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The Beth Moore tempest

Wallace Henley | (By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)

Beth Moore, my fellow Houstonian, has stirred quite a tempest in the teapot of social (and often anti-social) media. “Spending time with God and spending time with the Bible is not the same thing,” she said.

I had to settle the issue for myself in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when I was running from God’s core calling for my life—church-centered ministry. As a newspaper reporter, I interviewed Thomas Altizer, the prime celebrity of the “god-is-dead” movement, Episcopal Bishop James Pike, who was toying with the occult, and a famed Bible translator who himself was uncertain about the Bible’s inspiration.

And that’s just a sampling.

It was a period of intoxicating relativism, making even great theologians inebriated, some crazy-drunk, others merely tipsy.

In 1973, after a decade in journalism and government, God dramatically renewed the call to church ministry He had given me when I was fifteen. Within months, still somewhat under the influence of theological liberalism, I was pastor of a small Alabama congregation.

One Sunday, an elderly parishioner told me he loved my preaching. My head swelled until he told me the reason: My sermons were Bible-lite, short enough to get home for a nap and Sunday afternoon TV sports, and not long enough to put him to sleep in the pew.

As for the church, there was little growth in those early months, especially in baptisms.

Fresh from the Watergate White House when I entered the pastorate, I thought I was walking into a calm garden. Not so. People were desperately ill, families were in crisis, there were emergency pastoral calls in the wee hours.

I needed to go into the pulpit every Sunday with an assuring, confident, “Thus saith the Lord!” — a proclamation that would feed and strengthen the people God gave me to serve. Churches in America and Europe were shriveling under the tenuous, hedge-all-bets preaching that said, “… maybe God might be saying…”

Cal Thomas was and is a friend from our Washington days. One day Cal phoned, and told me of hearing a certain philosopher speak at a Houston church. “Have you ever read Francis Schaeffer?” he asked. I hadn’t, but soon plowed into Schaeffer’s writings.

“The Bible is the weapon which enables us to join with our Lord on the offensive in defeating the spiritual hosts of wickedness,” Schaeffer wrote. “But,” he continued, “It must be the Bible as the Word of God in everything it teaches...”

Jesus’ words were echoing all through this process, and even now reverberate in my spirit.

At one point Jesus thanked the Father for having “hidden” His profound revelation “from the wise and intelligent” and “revealed them to infants.” (Matthew 11:25) The Lord said that “unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

It hit me that I must be “converted” in my approach to Scripture, and become like a child.

That led me to what I call the “Wow!” principle of biblical interpretation.

So, if you want to meet God in the Bible and Him to meet you, approach it as a little child. Rather than noodling on “how” a virgin could get pregnant, a man could walk on water, heal the sick, cast out demons, atone for the sins of the world, rise from the dead, shout “Wow!”

In other words, move from “How?” to “Wow!” in reading the Bible.

As I write these words I look right across my desk and see a photo of Jim DeLoach. It’s on the cover of his funeral bulletin, dated December 4, 2018. The photograph shows Jim holding up a Bible in his left hand, and driving home a point with his right. I have never known a person who loved the Bible more than Jim.

He was in his nineties when he died, and still teaching a Bible class.

Jim was a “Wow!” guy with every reason in the world to get marooned on “How?” He was one of the few people who fought in both the Pacific and Atlantic in the Second World War. His best shipmate died agonizing from burns, in Jim’s arms. Later in life, Jim would spend long hours at the side of his beloved wife as she sank into illness, and died.

Nevertheless, Jim stayed in “Wow!” mode.

After leaving military service, Jim became a teaching assistant at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Among his students was a feisty young Mississippi boy full of “How?” questions. Jim recognized greatness in the young man, and nurtured in him a high view of Scripture midst a seminary that had gone far into the liberal theology camp.

The young man was Ed Young, destined to become the pastor of America’s largest Baptist Church—Second Baptist of Houston, with, at this writing, more than eighty thousand members, and preacher on “Winning Walk”, a global broadcast into more than a hundred nations.

Jim would spend more than forty years at Ed Young’s side as his friend, mentor and primary associate pastor.

I doubt there was ever a day when Jim DeLoach did not meet God in the Bible every time he opened its pages.

I know Ed Young, on whom Jim had so much influence, spends time with God when he spends time in the Bible because it is evident in his preaching and leadership.

So Beth Moore is both right and wrong: Read the Bible with the “How?” approach, and you probably won’t be spending time with God there.

Take the “Wow!” attitude of childlike wonder, and you will discover that you have indeed spent quality time with God.

Wallace Henley, a former White House and Congressional aide, is senior associate pastor at Houston’s Second Baptist Church. He is founder of Belhaven University’s Master of Ministry Leadership degree. He is co-author of God and Churchill, with the late Jonathan Sandys, Winston Churchill’s great-grandson.

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