We wish we’d had enough room to run the full versions (below) of these two letters in the February 2010 print Banner.
Reading the Bible Well
Hats off to Aminah Al-Attas Bradford and Mary Hulst for their thoughtful article, “Reading the Bible Well” (January 2010)! As one who has worked with the Bible, taught from it, and edited commentaries on it for more than 50 years, I heartily agree with them and can add some conclusions of my own.
First, I concur that it is important to read the Bible to be transformed into the image of Christ. But reading the Bible well also enables us to work more effectively toward the transformation of the world. As John Stott says in Basic Christianity, “We must commit ourselves, heart and mind, soul and will, home and life, personally and unreservedly to Jesus Christ. We must humble ourselves before him. We must trust in him as our Savior and submit to him as our Lord. Then we must take our place as loyal members of the church and responsible citizens in the community” (p. 9).
Second, I know of no better books for “Bridging the Historical Gap” and “Picking a Genre” than Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible Book by Book and How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. The former of these also tells us why we should read each book of the Bible. (However, as Fee has said to me, “People have a temptation to read books about the Bible rather than the Bible itself.”)
I am almost ecstatic that Bradford and Hulst included the section “Reading in Light of the Whole.” On Dec. 12, 1962, Rev. Peter Eldersveld preached a tremendous sermon on “The Back to God Hour” titled “How to Read the Book.” In it he said, “From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is one continued story, the powerful drama of divine redemption, a true story, an amazing story, written in the record of history, with real people in every role, invading time with eternity, bringing heaven down to earth, and gathering all mankind around the cross of Calvary, to confront them there with the love of God in the sacrifice of his Son….” I never forgot it. I have also been moved by Augustine’s famous dictum, “The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed.”
One of my first confessions each day is, “Life is not about me, Lord. No, it’s all about you.” Although the Bible is so multiplex that it cannot be reduced to one theme and though its meaning is inexhaustible, it is of course about God and his dealings with his people, which means us. As a result, as D.A. Carson writes on the jackets of all the Pillar New Testament Commentaries, which I initiated, “God stands over against us rather than we in judgment of him. When he speaks to us in his Word, we who profess to know him must respond with reverence, a certain fear, a holy joy, and a questing obedience. In line with that, Bradford and Hulst write, “Reading with humility means not going to the Scriptures to confirm our own thoughts about God, but instead asking God to form our thoughts through his Word.”
Someone has said that “if we have the Word without the Spirit, we dry up; if we have the Spirit without the Word, we blow up; but if we have both the Word and the Spirit, we grow up.” Therefore, we must pray for the Spirit to give us insight before we read the Bible.
“Take and read!”
—Milton EssenburgHolland, Mich.
In the November 2009 issue of The Banner, George Vander Weit responds to the question whether it is against Christian Reformed Church policy to have no catechism teaching in either the Sunday morning or evening service. He says that since the requirement is widely ignored, we should change our Church Order. I would ask, Couldn’t that be said about any violation of the Church Order?
Let me make the following observations:
- Years ago Gordon J. Spykman wrote in Never On Your Own, his excellent catechism book for teenagers, that catechism is biblical, confessional, and pastoral.
- Cornelius Plantinga, president of Calvin Theological Seminary, says on the back cover of Fred H. Klooster’s monumental two-volume study on the Heidelberg Catechism that “the Heidelberg Catechism is a jewel of confessional literature.”
- In addition, Plantinga in his book Engaging God’s World: A Reformed Vision of Faith, Learning and Living, dedicated to William Spoelhof, uses the same language. He also notes that the catechism “presents 129 questions and answers of remarkably warm and practical Christian piety, including wonderful treatments of the Ten Commandments, of prayer, and of my only comfort in life and in death.”
- Throughout my years of catechism preaching, I have found each successive trip through the catechism more exciting and rewarding.
- Neglect of catechism preaching (or the other doctrinal standards), further impoverishes our churches in a time of increasing doctrinal and biblical ignorance.
- In my teenage years in Woodstock, Ontario, my pastor at that time, Jacob Hoogland, said that catechism preaching keeps ministers from riding their favorite hobby horses and forces them to deal with the whole gamut of biblical revelation.
- The Reformed confessions are deeply steeped in a Reformed world-and-life view so desperately needed in a culture of death.
- Anyone, but especially officebearers, can ask his or her pastor to preach from the catechism, the Belgic Confession, the themes of the Canons of Dort, as well as the CRC’s Contemporary Testimony. Church visiting is also a good occasion to raise such questions.
- If you have one service a Sunday, you could reserve one service a month for confessional preaching.
—Pastor Ralph KoopsCambridge, Ontario