Lately I’ve read a couple of articles by writers who criticize Christians for placing too much importance on the Bible. There’s an accusation of Christians worshiping the Bible, instead of worshiping the God of the Bible.
As a young girl, I knew a pastor who considered it blasphemy to physically place any other book on top of the Bible. I was impressed then, but it seems superstitious to me now. I guess you could call that worshiping the Bible.
As a teenager, I heard about a group of Christian students who carried their Bibles around with them at school, on top of their textbooks, to show that it was more important to them than any other book. That’s admirable in a way, but maybe bait for the charge of worshiping the Bible. And I hope sharing their faith involved more than carrying around Bibles.
But I think that equating a high view of Scripture with worshiping the Bible is a false charge, and illogical. It’s a no-brainer that we worship the God the Bible reveals. But that’s the point – God has explicitly and carefully revealed his character and his acts in history through this collection of history, narrative, poetry, and epistles we call the Bible. You can’t separate God from his revelation, as if he stood apart from it.
I suspect the accusation of Bible worship is an excuse to minimize the importance and authority of Scripture at those points that make us uncomfortable, or feel out of date, or seem too hard to live out. It’s a convenient loophole when we don’t want to regard Scripture as truth. The Bible makes a lot of truth claims, and the nature of truth is that it’s true. It doesn’t change or bend to accommodate culture or our comfort level. And so if you identify as a Christian, a follower of Jesus, the Bible has to be your benchmark for determining truth.
The same writers who charge Christians with worshiping the Bible instead of God, say that God also reveals himself in nature, tradition, and other people, and that these three are on an equal footing with Scripture. I disagree. God does indeed reveal himself through these three avenues, but not equal to the Bible, and never in ways that oppose Scripture or take the place of Scripture. For example, relying on nature (which is a magnificent manifestation of God’s nature and power and creativity) as your primary form of revelation, can lead you to worship the earth, which is unbiblical. Those who say they love God must regard Biblical teaching as the ground of truth, and evaluate every other good thing in its light.
In my opinion many Christians, instead of giving the Bible too high a place (if that’s even possible), instead fail to adequately revere the Bible. We don’t always have the high view of Scripture we lay claim to. We ignore it and misuse it. So here are a few suggestions to help us truly worship the God of the Bible:
1)Read the Bible. A lot. The whole thing. More than once. Find a translation you like, with book introductions and study notes. Get to understand the big picture. Remember that this is a living book given to us by an eternal, living God. He will make it live in your heart.
2) Avoid cherry-picking proof texts and ripping passages out of context to fit your preconceived ideas. Even worse is opening the Bible at a random place and taking whatever you find there as God’s directive for your situation. You can make the Bible say anything if you approach in these ways, giving birth to heresy. Let the Bible speak for itself. It isn’t a heavenly gumball machine that spits out an answer for your every question, or gives you an airtight outline for every topic.
3) While we’re on the subject of cherry-picking, don’t ignore or be shocked by the parts of Biblical narrative that aren’t pretty. The Biblical writers are realists, showing us sin and human nature at its worst, and presenting us with God’s glorious mercy in Christ.
4) Treat each individual book with respect by understanding its literary style and its historical and cultural context. Educate yourself about the Jewishness of Jesus and the New Testament writers, and how the Old Testament informs the New. No excuses: mountains of resources are available to help you.
5) Live what you learn. It’s possible to have a lot of information about the Bible, but never put it into practice. The Old Testament word translated “listen” actually means “obey.” You haven’t listened until you’ve obeyed, until you’ve allowed God to use his truth to change you. Words on a page become words in your heart that propel you to love God and your neighbor.
Loving God and your neighbor is what Jesus said is the goal of your existence. These two things sum up God’s plan for you, and the impetus to carry them out is at your fingertips, in the pages of your Bible. That’s not worshiping the Bible. It’s loving the God of the Bible.