The Sin of Bibliolatry
In her excellent book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted A Faith and Fractured A Nation, Calvin University professor Dr. Kristin Kobes Du Mez writes the following:
To be an "evangelical" according to the National Association of Evangelicals, is (among other things) to uphold the Bible as one's ultimate authority...
At this point some of you might be saying, "But Leon, why do so many self-described evangelical Christians, who claim the Bible as their ultimate authority choose to ignore so much of what the Bible sets forth as basic benchmarks for faithful Christian discipleship?"
That's a valid question. It does seem as though far too many Christians in America gloss over Jesus' teachings about how we should treat the poor, the marginalized and the outcast.
Or they ignore the simple fact that Jesus valued women's leadership, and Paul followed that example as well in the early churches he planted.
The question we should be asking when someone claims that the Bible is the ultimate authority of their life is simply this: "Which parts of the Bible?"
Because in truth, most people who call themselves Christians prioritize some parts of the Bible over others. In fact, if someone claims they value every verse in the Bible the same, and that each one has equal import... they are being disingenuous not only to others, but to themselves.
The late Baptist theologian Dallas Willard once wrote:
Nearly every faction in Christendom claims the Bible as its basis but then goes on to disagree as to what the Bible says. An exalted view of the Bible does not free us from the responsibility of learning to talk with God and to hear [God] in the many ways [God] speaks to humankind.
The truth of the matter is that most of the divisive issues we are facing right now in America can be traced back to Christians getting this wrong. They claim the Bible as an authority, but only as it is viewed through the lens of their own biases, and their own world view.
And they do this with the assumption that whatever they see there is the final word---as if God were somehow trapped on the pages of the text, and not living, moving, transforming, resurrecting and breathing new life into the world and into us.
When I was growing up, I was taught to respect and to value Holy Scripture. I grew to love the stories found in the Bible, and memorized hundreds of verses over the course of my childhood.
But what I came to understand over time was that love and respect can all-too-quickly become obsession if it isn't tempered by wisdom and knowledge. What we engaged in back then was nothing short of the the sin of bibliolatry. We worshipped the text, over the One the text pointed us to.
I still love the Bible, and I spend almost all of my time studying it, thinking about it, preaching and teaching from it... but I also have come to understand that the God it speaks of is not trapped in its pages.
God is still speaking, still teaching both within and without the text, and there is so much for us to learn.
If those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus (regardless of the particular lane within which we travel) would begin to figure this out, we would soon find a way to heal some of the brokenness in our world instead of continuing to add to it.
Look around you, the Gospel is alive in the world because Jesus is alive and present and still leading us... if we are willing to see, and to follow. Listen, the voice of God is still speaking---audibly at times---urging us to follow Jesus more fully and completely.
Be awakened to God's still speaking voice, and Christ's ever present Spirit at work. Be awakened and be changed. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.