Danny’s comments in my last post got me thinking a bit about my past. I became a Christian after high school through the ministry of a very popular fundamentalist movement. The church I attended was a large church, centered around a popular pastor and his Bible teaching. In fact, Bible teaching was the centerpiece of the church. Worship was the prelude to 45-90 minutes of verse-by-verse exposition. Children were not allowed in the service in order to minimize the risk of distraction from the teaching. And if anyone needed to leave the sanctuary to use the bathroom, they were not readmitted and had to observe the remainder of the service from the foyer.
Yet, this church, and its larger movement, built a lasting foundation in my life for the Bible. They taught me to love the Bible, to respect its authority, to read it, to study it. But it also came with a price. When I entered Bible college after only a year or two after conversion, I discovered that I knew more Bible than most of my fellow students. But that knowledge was accompanied with a subtle arrogance. And even worse, there was contempt for anyone who disagreed with the interpretation I had been taught and embraced. I remember the first time in class, when my professor gently confronted me about my use of the label “liberal” in regards to other denominations. I’m ashamed to say that my internal response was to label him a “liberal” as well.
Over the years, and through painful circumstances, my approach to the Bible has changed significantly. Yet, not my love for it. This is why I love guys like N.T. Wright who also love the Bible, yet aren’t afraid to scrutinize its teachings and historicity. I resonate with statements such as:
“To affirm ‘the authority of scripture’ is precisely not to say, ‘We know what scripture means and don’t need to raise any more questions.’ It is always a way of saying that the church in each generation must make fresh and rejuvenated efforts to understand scripture more fully and live by it more thoroughly, even if that means cutting across cherished traditions. This applies not least when the traditions in question refer to themselves as ‘biblical.'”
N.T. Wright, The Last Word
A while ago, I had the opportunity to visit another church from the movement that I mentioned earlier. After worship, the pastor led us corporately in prayer in preparation for his study. He prayed something that shocked me. It went something like, “Father, open our hearts to receive your word. We worship you and we worship your word.” Wow!
Now I realize he could have been referring to Christ, the Living Word. But the context of his entire prayer was preparing us to for the Bible study and he kept using “word” in reference to the Bible. And this movement does worship the word, i.e. the Bible.
Is that wrong? Can one love the Bible too much?
7 thoughts on “Worshipping the Bible?”
Loving the Bible too much is called Bibiolatry…making an idol of the Bible. Jesus warned about this when he said, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you have life. Yet you refuse to come to me”. If you remember, one of the old hymns is called, “Holy Bible, Book Divine.” The Bible is no more divine than we are, since it has a human element as well as God’s.
I wonder whether he was referring to Christ the Eternal Word or the Bible? My guess is the Bible. When I was in Bible College I was in an “apologetics” class where a student built his argument on the inerrancy of scripture by asserting that the Bible is God. He had misunderstood John 1, thinking that the Word equally referred to Christ and Scripture. His argument was that the Bible testifies to its own supremacy in John 1. The teacher didn’t correct him. It seemed like everyone in the class felt it appropriate to believe that Christ the Word, and the Bible as the word, were interchangeable concepts. I know this is an extreme example but it is not too far off base from what people in many Evangelical circles believe. I am currently attending an Evangelical College where some of the students (and even the teachers) allude to this kind of thinking all the time.
I grew up in a similiar situation. I grew up in a very conservative tradition that I appreciate so much because they taught me that I should intensely study the Bible. One of the focuses I’ve noticed now that I’m a sophomore in college that my church really taught love of Paul more than love of Christ. My pastor loved to go verse by verse through the epistles and letters of the New Testament (and even through the Gospel of John) but very little time was ever given to the synoptic gospels. As I’ve come to Azusa Pacific University I’ved learned through the help of many friends that “liberal” traditions may need a second hearing from me (i.e. I shouldn’t dismiss everything that I disagree with as Heresy). I’m going to have to look into that new book. I really loved the “Challenge of Jesus” when I read it.
Mike, David & Danny, Thanks for commenting on this post. I know I have been guilty in the past of exalting the Bible to a place much higher than was proper. And I have been equally guilty of using the Bible in ways in which is was not intended. But I’m very grateful that God is correcting my views. It has been a frightening and painful process. But I think I’m emerging from it with a much more sound perspective, but with my love and respect for scripture intact. My hope is that the startling life and love depicted in this incredible book would someday be embodied in me as it was in Jesus and those who followed him in the New Testament and beyond.
Hmmm… After reading this there’s a very vivid recollection that keeps replaying itself in the theater of my mind… In the movie “Saved” the girl struggling with her faith (Mary) walks away from the “conservative” and controlling christian character (hillary). Hillary throws her bible at her to get her attention-Mary turns around and picks up the bible saying, “This isn’t a weapon.” I’m guilty of the same thing… throwing verses at people like a certain bad guy in red jammies throws firey darts.
I have a lot of friends that get to the point that EVERYTHING is “proved” by the bible. “There’s no life on other planets because the bible doesn’t talk about it.” (not that I believe in life on other planets, but unlike my friends, if there were, it wouldn’t wreck my faith) I’m also trying to get to the point where I believe the bible is the word of God, but that doesn’t get in the way of knowing Jesus is the Word of God. My understanding of the book can’t get in the way of my relationship with the main character, just like my relationship with the church can’t get in the way of the God it’s supposed to worship. I’ve placed both on the Throne of my life in the past.
Think we went to the same church… Mine was in Ft. Lauderdale- where was yours?
I am a Christian (Presbyterian), a vegetarian, and involved in the animal rights movement. The harshest
criticisms of my beliefs come from other Christians – the more conservative, the harsher the criticism.
They repeatedly ask me “Where does the Bible say that eating meat is wrong? Jesus didn’t condemn meat eating,
so why should we?”, etc.. My response is that the aboltionists of a century and a half ago dealt with the
same rhetoric. They faced the constant taunts of “Where does the Bible say that slavery is wrong? Jesus
didn’t condemn slavery, so why should we? The apostle Paul didn’t tell masters to free their slaves, he
told the slaves to be better slaves. Show me just one verse that says slavery is wrong, and I’ll free all
my slaves!”. The abolitionists had to go outside of the Bible to defend their beliefs, because there was
nothing in the Bible for them. Also, “Word” in the introductory verses of the Gospel of John comes from
the Greek “Logos”. Logos was the Greek and Stoic term for the Divine Wisdom and Meaning that permeated the
Universe. The writer wanted to get across that what the Greeks called Logos, he called Christ.
Thanks for commenting on my post about your experiences. I must say, it is sad that many of us who claim to follow Christ can often be the most unloving and most critical toward those who hold different doctrines, beliefs or values. It’s even worse when we use the Bible, a document revealing God’s redeeming and transforming love throughout history, as the primary weapon of abuse.
I love what you said at the end of your comment. The “Word” to the Greek philosopher is the Divine Wisdom at the core of the universe. And the “Word” to the Greek-speaking Jew was God’s Word/Will as spoken about in the Septuagint. So by calling Jesus the Word, John is showing how Jesus embodies and reveals God’s wisdom and will to the world. And that revelation is a love that redeems, reconciles, restores and renews. I hope one day I and my fellow Christ-followers can take Paul’s words in Ephesians 4 to heart and “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Grace & Peace,