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The Subtle Undermining of the Word of God

The Subtle Undermining of the Word of God

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I think we’ve all heard these phrases and not thought twice about them. Maybe because at one time we have actually said similar things. The phrases I’m referring to express sentiments along these lines:

“We serve God, not the Bible.”

“The Bible is not God.”

“The Bible is still our guide.”

“We don’t want to become bibliolaters.”

Such phrases, however well-intentioned, press to make a distinction between God and the Bible, fearing that we might get the two confused. (Thanks for the clarification. I can finally use that pocket Bible I was given. It just didn’t seem right to put God in my pocket.)

I was part of a church at one time that used such phrases repeatedly. In retrospect, I now see this as the subtle undermining of the Word of God. It is a tragic malady in the American evangelical church.

When the Bible is diminished, so is obedience to Christ. When the Bible is diminished, so is confident gospel preaching. When the Bible is diminished, the church is weakened, not awakened. (Now, that sounds like a preacher!)

How many preachers even today shy away from calling the Bible the Word of God? As a matter of fact, I just read an interview with an influential speaker who cautioned pastors about using the phrase “the Bible says” during messages (sermons if you’re old school).

There is certainly a thoughtfulness behind his logic, but at the same time it does highlight the difference between seeker sensitive and seeker aware methodology. Either way, being aware of seekers, don’t we all take pains to define our terms? Why not take thirty-seconds and explain why you refer to the Bible as the Word of God? It’s an easy fix if you really think that phrase stumbles unbelievers. The premise of Christianity is that the God of the universe has revealed himself to humanity in Christ and that revelation is contained in the pages of the book we call the Bible, where God has also revealed his Son. Let’s not become seeker delusional. In the same way that people don’t become Christians because someone convinces them the Bible is the Word of God, they don’t reject Christ because someone uses the phrase “the Bible says.” Sister, please!

Aside from influential leaders, let’s examine a few of these phrases that subtly undermine the Bible’s authority.

“We serve God, not the Bible.”

This is probably the worst of all such phrases because it creates a gap between God and his self-revelation in Scripture, as if we can interact with God apart from his word. If your understanding of God is not coming from the Bible, exactly how do you even know how to interact with the One out there? People can call upon God as he’s revealed in nature, but they are calling upon a God that they do not know. If I may paraphrase Calvin, the great reformer, “Nature gives us enough information to be condemned, but not enough to be saved.” God cannot be known apart from his word.

“The Bible is not God.”

Recently, my family and I spent a week at family camp in the mountains of California where I heard a sincere follower of Jesus say, “I don’t have a problem submitting to God. It’s my husband I have a problem with.” She understood that the Bible teaches submission to her husband, but somehow she didn’t connect that with God himself teaching submission to her husband. It didn’t seem to occur to her that if you disregard the Word of God, you are disregarding God. This isn’t about confusing God and the Bible. It’s not about a dictation view of the Bible. It’s about recognizing the Bible carries God’s authority because it reveals God’s thoughts. If the Bible says it, so does God.

I can agree that the Bible is not God, but the Bible derives its authority from God. Thus, hearing the words of the Bible are akin to hearing the words of God. They carry the same weight as if God himself is speaking them to you, because in fact he is speaking them to you. The Bible doesn’t become the Word of God through some mystical Barthian process. It is the Word of God. Reading the Bible is simply having God speak to you. I understand that’s going to be disappointing to large swaths of evangellyfish who long for God to “read your mail” via one of your small group members. But in spite of such unmoored subjectivism, if you want a word from the Lord, open the Bible.

“The Bible is still our guide.”

I love this one, because it’s so sincere and understated. The Bible is more than our guide, my friends. It’s our Judge. You don’t just read the Bible. The Bible reads you. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) That’s more than a guide. It is a lamp to our feet, it keeps our way pure, it brings longing for God, it is our delight, it brings life, it strengthens us, it enlarges our hearts, it gives us understanding, it is the path, it is the testimony of God. The Bible will destroy your life, so that God can give you a new one.

“We don’t want to become bibliolaters.”

There is a widespread idea in evangelicalism these days that one can honor the Bible too much. You know, like treating it as the very Word of God. This is the charge I heard the most in the particular church circles I ran in years ago. “They’re bibliolaters.” The clear warning in such a statement is that you can esteem the Bible so much that you become an idolator. We all understand that the Bible is infallible, but our interpretations are not. Thus, cautionary preachers utter such statements to foster a humble posture in our understanding of the Bible. That’s a wonderful motive, but the only way to foster true worship of the Only Wise God is to dig down deep in the Bible, because therein we find the very heart and mind of God. Cautioning people against adopting the highest view of Scripture humanly possible actually prevents them from having true faith and worshipping Jesus. I think it was Martyn Lloyd-Jones who said, “Every spiritual malady in your life stems from your ignorance of this book, the Bible.” A higher view of Scripture leads to a higher view of God and a higher view of God leads to a deeper relationship with him.

“They won’t remember one sermon you preach, so focus on relationships.”

In the last two months I’ve heard two statements that unintentionally undermined the role of solid biblical preaching. After a youth pool party at our home, standing in the kitchen with our youth pastor, he shared something some youth pastor guru shared with him years ago. This was the advice given to youth pastors around the country: “Those kids won’t remember one sermon you preach, so focus on relationships.” In other words, don’t spend a lot of time in sermon prep. Just hang out and make sure they know you’re there to listen. Prepare them for the local bar, I guess.

As a preacher (yeah, call me a preacher), this little thought didn’t set right with me. My first response to this youth pastor guru’s advice was, “Well, maybe that’s just bad preaching. Become a better preacher and maybe they’ll remember something you say!” Not that I think it’s an either/or scenario. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Don’t tell me you haven’t heard that before? See? Some preacher said that once and we all remembered it.

Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Coalition, made this point in an article he posted about growing up under solid biblical preaching. It’s not about whether the kids (or even the congregants) remember every sermon you preach. It’s about the accumulative effect of sitting under the teachings of the Bible week after week. It all adds up to an understanding of the grace in which we stand. Do you remember every meal you’ve had in the last year? You might remember a really special meal, but the other meals were just there on the table so you might survive yet another day.

And that’s the truth.

I swear on a stack of Bibles!

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