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.