Piety vs. Pragmatism toward the Word of God

This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for December 1 2019.

As I’ve been preparing for future study, I have been reading a lot of what was written by a seventeenth century Christian thinker called John Owen.

Something that stood out to me recently was this:

“Every truth revealed from God is to be received not only with faith and love, but with equal reverence to any [other] that is revealed, though we are not able to discern such an immediate tendency to usefulness in our communion with him as in some others we may. The formal reason wherein our faith, love, and reverence toward the word of God is resolved is that it is His.”

The reason this stood out was that it feels rather normal for Christians today to give more attention and value to the truths, commands, promises etc that we find useful to us. This thinker gives us a different reason to do so: it is from God.

The contrast I see here is that we tend to make ourselves and our concerns the measuring stick by which we accept or neglect (or worse) the things of God, rather than simply valuing them on the basis of the simple fact that they are from God.

It is an easy temptation to think that this mistake – if we can accept it as such – is symptomatic of faith living in our irreligious and human-centred culture. But since Owen felt the need to say this 350+ years ago, it probably shows that this is simply a general human thing more than a particular culture’s thing.

We are tempted to focus our religious efforts on what is useful to our piety, or what is appealing to us, rather than on God who is central, period. We can forget that we revolve around him, not he around us.

The question we ought ask ourselves in light of Owen’s quote is this: Is our faith, love and reverence toward the word of God grounded primarily on the fact that it comes from the God who we love and revere, or on the fact that it helps us through life?

The difference is subtle but significant.

Our answer will show us, for better or worse, the way our personal faith is wired.