Evangelicals & the Bible, Pt. 2

Yesterday I wrote that I’ve been struck by a comment I’ve heard over the last several years.  It’s not that I hear it all the time, nor is it the only response I’ve heard from evangelicals (thankfully!).  It’s just that whenever I’ve heard it, I’ve thought it unusual, and I’ve wondered about the underlying assumptions that give rise to it.

Sometimes it’s, “I haven’t heard this before, so you must be wrong.”  More often, though, it’s something like, “I haven’t heard this before, and the fact that I haven’t heard this must be explained.”

As I indicated yesterday, I’ve come to understand evangelical identity as a posture of attentive submission to Scripture, a readiness to hear God’s word afresh and an obedient eagerness to have an ever-greater understanding of Scripture transform what we think and what we teach.

After reflecting on the aforementioned comment, it seems to me that it points to some corrupted postures toward the Bible on the part of evangelicals.  I’ll offer some thoughts on this over the next few posts.

I think that the most decisive factor in shaping warped postures toward the Bible is evangelical involvement in the culture wars.  Some of us have been told that “we” are the ones who are faithful to the Bible while “they” (“liberals,” “the media,” “skeptics,” etc.) are attacking the Bible.  We need to defend the Bible, “uphold biblical values,” and advance the “biblical” teaching on this or that issue.

Unfortunately, the passionate heat of the culture wars has forced us into some unfortunate postures relative to the Bible.  We might find ourselves facing our (perceived) opponents with our backs to the Bible.

In such situations, what is my role relative to the Bible?  I’m there to wield the Bible as a weapon (the sword of the Lord?) in the battle for Truth and for the cause of righteousness in the culture.

Such a posture toward the Bible is inappropriate.  We can fool ourselves into thinking that we already know it.  We’re already “biblical.”  “What, we need to study the Bible!?  We already know it!  It’s our job to tell others to be in subjection to it!  They’re the ones who aren’t listening to what God says!”

But the end or purpose of the Bible is not for us to take it up as a weapon against others.  The end or purpose of the Bible is for me to be shaped, transformed, rebuked, comforted, informed, enlightened, and rectified.

And this happens as I adopt appropriate postures toward it.  I sit under it in submission to it.  I sit long with it, studying diligently, listening obediently with an eager readiness to do what it says.

We are the objects of Scripture’s searching, revealing, exposing, transforming work.  “Others”—”those people,” “out there”—are the objects of our love and service.   Those who claim to be people of the Book ought to behave as those claimed by the One of whom the Book speaks, the One who gave his life for the life of his enemies.

The intensity of the culture wars—the feeling that there’s so much at stake—can frustrate us when our understanding of Scripture is challenged.  It can make us impatient that we never stop learning, that we must always be willing to re-shape our understanding of what the Bible says.  It reminds us that we are the first targets of the Bible’s transforming work.

It’s a problem if we’re more comfortable being God’s cops, his specially appointed agents of the transformation of others.

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16 responses to “Evangelicals & the Bible, Pt. 2

  • Jerry Goodman

    I have not experienced this as to where we worship. However, I really am thankful for this more than interesting series. I think I will keep these for discussion points if they arise in a men’s group. I like what you said at the end as I have been one those . . . God’s cop . . .like I am the great I am ???

  • Jonathan

    When I encounter the “culture war critique” of evangelical Christians, I am prone to ponder. In fairness, I think the critique is mostly appropriate, but I also think the underlying principle broadens the critique in ways far less discussed.

    Specifically: “Are Christian advocates for ‘social justice’ – galvanized by the Scriptures – prone to the same flawed approach?”

    Take immigration as a brief example (though we could point to countless others). Evangelical political thought has shifted significantly over the past several years on this subject to support a more robust, immigrant-friendly position. No doubt, the use of Scripture as spearheaded many an argument for that trend to continue. Are Christians, utilizing that method, and arguing against those with whom they disagree — a la the “culture wars” advocates — likewise standing “with their backs to the Bible” and ignoring the example of Jesus?

    I don’t necessarily disagree with your critique of the culture war movement. I’m just wary of the common “culture war critique” and its apparent double-mindedness.

    I don’t know if I have a simple answer, but I do know that I welcome your thoughts.

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the blog for some time now. Keep up the good work, Dr. Gombis.

    • timgombis

      It seems to me that any and every ‘type’ of Christian Bible reader can fall into the temptation of reading Scripture to endorse that agenda, so every Bible must be careful to sit in submission to it. This is especially the case when certain readings become ‘fashionable’, for sure!

      I’m not sure I can envision how social gospel readers are akin to culture warriors, but it’s worth considering, no doubt.

  • gaudetetheology

    The intensity of the culture wars—the feeling that there’s so much at stake

    I’ve come to believe that this feeling is itself a strong temptation to sin that Christians are called to resist. We should relax about these things that upset us, because if it is of God, then it will persist, and if it is not of God, then it won’t: it’s not all up to us and our efforts.

    I especially liked your calling out the tendency to use the bible as a weapon. If that’s not an un-Christian stance, I don’t know what is!

  • Andie

    What is most missing from the church today is Jesus. He has been over taken by culture, politics and XYZ. Most christian today don’t even see Jesus made a new covenant in His own blood.

  • Daniel Steele

    You say “But the end or purpose of the Bible is not for us to take it up as a weapon against others. The end or purpose of the Bible is for me to be shaped, transformed, rebuked, comforted, informed, enlightened, and rectified.
    And this happens as I adopt appropriate postures toward it. I sit under it in submission to it. I sit long with it, studying diligently, listening obediently with an eager readiness to do what it says.” These are great words of wealth. This kind of reading is what Eugene H. Peterson calls participatory reading. In his book Eat This Book he states. “Spititual theology, using Scripture as text,does not present us with a moral code and tell us “Live up to this”;nor does it set out a system of doctrine and say “Think like this and you will be well.” The biblical way is to tell a story and in the telling invite: “Live into this— We do violence to the biblical revelation when we “use” it for what we can get out of it or what we think will provide color and spice to our otherwise bland lives. That always results in a kind of “decorator spirituality”–God as enhancement. Christians are not interested in that; we are after something far bigger. When we submit our lives to what we read in Scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.

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  • wordmastercommunication

    Good post. When it comes to the culture wars, Evangelicals have generally lost all the high ground they ever could have had just by fighting instead of praying and loving.

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  • Andrew

    To be fair, the ‘we’ vs ‘they’ dichotomy you see with approach to the bible is principally an American phenomenon (that strangely often mirrors American politics).

    The rest of the world doesn’t always fall nicely into nice tidy labels.

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  • Seth

    “It’s a problem if we’re more comfortable being God’s cops, his specially appointed agents of the transformation of others.”

    Doesn’t Paul specifically address this in 2 Cor. 5:20? Aren’t believers specially appointed agents for the reconciliation of others? If reconciliation doesn’t mean that they will be transformed, then what’s the point?

    As John Frame likes to point out, there are numerous correct ways to view a particular situation or conclusion as long as none of the ways contradicts. If that is true, then why isn’t it valid to see the Bible as a weapon? Are we not in a war? Do we have any weapon more powerful?

    That may not be the only valid way to view the Christian life or a given interaction on culture, but isn’t that at least one valid way?

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