The 4 Turnings
In 1991 or so, George Hunter mentioned, during a presentation in East Los Angeles, the 4 turnings “repentances” of the human heart that help create the kinds of people the Kingdom needs.
The Turning to the Scriptures
The four turnings are these:
- A turning to Jesus Christ as Lord
- A turning to some form of Christ following community
- A turning to the Scriptures
- A turning back to the world on mission
We been talking about the 4 Turnings of the human heart that lead to the kinds of people Jesus needs in the 21st century. The third of the turnings is the essential turn to the scriptures. (Remember, these turnings can happen in any order).
Contexts and Trajectories for Faith
Why do we turn to the scriptures?
The scriptures give us both context and trajectories for faith.
Let’s begin with stating the obvious: The Christ following movement didn’t begin with us.
It has a history. A long messy history.
Our history has both personal and textual documentation.
The personal documentation is the story of Jesus when recounted by those who have been transformed by Him. The gospel on their lips is the word of God to the world.
The lives of these messengers and the ways they communicate the message may be be awkward or flawed. It may be colored by particular slants on the message, shaded by personality, shaped by cultural context, lacking in detail to a small or great degree, but it is inspired. It is inspired in the sense that, when the story of Jesus is told, it points to God’s work in the world.
The textual documentation of the story is the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
The editing, compilation and collection of these documents — the canon — is a historical and human process in which we did not get to participate.
The canon is not revelation.
The Bible did NOT fall out of heaven perfect and complete. It was not dictated by God to an angel with impeccable penmanship. The canon has no authority in and of itself. But the canon has a unique and irrevocable place in our history. It is given to us by those who’ve gone before us.
Like the word of God on the lips of women and men who advocate for Jesus, the scriptures have a slant on history. They are shaped by culture, shaded by personality, lack details to a lesser or greater degree. But they are inspired. They are inspired in the sense that, regardless of the agenda of the editors, they point to Events bigger than the agendas for which the writers and editors try to use them.
Both the personal and textual documentation are not authoritative in and of themselves. Let’s put a fine point on it. The scriptures are NOT authoritative in and of themselves.
Let this thought breath for a moment. So many of us have spent our lives breathing an atmosphere toxic with bibliolatry, that the taste of fresh air may shock us. The scriptures are not authoritative in and of themselves. This is the line most likely to be misquoted. I can see it already, “Alex McManus writes that ‘the scriptures are not authoritative…’ ” But that’s not what I’ve said.
The scriptures are not authoritative in and of themselves. In the same way, the gospel on our lips is not authoritative in and of itself. Both, in order to be true, require that God is somehow behind them. He is the one with authority.
We must never confuse the scriptures (nor a human who is recounting the gospel) with God. The authority of these is of a second order. God must, in fact, be in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. This same God must, in fact, be the energy behind the call of Abram. He must be the One who brought Israel out of Egypt and gave them the 10 words.
Whatever effect the scriptures and our testimonies have are directly related to how closely they resemble what God is actually doing in history among us. If God were not in the picture, the scriptures would be nothing more than the mere fantasies and fairy tells of the deluded.
The Stories of “the effected”
The fact that we treat the scriptures as if they were magic allows us to lose touch with an important reality. Everything depends on the God who is on mission. The rest are just clues left behind like tracks in the wild.
God is in the world before he is in the scripture, above Israel and with the Church. All authority is in God. Since, we believe, God is in the picture, the scriptures are the human literary deposit of “the effected.” The effected are those like Abram and Moses and you, if you are a Christ following person, that have experienced an encounter with the unknown.
Yet the scriptures themselves are a wrestling match between clarity and obscurity, violence and peacefulness, unyielding dogmatism and grace.
- The scriptures include portions that make us cringe. We pretend that there’s nothing wrong with the God directed genocide of the Amalekites. We make up excuses for God or, as a last resort, just say, Who are you to question God?
- There are prophecies that don’t make sense. We pretend that if anybody would just read the prophecies, they would think, wow, that could only be Jesus. I believe.
- The scriptures are harsh. We just ignore that the scriptures prescribes the death penalty for adultery.
The scriptures themselves are a wrestling match between subversion and the legitimation of power, conquest and submission, control and chaos.
If God can speak to us through anything — He can speak to us through movies (and, oh, how I love movies); He can speak to us through the news; He can speak to us through the heavens — Why then turn to something as messy as the Bible, a story “written by God”?
Because, “the effected” are witnesses to God as He writes His own story in history among us. So, while the scriptures themselves are not a story written by God but by men, they are like a witness’ sketch about the mysterious activity of God in their midst.
The stories and recollections of the scripture are like those of witnesses at a crime scene trying to retell the things they had seen and experienced. I can hear almost hear them, “It all happened so fast.”
Their experience was that God was writing His story in history among them. The fact that the scriptures are of human origin and human design doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to them than this. The story tellers assert that it is God’s story that they are sketching. This sketch effects us when in them and through them we begin to recognize the parallel activity of God in our own hearts.
The scriptures are the reflections of “effected people” on God’s activity as passed on to us. As such, scripture cannot be divided into those parts that are authoritative and those parts that are not. They must be received as a whole, as that which has been handed to us. We are not free to discard any unsavory portion. We are free to disagree with them, question them, be embarrassed by them, hate them, devise explanations that get around them. But we cannot exclude them. The unsavory portions are a part of the “effected’s” story. Every word contains potential evidence to the actual original encounter between people and God. That’s what we’re after.
Both the scriptures and our personal stories are our slant as effected people on the story of God. Our contribution is colored, shaded, slanted and shaped by our cultures, contexts and personalities. The scriptures are the story of how those who have gone before us have responded when the winds of God passed by them.
There is something so deep, so common, so universal in the primal experience of these ancient men and women that continues to speak to us today. Something about the God the scriptures point towards lessens the distance between us –21st century cyber beings — and the original personalities — illiterate nomadic exiles — of the scripture. They point to and connect us to a common place.
That common place — where man and God at table are sat down — is the place where future people who’ve been made human again will meet us. They will know this common place as they recognize (1) the parallel stirrings in their own hearts in (2) our descriptions of God in our lives and (3) in the stories told in scripture of God’s action in the lives of those primitive people of faith.
The scriptures give us context.
They put us at the place where we might hear the voices of the crowd of witnesses.
But, in the end, it is not the voices of the crowd of witnesses that we are really trying to hear.
What we really want is to hear The Quiet Voice behind the chatter.
In a “follow up” post, I’ll write about the trajectories of scripture.
What do you think?
Stay tuned for MAKING THE WORLD HUMAN AGAIN: Jesus’ Quest to Save the Future from Religion by Alex McManus. Scheduled to come out October 2009 through Zondervan Press.
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