God’s Presence Outside of Scripture
Rachel Held Evans recently gave a great rebuke to a blog post by Tim Challies that was riddled with errors on many ways. His basic claim was that Christians should have Scripture and nothing else. As Rachel did, I want to be clear that this is not an attack on Challies; it is a disagreement with a lot of the statements that he made in that particular post. It was historically inaccurate on several points and it was oblivious to what Scripture says about itself, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Here are some of the highlights from Rachel:
I have no idea where Challies got the idea that “mysticism was once regarded as an alternative to evangelical Christianity.”
While it is true that the Reformers occasionally used the word “evangelical” in their writings, most historians locate the roots of evangelicalism solidly within Wesley’s Methodism in England and in the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries. Evangelicalism was, at its heart, a movement, influenced not only by a strong emphasis on the authority of Scripture but also by a lively, impassioned, and deeply personal spirituality—an eclectic, ecumenical mix of elements from Pietism, Presbyterianism, Puritanism, and Pentecostalism. Evangelicalism’s mothers and fathers were mystically-inclined Christians like John Wesley, Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, William J. Seymour, and A.W. Tozer—people whose “hearts were strangely warmed” by profound experiences with God, by “a direct inner realization of the Divine.”
And indeed, mysticism…has been a part of the Church from the very beginning.
He says at the end of his post that when it comes to our connection with the holy, “God promises us no more” than Scripture as a means to knowing and experiencing his presence.
This is absolutely not true. Scripture itself teaches us that God haspromised us the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49, Acts 2:33, Ephesians 1:13).
As Peter exclaimed at Pentecost, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for your and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
In other words, the Holy Spirit doesn’t have boundaries.
Furthermore, to limit the presence of Jesus to the words of Scripture, as if Christ’s presence is restricted to paper and ink, is to deny the resurrection of all its power. Christ is not merely an historical figure that we read about, a person from the past to whom we make intellectual assent. Christ is alive! Christ is present! Christ is directly accessible to all who believe!
Jesus himself said that we can expect to encounter his presence not simply in the pages of Scripture, but also among the least of these, where two or three are gathered, in persecution, and in communion. Paul experienced Jesus on the road to Damascus. Peter experienced Jesus in the home of Cornelius (much to his surprise). Stephen saw Jesus just before his death. I have encountered the presence of Jesus in fellowship with other Christians, among the poor and disenfranchised, as I eat the bread and drink the wine. And if this makes me a mystic, then count me in!
The whole point of Scripture is to testify to the Living Word, which is Jesus Christ. As Jesus told the Scribes and Pharisees, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
Challies says that “whatever does not lead us toward God’s Word will always, inevitably and ultimately lead us away.” But the point of Scripture is not to lead us back to Scripture. The point of Scripture is to lead us to Jesus Christ. And any student of Luther will know that this was central to the Reformer’s theology as well.
Challies is wrong. We do have direct access to God. We need no additional mediator.