Words on the word and The Word

April 6, 2014

Christians like to talk a lot about the word. We encourage each other to “get into the word”. We can talk exhaustively about biblical this or that. As a new Christian hearing people talk about the word of God meaning the Bible made sense. The Bible is full of words. But then I read the Gospel of John.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word Was God. He was in the beginning with God. …And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

(John 1).

All this talk about “word” can be confusing and sometimes we confuse ourselves.  What or who is this word Christians like to talk about? I was confused until I read the PC(USA) Book of Order. ( Yes, that’s right.  The Book of Order. We have some trouble coming up with interesting titles, but it is more interesting than you might think. Click on the link and you can get a free download! ) Anyway, as I was reading I came across a sentence which said the Bible is the written Word which points us to Jesus the Living Word.*  That sentence helped me make some sense about these ideas.

The Bible is important, no doubt about it. But more important is our encounter with the Living Word. That encounter comes through worship, sacraments, prayer, community and by reading the word. Realizing the Bible as the word which points us to Jesus helps keep us from reducing the Bible to rules and doctrine- mere words. It is not a rule book. It is a signpost. It is a map which gives us the lay of the land. It is the big story of God in which we find our smaller stories. The written word helps us know who God and Jesus are, and who we are.

The phrase “Bible believing Christian” rubs me the wrong way for several reasons. The main reason is that I don’t believe in the Bible. In a certain sense I don’t believe the Bible. I do believe Jesus. I do believe in Jesus. The Bible helps me to do that. The written word  points me, orients me to the living Word.

Sometimes as Christians we claim something is true because the Bible says so. That is not a particularly compelling argument for me. Because Jesus says so, now that is compelling. The Living Word calls us to a particular way of living as humans. The written word tells us some important things about how we live as followers of the Living Word.

The written word is important. But the living Word is paramount. It is the living Word who comes to us, lives among us, and calls us to follow him. We follow him into the future and not back into the biblical past.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word Was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it….And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. …From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.  (John 1:1-16 selected verses)


*The language is a little different in the latest edition of the BOO but the idea is the same.


Ambivalent Leadership: It’s Biblical!

March 29, 2014

Every once in a while, the various things that I do match up in happy ways. I write Westminster Reads, a weekly on line Bible study and we’re reading our way through 1 Samuel right now. And just a couple of weeks ago I was musing about leadership on this blog.  Well here is the fun part: 1 Samuel tells a story about leadership: Israel’s change from judges to a king. What is so interesting about that is how ambivalent the text is about kings.  In the first 10 chapters, there is God’s warning to Israel about kings and there are three different stories about Saul’s call to kingship.

Recall that Israel had no ruler but God until Saul. They had judges, prophets and priests with interwoven and somewhat indistinct boundaries and responsibilities. The system was not particularly linear or hierarchical. It was a more horizontal system where responsibility was shared by many. However the system of judges didn’t work well long term and so the people decide they want a king, “to be like the other nations”. (1 Sam 8:5,19-20) Samuel, at God’s direction warns the people that kings inevitably oppress.  Samuel delivers a grim appraisal of human leadership.But just like us, Israel knows better than God. And then we get Saul’s call stories. They are worth reading (1 Samuel 9:1-10:11 and 1 Samuel 10:17-27). In the first story Saul encounters Samuel (who has been instructed by God to anoint Saul as king) because he is looking for some lost donkeys. What do you think Saul did after he was anointed and several signs were fulfilled? Saul went home. And when his uncle asked about his trip, Saul tells him about the donkeys, not about being anointed king.  Odd, isn’t it?

The next call story has Samuel gathering all of Israel together and casting lots to discover who the king shall be. Finally the selection process settles on Saul, except no one can find him.  They have to ask God where Saul is and God finds him hiding among the baggage. The people shout, “Long live the king!” and then once again Saul goes home. Odd again.

Asking a prophet to help you find lost donkeys and hiding among the luggage are not commonly recognized leadership development techniques.

Often we study biblical leaders to glean how to be a leader. You have seen the titles in bookstores about biblical leadership.  I searched Amazon’s website for books on “biblical leadership” and got 2,812 titles! But if you think about biblical stories where someone is called to leadership, no one really wants to be the leader. Nobody aspires to leadership. They are reluctant leaders, uncertain, insecure and afraid. Leadership in the bible is depicted as hard rather than glorious. If you know Saul’s story,you know it doesn’t end well.It seems the biblical message about leadership is avoid it if you are able!

All this makes me wonder about our cultures and churches fascination with leadership. I’m still thinking out loud about leadership, but I’m beginning to wonder if we might want to shift our focus away from leadership and onto humility and community?

What do you think?




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