RedStaters, this is a letter I wrote this afternoon to a couple of friends of mine who had a question about an idolatry I identified: Idolatry of the Bible. We were discussing starting a Bible study locally and I wanted to make clear that my intention would be to focus any study of the Bible on its relationship to Jesus.
I ended up with a lot of stuff poured out here, so I figured it might be worth posting for the Christians on RedState. A lot of this little soapbox session was inspired by a sermon by Mark Driscoll called, “Ministry Idolatry.”
Preface here, if I’m getting too preachy, know that I’m not accusing or condemning. I consider this preaching to the choir.
Idolatry of the Bible is a particularly sneaky one that a lot of southern churches tend to fall into, and I would even include myself in that, occasionally. The grist of it is that they begin to view the Bible as a functional mediator between them and God (the Bible itself teaches us that there is only one mediator: Jesus), and a large portion of reformed Christians today will also go a step further and draw their identity from their theology. If you ever hear the words in a theological argument, “well that’s just not biblical,” what you’re seeing is evidence of idolatry of Bible and particularly of a single theological tradition stemming from it. It introduces the sin of pride into one’s life, and pride can be used by the Enemy to accomplish just about everything he wants, which is you redirecting your worship away from Jesus and away from God to a created thing, the Bible.
Yes, the Bible is incredibly important. It is, we believe, a perfect glimpse into the mind of God, a manual for living according to His will, and a living document capable of speaking directly to the heart of those who read it. It is not, however, capable of mediating between me and God. It doesn’t grant me righteousness, the one thing I lack in order to stand in God’s presence and have my prayers heard. The Bible is not capable of curing the sickness of sin in my life and my soul. It can and does illuminate the way to that salvation, which is its purpose, but it is not the source thereof.
The source of my salvation is not a 2000-year-old document, nor even an entertaining story about a humble, marginalized Galilean peasant (phrase stolen from Mark Driscoll) who claimed Godhood and on occasion performed miracles. My salvation stems from the earthly incarnation of God, who paid the just rewards for my sin (“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” – Romans 6:23), rose from that death and ascended, alive, to His exaltation at the right hand of God the Father, to continue serving as the incarnation of His will until such time as the Father sees fit to return his Son to the world to judge the dead and those still alive. In a perfect world, I would be able to know my Savior by examining the lives changed by Him around me. Of course, we live in a world tainted by sin, and so God inspired kings and peasants, sinners great and small to write His mind for those of us who follow after. For millenia the 66 books of our Bible were being shaped by His Providence, so that we would have a way to connect with and accept the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. That is its overriding purpose. The Bible reveals Jesus as the source of salvation from sin, and the only path to communion with God. (Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6) There are other truths to learn in the Bible, precisely because it is a glimpse into the mind of God (and He is Truth), but as I’ve heard it said, “Jesus is its great subject, our good is its design, and the glory of God is its end.” In the end, the Bible is still a created thing, though indeed holy. So were Mosaic law, the ark of the covenant, and the great temple built by Solomon. Created things, all incapable of providing salvation, incapable of making us holy, and thus incapable of mediating between us and God.
That’s what I meant by Bible Idolatry. Jesus, and the transformative salvation He offers, is either the center of your ministry, or you’re not preaching Christianity. You’re preaching something else. And as I said in Sunday school last week, again paraphrasing Mark Driscoll, we rarely idolize bad things. Mostly what we put on pedestals are GOOD things. But when they become god-things, and we start ascribing to them capabilities and attributes they do not possess, we turn them into bad things in our lives. The Bible is definitely a good thing, and is even as close to a god-thing in truth as any created thing could be, I think. But when the Bible becomes the source of your salvation, identity, and closeness with God, you’ve moved away from a real relationship with the REAL Jesus and traded it for an abstract one in the story you read in those pages.
The cure of course is to push worship of idols out of our lives by focusing our worship on the only one worthy of our worship: God, and His Son, Jesus.
As far as the Bible study groups, part of what I get at above is a need to focus not on advancing any theological discourse over another, but study whose goal is to illuminate God’s will and examine Jesus, not just as that humble, marginalized, Galilean peasant, but as the exalted Lord of all creation, from cover to cover. Sure, I’d love to hit egalitarianism vs. complimentarianism (gender roles in the church), various kinds of eschatology (the study of the end times), calvinism vs armenianism (the study of the functionality of salvation), cessationism vs continuationism (gifts of the Holy Spirit) and on and on we could go, but the point… the great Truth that every story, every poem and every prophecy in the Bible points to, is Jesus. As such, He has to be the center of any honest study of the Bible.
Again, I would love to get a serious, deep-dive Bible study going, and am even willing to coordinate and lead one. I just want to make sure it’s known that I am (unfortunately?) prone to checking all prior “knowledge” at the door when I open the Bible. The way I study the word, I try to do so with as open and empty a cup as possible, and that can and does tend to lead me to some very startling revelations, especially so to ears not ready to hear those truths. Ask the pastor about my reeling after reading John 1… that one shattered quite a few preconceptions. My only fear is having someone attend a study session and have their faith shattered by some deep truth that, superficially or otherwise, flies in the face of conventional, accepted doctrine.
Anyway, I’m on a soapbox here, and preaching to the choir. *grins*