First Third Conversations

Scripture, Tradition and Human Experience

By Dr. Terri Martinson Elton, Director of the Center for First Third Ministry at Luther Seminary

According to Missiologist Stephen Bevans, Christians’ understanding of God emerges from a dialogue between Scripture, tradition and human experience. At times one of those voices may be more prominent than another, but day in and day out people of faith come to discover God through these means. How have Scripture, tradition and human experience revealed God to you this week?

I must admit, I didn’t start my week looking for God, and certainly not through this three-fold lens. But Sunday, as I paused and reflected on the week, I realized I had discovered God in expected and unexpected places. The Scripture which framed my week was Jeremiah 31:31-34, reminding me of the covenant God makes with us. God writes this covenant on our hearts. We are God’s people, and God is our God. What a promise. What a gift. What a reminder. Each day my heart pumps life into me, just as these promises let God’s love flow in and through me. I needed God’s Word to speak.

The tradition was the fall retreat launching the academic year in our program at Luther. Every year, for students and staff, it’s an interruption. I mean really, the first weekend after school starts? There are tons of other things each could, and maybe should, be doing. We serve in congregations ramping up programs and preparations need attending and small group leaders need to be recruited and trained. As students there are assignments and reading to complete and as teachers there are lessons to plan. And what about the personal issues which need our time and attention? Yet this interruption, at its core, is about connecting. It’s about bringing me into contact with God and others. It’s about stepping out of the hustle and bustle and centering the year on God in the presence of one another. Worship, conversation, prayer, play and presence make up the day. I needed the rhythm of our life together to pull me out of myself and draw me into something bigger.

The human experience emerged out of listening to people’s stories – their joys, concerns, expectations, hesitations, disappointments and longings. It happened at a tennis match, over dinner, in the car, early in the morning, late at night, face to face, and via phone and e-mail. Some were planned, others were spontaneous. The common theme – letting the desires of our heart be known to another.  And as stories were shared, our lives were connected and community emerged. Dietrich Bonheoffer, in Life Together, reminds Christians community is not our doing, something we create, it’s founded solely on Christ Jesus and we are simply invited to participate. As I listen to colleagues, friends and students, I heard deep existential questions about what it means to be human. And I saw those questions drawing people together, and joining each other in their quest for meaning and God. The mystery of God and the human experience reveals the joys and suffering that make up life. I need life together, community which only Christ can offer.

So what about you? In the days ahead might you be open to discovering God in your midst? Might you reflect on how Scripture, tradition and human experience reveal God?

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Terri Elton is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She's our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change.

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