They misunderstood her: the Conde delighted in her letters, but he thought that when he had enjoyed the style he had extracted all their richness and intention, missing (as most readers do) the whole purport of literature, which is the notation of the heart. Style is but the faintly contemptible vessel in which the bitter liquid is recommended to the world.The Bridge of San Luis Rey • Thornton Wilder
As a preacher, I enjoy spending hours every week with a biblical text, in preparation for delivery. Combing through original languages, syntax and grammar, and stylistic idiosyncrasies of the human writers – it is all intellectually stimulating to me. There is such richness in scrutinizing styles, genres and forms of biblical texts. But I admit that if I’m not careful I can give more attention (and more acclamation) to the style itself than to what the text is communicating about God’s wisdom and God’s heart.
In The Bridge to San Luis Rey, the brilliant early 20th Century American author Thornton Wilder chastises those who would read Doña Maria’s letters to her daughter, admiring the style and vocabulary without digging deeply into the intentions of the lamenting mother’s heart. His point: one can appreciate form, style and syntax without ever actually getting to the heart of the author. It is possible to engage the mind without engaging the heart.“One can appreciate the form, style and syntax of a biblical text without ever actually getting to the heart of the Author. It is possible to engage the mind without engaging the heart.” Click To Tweet
This is a regular matter of concern for the preacher of biblical texts. The Bible is so rich with literary and stylistic treasure. Every word is a gift from God to its reader. Every stroke on every page is intentional, authoritative and completely without error. The preacher works to harmonize the riches of biblical literature with the urgency of its contemporary application. The bridge between the two is always found in the engagement of the Author’s heart.
The Psalmist understood the value of tuning his heart to God’s:
“Happy are those who keep his decrees and seek him with all their heart.”Psalm 119:2
“I have sought you with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands. I have treasured your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you.”Psalm 119:10-11
“Help me understand your instruction, and I will obey it with all my heart.”Psalm 119:34
“Turn my heart to your decrees.”Psalm 119:36
“May my heart be blameless regarding your statutes so that I will not be put to shame.”Psalm 119:80
“I call with all my heart; answer me, Lord. I will obey your statutes.”Psalm 119:145
Yes, God’s Word is intellectually stimulating. But when it comes to the biblical text, exercises of intellectual stimulation divorced from movements of soul vitalization fall short of God’s design. God’s Word comes to us that we might both know the Author’s wisdom and embrace the Author’s heart. The latter without the former is naivety; the former without the latter is idolatry.“When it comes to the biblical text, exercises of intellectual stimulation divorced from movements of soul vitalization fall short of God’s design.” Click To Tweet “God’s Word comes to us that we might both know the Author’s wisdom and embrace the Author’s heart. The latter without the former is naivety; the former without the latter is idolatry.” Click To Tweet
Preachers of The Word, should we admire the notation of God’s hand without embracing the notation of God’s heart? Let us work with diligence to extrapolate the fullness of linguistic, literary and stylistic distinctions. But let us give even more careful attention to embracing the heart of the Author. Let us carefully consider the deficiencies of praying and preaching for information without praying and preaching for transformation. Let us stand in awe at God’s hand without neglecting to bow in humility at God’s heart.
Grace and Peace,