In the world of hooks, man probes the riches and poverty of humanity as they come to expression in life

The need for Christians to study what they can only regard as the Book can never be in dispute. Yet some Christians believe that they need study only that one book, the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God, the revelation of Jesus Christ, they say, and what more need any Christian, even a minister, know than what God has already said? After all, are not all other books simply the words and wisdom of men? For practical reasons these persons concede that some knowledge of books may be necessary for actual living, as is a high school or college education, but such books and education are not regarded as spiritually essential.

People who take such a view of the Book and the books do not believe that a Christian can be a humanist. Humanism in the authentic Renaissance meaning—a genuine interest in all aspects of human life, such as science, art, literature, theater, sports, politics, music—is regarded as inherently unchristian, evidence of a substandard spirituality. In this view, there can be no Christian humanism. Those who say this forget the debt Luther and Calvin, to say nothing of Erasmus, owed to classical humanism. They who deny the legitimacy of an authentic Christian humanism feel that the beauty of the rose has nothing to do with the beauty of Christ. They may have fun, but they have an odd sense of guilt when they do, as if they were taking a spiritual holiday. They may read Plato and Shakespeare, or even T. S. Eliot and Hemingway, but they do so with the uneasy feeling that they should be reading Isaiah. Those who are ministers find it difficult to preach Thanksgiving Day sermons that differ from their usual Sunday efforts, sermons that can joyously speak of industry and commerce, prosperity and life’s natural joys, of turkey, pumpkin pie, and cranberries, and relate them to Jesus Christ. Such people cannot relate the Books to books, Jesus Christ to the human side of life—as they in fact live it. This dualistic outlook upon life, this separation of the natural and the spiritual, this bifurcation between what Christians believe and what they practice, this divorce of what God has joined together in Jesus Christ, provides an excuse to those who espouse a “secular Christianity” and lends credibility to arguments for a “religionless Christianity.”

It is this dualism that comes to expression when the Book is divorced and isolated from the books. Such an isolation is a misunderstanding and a theoretical denial of the Incarnation. To be sure, the Bible is a unique book—and Christ is also unique. But, for all their uniqueness, neither may be sealed away from life.

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In the Incarnation, Jesus the Son of God did not become united with “souls,” with the “spiritual” aspect of human nature. On the contrary, Jesus became incarnate with our humanity, with our body no less than our soul, with our natural interests in fun, food, beauty, and art, and indeed with everything that is human as created by God. In the Incarnation “true God” became “true man,” and this “true man” does not mean a truth-telling man but an authentic man, a genuine human being with all the hopes and aspirations, all the desires and hungers of authentic humanity.

Or, to put it differently, in becoming incarnate, the Son of God became identified with everything God created. Jesus did not indeed become a rose or a sonnet, but in becoming a man he identified himself with the earth and all its fullness. Through the Incarnation, Jesus is related to the whole of creation with all its potential. Thus, while anything in the whole creation can be perverted by sin, nothing created, including humanity, is in itself out of bounds for the Christian man. In the incarnate Christ, all things are ours. The Book is related to the books, and as Justin Martyr said, “All that has been well said belongs to us Christians.”

Here lies the reason it is not only permissible but also necessary to study the books as well as the Book. To divorce the Book from the books for the sake of an alleged greater spirituality is a profound error. Exclusive concentration on the Book will separate a minister from his people, from the world in which they spend most of their lives. Too many ministers appear to the members of their congregations, especially in pulpit and counseling room, as “other-worldly creatures,” strangers to a world in which ordinary men live.

“But,” you say, “the world of books is touched by sin.” Indeed it is. But this is the world in which Christ became incarnate. For in the Incarnation Christ became identified, not with “the good and the spiritual,” but with sinful man. That Pharisee was in error who thought that the true Messiah of God would not converse with a prostitute.

Nothing in the created world falls outside the Incarnation. Jesus became identified with the actual world fashioned by God and perverted by sin. He came in the “weakness of sinful flesh.” He identified himself with our death, and therefore died; with our pain, and therefore suffered for us; with publicans and sinners, and therefore ate and drank with them. He even identified himself with our sin, and although he himself “knew no sin,” he “became sin for us” in order “to judge sin in the flesh.” From the biblical perspective, therefore, it must be insisted that nothing in human life falls outside the scope of the Incarnation.

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Every attempt to insulate the Book from the books, the unique Word of God from the words of man, is an attempt to undo the Incarnation, an attempt by a misguided piety to obscure the world in which Christ became incarnate. In this world the Church lives, and it is this Church-in-the-world that the minister must serve, addressing God’s Word to every human word, relating the message of the Bible to the sins and hopes, the thoughts and fears of humanity.

It is therefore the minister’s responsibility to study, to read and read, to probe the riches and poverty of humanity as they come to expression in life—and this they do nowhere more clearly than in books. Here men—novelists, social critics, playwrights, historians, political thinkers—reflect on and assess the whole of our humanity.

A minister must not only preach to bring man to conversion. He must also teach the convert all the things that Jesus commanded and taught. And these things have relevance for all on which mankind reflects and with which he struggles in his books.

Paul cried, “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.” He knew the Book well, as his epistles show. But he also loved books. Therefore, he wrote to Timothy: “When thou comest bring with thee … the books, especially the parchments.”

A solid answer will be given to the thinking Christian of today who demands a relevant but not a “religionless” Christianity, when Christians bring together, and keep together in their hearts and minds, the Book and the books, and when they read the books avidly in the light of and under the judgment of the Book.

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