In the 1997 film Contact, Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, is passionately committed to the idea that we’re not alone in the universe. She dedicates her life to a SETI program (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence), listening for radio signals from space, hoping to detect signs of alien life.
We’re not saying SETI is a waste of time and money. But we do find it ironic that Arroway would spend so much energy listening for something she could’ve found by simply opening a nightstand drawer in any hotel. Because that’s what the Bible is—a message from the heavens. The transcendent God speaking to us. On purpose. In words we can understand. Giving us a message that can make us “wise for salvation” (2 Tim. 3:16).
What an exciting thing! We already have what some people search for their entire lives. We don’t have to search the heavens feverishly, or plumb the earth tirelessly, to know we’re not alone. The Word is already near us—in our pockets and on our coffee tables, like a love letter waiting to be perused or a feast waiting to be devoured.
Surely it says something about God’s desire to be known that he revealed himself in so many ways. Forget the Bible for a moment; if Ellie Arroway had eyes to see what the skies beheld, she would know the heavens already shout the glory of God (Ps. 19:1).
But God wasn’t content with revealing himself through galaxies and other wonders of creation. He wanted to use words. And that’s fitting. For though he doesn’t have a tongue or a voice box, he’s a God who speaks (Gen. 1:3), and he created us in his image (Gen. 1:26). As human beings, we’re word-people. We can speak and be spoken to. We’re capable of reading other people’s minds and hearts, and of sharing ours, through the words we speak.
I’m sure God had many reasons for designing us this way. But one reason is that he intended to give us his words in a book. For some, this seems almost as foolish as God becoming man and spending 30 years as a carpenter before dying on a cross. But both divine decisions—the decision to incarnate the Word in human form and the decision to inspire the Word in written form—have changed the world forever.
Give Me That Book!
If God has given us his Word in a book, how should we respond? The great 18th-century evangelist John Wesley provides a good answer:
I want to know one thing, the way to heaven. . . . He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book].
Anyone who’s read Wesley’s sermons will know God answered that prayer. So filled are his sermons with Scripture quotations and allusions that little would be left if they were removed. It wasn’t because Wesley was provincial or narrow in his reading; it was that out of all the books he read, he knew where his true sustenance came from.
Like Wesley, we’re blessed with an abundance of good books to help us in our understanding of Scripture. Here at The Gospel Coalition, we seek to provide material for that same purpose. But we must never allow ourselves to become distracted from the actual voice of God speaking to us in the Bible. There he spreads a feast for us. Other books and articles can help us savor and digest what we will find there—or even help us find things that are actually there but which our untrained eyes and palates might otherwise miss. But God forbid we should spend all our time in prep-work and never get down to the business of eating.
Let us be men and women of one Book.
We must never allow ourselves to become distracted from the actual voice of God speaking to us in the Bible. There God has spread a feast for us.
TGC’s ‘Read the Bible’ Initiative—and How to Join
To that end, The Gospel Coalition is partnering with Crossway to launch an initiative for 2020 called Read the Bible. The goal is to help individual Christians and churches feast on God’s Word in the coming year. Here’s what it’ll involve:
1. Bible Reading Plan. Reading the Bible following Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s plan, which will take us through the entire Bible in a year (including the New Testament and Psalms twice). This is the main course. The rest are side dishes. Download the PDF reading plan, print out, and place it in your Bible. If you’re a pastor, small group leader, or a discipling someone, consider printing out copies to give away and invite others to join you as you commit to the reading plan.
2. Daily Newsletter. A daily newsletter with Don Carson’s devotional reflection along with weekly discussion questions for small groups, Sunday school classes, and church reading groups. Subscribe to the newsletter.
3. Podcast. An audio-podcast reading of Don Carson’s For the Love of God (vol. 1), a daily devotional commentary that follows the M’Cheyne reading plan. (Keep an eye out for the podcast on January 1!)
4. Online Articles. Bible and theology articles on TGC’s website that track with the weekly Bible readings and help us answer tough questions that arise from what we’re reading in God’s Word.
We invite you to join us in 2020 as we return, day after day, month after month, to this Book of books. Ellie Arroway was right: we’re not alone. God is there. He is not silent, and we have his voice at our fingertips. Let’s seek him anew by hearing his Word in 2020.