Wineskins Archive

January 20, 2014

My Life With the Bible (A Meditation on Hermeneutics (Jan – Feb 1994)

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by John Allen Chalk
January – February, 1994

23I am a child of the rural West Tennessee non-instrumental Church of Christ. I am also a congenital believer in the Lord God Jehovah.1 My vivid childhood memories are of Sunday School classes, church services, gospel meetings, religious debates, funerals, sermon preparation and delivery as a teenage “preacher” and long, serious Bible discussions at our family dinner table with the occasional visiting preacher, song leader, debater, and other church leaders (always stimulated and ofttimes guided by my mother, our local school principal and planner of school and church events in our little Henderson County, Tennessee community).

As the third generation of my maternal family and the second generation of my paternal family to attend and graduate from Freed-Hardeman College in Henderson, Tennessee I studied the Bible with H. A. Dixon, C. P. Rowland, Frank Van Dyke, and others. I have never studied Bible or theology at a non-Church of Christ educational institution but did take some graduate Bible courses at Harding University School of Religion and Abilene Christian University. My academic training ultimately centered in English, American History, and the Law.

My early years in full-time ministry, starting when I was 19 years old, were spent with direct religious descendants of Barton W. Stone in the hills of Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee in churches, some of which actually arose directly out of Barton W. Stone revivals. Bible study in these years of local church pulpit ministry and countless evangelistic meetings across the United States was a frantic search for persuasive texts that would fit my communication style. At 29 years of age I became the radio voice for an international radio and television ministry where one well-intentioned advisor initially cautioned me, “John Allen, you’ve got to preach what the brotherhood (meaning the Churches of Christ supporting the ministry) preaches in the words the brotherhood uses.” But in that radio ministry I was forced to seek out what God had to say to all kinds of contemporary people. With technical help from a few patient textual scholars and diligent personal study, the Bible began to yield for me powerful messages for modern man about the staggering personal and social consequences of man’s alienation and estrangement from the God of the Bible.2

After 15 years in full-time ministry in Churches of Christ, I left the pulpit, went to law school, and have now practiced law for more years than I was a preacher. My Bible study took a back seat to law school studies and then to vocational demands of my practice of law. But the God of the Bible remained a constant in my otherwise up-and-down spiritual life. The discipline of my Lord Jesus Christ and the moral and spiritual power of God’s Holy Spirit were ratified and confirmed over and over again in the years that followed, even through a period of personal rebellion and disobedience.

Through these three major chapters of childhood, full-time ministry, and law practice I have remained a believer—sometimes responsible, sometimes not. In all these periods the Bible has been a core personal reality for me with many beautiful facets.

As a child the Bible was a gargantuan intellectual challenge grasped only by the Olympian personalities who came to my little country church and were entertained and hosted by my family. The Bible in those days was a battleground site, a textbook, an anthology of proof texts, understood correctly by a few, misunderstood by most (especially outsiders). The Bible in those days could be contained in a syllogism or a series of syllogisms by which all arguments could be won and all disputes settled quickly and cleanly.

As a young preacher and throughout my full-time ministry years the Bible for me changed slowly through painfully intense study from a sermon text source to a variegated but coherent guide for God-given life shaped by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and actualized in the personal presence of the Holy Spirit.3 This was a private, intimate, and often troubling journey about which I could say nothing that would belie my confident pulpit pronouncements. In these years I discovered a personal walk with God centered in daily devotional Bible study (as opposed to technical Bible study for sermons and classes which I was compelled to pursue)4 The controversy in Churches of Christ over the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit erupted in the 1960s just as I emerged from several years of personal search through the Bible for authentic spiritual and moral power. This quest inescapably led me to a new existential decision about Jesus as the living Word of God and a new personal relationship with God’s Holy Spirit.5

In the third chapter of my life (which continues as I write), I have taken my life’s experiences regardless of their qualitative content to the living God of the Bible.6 The God who works his mighty acts in human history.7 The God whose Word became flesh and dwelt among us.8 The God whose Spirit is holy and alive with transcendental and eschatological energy.9 I have also learned to worship God freely and foolishly.10 I have acknowledged that my destiny is the worship and praise of the Lord God Jehovah.11 The strength God has given me in the midst of overwhelming personal circumstances is what the Bible described for me and declared to me.12

And so, my heart is full of thanksgiving for the childhood heroes who made the Bible bigger than my denominational subculture, for the spiritually hungry people, including troubled and hurting church members, who wanted a “word” from me as God’s spokesman during my full-time ministry years, and for the varied circumstances and experiences of my secular vocational life where the God I had previously come to know through the Bible, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit has been tested and found faithful, merciful, loving, and responsive.13

God’s ultimate word to me was a person—the Lord Jesus Christ.14 My introduction to him came from my study of the Bible. The Bible encouraged me to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.15 In that relationship, actualized by God’s Holy Spirit, I am becoming a new human being16 to whom the word of God is living, active, incisive, and awe-inspiring.17

1 Psalms 139:13-16.

2 See Three American Revolutions (New York: Carlton Press, Inc., 1970), a series of radio sermons presented on Herald of Truth in the summer of 1968 on race, sex, and crime in America. See also Great Biblical Doctrines (Austin, Texas: Sweet Publishing Company, 1973), a series of radio sermons presented on Herald of Truth in 1968 on the salvation themes of the Old and New Testaments.

3 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.

4 Romans 8:12-17.

5 John 3:31-36; 7:37-39.

6 Romans 8:31-39.

7 Hebrews 4:1-10.

8 John 1:14-18.

9 Ephesians 3:14-21.

19 Psalm 150; Revelation 19:1-8; see also p. 71, Jack R. Taylor, The Hallelujah Factor (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1983).

11 Psalm 146:1,2; Isaiah 61:1-3.

12 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

13 Psalms 136; 1 Peter 4:7-11.

14 1 John 4:1-6.

15 Romans 8:9.

16 Romans 5:12-21; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21.

17 Hebrews 4:12,13.Wineskins Magazine

John Allen Chalk

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