Balance Between Scripture and Spirit

Reaching for one without letting go of the other

I feel compelled by the Holy Spirit (I hope) to explain myself a bit. Please forgive me if this gets into a little self-conscious rambling.

I have touched recently on some important doctrinal issues without really addressing them in a doctrinal way. That is intentional, but that leaves me a little self-conscious about it.

I have brushed past many doctrinal issues in this blog, and some of them are themes that I come back to quite often. Recently, I have veered dangerously close to issues like the inerrancy of the Bible and Bible hermeneutics, though I have not used words like that, other than to acknowledge at some points those rocks that exist in the turbulent waters.

I often reflect on the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. I often reflect on atonement, redemption, salvation and similar themes, though I don’t often use those words. Anytime we speak of the cross, the specter of those doctrinal ideas arises.

I am usually not all that conscious about doctrine in the sense of academic formality or denominational purity. This also is intentional, though it isn’t intended in any rebellious, skeptical or heretic away.

What I always aim for is “mere Christianity”.

I have obviously been influenced by CS Lewis. I often reference CS Lewis in what I write and, indeed, he has had a profound impact on me.

In addition to that, I think I am a spiritual mutt. I was raised Catholic, but I did not find faith in the Catholic Church. To be true, some foundation and seed for my faith was laid in my early years and may be attributable to my Catholic upbringing, but the moment of conscious commitment to the gospel and to the person of God did not take place in a Catholic setting or context.

I was brought to the point of a conscious commitment to God by a charismatic Methodist insurance salesman in his living room. I was influenced along the way by very southern Southern Baptists. I was touched at one moment by a grizzled, toothless Pentecostal man whose simple, earnest faith and clear grasp of Scripture was almost missed as he stumbled badly over King James English.

In my journey up to that point, I had been absorbing the great literature, philosophy and world religions in college with the zeal and purpose of a truth seeker. My “Christian” professor came out of the reformed background but advocated the position that all roads from around the world lead to the top of the same Mountain.

I learned early on to hold my judgments in abeyance. There is “mystery” in the world and in religions and in Scripture, itself, that suggest we should not rush to judgment. I sensed the need to be still and listen, quieting the inner voices in hopes of hearing the voice of God, something that seems increasingly more difficult to do in the clamor and commotion of the modern world.

I became keenly aware that the thrust of the harshest criticism that Jesus leveled against anyone was aimed at the religious leaders of His time. Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites! I still can’t read Matthew 23 or the other passages that document the charges Jesus leveled at the religious leaders without squirming or feeling uncomfortable.

I distrusted religious institution, and I still do. Yet, I realize the fundamental and critical importance of the body of Christ!

I realize as I make a protest for not being intentionally doctrinal that any interpretation or exposition of Scripture is doctrinal. I love and admire the enthusiasm of my son’s friends in these things, as they argue about Calvinism and various points of formal doctrine, quoting creeds and church dogma. Their voices ring in my head as I write this.

I have been cut out of a different cloth, however, from the beginning. I was largely disconnected from the formal Body of Christ in my initial faith journey. It was me and the Bible and some influences of fellow college students involved in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and various voices that resonated with me in books like Mere Christianity.

The most profound experience and growth in my early walk with God came alone in the north woods of Wisconsin for three months with nothing by a Bible and time and silence. I learned to praise and sing hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God, not prompted by any doctrinal exposition or invocation from a pulpit, but from the Holy Spirit welling up from within as I fed on Scripture and took shaky steps toward my Creator.

Early on, I was struck by the fact that the wisdom of God appears to be foolishness to men, but men who are wise in their own eyes are really fools for trusting themselves, rather than God. I was keenly aware of the pride of man that sets itself, often without critical self-reflection, against the knowledge of God.

I was influenced by the reaction of the learned Jews to the teaching of Jesus when they were amazed and wondered, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”[1] I was struck by the boldness and influence of Peter and the other disciples who astonished the high priest, Caiaphas, and the rest of the high-priestly family with their teaching, though they were “uneducated, common men”.[2]

I hold on to the point that God teaches us through his Holy Spirit, and the vitality of the Gospel is not academic or doctrinal, but God’s Holy Spirit, Himself, moving in the lives and hearts of people with power.

This is not to say that we should trust in the Holy Spirit and forget the Bible. That is not what I want to suggest that at all. Scripture is inspired by God and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”[3]

I digress to point out that Paul calls Scripture “profitable”.[4] While Scripture is profitable and provides the person seeking God an advantage, Paul doesn’t call it indispensable or something of that nature. I don’t want to fall into heresy, but that suggests to me that we shouldn’t make a god of Scripture itself. We shouldn’t substitute Scripture for a personal relationship with God and listening to God’s voice, the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us a Guide[5] and Helper[6].

Again, I don’t want to minimize the importance of Scripture, but even Satan knows Scripture and can quote it.[7]

I also do not want to make light of the various creeds that have been developed historically. There were times in the history of the church when there was a need to be doctrinal in a surgical kind of way to be sure that error and heresy did not creep into an influence the youthful Church. Formal creeds were necessary to counter formal heresies that were gaining influence. But, the creeds do not take the place of Scripture, and Scripture does not take the place of a personal relationship with God.

While we may need to get surgical at times in our approach to Christianity, we can’t live or thrive in the surgical wing of the faith. It does not seem fruitful to me. Too much surgery, and the operation begins to feel more like an autopsy.

These are the reasons I don’t get doctrinal or dogmatic in my writing or thinking. I try to listen to the God and be led by the Holy Spirit in what I write. I know I don’t always succeed in clearly hearing or conveying what God might be saying. That is our lot in this life. We see through a glass darkly (or in a mirror dimly).[8]

This is why we can never get away from dependence on the Holy Spirit and being sensitive to the voice of God in our lives. We cannot depend entirely on Scripture. Scripture is profitable to the man of God, but even Satan knows Scripture. The Pharisees knew Scripture, yet they failed to see that Scripture bore witness to and anticipated the very coming of Jesus, who the Pharisees rejected.[9]

We also cannot depend entirely on listening for the voice of God, unmoored by Scripture and sound doctrine, because our human hearts have a tendency to be easily deceived.[10] We can easily be led astray by our own delusions without the anchor of Scripture to keep us from being tossed to and fro in the storms of thought and feelings and our own sinful inclinations.

In this blog, I am aiming for the balance between Scripture and Spirit – reaching for one without letting go of the other. I may not always succeed in the attempt. Writing for me is a way of working out what God (I hope) is working in me. Writing is not the end, but a beginning.


[1] “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, ‘How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?’ So Jesus answered them, ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.’” (John 7:14-18)

[2] “On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.” (Acts 4:5-14)

[3] “[C]ontinue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

[4] Ōphélimos is an adjective, derived from ōpheléō, meaning “to lend advantage” which is derived from óphelos, and means “accumulated profit” or “advantage”.

[5] “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-15)

[6] “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26) The word translated “Helper” is paráklētos (from pará, meaning “from close-beside”, and kaléō, meaning to “make a call”). It literally means a legal advocate –one who makes the right judgment-call because close enough to the situation. (See the Biblehub)

[7] See, for instance, Satan’s Bible Knowledge, posted online by John Piper at, June 30, 1981.

[8] “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV) Compare to the ESV: “For now we see in a mirror dimly….”

[9] “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)

[10] “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

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