Do we worship the Bible more than the Savior?

by Nov 23, 2007

J.P. Moreland, philosophy professor at my alma mater Talbot School of Theology, has been creating a stir over the past few weeks with his paper, “How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It.” Here’s his main point:

The charge of bibliolatry, or at least a near, if not a kissing cousin, is one I fear is hard to rebut. To be more specific, in the actual practices of the Evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ. And it has produced a mean-spiritedness among the over-committed that is a grotesque and often, ignorant distortion of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus.

Like interpreting Scripture, the first step in understanding his argument is to observe the context. J.P. presented this paper at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting. Basically, this is a bunch of theology geeks (something I only wish I could be) who go listen to each other speak on topics so geeky that most Christians wouldn’t even understand the titles of their papers.

Let’s put it this way: many of these guys would prefer to read a journal article on John’s use of the word “sea” in Revelation than to actually go outside and look at the ocean. So in that group, J.P.’s pulpit-pounding sermon was probably a stinging rebuke. And there are plenty of mean-spirited Christian “watchblog” authors who desperately needed to hear it too.

But in his paper, Moreland also makes some pretty broad assertions about “the Evangelical community in North America.” He says that “pastors, parachurch staff, and lay folk” act as if “the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items.” And that’s where it gets a little sticky for me.

I think most evangelicals in America have absolutely no idea what the Bible really says about God or morality beyond a few VeggieTale-level lessons they might remember from Sunday School or a few alliterating points they might have picked up from a sermon or Christian book. In their everyday lives, the Bible isn’t the sole source of spiritual knowledge; it’s the last source.

This is the result of a generation-long focus on packing big crowds into churches more than building mature disciples, and even the mothership of the seeker-driven movement has come to recognize this fact. How can we claim to know the Bible when a third of our best and brightest college students don’t even know that Matthew was an apostle?

J.P argues that there are three areas where evangelicals need to integrate extra-biblical knowledge: “(1) natural theology and moral law; (2) the realm of spirits/souls; (3) divine guidance, prophetic revelation, words of knowledge and wisdom.” Good advice for the theology geeks he was speaking to, guys who fall asleep every night with 200-year-old German-language commentaries on the minor prophets under their pillows.

But if the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture is “The Supreme Judge,” as the Westminster Confession claims, most of us first need to develop a working knowledge of the Bible before we can rightly examine anything else by it.

(Art from Brant Hanson)