Without question, Bible school was one of the great learning experiences of my life. By learning I mean formative, a shaping and directing of my thoughts, actions, and feelings. But like many formative experiences in life, we don’t always realize at the time what is happening to us and, as a result, in us.
In life we don’t think, or act, or feel from nowhere but from somewhere. This somewhere is a place formed and informed by our life experiences. There is no neutral place from which we think, or act, or feel, but it is a particular place with a particular viewpoint.
So it was over the years that I found myself thinking, acting, and feeling towards certain things from out of a particular view. Unreflective of my teachers, I’d come to believe that God spoke only directly to me – independently of others – and that I could learn about God only from the Bible – no other avenues were open.
As a classic example, the idea of going to a commentary for a sermon before I felt God had spoken directly to me was an idea I was suspicious of. That God would give me insight into His Word through the insight He'd given to another was foreign to where I stood. It was hard to believe, since I considered that what mattered most was not what was beyond my head and heart but only what was internal to me.
This was the beginning of a great unlearning and (re)formative experience for me.
To be sure, the Word of God is central and foundational to knowing God, not only as the self-revelation of God to the world but also as the continuing speech act of God in the world. The Bible is not strictly about delivering propositional truth about God, but more profoundly it is about God acting by speaking, about “the word’s power to get itself done” (Richard Nelson); and as a result about us experiencing a spiritual knowledge of God. Men and women may understand propositions of Scripture about God without ever having a spiritual knowledge – an apprehension of the beauty and glory – through it of the God of the Scriptures.
Jonathan Edwards argued, “It is possible that a man might know how to interpret all the types, parables, enigmas, and allegories in the Bible, and not have one beam of spiritual light in his mind.” Or as John Calvin stated, “The office of the Holy Spirit promised us, is not to make new and unheard of revelations, or to coin some new kind of doctrine, by which we may be led away from the received doctrine of the gospel; but to seal and confirm to us that very doctrine which is the gospel.”
J.R.R. Tolkien once explained that his stories flowed to him, “as ‘given’ things’…always I had the sense of recording what was already ‘there,’ somewhere: not of ‘inventing.’ ” The Word of God is given to us, yes, in written form, but if your Bible as a published book is lost or burned, the Word of God does not cease to exist. It is a living and eternal Word, which as a “given thing” reveals to us what is “already there”: the God of glory and His gracious activity in the world.
C.S. Lewis writes that, "We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, ‘But how could they have thought that?’ – lies where we have never suspected it...None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books…The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books."
Over the centuries the Holy Spirit has given eyes and ears of understanding to those who have gone before us. He has spoken to His people in all ages, forming them and inspiring (breathing into) them by His living and active Word. What they received was passed down from one generation to another, each generation growing richer in their understanding and knowledge of the truth of God’s will and work in Christ.
So it is, perhaps, the height of arrogance, if not a dangerous precipice, to presume that what God has given to another is worthless because He hasn’t given it to me or in this century. We should not despise the riches of God and the "wealthy" in Christ, but we should treasure what God has given to them and, in them and through them, to us. Wisdom is with the humble (Proverbs 11:12), and the humble look beyond themselves.
But not simply from those who are past, but also with those who are present.
Proverbs says that, "Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it” (13:11). In life we meet people who we say “possess a wealth of knowledge”. What we mean is that they are deep and rich in experience; that we could learn a lot from them; but that more than knowing what they know, we want to become like who they are.
These men and women have not gained what they possess overnight; they have accumulated it little by little over time. They are wise because they have wisdom, and wisdom is the formation of who you are, not simply the information you think you know.
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise” (Proverbs 13:20), and a measure of how wise you are becoming is the pleasure you have in learning from others (Proverbs 10:23).
Finally, it’s not only from history or from those we know, but also from the world that we should learn. God has sown His truth, common grace, and beauty everywhere. There is no work of God's hands, neither creation and nature nor humanity and culture, that does not manifest in some way His signature glory — the beauty of His perfection – and does not call out to us to search for it with delight – the pleasure of His wisdom.
It is a great loss to be illiterate. As Christians, we must be literate of both God’s Word and God’s world, giving and paying attention to both. Yet many Christians feel that they need only to read the Bible and they will understand everything about the world, or that they need only to “read” the world and they will understand everything about the Bible.
But if we remain illiterate of either God’s Word or God’s world, we run the risk of being inarticulate of the other. Widely reading both, being steeped in the “language” of both the Word and the world will give us a generous vocabulary, a valuable understanding of where people are coming from, and the rare ability to translate and communicate from one language to another.
Above all, to have “ears to hear” and “eyes to see” God in the world and all as He has made it, is to always find your way to and from Jesus Christ. This is to be truly wise of heart, discerning, with “sweetness of speech” (Proverbs 16:21) speaking persuasively of what you “taste and see” in Jesus. To speak with this kind of persuasion is not to manipulate people by putting words into their mouths, but to put into words what they haven’t been able to find words for.
We are never the inspired ones, masters in ourselves of all we need to know, but always servants who serve The Word of God Made Flesh.
Jonathan Evans was raised as the son of missionaries in the country of Mexico. After graduating from Elim Bible Institute (Lima, NY), he moved to Oswego in 2000. He has been serving Elim Grace Church since 2000. He is married to Alissa-jae and is the father of four children. He loves photography, writing and music. He is ordained and has ministry credentials through Elim Fellowship.