Against Novelty

Seeking after frivolity amounts to a contempt for the truth,
and contempt for the truth causes blindness.

Bernard of Clairvaux¹

There is a professional hazard in preaching or writing about the Scriptures: we can seek to find something new. It is an understandable temptation. Many of us have heard a sermon or read something and said, “I never thought about it that way before.” It sticks out to us because it doesn’t happen very often, but it can become a dangerous reaction to chase in our hearers or readers.

We should not seek to be novel when we come to the Scriptures. We should hope to hear mostly what thousands before have heard. We are not the first ones to pick up a Bible and seek to understand it. The church has a word for innovative interpretation in most cases: heresy.

When we come to the Scriptures we are returning to familiar ground. We are like a husband and wife speaking words of love to each other at the end of the day. There is not much novelty in those words, but they carry great meaning and comfort. We may not ascribe great importance to any one instance of those words until circumstances magnify their significance. Then we will cross oceans and mountains to hear them one more time. We will conduct a bedside vigil next to an ailing loved one to have one more chance to exchange them.

This may be a good model for our approach to the Scriptures. We should be wary of seeking something new; a familiar “I love you” should be enough. Enough novelty will come without us seeking it. We will have times when the scales seem to fall off and we will read a passage as if someone had just pasted it into our Bible while we slept. While those times can be formative, they are rarely comfortable.

We like to hone in on the few places in the Old Testament when God uses his prophets to declare that he is about to do a new thing—usually to support whatever new thing we have dreamed up to inflict upon the church—but we would do well to observe that far more often, the injunction is simply to remember. Deuteronomy has several instances of Moses calling Israel to remember, both then and in the days to come. Is this not why we come to the Scriptures over and over again? To remember the deeds the Lord has done for us? To remember his promises of blessing and curse? To remember how Jesus displayed mercy and judgement?

If God is content to give us a one-volume book to aid our memory and devotion, and to spurn us toward repentance and obedience, should we not embrace it for what it is? Shouldn’t we be content to turn to the same familiar Gospels, Epistles, Wisdom, Prophets, and History year after year? He does not require us to consult ever-changing oracles or signs. He gives us a consistent message. May we be content with it each day we are allowed to receive it.


¹ quoted in: Casey, Michael, “The Word Became Text and Dwelt Among us: The Oblate Listening in the World

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