Friday, December 28, 2007

Book Review: Hearing God's Words

I said I will finish this book no matter what, and I did. No one can hit me now.

As I began to read Hearing God's Words, I had high expectations. I got this book because I felt it is always important for me as a reminder not to approach the Holy Word of God academically as I do find myself doing sometimes. There is a need to read it devotionally. As much as what D.A. Carson said during his conference here a couple of months ago that we can and should combine both the devotional reading and studying of Scriptures - do devotion in Greek for example and in my case, do devotion through my assignments - it is still a good reminder.

Halfway through the book however, I felt a bit lost: either I lost him or he lost me. I understand that the word "spirituality" is notoriously difficult to define. Peter Adam did not define or explain it and as such, when I was midway through, I did not know what he was getting at.

He started by stressing the importance of biblical spirituality without quite explaining what it is exactly. That was followed by what I refer to as short introductions of various books in the Old and New Testament. I kept saying, I know but so what? When I reached the chapter where he summarises Calvin's theology of revelation, I had to start again from the beginning, because he totally lost me. It was not until the third quarter of the book, when he discussed the issues in spirituality that I began to have an idea where he is going. With that, I had to again restarted right from the beginning!

Adam segregated the Christian belief into 3 schools of thought (p.40-41):

(1) The Reformed and Evangelical View
- all God's saving words and works are found within the Bible
- spirituality of the Word will focus entirely on the Bible for the content of the knowledge of God
- the witness of the Spirit within the believer and the Church will correspond with his external witness in Scripture (I don't quite understand this statement, by the way)

(2) The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some charismatics view
- in addition to the Bible, God has continued to do his saving works and words over the last 2000 years
- he has revealed new truths and supported them with new miracles
- spirituality of the Word will not only include the words of the Bible but also words given to the Church since Bible times, whether recognised by the Pope, Patriach, or Council of the Church, or given by a prophet in a local church

(3) The Quaker and Liberal View
- revelation comes direct from God today by observation, reason, experience or emotion
- it may include some ideas from the Bible, tradition of the Church but will find other parts obsolete and irrelevant
- a spirituality of discerning what God is saying at the present time, in the world around or within our own conscience
- a spirituality of the contemporary words of God

Holding the first view, Adam writes to show how the Bible is a rich and fruitful resource for spirituality. He writes to show the fundamental shape and structure of the "spirituality of the Word" and the spirituality that the Bible teaches and encourages and what it results from using the Bible. He does it through highlighting the importance of the imparting of the Word through the Old and New Testament, what John Calvin said about revelation, through some issues and examples in spirituality.

Holding the first view myself, I kept having this feeling that he is merely stating the obvious. As such, I am not sure how it would follow through with those holding the second or third view.

In a scale of 5 stars, I'd give it a 2.


Adam, Peter. Hearing God's Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove:IVP, 2004.


  1. I am always concerned when some Evangelicals discuss the bible because thay present such a literal/legalistic view of the scriptures. I agree with Michael at Addison Road when he says:

    The evangelical hermeneutic rests on this assumption - that if God is omnipotent, present, and interested in revealing things about himself, we can expect His revelation to have certain basic characteristics. Things like:

    1) Inspiration - God was involved in the production of the texts.

    2) Infallibility - the texts do not err in their purposes.

    3) Historicity - the texts were written at a place and time in history, by people situated in history, and as such, they are products of their historical/cultural perspective.

    4) Textuality - text as text: the normal tools for interpreting meaning in any text are the appropriate tools for interpreting meaning in biblical texts. In other words, when we read “Joseph was lowered into the well”, the meaning is conveyed by the content of the words “Joseph”, “lowered” and “well”, just as it would be if those words were written in personal letter, a historical footnote, or any other work outside of the biblical canon. Attempts to use “secret codes” or numerological sequences to unlock the “true” meaning of the text are therefore inappropriate to interpretation (think Kabbala, or “The Bible Code“).

  2. I agree with you where we cannot put God in a box and say that since he has always been working this way, we expect for him to remain this way. To qualify that statement though, it goes without saying that it still has to be in God's character as revealed to us in His Word to us. But I suppose that is where the agreement ends - what is God's word to us, where Adam is saying the bible is sufficient as God's main message to us. I agree with him but maybe with some reservations, since I am still working some issues out anyway.

  3. Hi pearlie,
    Adam was not able to distinguish the difference between theology and spirituality. In fact, he did not develop a bliblical spirituality, just a rewording of biblical theology in his thesis. All Christian spirituality are based on the word of God and thus has biblical theology as its basis.

    More here

  4. O dear me....such a low ranking for him. Okay, should borrow from you one day on this book. I knew him when I was in Melbourne and heard him speak couple of times.

  5. Hi Alex,

    Theology = study of God

    Biblical theology = study of God based on what God revealed through the bible

    Spirituality = living a life based on what one believe in

    Biblical spirituality = living a life based on the bible

    I can now your point but not withstanding what I wrote, to be fair to Adam, he is trying to explore the living-a-life-based-on-the-bible but not as the only way to spirituality but important nonetheless.

  6. Chee Keat,
    You not on honeymoon? :)

    Sure, feel free to borrow it but let me know when we will meet so I can pass it to you. You also wanted some other books right? I can't well remember.

  7. Hugh and I had briefly worked together in San Francisco on a four month project. He liked my work and asked me to fly in from Dallas, where I was living at the time, to do some more work for him in London for a week or two. I eagerly accepted, who wouldn’t want a trip to London, England?

    In the office in London I was quietly sitting next to a Hugh, minding my own business, when that small internal voice from God impressed upon my mind that Hugh was sick.

    So I started reasoning with God in my mind: “So what if he is sick?”
    But then I asked the question that was to set in motion a whole chain of events, “God if you are telling me that Hugh is sick then why did you tell me and what should I do about it?”
    God responded instantly, “Tell him”.
    “I can’t do that”, I replied.
    “Yes you can”, replied God.
    “I can’t do that”, I replied.
    “Yes you can”, replied God.
    So in the end I gave in and called Hugh aside into a deserted hallway to ask him if he was sick. I had no idea what the response would be and didn’t want anyone else around to hear what I had to say.

    “Are you sick?” I asked Hugh.
    “No” he calmly replied.
    “Are you sure?” I responded.
    By this time my heart had sunk and I was trying to redeem the situation.
    “Do you have a cold?” I asked him.
    “No” he replied quizzically.
    “Are you sure?” I responded.
    “Yes, why?” he replied.
    I then proceeded to tell him outright that God had told me that he was sick. He gave me this “you must be crazy” look and told me that he didn’t believe in God.

    I asked him if he would go with me to the cafeteria and there we had an open talk about Christianity for about 30 minutes. He left stating that he still didn’t believe in God. I flew home thinking that I had now gone crazy for sure, was hearing voices, and I certainly couldn’t expect any more work from that company.

    Unsurprisingly I heard nothing more from Hugh for the next nine months. Suddenly and unexpectedly I got a phone call from a secretary of his in California. Hugh was dead – he had died suddenly from pancreatic cancer. They had found my name and phone number in his diary and were calling me to let me know just in case I was close to him.

    I hope that as his last days approached Hugh remembered what I had told him in London and that he had come to believe in Jesus and to gain eternal life through that. But as much as I hope that, I must confess that I just don’t know what happened in the final days of Hugh’s life. What I do know now is that this is no game - the consequences are eternal.

    For more see