Recovering Vox Dei

Nate Palmer
Friday, January 1st 2010
Jan/Feb 2010

Almost every sector of business across the globe has been adversely affected by the current economic recession. But according to a recent article in BusinessWeek, one type of business is still flourishing: outsourcing. Companies looking to reduce costs often hire other companies–usually in a more cost-effective part of the world–to manage or to execute a service. Today, everything from customer support to Human Resources or manufacturing can be outsourced to almost any developing country. Outsourcing's attractiveness, however, is not limited to commerce.

The current popularity explosion of sermon-sharing websites, which encourage pastors to download and reuse other teachers' sermons for a fee, has drawn the attention of various publications such as The Wall Street Journal.Personal prayer package services allow busy Christians (again, for a fee) to send in a prayer list so that someone they don't know can pray to God on their behalf. We may scoff at these notions, yet the truth is that we often outsource other aspects of our spiritual life.

Recently, my four-year-old daughter had an epic meltdown. My wife and I were at our wits' end on how to help her. My first instinct was to grab my copy of Shepherding a Child's Heart to find out what author Ted Tripp would say. Instead of studying God's Word to hear what God would say to me, I hired Ted to do it for me. There is nothing inherently wrong with turning to a book for help. In fact, biblically based books are beneficial to Christian growth–especially one as excellent as Tripp's. Yet when I completely skip the personal study of God's Word, I am basically declaring that either God can't speak to me directly or that I am not willing to put the effort into hearing him. I have, in effect, outsourced the study of Scripture.

Hebrews 5:11-14 explains that God's Word is like solid food, good for nourishing the soul. If I believe that, then why, when a trial comes, is my first impulse to go to my favorite Christian author or newest Christian living book? Why do I feast on a diet consisting of mostly predigested food (tasty as it might be), rather than food directly from God's table?

Businesses look for cost-saving solutions to justify outsourcing; I do it because I am lazy or because I want people to think I am smart and savvy since I read all the must-read books. I am usually more excited about the newest book release than about the next Bible passage in my daily reading. It just seems more efficient to let other people study the Bible and then tell me what it says. They are smarter and godlier than I am, and they do a better job figuring out what God is saying. Plus, there are catchy and poignant stories that help make the topics more interesting. What's wrong with wanting R. C. Sproul or John Piper to help me understand and apply biblical truths?

While godly authors are a benefit to us, their books should never be a substitute for our own pursuit of Vox Dei, the voice of God. In reality, what is the difference between solely relying on someone else to pray for us and solely relying on someone to read God's Word for us? Not much. Yet while I recoil at the former, all too often I indulge in the latter. It is in these moments that we subcontract out God's voice by turning primarily to other sources for help and direction, regardless of how biblically based they are, instead of principally to the Bible. We let ourselves become consumers of someone else's Christian life. We tap into and adopt their meditation, study, and pursuit of God as our own. They have unintentionally become mediators between us and God.

So how do we recover the supremacy of the personal pursuit of God's Word? We look to the Scriptures themselves. God uses his very Word to help us find the passion and the power both to read and apply it. This may seem like circular logic in that God uses his Word to create a desire for his Word, yet this is exactly what God does.

Consider the passion for God's Word in Psalm 119:9-16:

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

A passionate pursuit of God's Word comes from God's Word, for it is from God's Word that we know of God, his ways, our condition, and the eternal hope of Christ (1 Cor. 15). Paul writes in Romans 15:4, "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." The Scriptures themselves contain the basis for our passionate pursuit of their preeminence in our lives.

As we study the Bible, we discover that God establishes a relationship directly with us. God can and does enter into a relationship with mankind not only because he is capable of such an act but because he desires it. In Genesis, he is personally involved with creation and oversees every aspect of the work. Then, after he creates Adam in his own image, God speaks to him, blesses him, starts a relationship with him in Genesis 1:26-29, and speaks directly to him in Genesis 2. Later, in Genesis 17:7, God tells Abraham his plan for his people: "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you." Here, Scripture reveals that God plans to be in a relationship with his people forever.

The relationship God has with us, however, is not merely that of a caretaker for his charges; it is much deeper than that. It is one of a loving Father who adopts us as sons and daughters by sacrificing his own son on our behalf. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:5-10:

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Even Jesus' name–which is Hebrew for "the Lord rescues," as Immanuel means "God with us" (Matt. 1:23)–suggests the relational nature of God. God is not some distant, unapproachable, uncaring figure; he is capable of having a real, meaningful, and direct relationship with us.

God establishes and fosters his relationship with us through his Word. The apostle John explains in 1 John 2:14 that God's Word lives within us: "I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one." In John 8:47, he explains that God uses Scripture to talk to his people and that "whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." In Luke 6:47-48, Jesus encourages us to read and to build our life on God's Word.

The Scriptures teach that they are God's voice to his people and that God encourages us to listen. He does so because he loves us. The incarnation of Christ was the single greatest proof that God loves and desires a relationship with us; it also shows how personal God is willing to be. John writes, "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:9-10). If God loves us enough to offer his Son as a sacrifice for us, does it not stand to reason that he would clearly record this so that future generations could read about it? Without God's Word, would we some two-thousand years later know what God did for us? How would we know the gospel?

I am currently reading a biography on Daniel Boone. It is a fascinating account filled with adventure, hardship, and perseverance. As enlightening and entertaining as the book is, it's still merely a history book without any real impact or authority on my life. The Scriptures, however, are not merely a history record. They are God's very words to us and are meant to be a primary source of grace in our lives. Luke 6:47-49, Hebrews 5:11-14, and Colossians 3:16 show us the amazing impacts of which the Scriptures are capable. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." Paul explains how the Bible is not only directly authored by God, but that it is his tool for equipping and changing us for the Christian life. God uses his Word not just to inform us but to care for us and to transform us.

God also extends care through his Word. Psalm 73:24 states, "You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory." Proverbs 30:5 declares, "Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him." His Word provides wisdom, protection, and hope. Passages like Romans 15:4 and John 5:24 explain how God uses the Bible to provide for our assurance of salvation. Scripture is more than just an account of God's actions and more than just a "love letter"; it is the primary means through which he imparts knowledge, provides care, and conforms us into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

When I was seventeen, I left my home in California to move to Germany in order to "find myself." I barely spoke German and my guest parents understood hardly any English. Communication was a confusing and laborious undertaking with frustrated expressions, convoluted hand gestures, and unmet expectations. For example, the confused look I got when I said I wanted pepperoni pizza was matched by my reaction when they gave me a pizza with various peppers on it. Fortunately for us, we have a God who is all powerful (Mark 10:27), all knowing (Prov. 9:10), and who understands our thoughts and desires completely (1 Chron. 28:9).

Given his power and the fact he also desires and establishes a loving relationship with his people, it is logical that God can and does speak clearly to his people. In 1 John 2:20, the apostle explains that when God regenerates us he simultaneously grants us the ability through his Spirit to understand his Word. John writes, "But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge." The Scriptures are clear and sufficient for those who have trusted Christ and who have been given the Holy Spirit. We can't have a real and loving relationship with God unless we first understand him–or he makes himself understood. God uses the Holy Spirit to help us grasp and desire his Word. Jesus explains to his disciples that unless the Holy Spirit comes, they cannot otherwise understand the gospel: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come" (John 16:12-13).

God uses the clarity of the Bible not only to communicate who he is but also the hope and power he extends through Christ. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:18, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." God's Word cannot be power to us if we are unable to discern it. Or do we think that God separates us into two groups of believers: those with whom he chooses to have a direct relationship, and those to whom he will only talk through a third party? Do we think that Hebrews 4:16, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need," is meant only for those with a seminary degree?

Ironically, the idea that we need a mediator between us and Christ is an entrenched Roman Catholic notion, the very conflict at the heart of the Reformation. At the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church issued a statement saying no one except the church had the right to interpret Scriptures. They forced the ordinary believer to outsource the Word to the church, making the priests the only ones who legally could study the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church effectively changed Matthew 4:4, which says, "But he answered, 'It is written, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,"'" by adding a qualifier on the end, "as interpreted by the Roman Catholic Church."

While we stand with the Reformers who rightfully rebelled against this, we often functionally agree with it. Instead of the qualifier of the church, we add "as interpreted by Piper or Frame or Bavinck." We think that the Bible is too complicated, too labor-intensive, or too boring for us to deal with. Instead, we let other authors be our priests; we carry out our relationship with God vicariously through them. Yet God would have us come to him through his Word and find hope, power, and encouragement (Rom. 15:4). In 2 Samuel 22:31 it says, "This God–his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him."

A new and passionate emphasis on Scripture does not preclude us from reading other biblically based books. Just because the Bible offers clarity does not remove the mystery or complexity of it. Not all of the concepts contained in Scripture are equally clear. Things like how Christ can be both fully man and God at the same time and the Trinity–not to mention how the relationship between God's sovereignty and human responsibility works–are hard for our finite minds to fully comprehend. While we can clearly see these concepts in the Bible, they still perplex us. So we need brilliant guys like Piper or Frame or Bavinck to help us understand our own study of Scripture. Proverb 11:14 states, "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety."

As we seek wise counsel, we must be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and constantly evaluate their words and conclusions against the Scriptures themselves. How can we do that if we have little idea what the Bible actually says? In fact, we need more than just these authors to help us read and apply the Scriptures; we need a community of believers. We were not saved into a lone ranger Christianity but into God's people. In Ephesians 2:18-22, Paul explains that Christ brought us not only individually to him but he also created a people bound together through his blood.

This means that Scripture is to be pursued and applied both personally and publicly. In 1 Timothy 4:13-16, Paul encourages the public reading and teaching of Scripture by telling Timothy to be not just open to it but rather devoted to it. Many of the New Testament Epistles such as Romans and 1 Corinthians were written and read aloud to the entire church. Passages like 1 Corinthians 1:10 and 1 Thessalonians 2:14 address and encourage communal actions to be taken by the whole church. Many verses, like Ephesians 5:2, instruct the church to be in community and service to one another: "And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Yet, we cannot comprehend what these statements mean, or even be faithful and effective, if we are not living in community with other believers.

God did not intend for us to read, study, and apply his Word in isolation, with only our own capacities and knowledge to guide us. We are not merely dependent on our own personal interpretations. We benefit from those around us such as our pastors, Christian authors, and our brothers and sisters in Christ in the local church. Even those who have gone before us contribute to our pursuit of God's Word, through their writings and through the confessions. Not that these are to take away the hard work of reading the Bible ourselves, but they are to give us the tools to properly understand what we have before us. While we should lean on exterior works for understanding, we should never substitute them for our own study of Scripture.

God wants to speak to you. He wants to assure you of his love and of the hope of Christ. He wants to instruct you on how to live a life that glorifies him. The Scriptures are his context by which he does all of this. So don't outsource his Word to you; instead, passionately pursue the preeminence of Scripture. But don't take my word for any of this. Read the Bible and discover what God is saying to you. Recover Vox Dei, the voice of God. As Psalm 1:1 states, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night."

1 [ Back ] Mark Scott, "Outsourcing: Thriving at Home and Abroad," BusinessWeek (4 May 2009).
2 [ Back ] Suzanne Sataline, "That Sermon You Heard on Sunday May Be from the Web," The Wall Street Journal (, 15 November 2006).
Friday, January 1st 2010

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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