Robert Wilken on the language of scripture

How, it is asked, are we to speak of God in an age of light bulbs and computers? The assumed answer is that we need to translate the idiom of the Scriptures into the idiom of our own time, to discuss the biblical faith in terms intelligible in the nonbiblical categories of today.

The difficulty with this program of translation is that the language of the Bible is irreplaceable, and more often than not the consequence of ‘translation’ is that the language of the Scriptures is supplanted by another language or relegated to the footnotes. It ceases to be the vehicle of thought. As necessary as it is to ‘translate’ the Bible into the though patterns of our age, it is also the case that Christians in every generation must learn afresh how to think and imagine in the language and idiom of the Scriptures.

from Remembering the Christian Past (Eerdmans, 1995), 175-6.

Note too that Augustine holds fast to the biblical language. A less gifted preacher—and especially a contemporary one—might be inclined to translate the biblical language into the current cultural idiom. Augustine, however, translates one set of biblical terms into terms from elsewhere in the Bible. He knew that the language of the Bible is more resonant, more affective, more enduring (because it will be heard again), richer in spiritual and moral content, and more edifying than any local idiom.

from The Sermon on the Mount through the Centuries (2007), 49.

Also don’t miss: “The Church’s Way of Speaking,” First Things, 2005

As it was in the beginning…

  1. Philip Cary

We could say: in Christ, God has entered the drama of human history. But it might be more accurate to say that through Christ human history is caught up in the drama between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit unfolding in the Gospel. For to receive Christ in faith is to participate in his story and share his life. By faith alone we abide in Christ as he abides in us, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God, and when he appears we shall appear with him and be like him. Being incorporated into Christ’s body, we are brought into the drama that is the eternal life of the Trinity.

from The Meaning of Protestant Theology (Baker, 2019), 310.

2. Donald Fairbairn

We can understand and appreciate the various aspects of Christian teaching and Christian life in relation to the fundamental relationship between the Father and the Son. God created us to share in this relationship and gave us a share in the communion of the Trinity at creation. This is the primary thing that we lost through the Fall. God’s promise after the Fall, around which one may organize the entire history and teaching of the Old Testament, was ultimately a promise that the Son of God would come to bring human beings back into a share in the communion of the Trinity. In fulfillment of this promise, God the Son personally entered human life by becoming man while remaining God, and in his human life he showed us both God’s love and perfect human love. At his crucifixion, God the Son bore in his own person our estrangement from God; as man he was crushed by our sin, and as man he was forsaken in our place by his own Father. Through his resurrection and ascension, he was restored as man to the fellowship of the Trinity which he had always shared as God, and in the process he opened the way for people who are united to him by faith to be restored to fellowship with the Trinity as well. The Holy Spirit, whom the Father and the Son sent to earth, dwells in believers, uniting us to the Son and thus granting us the participation in the Father-Son relationship that became possible through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Through the Spirit, Christians are called to live—both individually and as the church—so as to anticipate the time when God will transform the entire created world and bring his dwelling here to be with his people for eternity.

from Life in the Trinity (IVP Academic, 2010), 232-233.

[one of the better single-paragraph summaries of Christian faith I’ve come across in a while]

John Calvin on this troubled life

In the end, we rightly profit from the discipline of the cross when we learn that this life, considered in itself, is troubled, turbulent, attended by many miseries, and never entirely happy, and that whatever things we consider good in this life are uncertain, passing, vain, and spoiled because they’re mixed with many evils. And from this we likewise conclude that we should expect and hope for nothing other than trouble in this life, and that we should set our eyes on heaven where we expect our crown. So, indeed, we ought to realize that our souls will never seriously rise to the desire and contemplation of the future life until they’ve been soaked in scorn for this present life.

from A Little Book on the Christian Life. Trans. Denlinger and Parsons (Ligonier, 2017), 91-92.

Martin Luther on the present Christ

See how different Christ is from his successors, although they all would wish to be his vicars. A man is a vicar only when his superior is absent. If the pope rules, while Christ is absent and does not dwell in his heart, what else is he but a vicar of Christ? What is the church under such a vicar but a mass of people without Christ? Indeed, what is such a vicar but an antichrist and an idol? How much more properly did the apostles call themselves servants of the present Christ and not vicars of an absent Christ?

from “An Open Letter to Pope Leo X” (1520) in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. Ed. Tim Lull (1989), 594.

[Polemically stated, to be sure, but worth bearing in mind the distinction between serving a present Christ and standing in for an absent Christ.]