What Is A "Bible-believing" Christian, And Why Is That A Problem?
In a recent 60-Minutes interview, the newly elected Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, was asked about his faith and how it informed his decision-making. Johnson had this to say:
I am a Bible-believing Christian. Someone asked me today in the media, they said, ‘… People are curious. What does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’ I said, well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it — that’s my worldview.
You might very well be wondering, "Why would you have to attach 'Bible-believing' to the word 'Christian?' Couldn't you just say 'I am a Christian' and leave it at that?"
Well, there's a reason why some Christians feel the need to use that modifier, and it begs an explanation.
I grew up in a faith tradition that proudly used "Bible-believing" before the word Christian and also smugly referred to the way they saw the world around them as "having a biblical worldview."
On the surface, these descriptors seem innocuous. But they are indicators of how those who use them understand the role of the Bible in their expression of the Christian faith.
The reason why I can speak of these things is that I experienced them firsthand when I was growing up in the evangelical, fundamentalist wing of the Christian Church.
The reason why we would say that we were Bible-believing Christians was to set us apart from other "so-called Christians" who didn't interpret the Bible the same way we did.
And to say that we had a biblical worldview meant exactly what Speaker Johnson explained in his response. The Bible had the answers to every question we might have, and it was both inerrant and infallible.
Not coincidentally, we were also anti-science, against women leading in the Church, harshly homophobic, and driven to believe all manner of conspiracy theories. In addition, we believed climate change was a hoax, and the theory of evolution was evil.
We also performed the most incredible rhetorical gymnastics when explaining why some parts of the Bible either didn't make sense or contradicted other parts of the Bible.
To say that this is an uncritical way of interpreting Scripture is the understatement of all understatements. It also haughtily assumes that any Christian who thinks differently isn't a real Christian.
Recently, I read an article by Dr. Guy Nave, a biblical studies professor who commented on Speaker Johnson's declaration about the Bible like this:
Ultimately, the worldview we select says far more about who we are than about God or the Bible. Johnson is not a “Bible-believing” Christian; he’s a Christian who chooses and uses particular portions of the Bible to support a worldview he already embraces.
Here's the thing: I could call myself a "Bible-believing Christian" because I believe the Bible is authoritative, inspired, and inspiring. It's authoritative in that it reveals how people have tried through the ages to understand God and how God relates to the world.
It's also authoritative because it contains the story of Jesus and the Church formed in his name. It's ultimately a story of hope and transformation and God's tireless work to give both to us all.
It's not inerrant, and it's not infallible, however. We know too much about how it was written and formed to support that notion.
It's also not whatever we want to make of it, especially when we pick and choose to lift up only the out-of-context portions that seem to support how we see the world and ignore the passages that don't.
Or when we refuse to read it critically, using all the resources at our disposal to understand it more fully.
Moreover, to hold to a biblical worldview in the sense that Speaker Johnson does implies that nothing more needs to be said about how we should live other than what is contained in Scripture.
But God is still speaking, you see.
God didn't stop speaking when the Bible was put together by committee and imperial fiat in the 5th century.
God speaks to us still, and we learn more and more about the Bible with every passing archaeological discovery, new historical and literary scholarship, and so much more.
The worldview of the Bible was that the world was flat, women may or may not even have souls, it was okay to commit genocide, slavery was just fine, having multiple wives (or even a harem) was permissible, and people who were gay should be killed.
Is this the worldview that we want to embrace as followers of Jesus? I think not.
I love the Bible, even though it frustrates me sometimes. I've dedicated my life to its continued study and interpretation. I preach from the Bible every time I stand in front of my congregation. I use Scripture in these Daily Devos just about every day.
But in the end, the ultimate authority in my life ought to be Jesus Christ. If there is any biblical worldview I would strive to have, it would be to do everything I can to love God and everybody just as Jesus did.
That is truly what it means to be a Bible-believing Christian with a biblical worldview.
May we all adopt this worldview and continue reading and studying the Bible with an open heart and mind. May we learn what it means to follow Jesus and put him above whatever we think or believe about the Bible itself.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.