How to Read the Bible – Advice from Ole Hallesby

God’s Word is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. – Hebrews 4.12

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Reading the Bible daily is a great difficulty for many of God’s children. They don’t stop reading, but it becomes heavy and tiresome. And they’re scared that all of their reading is useless because they think they don’t get anything out of it.

My friend, don’t let yourself be confounded if you with prayer and simplicity read your Bible every day. Perhaps you misunderstand your reading. You have thought that it’s you has to strive in one or another way to wrestle something spiritual out of what you’re reading.

No, it is the Holy Spirit who will make the words that you read into food for your soul. Remember that the Holy Spirit must perform a miracle every time that you read the Bible, if your reading is to become bread for your soul. And the Holy Spirit is glad to do this miracle.

Therefore, when you take up your Bible, fold your hands and like a child pray that He will do this miracle for you, whether you read a little or a lot. And when you have done this, you can read with cheerfulness and be certain that what you are reading goes into your soul as a spiritual nourishment.

Don’t sit there with nervous questions about whether it will become food, and whether that food will be enough for your soul. Those people, who think too much about food and digestion while they eat, unsettle their stomachs.

No, collect your thoughts about the Word while you read. And thank God for the eternal truths that have traveled through your soul. The Spirit shall do the work of making the Word work in you, even if you can’t immediately say what that work is.

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 36.

You Cannot Serve the Lord! A Lutheran Response to Socrates

This is the last in a 3 part series on the relationship of Lutheran theology to Socratic ethics. Part 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

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If you can remember back to the last post on Socrates, you’ll know that for Socrates, ethics fundamentally involved a problem of knowledge. People who know the right thing to do will do it. In this post, I’m going to delve into a different way of looking at the problem, a way that involves the peculiarly Lutheran idea of the bound will.

For Lutherans, the fundamental problem of ethics is not that people lack the knowledge necessary for right action. The fundamental problem is that people are not free actors. In their natural state, people can do nothing but the wrong thing. Even with full knowledge of the right and wrong, people will do the wrong thing, because people are captive to sin, death, and the devil. The farewell discourse of Joshua in Joshua 24 illustrates the problem. After Joshua explains the difference between right and wrong to the Israelites for several long chapters, he presents them with a choice: to serve God or to serve false idols. The Israelites respond, “We will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24:18). Now, it appears that the Israelites have made the right choice, and the logical thing for Joshua to do is to affirm them and go get buried. Instead, Joshua replies, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God!” (Joshua 24:19). Joshua, you see, understands the bound will. He knows that even when people pay lip service to the right choice, their hearts are in another place. Joshua knows that despite his lecture and despite their answer, the hearts of the Israelites are inclined away from the true God and that they will not serve him.

Lutheran theology acknowledges that the deck is perpetually stacked against humanity. The state of humanity after the fall turns all of humanity’s efforts to do good into pious idolatry. To put it in another way, Lutheran theology recognizes that ethics is not an ethical problem, but a religious one. The turn towards a religious understanding of ethics happens in light of the cross of Jesus Christ. Standing beneath the shadow of the crucified Lord, Lutheran theology sees that human distinctions between right and wrong pale in comparison. In the light of the crucifixion, there is no longer right and wrong. One is either in Christ or outside of Christ. Those who are in Christ see that all of the works are laughable attempts at self-justification, regardless of their standing in human eyes.

And so, finally, the Lutheran response to Socrates is to point to Christ and to proclaim that no amount of knowledge can help you to do the right thing, because the definition of right and wrong resides in the person of Christ, not in a set of propositions.

Know Thyself: Socrates and Lutherans

This is finally part 2 of what will be a 3 part series on the relationship of Socrates (and broadly speaking “philosophy”) to Lutheran theology. Part 1 can be found here.

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When I started this (small) project a month or so ago, I was very enthused about it. Now, not quite so much, but I still think it’s important and so feel obligated to write a few words on the topic.

Though I have characterized this as a post on Socrates and on philosophy, it’s really a post on that subdivision of philosophy called ethics. To be forthright, ethics is a subdivision of philosophy that I abhor and try to not think about. But, in our present climate religious and social it’s come to the forefront again, because questions of justice continue to dominate the discussion. Questions of justice inevitably become questions of ethics, i.e. “What is the right thing to do?”

This is where Socrates comes in, and where I find it very important to know how he thought of ethics because it’s a view that continues to percolate beneath a lot of our discussions of justice.

To overly simplify, but also to get at the heart of the matter, for Socrates, ethics is a matter of knowledge. If a person knows the realities of a situation, they will be able to know the right thing to do, and they will do it. For Socrates, unjust action always comes about on account of ignorance. Thus, his life work was to show people their ignorance and be extension, stop their unjust actions.

In many ways, our modern discourse follows this same premise: People act unjustly because they have a skewed perspective on the world based on faulty information. The way to correct their actions is thus a problem of information. If enough correct information is provided, reasonable people will change their actions.

As you may have guessed by now, I’m going to make the claim next time that Lutheran theology sees the problem (and people) in a fundamentally different manner. Be sure to check back in ten days or so, when I (finally) draw this series to a close.