the Spirit operates as we seek to read the scriptures. However, I also think the process is intended to be interactive, not treating the scripture as a static, but as a conduit through which the love of God – the Spirit of God – interacts with conscience, inciting us to open up to God, and saying “For your part, what do you think?”

  3. “But it is also clear that the Spirit’s role is not to bring additional information.”

    Like Susannah. I am bit confused by this sentence. So far as I read scripture, it’s absolutely clear that the spirit always brings additional information. That’s surely what is involved in discernment, in patience, in discipline and wisdom. I can’t see that any of those four things can be possible without the role of the spirit in bringing additional information. You might say that clarity is only possible when everything is already there but somehow obscured. So I expect you will say that the role of the spirit is simply to clarify what has already been revealed. But I can’t separate clarity from additional information. The two go hand in hand, surely?

  4. Reflecting on these last two comments, the view that Scripture contains all that is necessary for Salvation is absolutely true but the Spirit informs and guides the life that results. Being required to bring fresh insights into sharing the Gospel into each new generation, the Spirit surely brings additional perspectives rather than fundamentally “new” information?

    • I can see what you are getting at here Tim. But I’m not persuaded that God stopped speaking when the Canon of Scripture was finally fixed. How can that be true? In the words of John Robinson when sending the pilgrims off to the new found lands, “I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word”.
      And as Paul says in in 1 Corinthians “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
      If we only know in part, surely there is more to know?

      • Indeed, now we only know in part and there is so much more to know, ant the Holy Spirit imparts new insights and perspectives on the infinite God we live and worship. I guess the question is whether they are fundamental, first order, salvation issues or second order, fresh understanding perspectives or messages to the Church. I would say first order, no, second order, definitely “yes”. If we say yes to first order issues, we effectively say that two millennia of church members were only ever partially informed!

      • Of course God still spoke after the apostolic era, sending prophets to give words that no man could know; He simply no longer spoke words that *all* Christians needed to hear (ie holy scripture), but spoke – and speaks – into local situations.

        • Well, of course God was speaking into local situations through Paul when Paul was writing letters to very local churches and groups. But we have discerned important general points from those local situations. The same would be true if, as you agree, God speaks into local situations today, surely.

      • It depends how you define ‘new’. In my view God can still speak today in a direct way through prophecy etc. But I think it typically reiterates what God has already said in the Bible, rather than some ‘new’ revelation etc. But God can and does speak into specific situations.

        Regarding your last comments, surely that refers to when we meet God face to face in the next life, when everything that gets in the way now is removed.


  5. So *that* is the middle way!
    Is the Gospel truly Good News, or is it merely good (additional, more) information and/or advice.
    Are we to conform scripture to us, from age to age, or are we to be conformed, transformed by scripture as living and active, enlivened by the Holy Spirit?
    Ian’s article says this:
    “But it is also clear that the Spirit’s role is not to bring additional information, or to be part of a technique, or to supply a magic answer that we would not otherwise have had access to. The role of the Spirit in us as readers must be analogous to the role of the Spirit in the first writers of Scripture—forming them, giving insight and allowing discernment, rather than dictating words.”

    The words quoted and isolated by Susannah and Andrew, have been cut from the context (to serve their purposes, points they wish to make, while paying no heed to the remainder, which remains unaddressed).

  6. I particularly appreciated this structure:
    Immediacy — Patience — Delay
    Clarity — Discernment — Ambiguity
    Relevance — Discipline — Distance
    Familiarity — Wisdom — Strangeness
    That’s extremely deep.

    I want to focus my comments on things that are more fundamental – concerning what exactly is the relationship between our minds and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

    To those who have chosen to comment on the idea expressed in the article that the Holy Spirit’s job is not to reveal anything new I ask that you read this response and then freshly consider your view – and Ian too. Below I seek to clarify in exactly what way the Holy Spirit is seeking to relate to our spirit not just when reading the Bible but all the time.

    I grew up in Sydney Anglicanism and whist God gave me a legacy which is incomparably precious it’s also true that if not for God speaking to me privately and through the lives of those outside my tribe I would have been left with Father, Son and Holy Bible. But even in charismatic circles I don’t witness much attempt to get to the root of exactly how it is that we relate to God.
    I believe that scripture shows that there are four dimensions:
    – mind – intellectual
    – heart – emotional
    – spirit – relational
    – will – decisional
    I don’t have a better word for will – I’m open to suggestions!
    What I have just written is not accepted in traditional circles on the other side of the Atlantic – the prevailing view is that the Bible uses soul and spirit interchangeably – there is no quantifiable distinction between spirit and soul. Why does that matter? Because additionally those who believe this way see our souls as a combination of our minds and hearts. Combined these two ideas together and it has the effect of equating spirit and mind. That’s a serious misunderstanding! It amounts to believing that our flesh doesn’t reach to our mind – that our mind can supervise the process of seeing our flesh broken down. Disaster! If that was the case what would a passage like 1 Corinthians 2 about the spiritual person being able to make judgements about all things and being subject to no-one’s judgements actually mean? Or what does Hebrews 4:15 mean when it says that the word of God divides soul and spirit – f they’ll are the same thing? As long as this remains the dominant view in large swathes of the traditional US church it will suffer from people who rise to the heights of leadership mostly because they have bigger brains – or if not a bigger willingness to let their brains be their ministry.
    See the video below for greater insight into this issue concerning soul and spirit. I don’t understand the original languages but my presumption is that either spirit or soul must have two meanings – revealed by context – to make the verses I quoted above – and the verses he alludes to in the video below – make sense.

    (12) What Is the Soul? Is it Different from the Spirit? – YouTube

    Instead of the four distinct elements I listed above being combined together we believe ourselves to have fully described worship (especially sung worship) to be something we do not just with our minds but also our hearts – as if in having both of these we have nailed it!
    ‘Will’ sits above the other three – if I refuse to honour God in respect to what I choose to do with my life (which involves a continuing review as God leads of what it means to serve him only) I will never rightly relate to God in the other three aspects. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
    What no-one pointed out to me (how could they – they didn’t believe it) was that thinking thoughts about God (mind – intellectual) and feeling emotions concerning thoughts that my mind has about God (emotional) don’t amount together to actually relating to God. God is not a thought – and he is not a feeling! We RELATE to God Spirit to spirit. With our spirits we don’t just receive ideas and feelings about God – we receive an experiential revelation of the in dwelling God himself! That dimension – while sitting below will as I explained above (although having said that let me acknowledge that we can only repent because God’s Spirit awakens us to his holiness, our sin, and his justice – so it starts with spirit) sits above mind and heart. When given that place it provides boundaries for how our minds and hearts should function – it tells us when to be led by our minds and emotions and when not.
    Starting with mind I should not choose to believe with my mind anything to be true in respect of spiritual things which God does not confirm to my spirit to be relationally true. But many who profess a faith do this – they enrol in some Bible college somewhere which saturates them with information which is not kept subject to their personal walk. Having said that sometimes our mind will step in to correct our spirit – for example we know we aren’t rightly receiving if we receive two things which cannot be intellectually true. It is at moments like this where our mind must be allowed to inform our spirits. However don’t misunderstand – our spirits are in charge because they aren’t like mind and heart in being fallen – our spirit isn’t flesh. That’s why our spirits are able to supervise a process in which our flesh’s control over our lives is broken down. And why failing to believe in the supremacy of spirit of mind and heart provides a person with no way out. So when we study the Bible we should be checking in our spirit whether what we read is in accord with the Jesus whose presence we experience (or if we do not experience his presence we must seek God until we do. But how if our problem relates to our not seeking God do we seek God!? The answer is that we cannot make God manifest himself in us but we can choose to no longer rely on anything which is dead – which was not learned first or simultaneously in our spirits – we can choose to consider the boundaries of our tent to be where they are and not where we might wish they were. And wait – and wait – knowing that whether or not God chooses to reveal himself more fully we can at least not find our identity in what is inappropriate. If we don’t experience God’s presence richly two good places to start are these – that we ask God to show us whether we are serving him unconditionally – and we consider whether we have any confusion as to exactly how God wishes to relate to us in the ways I am discussing here. The two are related – we may for example have decided that we were willing to give our lives to God as long as we still get to control our lives with our minds – which is conditional discipleship. Back to the main thread our spirit tells us what is and is not relationally true. This has enormous implications! Take a simple example – if we experience God relationally we will “know” that God is not one who could show mercy to us (when everything he reveals relationally is that he does so because of who he is) for an undeclared reason while showing no mercy to someone else. This rules out Calvinism in a flash – how could a person who experiences God’s presence – and therefore “knows” that he is a God unchanging in mercy – and that his mercy is not motivated by our circumstances or who we are but BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS – not question Calvinism? (To be absolutely clear God could have saved no-one and still possibly have been considered merciful – what cannot be accounted for is his discriminating between sinners). That’s why Calvinism is not as big a thing in the UK as in the US – because mind driven faith isn’t as strong a thing here. Our problem here is we have a diminished place for mind full stop. God in his wisdom has made the truth neither the possession of the “spiritual” person who shows none of the qualities Ian encourages in this article – nor the intellectual person who refuses to limit what they believe to what they experience to be true – and who wants God’s presence more than ideas about him they can use to impress others. Isn’t that great? How wise is our God.
    And continuing with heart – with emotions – our emotions provide potentially helpful insight into the heart of God – we may realise as our emotions begin to rise that they do because the things we are confronting cause strong feelings in God. But again our emotions must be subject to our spirit – so for example when we indulge feelings of grief in our spirit beyond what is righteous concerning family or friends who refuse to turn to God we have allowed them to stand in contradiction to the unchanging mercy and grace of God revealed to our spirits.

    • Woooo!
      I think there is no division between soul and spirit. But even if there were God could divide the two. It is just poetic language to reassure us that He is in control and knows us right well.

      • Hi Steve,
        I’m sorry I referred to the wrong verse – it’s Hebrews 4:12 in which the word of God is said to divide soul and spirit.
        Can you clarify Steve what you understand the spiritual man to be in 1 Corinthians 2? Why is the spiritual man not subject to the intellectual judgements of the non-spiritual man? Not because he is a Christian – because if Christianity was merely another set of intellectual judgements about what is true and good the so called spiritual man would be completely subject to the so called non-spiritual man. So much so that the smartest person in the room would be the great imam of the Christian faith.

        • I think ‘spiritual’ simply describes people who are ‘born again’.
          Romans 8: 38– “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He might also have added ‘nor the intellectual appraisal of your peers.’ to the list.
          Is this an answer? I’ve written much and discarded most of it.
          I too am very taken by the tensions created between, for example: Clarity — Discernment — Ambiguity and the others. We live, really live, poised between these examples. They seem to describe what life is, between breathing in, and breathing out! “Recieve the Holy Spirit,” I was told, just before I became a Christian, “it’s as simple as drinking.”

          • 1 Corinthians 2 doesn’t compare those who are born again with those who are not. Paul often made such contrasts – he could have so easily have done so here.
            In suggesting that the spiritual man is the one who is born again you have begun to provide an answer without following it through. Why does being born again make someone not subject to the intellectual judgements of others? They wouldn’t be if being born again was some kind of physical process. It would only be so if being born again was a spiritual process – and for that matter ongoing relationship with God was too. Yet you stop short of explaining – if you don’t believe that we relate to God (or should) in a dimension which is distinct from our minds – in what way being born again is something different to that.
            However as if agreeing with me you then said “He might also have added ‘nor the intellectual appraisal of your peers’ to the list”. I agree – but I have no idea why YOU said this. If relationship with God is the great mind in the sky imparting data to the small mind here on earth then there is NOTHING about that which could not be judged by any person with a brain.
            I already pre-empted your response in my previous comment – explaining that to be a Christian doesn’t make one not subject to the judgements of others if becoming and living as a Christian is just a series of intellectual decisions about what is true and good. And I also in a reply to my original post explained why there must be a dimension to human beings which is not fallen in order to have authoritative relationship with God. I believe that anyone who wishes to disagree with the concepts I have outlined must also address that issue.
            I remind people that as I explained in my original post just because someone receives and hears God in their spirit doesn’t make them mature. But the opposite is the case – our ability to mature will be limited by this dimension not having its right place.

          • One small clarification – when I said that I agree with your statement “He might also have added ‘nor the intellectual appraisal of your peers.’ to the list” I wasn’t meaning to imply that the spiritual man is not subject to the judgements of another spiritual man. He most certainly is – or at least may be – it depends on whether he speaks only within areas in which God has given him authority or beyond. The areas in which God has given him authority to speak are those which have been confirmed relationally to his spirit.

          • “I wasn’t meaning to imply that the spiritual man is not subject to the judgments of another spiritual man. He most certainly is…”

            …or indeed another spiritual woman, I presume.

          • You presume correctly.

            Since you raise the issue let me point out that to see another person – I mean to see who they really are – requires spiritual insight. It requires a spiritual man or woman to see another person – for them to feel known – rightly identified.

            I wish I knew you Susannah. It would be my absolute honour to ensure that you felt truly recognised.

    • One small additional point for why I believe my view that our spirit plays the role it does in relationship with God must be correct.
      If there is no part of us which isn’t fallen then we have no way of knowing authoritatively that we have been saved when we have been saved – we don’t know that what we believe to be salvation is not a manifestation of our own inner corruption. Any view about human nature which renders us so corrupt as to be incapable of anything good (so that even when enlightened as to God’s holiness and our sin and his justice – and then empowered by God – we still cannot choose him because we aren’t even able to discern in our spirits that he is good and uniquely so) completely undermines the basis by which we can reliably say that we have been saved.
      Our views about God and about human nature have consequences. For example whatever we say is the nature of God – for example if we choose to say that God’s mercy and grace even endures committed contempt for them (as distinct from general sinful behaviour) we are obligated to behave towards evil doing in the same way. So the wife of the man whose choices amount to seeing him belt her over the head with a bottle each night must stick at it.

      • Hi Philip,
        The ‘spiritual man’ is one who by faith had accepted the gift of the water of life and drunk it.
        The water was outside now it is inside.
        Water was an interesting idea (to one who had never drunk anything but heretofore had only eaten very watery porridge all his life) but now it seems like it is the only way to add moisture, indeed a simple way. Now it is a knowledge so deeply a part of him he wonders why he didn’t do it ages ago and why doesn’t everyone do it.
        Spirit, soul and body are interchangeable metaphors used in different ways to make things understandable. Only, just understandable enough to take the cup and live.

        I’m on holiday, been to Ely Cathedral. Loved it. I’ve read your post 3 times. i’m not sure where to start answering it. I hope this is respectfully reflective enough 🙂

    • I have just opened the document and read the first three “speakers” (it starts on p295). There is no quantifiable sense in which they can be distinguished – one speaker merely focuses on one point and another another. However the points they make can co-exist. And then the other speakers present views about the Bible which undermine the clear central picture of scripture – which is that God’s intention in sending Jesus was to lay himself bare – so that we could relate to him reliably.

      • Philip: they describe a number of approaches which the C of E has identified. The LLF document has been produced by the C of E, commissioned by the bishops, and the Archbishops in particular. As Ian is a member of the Archbishops Council, and is standing as a candidate for General Synod where the document will form the basis of discussion, it would be helpful to see which of the seven approaches he identifies with. The document makes the point that the first and seventh approach fall outside of the Anglican tradition.

        • Anyone can ask anyone they like a question – my reply wasn’t intended to express otherwise.
          A small point of clarification – I can see some distance in the views of speakers 1 to 3 however I believe there are situations where each speaker would be saying what needs to be said most. We sometimes “interpret” to avoid submitting to scripture – and at other times our failure to interpret is irresponsible.

    • As a matter of interest Ian, which of the 7 approaches to scripture that LLF identifies do you identify with?

      Why are you so obsessed with these ‘7 approaches’ that, frankly, read to me like they have just been conjured out of thin air by a particularly dull-witted committee? Certainly not one of them adequately expresses my own view of the Bible, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if others were in the same situation.

      • For the sake of clarity here the ‘committee’ is the Archbishops Council – they own the copyright on LLF – of which Ian is a member. So I’m asking a member of the committee which of the 7 approaches to scripture the committee identify he identifies with himself.

        • For the sake of clarity here the ‘committee’ is the Archbishops Council – they own the copyright on LLF – of which Ian is a member.

          Does the Archbishops Council (shouldn’t there be an apostrophe there somewhere?) operate under cabinet collective responsibility rules?

          • By all means ask Ian that question but if they publish something and one of the members of the council state that they don’t agree with it then they would have to justify their position both publicly and with other members I would have thought.

            I have raised the matter because members of the constituency that Ian is a member who are standing as candidates for General Synod have been told to obfuscate about several questions if they are raised with them.

          • By all means ask Ian that question

            I asked the question in public specifically so that anyone who knows the answer can answer. If you don’t know the answer, fair enough, but your reply then seems somewhat superfluous.

  7. Ian:
    That is a great story on the 3 random Bible verses. Planning to use the story myself, I checked all 3 references and found the last one you gave to be off by a verse. You had John 13.28 saying ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’ but that is actually from John 13:27.
    John 13:28 is a great verse for misquotes because it says, “Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.”

  8. There is also the one about a ministry appointments selection and placement.
    There are options for the candidate who is undecided but returning after lunch break. The candidate was now firmly decided : Birmingham.
    Curious as to how the decision had now been so clearly made, the committee asked how it was arrived at.
    A: God told me.
    Q Can you tell us how.
    A I was walking around on my lunch, and turning a corner, there it was in full view, a large poster.
    Q what was poster.
    A Cadbury’s Bornville chocolate. I knew then God wanted me to go to Birmingham.
    Q Just as well it wasn’t a poster for Mars (bars).


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