Overstanding or Understanding the Word
A couple of years ago Greg Boyd delivered a lecture entitled “Flexible Sovereignty: An Introduction to Open Theism.” The bit that caught my attention was during the proleg0mena (the stuff you say before you start saying stuff). Boyd was giving a brief overview of his journey into open theism when he recounted:
I went through a couple-year stint as a Calvinist. For exegetical reasons I came to the conclusion that Calvinism [referring specifically to the absolute and infallible sovereignty of God] was true. What I could never understand is how anyone could like it. Honestly, when I came to the conclusion that everything was pre-ordained I thought, “I have to like this” but I never…the whole “glory of God” thing…the coin never dropped… maybe I wasn’t one of the elect, but I didn’t like it; which is maybe why I eventually found a way of reading Scripture that was very different from that.
So Boyd admits to being convinced through the clear and careful interpretation of Scripture (“for exegetical reasons”) that God’s sovereignty was absolute. However, rather than being willing to submit his emotions to the authority of God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture (“I didn’t like it”) he developed a system of theology that fit with what felt good to him (“I eventually found a way of reading Scripture that was very different”). As much as I disagree with Boyd’s theology, I very much appreciate his “openness”! He has made clear, before he has even begun his lecture, who the authority is in the relationship between Greg Boyd and the Word of God. He over-stands the Scripture and determines what it can and cannot tell him about his God; which should make us suspect of any resultant theology since understanding God is not achieved by overstanding the Word He has given to tell us about Himself.
In one of the final chapters in John Piper’s new book Finally Alive, Piper is just as transparent in revealing his conception of the relationship between his own heart/mind and the word of God:
The biblical truth that saving faith is possible only because God causes unbelievers to be born again (I Jn. 5:1) may make us feel empowered and encouraged and bold and hopeful in our personal evangelism, or it may make us feel fatalistic, pointless, unmotivated and paralyzed in our evangelism. If we feel fatalistic in our witness to unbelievers, our feelings are out of sync with the truth, and we should ask the Lord to change our feelings. That is the way I live my life every day – seeking to bring my vagrant feelings into line with ultimate reality. My feelings are not God. God is God. My feelings do not define truth. God’s word defines truth. My feelings are echoes and responses to what my mind perceives. And sometimes – many times – my feelings are out of sync with truth. When that happens I try not to bend the truth to justify my imperfect feelings, but rather, I plead with God: Purify my perceptions of your truth and transform my feelings so that they are in sync with the truth. So if I find myself feeling discouraged or pointless or unmotivated or paralyzed in my witness to unbelivers because of some biblical truth – like the fact that God’s work in the new birth precedes and enables saving faith – then I lift my heart to the Lord and say, “O God, this truth is manifest in your word; grant that, by your Spirit, I would see this truth in a way that sets me free, and empowers me, and encourages me, and makes me joyful and bold in my witness, and hopeful in my evangelism.
So Piper too admits that he runs across things in Scripture that he does not like. But rather than enthrone his emotions and therefore reject the exegetically plain truth of Scripture, he enthrones exegesis (the truth in God’s word) and submits his emotions, asking all the while that God would transform his emotions so that what Scripture reveals and John Piper delights in are the same. This is under-standing the Word. May we follow this pattern when confronted with God’s precious and powerful word.
The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much find gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Ps. 19:7-11)