“Shorter! Simpler! More punchy!” Whether you’re a journalist or a teacher or a pastor, there is a constant pressure to consolidate our communication. Pastors are taught that our sermons need to have a theme that can be easily expressed in one, simple sentence. Many people don’t read past headlines, so we strive to make those headlines catchy and clear. Twitter’s 140-character limit protects us from rambling.
While these are not negative things in and of themselves (most pastors still need to work on simplicity and clarity in their preaching!), it is part of a bigger cultural force making deep thought and deep communication more difficult and foreign. The technological and societal pressures to communicate simply often lead to simplicity and facileness. By and large, we don’t read deeply, so we don’t think deeply and cannot communicate deeply. And the cycle continues. As someone who favors brevity over profundity, I freely acknowledge that I write as a culprit more than a solver.
Thankfully, Scripture shows a better way. The Westminster Confession begins by reflecting on the simultaneous clarity and depth of the Bible. Though simple and able to understood by almost anyone, God’s Word contains more depth than anyone will fathom this side of heaven. It continuously invites us to think bigger and deeper and better thoughts, especially about God. And in a time when the church seems to be following the culture into overly simplistic thought and communication, we would do well to follow the Confession’s example.
In the second chapter of the Confession, God is the subject. And rather than dumbing down the biggest and deepest possible subject, the authors of the Confession take great pains to help us think bigger and deeper thoughts about God. Consider the incredible depth plumbed in the first two paragraphs:
I. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
II. God has all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He has made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and has most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleases. In His sight all things are open and manifest, His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them.
Here, in the space of two paragraphs, the Confession covers some of the most intensely deep topics ever to dwell in a human mind: the simplicity, impassibility, incomprehensibility, love, justice, and aseity of God…among many others! Christians and churches could spend years unpacking these paragraphs through God’s revelation in the Scriptures.
And yet we’re often too content with bumper sticker theology, three-minute pop songs about Jesus, and sermons with all the depth of a wading pool. The challenge is clear: to train our minds and hearts to think bigger and better thoughts about God. To read authors who take us to new heights of theological devotion. To be around Christians who are smarter and wiser than we are. To preach sermons that strive for both simplicity and profundity. To be churches where young Christians are comfortable but mature Christians frequently challenged as well. Which is all to say that we need to be people of the Word of God because only the Bible manages such a feat.