Is God Still Speaking?
God is still speaking.
These four simple words, the tag line to a 2004 advertising campaign for the United Church of Christ, highlight one of the most important theological divisions in the Christian family tree. Is the Bible complete and sufficient for all purposes until the end of time, or is God a mystery still unraveling, with new and important truths still emerging?
The Evangelical Right, in general, believes in Biblical sufficiency. Taken out of context, a number of verses included in the Bible appear to point both to its completeness (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:2 or Revelation 22:19), and its perfection for Christian purposes (e.g. Psalm 19:7-9). I disagree, for a variety of reasons, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Because here’s the thing—even if the evangelicals are right about these verses, they are still wrong by their own terms.
Let’s imagine, arguendo, that every word written from Genesis to Revelations was literally true. Let’s further imagine that all theological cases must be made from these scriptures and only these scriptures, because God says they are sufficient. Let us make only conservative, facially valid arguments that cannot reasonably be debated based on the plain meaning of the words presented. Even under these circumstances, Christ himself still directly and explicitly states that God will send as an “advocate” the “spirit of truth” to be with those who follow his commands “forever” (John 14:16-17, NRSV).
Backing up about six centuries from when those words were spoken, God made a promise. He told the prophet Jeremiah, “The days are coming […] when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel […] I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts […] they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Je. 31:31-34).
In this promise, God does not speak of pen and paper, or more burning bushes, or of any of the words spoken by future messiahs and prophets. God speaks of writing the law directly into the “minds” and “hearts” of humans. How does God intend to fulfill this promise? Well, while Jesus tends to coyly avoid speaking of himself as the messiah, king of the Jews, etc throughout the gospels, he is decidedly not coy about his declaration, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish, but to to fulfill” (Mt. 5:17). “The law” and “the prophets” are two of the main divisions of the Hebrew Bible (or “Old” Testament) Jesus referred to regularly throughout his ministry. And Jeremiah is one of the prophets to whom he refers here.
Christ teaches, preaches, and provides a divine example to Christians throughout the Gospels, but he does not, and does not claim to, write anything directly onto the hearts and minds of humans. In fact, misunderstandings with his disciples abound, sometimes with pretty catastrophic consequences. So how does Jesus fulfill this particular prophetic promise? The answer, clearly written in scripture, is direct intercession.
Going back to John, the new covenant of the Spirit of truth is this:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (Jn. 14:15-17).
This is a direct fulfillment of the promise that the new covenant, the new “law” that God promised to Jeremiah and Christ promised to fulfill, will literally be in the humans who follow Christ. And that law is the Spirit of truth.
Is the Bible complete? Is it sufficient? These are topics better left to a future post. But in any case, it is certainly complete and sufficient enough to show us that God’s word continues, through Christ’s intervention, to be written as truth on the hearts and minds of humankind.
God is still speaking.
____ This post is the first in a series. Follow this blog for more to come on what Christ’s commands actually are, and how they relate to the Spirit of truth. www.jimcoppoc.org/blog, or www.facebook.com/groups/godblog.