*This a re-post at the request of a reader. I appreciate that I have a couple out there.
“Let us beware lest our words and thoughts go beyond what the Word of God tells us. We must leave to God His own knowledge. . .and conceive Him as He makes Himself known to us, without attempting to discover anything about His nature apart from His Word.“
“We owe to Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God.”
“My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
Bibliolatry in its simplest form is the worship of the Bible. The concept of bibliolatry and the accompanying accusations of its growing presence among conservative evangelicals is becoming more popular among bloggers, writers, and religious commentators. This is especially true for those who are at best cynical and at worst hostile toward the SBC since the years of the so-called “resurgence.” The argument is fairly simple. We worship God, not the Bible. The danger of bibliolatry is a strict and legalistic slant toward propositional truth rather than the freedom of worshipping and serving God and learning and growing in faith due to the experiential element of the relationship. Denominational conventions and local churches are being urged to carefully examine their approach to Scripture, lest it overshadow a sincere relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
What are we to make of such a claim?
First, no one ever admits to practicing bibliolatry. Even the most fundamental conservative would gasp at the notion of worshipping the Bible in place of God. The significance of this should not be overlooked. Most in the church would agree that God alone is to be worshipped. God alone is to
be praised. God alone is merciful. God alone saves. So in part, the concept of bibliolatry serves as a welcomed reminder of the repulsive notion of ascribing worship and ultimate worth to anyone or anything but God. This is, of course, nothing new. I have heard preachers all my life speak to the dangers of acquiring a “head knowledge” of the Bible but not a “heart knowledge.” A person can know the Bible backwards and forwards, but if they are not living it through a relationship with Christ, then it is meaningless for faith.
But that does not quite capture the full argument of the bibliolatry position, at least
in the ways I have heard it pronounced. Most are not as concerned with the “head knowledge” or priority aspect of the issue as they are with the way in which we receive a full and complete revelation and experience of Christ. The Bible, they say, is indeed the Word of God but does not disclose a full revelation of truth. Those additional “mysteries” can only be ascertained through a personal relationship with Christ. Boy, that sure sounds good. So why am I skeptical? Here are a few reasons why I think this line of thinking is dangerous.
1. Arguing for a distinct and separate means of revealed truth through Jesus apart from Scripture creates a fallacious distinction between the message of the Word of God (the Bible) and the Incarnate Word of God (Jesus Christ). Obviously, we can and should distinguish them in form and substance; one is the written Word while the other is the 2nd person of the Trinity. Yet, the two always perfectly complement one another. In other words, our experience and growth in Jesus Christ must and will follow the ways he has been revealed in Scripture. This is what the first quote above by John Calvin is all about. I think it is extraordinarily helpful.
2. How does one judge the credibility of newly acquired truths from a solely existential basis? This is the same major problem I see with denying inerrancy. There must a standard of some kind, but if new truths are found solely through a relationship with Christ apart from Scripture’s teaching, who decides what is orthodox and what is heretical? Only the one in the relationship can make that judgment call which means us preachers can call it quits. (Denying inerrancy creates a similar problem in that there must be some set of criteria by which a passage is deemed correct or not. Who has that set of criteria? God of course, and I just don’t think He messed it up the first go around).
3. From a pastoral perspective, I have been in full time church ministry for over a decade. I have yet to serve in a church where I was concerned that our people were putting too much emphasis on the Bible. I have yet to know a pastor who dealt with such a problem. We are correctly trying to encourage more bible reading, more bible study, and more emphasis on the bible. The issue in churches across the country today is certainly not an over adoration of Scripture. Thus, when we hear the cries of bibliolatry, they are usually masked in a political covering and targeted at the elite few in positions of leadership with whose interpretations and direction they do not agree. To challenge those leader’s positions is fine and good, but let’s be realistic. I wish the problem we had in our local church was an overemphasis on Scripture.
4. The example of Christ is perhaps the most helpful of all. He dealt with what would have been considered to be bibliolators; the Pharisees. They knew every word of Scripture, but they did not know God. Jesus’ response to them should parallel our response to those in similar circumstances. He turns them back to the Bible and he certainly does not cite the Bible as being the problem. He says, “have you not read. . .?” The problem was not the Pharisee’s devotion to and love of the Law. It was their lack of application. Which brings me to my last point.
5. I think the entire issue of bibliolatry centers around application. I agree with my colleagues who warn of loving Scripture more than loving Christ. I agree when they warn of loving Scripture more than loving each other. But the issue is not one of discovering new truths. Rather, it is failing to properly apply what the Bible teaches. So, the call for Christian leaders is to faithfully preach the message of the Bible and its application. The call for Christian laypeople is to work every day to better apply Scripture to our lives. The call of us all is to grow in our relationship with Christ. How do we do that? Read our Bible. And do what it says to do. Pray. Love God more. Love your neighbor more. Be thankful.