002 Affections and Apparatus: The Connection of Faith and Learning: Part 1
April 4, 2017 | Permalink
Affections: Fondness, likeness, love that emanates first from God and a similar response in kind from man (“We love because He first loved us” 1 John 4:19.)
Apparatus: Tools, helps. Technical or structural. Apparatus could be tools such as bible dictionaries, biblical commentaries; it could also be the study of the original Hebrew or Greek; it could also be the in-depth time studying context or the history of a passage; and so on, and so on! There are hundreds, if not thousands of apparatus to help you study His Word!
Introduction: I believe that it is vital, if we are to read His Word, that there be an affection for Him who wrote the Word. I also believe that we should have as full an understanding of Scripture and, to do this, we also need to understand what we might call the technical.
Many times, however, Bible studies either miss Him – being distracted by the cares of the world, or the technical part of study becomes too dominant – at the expense of seeing and responding to Him. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have better understanding of the technical parts of the Bible: I believe that we should have good apparatus such as dictionaries, concordances, commentaries and the like. My key focus here is that faith and learning should be linked and aimed for, and done so over and above any attempts to simply understand a passage of Scripture technically. When that happens; that is, when faith and learning are vibrant, I believe it is because affection from the Father, through His Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit comes to us and we miraculously receive His abundant love.
Q: Thanks for that introduction. Unpack why you think faith and learning are linked.
A: Sure. Allow me to give further introductory thoughts! When it comes to learning, there are many attractions that we can spend our time on and many ways in which we can approach the things which attract us. We might be interested in the economy, sport, cooking, and so on. When it comes to learning, we should understand a key phenomenon. Our nature is to discard certain things and after making choices we take certain approaches to that which holds our attention (see diagram left). We study what we study because it’s of interest. If we like bible study we’ll find ourselves spending time learning about the Bible, but, as mentioned we’ll do it with different approaches. So, to try and answer the question here, I think that Bible study is good, if the object of our faith is knowing more of Him! If I have the choice between four books and one of them is the Bible, then choosing the Bible is my favored response. But once I’ve picked the Bible, how then do I read it. My hope is that it is to know more of Him. Which is really the point of reading His Word, right? Let me put it this way. If we are reading the Bible or studying the Bible without faith in view, then what kind of learning is it? If the heart is open to Him, we will find we have faith in Him as we learn about Him. I believe therefore that faith and learning are inextricably linked.
Q: So you don’t see bible reading as a purely academic exercise, it’s a faith encounter?
Absolutely, reading the Bible can very much be a faith encounter! In fact, I call it faith reading. Now, I recognize that faith reading is one approach. One can read the Bible as an academic book, one could read it as a means to simply finding a solution to a problem, or any other number of ways. But don’t such approaches rather diminish (our perspective of) who God is? Responding to God’s call to grow in the knowledge of Him, responding to God by following His call, responding to God to grow in faith, responding to God in worship, these are all better, I’d say, even greater responses in the way to engage with the God of the Bible. Our approach should then be relational: which I think is what true faith is all about. God calls us fully to Himself. Jesus wanted the same; for us to, “know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).” How relational! To underscore this point, Jesus continues in His prayer to His Father with something of great note. Jesus reflects that those who were given to Jesus had “kept His word [John 17:6]”; and, that they had come to “know [that] everything” that God the Father had given to Jesus was indeed from God (John 17:7). Why? Because they had “received [His words] (John 17:8); and, that they had come “to know in truth that [Jesus] came from [God] (John 17:8). They believed in the content that Jesus taught, yes, but they also believed in the teacher doing the teaching. Simply put…they believed and that is not lightly to be noticed. They had faith. They had faith in God the Father and Jesus Christ! What brought about that faith? Not their works, or even their intellectual prowess, me thinks! What marked some of those early followers of Jesus was that there was a receptivity to His word and the response of belief. In a nutshell, faith and learning are inextricably linked!
Q: So if we hear His words we will believe?
Well interestingly, Paul told those in Rome, and by extension to us, that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).”
The question posed here is a bit loaded, though. Allow me to say this. The answer could be that if we hear His words then we will believe! Yes, if we hear His words, belief might happen. Then again… it might not! That’s a sober reality. I wish it were true that if we could just repeat His words then people would all miraculously believe. In which case, we should rent lots of radio space and just broadcast His words all day long and to all places! Let’s look at the real live case of the disciples. The truth is that not all believed! True they heard the Word and even saw Jesus face to face, but despite all the teaching, despite all the time spent with Jesus, when He gave the Great Commission “when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted (Matthew 28:17).” [My emphasis added]. Yes, faith comes by hearing, but just because we hear doesn’t mean that we’ll have faith. I think this understanding of their doubt must lead us to a critical question. Had Jesus become the discarded choice for these doubters? Were other attractions more appealing? Possibly, right? I think this should serve as a caution to us. We too can read the Word and while we might not see Him face to face, if we are attracted away from Him then doubts are sure to follow.
Q: So how can we read His Word and have faith?
Our view of God can magnify our relationship with Him, but at the same time can also taint how or even if we approach Him. It depends on our posture, our attitude, and more importantly our heart toward God. If we view God as inconsequential or small, then the big things we have responded to in our lives will take precedence. If we view God as a record keeper who manages and gives approval/disapproval to our behaviors, then spending time with Him will eventually become a chore; especially, if we have check lists that we use to keep tabs on our time with Him! If we view God as an obstacle to what we want, we will jettison Him. If we view God as a means to get what we want, we will prostitute Him. And so on and so on with such questions. In broad strokes, if we view God dimly other lights will attract us.
As mentioned at the beginning we are attracted to certain things. So, the question about how we can read His word and have faith really starts with whether or not we are attracted to Him. For sure, if we are not attracted to Him our attention won’t be held for long. But if we have been introduced to Him and the introduction is well done, then we might find ourselves drawn to Him. That’s key! What is good to know is that God is constantly introducing Himself. And of course, the Lord encourages, even commands His followers to further those introductions.
I think we as followers can assist in making good introductions much like we would if we wanted two people to get to know each other. “There’s this fellow called Keanu and he’s very handsome… there’s this lady and she’s very smart.” Note that our role is one of assistance – at some point we have to step aside after our introduction. While we may have a part in introducing God to others, ultimately, it is up to God to make it clear who He is. And that’s what happens. God delights in revealing Himself. How then can we read His word and have faith? Simply put: we have to allow the introduction and then allow God to speak. Of course, for the invitee (the person invited) that takes some faith to move forward – they have to want to meet God. But, and here is the wonderful thing… faith is a gift from God! He introduces faith, He authors it, He reveals it, He perfects it. The Bible says as much.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8)
“…Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb. 12:2)
“…To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 1:1)
While the work of faith is truly all the Lord, gloriously we have a part in introducing God to others; we give some information about Him.
Knowledge of Him and faith in Him will draw us closer. To those followers who kept and received and believed Him and His word, Jesus prayed to His Father for the ultimate reward; that they, “may be with me where I am (John 17:24)”. See how well that initial introduction works out! God wants us to be in an everlasting relationship. How relational!
Q: Do you think there are certain cautions we should heed?
Yes! Too often introductions of God are put in ways that seem to neglect God. “Just read the Bible, it will help you” is one common attempt. Well, that may be true, we will find help in the Bible, but would we introduce someone like that? “Just grab insights from them, they will help you”! The purpose of learning and faith is not to control knowledge, neither even to grasp concepts in self-serving ways, for this only serves to foster our own kingdom. Our Lord and King is not a concept that we control. He is the living Savior, the living Master, not just someone who doles out conventional wisdom. Wrapped up in this caution is another aspect, the aspect of ambition. It is good to have ambition, but what kind of ambition? Students whose sole ambition is to know more and climb the ladder of their own success tragically miss the person of Christ. Ambition need not be so self-serving though. It’d be good to have the ambition to know God so that we might relate with Him truly and in ways that He desires for us.
This is why the integration of faith and learning is so important. It is a journey of engaging the mind and the will, but always it must be for a desire to be with Him. He wants us to be with Him, we want the same.