The famous Bible teacher G. Campbell Morgan once said the whole truth does not lie in “It is written,” but rather in “It is written” and “Again it is written.” By this Morgan wanted to make what I believe is a vital point. The second text must be placed over against the first or we lose symmetry. I believe the Reformers understood this as Word and Spirit theology. Just as the right wing needs the left to fly so the left needs the right. A. W. Tozer once said that “Many of the doctrinal divisions among the churches are the result of a blind and stubborn insistence that truth has but one wing. Truth has two wings” (The Incredible Christian).
For many years I have been persuaded that truth, in order to be really and properly understood, must be lived. And to be lived it must be processed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why a person can be as “straight as a gun barrel and just as empty” as I think the late Vance Havner (photo right) once put it. The essence of what I am saying is this: There is a vast difference between facts and truth. Facts can be believed in a cold and disassociated way. Truth is warm, living and personal. You can believe theological facts and never embrace or love the truth. Truth is creative, saving, transforming, powerful. The one who meets truth becomes humble and holy. The one who uses facts can be mean and arrogant, the way many Christian teachers and preachers have become all too often.
A. W. Tozer said a theological fact becomes a life-giving truth “at the point where obedience begins.” The devil is very happy to be a theologian. He is a better theologian, in terms of knowing the facts, than any of us.
Remember how liberalism arose theologically. Pious people wanted to center their lives in prayer and personal devotion. They saw confessional Christianity all around them in decay and discredited. Liberalism could never have made it without piety and warmth. But liberalism eventually became ideology. Basic facts about Jesus–his two natures, his birth, his resurrection, his ascension—were questioned, even denied. Conservatism arose to challenge this open denial of the facts. But before long it became a movement of separatism and took on the tones of battle and war. This type of rhetoric and spirit remains to this day.
But divine truth is of the nature of spirit and thus it can only be received and lived by spiritual revelation. God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts. His thoughts belong to the world of spirit. Our thoughts belong to the world of flesh, of human intellect. Spirit can embrace intellect but intellect can never embrace spirit. Our thoughts can never cross over into God’s thoughts.
A. W. Tozer (photo left) is again helpful when he concludes: “Fundamentalism has fallen into the error of textualism, orthodoxy without the Holy Ghost. Everywhere among conservatives we find persons who are Bible-taught but not Spirit-taught. For a man to understand reveled truth requires an act of God equal to the original act which inspired the text” (The Divine Conquest).
I really believe what Tozer writes here is profoundly correct but I have found far too few conservatives who really agree. Reacting against all kinds of theological systems that challenge their puny concepts of God these conservatives would rather embrace a comfortable system than the mystery of the faith.
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Excellent post! In this season of Ascension/Pentecost, let us all reflect on how much we need the Spirit to bear witness to the Word!
In Christ’s peace, Alex Burgess