Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Speak, Lord, by Veronica Zundel

A fellow Mennonite and I have a little game in which the title of a book plus its author make up a sentence, for instance The Courage To Be Paul Tillich, or Jesus Asked Conrad Gempf (or indeed, David Watson You Are My God!). I've found a new one recently, in a reissued classic: God has Spoken by J I Packer. Can't wait to tell her (apologies for all these titles being by men - can't think of any by women at the mo, please supply my deficiency in the comments...).

That last one has given me pause. Has God spoken by J I Packer? I'm inclined to answer Yes, though I haven't read the book. Not in the sense, perhaps, that God spoke by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Simeon or Anna, or even the five daughters of Philip. But certainly, there will be
many people who have read the book and heard God speaking through it. Jim Packer (or any Christian writer) might not think of himself as a conduit for God's utterances, but then I have a theory that St Paul, writing letters of encouragement or challenge to the churches he had founded, probably did not think he was writing Scripture. Nevertheless, church leaders  collected his writings and those of others as especially holy and authoritative, because of the unique relation they had to the life of Jesus on earth.

Now I don't want to suggest that Jim Packer, or any of us, are writing new Scriptures. There's a dire warning at the back of the Bible for those who think they can add to it. Nevertheless, Jesus promised  his Spirit would lead us into all truth. So while we may not be writing with the same authority as the early church writers, we can write under the inspiration of the same power that inspired them.

Sisters and brothers, I find this scary. When I write daily Bible notes, I do not want my readers to take what I write as Gospel. It is merely my reflective response to a Bible passage, in its context and hopefully informed by two thousand years of prior interpretation . My aim is not to give a final or binding reading, but to inspire my readers to apply their own thought to the passage; I want them to approach my words critically, and indeed to approach the Bible passage critically, not in the sense of finding fault with it, but in the sense of reflecting imaginatively on its many meanings for different people and times.

If the Holy Spirit ever speaks to someone through my faltering words, I am honoured and humbled (or, as I heard a sportsman say on TV the other day, 'humbled and proud' - how does that work?). That neither makes me verbally infallible, nor a 'mere channel', like a tin can telephone: God speaks using our God-made talents, experience and insights. That means I should write carefully and prayerfully, but not 'scarefully'; my readers, in turn, have the duty to 'test the spirits', and not take what I write without questioning it boldly. That way, we may reach a common understanding; for the gifts of the Spirit are given for the body, the community of Christ, not for individuals to show off their talents.

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently churchless. She also blogs at

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