Friday, February 20, 2009

COMPS5: slow down and listen

[Read the intro to my "COMPS" project+give me your thoughts and questions...]

I have been told, that Regent College’s late Prof. Klaus Bockmuehl, was a very systematic and reserved Lutheran and ethicist, who in Listening to the God who Speaks makes a somewhat charismatic argument for walking in-step with the Spirit by listening for the God who speaks today - Klaus was trying to argue against an over-rationalised faith.

Bockmuehl traces how God speaks and how people listen through the Law and the Prophets, the Psalms, John’s Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, the apostolic letters as well as luminaries in church history. It is clear that God spoke and people listened throughout the bible, but does God speak to us today? Or is the closed biblical canon and the audible voice of God incarnate the final word?

Central to the book’s objectives, Bockmuehl addresses the Protestant reformers influence in these questions that have shaped much of the Protestant church today. Bockmuehl situates part of Luther’s reformation angst at several groups of Anabaptists who claimed to hear the voice of God. Thomas Müntzer, a so-called “heavenly prophet”, claimed to hear directly from God daily. Luther objected to Müntzer’s refusal to decipher these words from God in fellowship and to Müntzer’s preference for his prophetic ear over the scriptures, as Müntzer attitude was, “What Bible? One must withdraw into a corner and speak with God” (125). In reclaiming the Holy Scriptures for the people, Bockmuehl sees Luther’s conclusion as God speaking to his people today externally through the scriptures and internally through the Holy Spirit. However, Luther’s position also stated that “the external means precede the internal, so no one receives faith or the Spirit without - only through – the Word written and proclaimed” (126). Thus the protestant churches emphasis on the preaching of the word has obscured the possibility of God speaking to his people by his Spirit first.

Facing similar battles with the “spiritualist Anabaptists,” Bockmuehl accounts for John Calvin’s similar position on the way God reveals himself to his people as Luther. Calvin rightly sees the problematic nature of people receiving individual words from God that result in church fracturing and even anarchy. Calvin even sees a danger in personal bible study for the conclusions that may be reached. Thus, Bockmuehl summarizes Calvin’s position and influence as:
“Scripture and its official exposition are the sole instruments of the Holy Spirit, and God does not speak immediately to the individual. Judgments of this kind influence the attitude and theology of Protestant churches to the present day, long after original situations and reasons for Calvin’s concerns have been forgotten." (130)
Bockmuehl provides a way forward from the reformers over-reaction against their contemporaries:

"individual insight must always be concordant with Scripture... The Spirit always points back to Scripture. Indeed, true prophecy is the personal application of the biblical word in a new situation. Otherwise, all 'guidance,' 'prophecy,' or 'vocation' can be criticized as an illusion. When we test our insights against Scripture, however, we can live with confidence, experiencing God and his blessings." (150)
Bockmuehl’s concern is that we make ourselves available to hear God’s voice in order to build God’s Kingdom as God would have us build it:
“To act out of receiving, to be a people of prayer - that, and not intellectual brilliance - will build God's Kingdom. We can nevertheless all have our own part in this work of building God's Kingdom, because, in listening, we receive God's creativity, which knows no limits of natural talent. Such creativity is attained through human availability to God, which is the true meaning of sanctification." (152)
Out of this concern Bockmuehl warns against two typical Christian tendencies: that of activism – us doing God’s work without consulting God about the work he would have us do; and passivism, not hearing God’s call and retreating from doing anything in this world.
I asked myself several times, why am I reading Listening to the God who Speaks for my comprehensive exams? The answer kept becoming apparent… as I grapple with what the mission of God is in this world, and how the church and work, as well as all human spheres of activity contribute to that, much humility and patience is needed to first seek to understand what God is doing in the world - we must silence ourselves in prayer, listen and read the scriptures, and then when we hear and when we see what God is doing, we need to go and be part of it.

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