Back when I was an undergraduate at [Leviathan] State University, and had just started going to a Reformed church, I met with the pastor and told him I was interested in pursuing pastoral ministry and I asked him to teach me. He must have realized that there is probably no shortage of young men who want to be pastors, and his time was limited, so clearly subscribed to the “thrown him in the deep end and see if he swims” philosophy.
Rather than start me out with some “intro to theology” book allowing me to wade in, he tossed me right in with a book entitled Through New Eyes.
At that point, I had been reading the Bible for well over a decade, but it was not until I read this book that I learned how to read the Bible, or rather, that the Bible required a totally different method of reading than any contemporary work of literature.
Once I discovered that the Bible is written in its own language, and I don’t mean the original Hebrew and Greek. I mean the way that the book is assembled, the way that it is woven together, is through the means of symbol as much as it is the written word.
If that is confusing, just bear with me, it will all make sense later.
In this series, I plan to go this book, Through New Eyes, chapter-by-chapter with you all.
One of the truly great things about Through New Eyes (henceforward TNE) is that despite an expensive sticker price from Wipf & Stock (I don’t think that publisher sells any book for less than one arm and one leg) it is available totally for free (as of the time I am publishing this) here.
Right from the get-go, Jordan gets to the point:
There is also, however, a real need for books that dig into the Bible and set out the Bible’s own worldview, explaining the Bible’s own language. The Biblical worldview is not given to us in the discursive and analytical language of philosophy and science, but in the rich and compact language of symbolism and art. It is pictured in ritual and architecture, in numerical structures and geographical directions, in symbols and types, in trees and stars. In short, it is given to us in a premodern package that seems at places very strange.1
So many people try to read the Bible on their own terms, rather than on the Bible’s own terms. Obviously, no one is trying to do this, most people really don’t know any better. We don’t realize that we are modern men, with modern presuppositions, and modern ways of reading literature.
We don’t do nuance, we don’t do symbolism, we don’t think about theme and variation. We like the things we read, even fiction, to be much more like an encyclopedia entry or a technical manual than a poem or a painting or a symphony. If you expect the Bible to be read on those terms, you’ll certainly be able to get the nuts and bolts, you’ll be able to extrapolate from the data available your need for salvation and the means God has appointed for it.
But if soteriology was exclusively what God cared about, the Bible would be an awful lot shorter, and would be a lot more to the point. All those monks who painstakingly copied the Bible over millennia might have preferred it be the length of a gospel tract—it would have made their job a lot easier. But the Bible is much, much longer than that. God cares about a great many things, which means there are a great many things we ought to care about which we so often neglect.
I have personally always found neglected things to be more interesting. Maybe it is my own contrarian nature, but the parts of the Bible no one seems to care much about are the ones that fascinate me the most. Let’s just skip over the hard bits certain Bible stories that are hard to fashion into a nice, succinct morality tale, chapter-after-chapter about the design, layout, and furniture of the tabernacle, entire books about liturgical practices that we don’t do anymore or genealogies that don’t seem to have anything to do with anything.
“Let’s skip to the interesting stuff!”
It always bothered me that we confessed that the OMNIPOTENT GOD OF THE UNIVERSE gave us a finite amount of revelation, and He could have told us about all sorts of useful stuff, and instead He spends His precious words on what kind of fabric the priest’s robes were made of and how many cubits the iron bedstead of Og, King of Bashan was!
This is the kind of thing atheists mock, and our neglect of such things, our refusal to understand why the Bible is the way it is, why God cares about these things, or to even be the least bit curious about it really does undermine the faith.
Our refusal to EMBRACE THE WEIRD of God’s Word leaves us open to the mocker’s reproach. Last week, John Piper’s apostate son (I am saddened to even bring him attention that he so obviously craves) made a lot of hay about how weird the Bible is (NB: language you’d expect from a “check out how edgy I am now, dad” apostate pastor’s kid). After watching the video, I couldn’t help but think that all the things he thinks are “weird” are things I absolutely love about the Bible. Jezebel being defenestrated and eaten by dogs is glorious. Praise God for it.
We should EMBRACE THE WEIRD. That should be one of our primary goals when we think about how to read the Bible. It is an ancient book. It is not a modern book. It is a completely different world than the one we inhabit.
I have spoken in other places about how our materialism (and the other side of that coin, gnosticism) causes us to effectively view the world no differently than those who refuse to believe God. Covid happens because of the impersonal force of a virus (with perhaps the aid of malevolent humans), not the Angel of the Lord striking trash world with (relatively mild) pestilence.
Modern science assumes that the world is governed by impersonal natural forces, such as gravity, Coriolis, and electromagnetism. Such forces explain the actions of winds and waves. In the Bible, however, trust in such natural forces is called “Baalism.” The Bible encourages us to see God and His angels at work in the winds and waves. Is this mere poetry, or does it give us a perspective badly needed in our modern world?2
This book was written in 1988, mind you, but it is as relevant as ever today in 2021. The same issues Jordan recognized over 30 years ago have reached full bloom today. It is all the more important to embrace the weird, and to push the antithesis.
“Oh, you think science explains thus and such? lol nah it is angels, bro.”
Our purpose is to get into the Bible and become as familiar as possible with the Bible’s own worldview, language, and thoughtforms. Our purpose is to learn to think the way people thought in Bible times, so that we we see the world through new eyes — through Bible eyes.3
I hope this has just begun to whet your appetite for this book. I hope you are now ready to dive headfirst into the DEEP WEIRD.
Until next time, kings.
Through New Eyes, James B. Jordan, p. 1.
ibid., p. 2.
ibid., p. 4.