For Teaching, Reproof, Correction, and Training in Righteousness, Issue 86
May 19, 2016 by Presbyterian Foundation
Ezekiel was surrounded by the ‘likeness’ of the glory of the LORD, and he heard ‘someone’ speaking: “eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 1:28, 3:1). Each week, pastors continue to eat what is offered to them, and continue to speak to the community of faith. From time to time, the Presbyterian Foundation will offer brief studies of Scripture that may be useful to pastors in teaching and preaching God’s word.
The most recent novel by Michael Faber imagines a recently discovered planet, dubbed “Oasis” by its discoverers, a shadowy corporate entity on Earth. Oasis is inhabited by a small population of sentient beings, but the corporation is less interested in them than in the economic benefits to be gained by exploiting the planet’s natural resources (a familiar story). Yet, for an unexplained reason, the corporation sends a pastor to Oasis to … well, to do what is not quite clear. The pastor, Peter, comes across as something of a naif, stumbling through his encounters with the Oasians and his interactions with colleagues on the Earth outpost.
The book is disappointing, but its title is suggestive: The Book of Strange New Things.As it turns out, the inhabitants of Oasis have already been evangelized by a previous pastor (unknown to the witless Peter) and some have become “Jesus lovers.” They are fascinated by the Bible, what they call “The Book of Strange New Things;” eager to have more and more read to them.
The Book of Strange New Things recalls Karl Barth’s famous address, “The Strange New World Within the Bible.” Barth begins with the question, “What is there within the Bible? What sort of house is it to which the Bible is the door? What sort of country is spread before our eyes when we throw the Bible open?” He goes on to say that the Bible cannot be reduced to its history, morality, or religion. The Bible cannot be reduced to any of our attempts to domesticate it or to make it useful, much less to master it through attempts to give rational explanations for its strangeness. The Bible displays a strange new world, not the everyday world we live in.
Philosopher Paul Ricoeur says something similar about Scripture. The biblical texts set before us “a world in which I could dwell.” The world in which I could dwell is not a world that is not the everyday world in which I do dwell. So the world of the text must be allowed to unfold so that we can “understand myself before the text, before the ‘what’ and ‘about what’ of the text.”
What is the “what” of the text? It is, says Barth, God, not us. “A new world stands before us. God! God’s lordship! God’s honor! God’s inconceivable love! Not the history of humanity but the history of God. Not the virtues of humanity, but the virtues of God, who has called us out of the darkness into his wonderful light! Not human standpoints but the standpoint of God.”
Pastors spend time and intellect interpreting Scripture so that a sermon can be preached, or a class taught. Using the Bible for a purpose other than gazing upon the “house behind the door,” and the “country spread before us” may constrict our vision, so that the strange new world becomes little more than a resource to make our old familiar world a little bit more comfortable.
Featured Video: The American Memorial Church
A living memorial is a rare and special thing. The American Memorial Church in Chateau-Thierry, France, is just that. It is a beautiful edifice built in memory of the U.S. soldiers and marines who were killed in the area in World War 1. Yet it is also the home of an active congregation, a place where families have gathered for weekly worship since its opening in 1924; where all kinds of human needs are met; where the hurting find new life.
If you are looking for a moving story to share of enduring faithfulness, consider this video.
American Memorial Church – Memorial Day from Presbyterian Foundation on Vimeo.