In his A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, Helmut Thielicke warns us that the person ‘who studies theology … might watch carefully whether he increasingly does not think in the third rather than in the second person … This transition from one to the other level of thought, from a personal relationship with God to a merely technical reference, usually is exactly synchronized with the moment that I no longer can read the word of Holy Scripture as a word to me, but only as the object of exegetical endeavours’.
Although the Scriptures are addressed to communities, they are also addressed to me, and they come anticipating a response (Heb 3:13-15; 4:13). They do not come permitting me to impose the question, ‘How can I use this in a sermon?’ or ‘How can I find something here for my current projects?’. I recall that the first time someone spoke of God and his word in the third person, that is, about God and not with God, was when the question was posed, ‘Did God say?’ (Gen 3:1).
Vogel warned of coming ‘to the point where we no longer hear what they (the Scriptures) have to say but delude ourselves in the fatal self-deception of listening to the echo of our own way of thinking about God and the world and ourselves’. And I would add, about the nature and forms of ministry.
We would do well to take Forsyth’s advice: ‘Our aim must be an ever fresh immersion in the Bible, an immersion both scholarly and experimental’. And again, ‘Now the ideal ministry must be a Bibliocracy. It must know its Bible better than any other book’. It was said of James Denney that ‘He never reads Scripture as if he had written it: he always reads as if listening for a Voice’. May it be so for us.