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Beware of Thinking Biblically

If you took all the Bibles in American homes and made one big stack, your tower of Bibles would dwarf Mount Everest a thousand times over.

That would be a pretty cool stack, for sure, but it would make it pretty hard to actually read the Bibles. If you took all the Google results for “thinking Biblically” and made a stack, you’d have nearly a million web pages but not a very big stack because web pages don’t occupy physical space.

thinking biblically

We talk of “Biblical Manhood” and “Biblical Womanhood”. We talk of “Biblical Marriage” and “Biblical Science” and “Biblical Politics.” I’m pretty sure I took more than one class in college all about developing “a Biblical Worldview”.

But the problem with words is that they mean things, and so we use them and misuse them until they’ve nearly lost their meaning, and still we cling to them. Words are important. And “thinking Biblically” is very important. But all my life I’ve been told lies carefully footnoted with stacks of Bible verses, mistakes and opinions and dangerous words all cloaked in the sacred garb of “Biblical thinking”. And now I find myself recalling these words one by one and carefully examining them, deconstructing my religion brick by brick until all that’s left is Jesus.

And so I’m very cautious about that phrase, about “thinking Biblically”.

Not of thinking Biblically, but of using that phrase to legitimatize teachings and opinions that are sometimes terribly wrong. In the Scriptures, the Apostle Paul writes about those who pervert the Gospel, who twist and mangle the beautiful truth of Jesus and bring bondage and fear and confusion and shame into the Church. These people weren’t trying to add secular ideas to the Gospel. They weren’t denying the authority of Scripture. They were applying Biblical ideas found all throughout the Scriptures, but they were completely missing the point.

It didn’t end in the first century.

Our Christian heritage, while beautiful and deep and full of hope, is also marred with “Biblical thinking” that is thouroughly, absolutely broken. Looking back through history we see over and over again those who loved God sincerely, followed Him faithfully, studied the Bible diligently, and arrived at terrible conclusions:

Thinking “Biblically” about science:

“People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens … This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.” -Martin Luther

“Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?” -Abraham Calovius, Lutheran Theologian (c. 1650)

Thinking “Biblically” about genocide:

“Sometimes Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents…We had sufficient light from the Word of God for our proceedings…” -American Colonist, speaking of the slaughter of Native American tribes

Thinking “Biblically” about slavery:

“The evidence that there were both slaves and masters of slaves in the churches founded and directed by the apostles, cannot be got rid of without resorting to methods of interpretation which will get rid of everything”…. [the well-intentioned souls who] “torture the Scriptures into saying that which the anti-slavery theory requires them to say” [do great damage to the Scriptures themselves.] – Leonard Bacon, Congregationalist Pastor (1846)

Thinking “Biblically” about race issues:

“The university had a policy, based on its understanding of the Bible, that forbade interracial dating and marriage among its students. In order to make that policy easier to enforce, the university did not admit blacks… [We hold] the doctrine that interracial marriage is contrary to principles set forth in God’s Word. … Our right to be Bible-believing is the issue. This is religious freedom in a nutshell….” -Bob Jones University (1983)

Some people have made a hobby of criticizing the Church, through history and today. Please understand that this is not my goal. I love the Church more and more every day, but the more I love her the more I hate seeing her pulpit used as a platform for lies. I’ve heard a lot of lies in my life. We all have. And now we’re all struggling to break free from those lies, slowly and painfully and bravely, whispering desperate words of hope to one another along the way.

In the early days of the Church, its enemies were not liberals, pagans, secularists, or atheists. The antagonists in the New Testament storyline are those who knew the Scriptures inside and out, who had studied and memorized and dedicated themselves to the applications of its teachings.

But they failed, terribly, because they missed the point.

These were the people who attempted to execute a woman caught in adultery, which was “Biblical”.

These were the people who taught that Christians must be circumcised and keep the whole law, which was “Biblical”.

These were the people who condemned Jesus for breaking the Sabbath, which was “Biblical”.

These were the people who Jesus was talking about when he said, “You search the Scriptures, because you think they give you eternal life. But they are all testifying of me!”

This is what’s so radical about Jesus.

He is “the Word made flesh“. Jesus the very message of God – alive with blood and skin and breath and tears. And when we see him for the first time, we realize that we’ve been reading the Holy Words wrong all along. We MUST allow all of our reading of the Bible to begin and end with the words and life of Jesus. Otherwise we will most certainly get it wrong and miss the point completely.

The Bible is God’s word to us; it is true and trustworthy and beautiful and full of life. But all too often, we are very, very wrong about it. We must never underestimate our own ability to think Biblically to terrible conclusions.

So do we give up on “thinking Biblically” altogether? Certainly not. But we must approach our own conversations with the constant awareness that we might be wrong. That we don’t have all the answers. That someday, five hundred or a hundred or thirty years from now our brothers and sisters may look back and wonder how we could have missed the point. We must be open minded, willing to read its pages over and over again and change our minds as our hearts are opened to the truth.

And always, always, we must cling to Jesus.

Let us read the Gospels a dozen times, until their words echo in our heads no matter where we wander in the pages of Scripture. Let us speak to Jesus every day, and quietly wait until he speaks to us. Let us search the Scriptures, hoping that in them we will find life, knowing that we’ll only find life more abundantly when we find Jesus.

[ image: Daniel Iggers ]

published March 5, 2013

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