December 23, 2014

A Ban on “Biblical”

Pharisee and Publican Mosaic, Ravenna

I made a New Year’s resolution this year: I will try my best to avoid using the adjective “Biblical” to describe what I think “the Bible teaches.” The use of this word as a prescriptive adjective to promote positions and convictions is rampant among Christians. The problem is, it usually obscures more than it enlightens, hurts rather than helps, and stops discussion dead in its tracks rather than promoting good conversation.

There are legitimate uses of this word. For example, at the most basic level we can talk about the “Biblical” text to describe the writings of Scripture and what they say. One might speak of “Biblical” scholars — people who devote themselves to studying the Bible in one fashion or another. We can refer to “Biblical” times or characters or events. These and other such uses are benign and descriptive.

Ah, but we can use the word “Biblical” in a prescriptive sense, in a way that turns it into a weapon against those who disagree with us. It becomes a coup de grâce, the death blow that seals our argument with an unassailable point.

In a January 2012 post, Rachel Held Evans made the following comments about this potentially incendiary adjective:

My issues with the word “biblical” go way back.

When I attended apologetics camp as a teenager,  I was told that those who hold a “biblical view of economics” support unregulated free market capitalism. (Even then, it occurred to me that such an economic system didn’t even exist in the ancient near Eastern culture in which the Bible was written.) I was also told that God wanted me to forgo traditional dating in favor of “biblical courtship.” (Again, no one mentioned the fact that, in the Bible, young women could be sold into marriage by their fathers to pay off debt, that marriages were typically arranged without the bride meeting the groom until their wedding day, and that women were considered the property of their fathers and husbands.)

…You can find all sorts of books proclaiming to put for the “biblical” view of something-or-another. Some of my favorites include:

-100 Biblical Tips To Help You Live A More Peaceful and Prosperous Life
-Crime and Community in Biblical Perspective
-God’s Creatures: A Biblical View of Animals 
-Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics
-Biblical Psychology  
-Biblical Strategies for Financial Freedom
-Biblical Economics: A  Commonsense Guide to Our Daily Bread
-Biblical Principles of Sex
-The Big M – A Biblical view of masturbation
-The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image 
-The Complete Husband: A Practical Guide to Biblical Husbanding 
-Holding Hands, Holding Hearts: Recovering a Biblical View of Christian Dating
-Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

In Evolving in Monkey Town, I write about how, when we talk about “biblical economics,” “biblical politics,” and “biblical womanhood,” we’re essentially “using the Bible as a weapon disguised as an adjective.”

She concludes with these words: “It seems to me that the ease and carelessness with which many Christians employ the word “biblical” is one of the biggest barriers in the way of learning to love the Bible for what is, not what we want it to be. At the heart of a prescriptive use of the word “biblical” is a desire to simplify—to reduce the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone, to turn a complicated and at times troubling holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto.”

I agree.

Therefore, this year, my campaign pledge as your alert Chaplain is that I will stay on the lookout for silly and/or even dangerous uses of this word by Christians attempting to promote an agenda.

We begin today with Pastor Robert Jeffress of megachurch First Baptist in Dallas, TX. Last fall, he made comments that raised a ruckus when he said Christians should not support Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney because Romney is a Mormon and Mormonism is a cult. In that interview, Jeffress said, ““Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” Apparently, he thinks that is BIBLICAL.

Well, now that Romney is the likely GOP nominee, Jeffress has changed his tune and has endorsed him. Why? Because Romney’s political positions are more — wait, here it is — BIBLICAL than President Obama’s. Here’s the summary of what Pastor Jeffress said [from the Christian Post]:

Jeffress’ current position should come as no surprise to those who followed the controversy. He also said at the time that if the general election came down to Romney and President Obama, who is a Christian, that he would back Romney. After Rick Santorum dropped out of the race earlier this month, Romney has become the presumptive Republican nominee.

Jeffress clarified that position again Sunday, arguing that Romney’s political positions are more biblically correct than Obama’s positions.

Even though many evangelicals do not view Latter-day Saints as fellow believers, Jeffress said, evangelicals will be mobilized to vote for Romney, because Obama is “opposed to biblical principles.”

I’m confused in so many ways.

First, is it “Biblical” to support a Christian over a non-Christian? If so, I’m voting for the Christian president we have right now rather than his LDS challenger. (Oh wait, is it possible he’s not a Christian? I forgot — we can’t take President Obama at his word on anything.)

Second, is there even such a thing as “biblically correct” political positions in American politics? Perhaps in a few instances, but I seriously doubt whether all the positions Jeffress would call “biblical” have anything to do with the Bible and its message and teaching.

Can we just keep “Biblical” out of this discussion, please? Pastor Jeffress, say what you mean — I’m a conservative and these are my political positions, and therefore I will support Romney over Obama.

I can handle that and on that basis we can have a conversation. When you start throwing the “B” word around, you’re just being a Christian bully.

Comments

  1. Joseph (the original) says:

    amen…

    so much current usage of the term ‘Biblical’ a presumptuous posturing that implies God’s Golden Seal of Approval & divine endorsement…

    all other views condemned automatically as liberal, satanic/demonic, heretical, secular, humanistic, deceit, new age, foolish, scientific, in error, etc.

    yes, i too have noticed a proliferation of the label Biblical intended to impress upon a particular audience that whatever is being peddled is as near to “The Word of the Lawd” as, well, the bible…

    Lord…have mercy… :(

  2. Amen. And I’d add the word “Godly” right alongside “Biblical” as well. It’s one thing to see a few goofy pastors use these kinds of phrases to put a spiritual sheen on political views. I’ve almost come to expect that kind of thing from time to time. It’s goofy and mildly entertaining, if annoying.

    But tI’ve also seen the hurt that the use of these terms as a bludgeon can cause up close and personal, having dealt with a family member who used exactly this kind of terminology to convey spiritual elitism and attempt to justify some incredibly unjust and hurtful behavior that is destroying family relationships and driving that person deeper into an authoritarian isolation of their own making. It’s hard to overstate the destructiveness of these terms and the attitude they engender and embolden. I hope that many will repeat the warnings in this post.

    • cermak_rd says:

      Biblical, godly and condoning are 3 words that I consider to be fundy tells. If someone uses one, I immediately tune out anything else they are saying.

      • A.E. Forest says:

        I didn’t get past the slur “fundy”.

      • Just because someone uses those words doesn’t automatically make everything they say wrong.

        That being said, there are a few words/phrases I wish would get a moratorium, like “winsome”. A treacly sounding world that absolutely no one outside of evangelical Christendom ever uses.

      • So, you are admitting to being close-minded. How is it ok for you to be close-minded, while blasting people for being close-minded?

    • Ugh, yes. That can go too. The word “godly” makes me twitch.

      An example, the only thing worse than Biblical Womanhood is a Godly Woman. That won’t make sense to anyone outside the subculture, but I think a few here know what I’m talking about…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Godly Woman” as in post-conversion Chloe from Left Behind?

        “What is Thy Will, Milord Husband? How might I better Submit?”

      • Yes, the reason that every American is not a Christian is because Christians use certain terms, slogans and Jargon too much. THAT’s the problem. Oh wait, the Military, Dr’s and Lawyers all use much more jargon and “insider” terms than Christians do, and people are beating the doors down to get in to those fields. Maybe that is not the problem.

        I am pretty sure that if we “re-tooled” all the Christian terms and semantics to fit your particular preferences, then all problems would be solved. No, wait, those terms would just get old too in few months and someone else would be complaining about them on another website.

        Humans have to use terms and words to communicate, and to make positive statements. The Bible uses language and certain terms to express the truths therein.

        “Dating according to my interpretations of Scripture” is a rather laborious title for a book. I think that we know what the speaker is trying to say when they use the term “biblical” and no one stops arguing or debating the speaker’s points just because they used that particular term. It doesn’t shut down all argument, and shouldn’t.

        What an author means when they use that term is “here are some passages that shed some light on a particular topic. You might learn something from them”.

        People need to calm down. It’s not that big of a deal. You know what else is Biblical? Helping the orphans and the widows instead of blogging about over-used words.

        • Chip,
          I wish I had more people like you in my life to talk about theology, philosophy, Christianity, etc…. good for you for being insightful and having a decent head on your shoulder…

    • I’d like to nominate “walk” / “Christian walk” / “walk with God” and all its variations.

      • petrushka1611 says:

        I can live with “walk,” and I’ve switched to using that. At least it’s somewhat…er…Biblical. Enoch walked with God. Relationship…that’s the one I junked.

  3. You’re right… the Bible is complicated and doesn’t prescribe simple, one-size-fits-all solutions. I think people throw around the word “biblical” because they’re hoping that all they have to do is read one or two Bible verses on a certain topic and then they’ll be good to go.

  4. What’s next? Throw out the authority of scripture? I understand that many use a word to extremes or misrepresent but that does not mean that Biblical being used in the context of something being scriptural is a bad thing. This article can misrepresent as well. Why? Because when someone does bring something Biblical, who is to say it is Biblical or not? I see this leaning toward the wind of our present culture which believes in no absolutes and relative truths.

    • Ron what do you think about the specific example given in the post?

      • The post and Jeffress are both wrong. You are wrong because you can’t throw out “Biblical” — Christianity is Biblical. The Bible is the best source of Christ’s and the Apostle’s teaching about what Christianity is. If something isn’t biblical it isn’t Christian.

        But Jefress is a fool and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The Bible says give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and my kingdom is not of this world. Jefress’s use of Scripture to claim authority for his politics is anti-Biblical.

        “Biblical” is over-used, of course. But the problem isn’t reliance on the Bible, the problem is that many American Christian’s don’t understand the Bible. They memorized a bunch of passages but never thought about what it means, never studied the cultures or context or language, and never read about the 2000 years of Christian thought in how it ties together. They reject tradition and history for their own personal speculations. They go to churches whose pastors (or founders!) never knew any Hebrew or Greek. They are like Roman priests and bishops from before the Reformation, using the Bible to advance worldly politics (Roman authority over the kings), humanistic platitudes (Aristotle) or useless but entertaining speculation (blue ducks and hen’s milk). They are right that the Bible is authoritative, but they misuse or misunderstand it.

        On the other hand, there are traditions that claim authority to teach what is contrary to the Bible, or to teach authoritatively things that are not in the Bible (ie with the same authority as Christ). That is a much greater danger than accepting the authority of the Bible and getting it wrong. There can always be a Josiah to come along and rediscover the truth and fix errors, if one does not abandon the authority. But if there is no reliable, objective source for faith to grab onto, (what is the Word if not what is stated in Scripture?), then Christianity is purely subjective, and becomes either self-justifying preening, or an ongoing existential crisis, neither of which can provide assurance or comfort.

        • Trouble is when folks start to worship the bible instead of God. They are NOT the exact same thing, not at all.

          I think you are missing the point about the abuse of “biblical” as a word weapon…..if my stuff is “BIBLICAL’ than I am right, and you are not only WRONG but even or misguided.

          Not all of us belive in sola scriptura, Boaz…

          • That is …”not only WRONG but EVIL….”

            (can we all chip in for an EDIT button??)

          • Aidan Clevinger says:

            But I think that “worshiping the Bible instead of God” is just as much of a dangerous phrase as “biblical” can be. Does it happen? Yes, I’ve seen it and I’ve done it. But insisting on the truths of Scripture and submitting to the things it preaches doesn’t mean you worship the Bible. I think Boaz hits on a nice and much-needed balance between the need to accept Scripture’s authority and the ability to use it correctly. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

          • Aidan Clevinger says:

            And telling people that they’re wrong isn’t always a bad thing. There really are doctrines that can damn a person; telling an anti-Trinitarian that he isn’t a Christian and doesn’t have the Kingdom unless he repents is doing him a favor.

          • Aidan,
            Do you think that someone having an incorrect understanding of the Trinity can really damn someone? I do agree that it’s a foundational doctrine, but I am very hesitant to pin our salvation on the matter of us intellectually understanding certain concepts. It seems to me that if someone confesses Jesus as Lord and is sincere, God honors that.

          • Aidan Clevinger says:

            I don’t really think it’s an intellectual understanding thing (if it was I would completely understand what you meant). I think the best explanation I’ve heard of it is that the Trinity is a baptismal concept. The question is: whose name were you baptized into? Whose death did you die and whose resurrection did you rise in? In the ancient world there were other people besides the Jews who circumcised their males, but it didn’t mean the same thing, it wasn’t their way of entering into a covenant with God. Likewise, there are groups today (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.) who baptize and convert people, but they aren’t being baptized into the name of (i.e. into a saving relationship with) the true God. It’s a relational thing, not really an intellectual thing. So yes, I do believe that there are people who reject the Trinity and, in so doing, reject the grace that the Triune God offers.

            Having said that, I’ll go on record as saying that I believe there will be Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. who really believed in the salvation offered by the Trinity even if they had intellectual hang-ups in real life. My point wasn’t that every person who is an avowed anti-Trinitarian is going to hell, but that holding to such a position is a real and present danger to one’s salvation, and we should correct and evangelize those who do in the interests of calling them to repentance from what very well may be an outright rejection of God’s grace. This to me is an example of when calling out false doctrine and setting forward a “biblical” alternative is a good thing.

          • Maybe not the Trinity, but the Deity of Christ is important.

            John 8:24 – C.E.V. “24 That is why I said you will die with your sins unforgiven. If you don’t have faith in me for who I am,[a] you will die, and your sins will not be forgiven.”

            The “I am” is considered to be a reference to Yahweh.

          • Joseph (the original) says:

            could be we should take the Vatican’s approach & usage of “Biblical” to make sure it is used in its most highly revered application???

            A prominent U.S. Catholic nuns’ group said on Thursday it was “stunned” that the Vatican reprimanded it for spending too much time on poverty and social justice concerns and not enough on abortion and gay marriage. In a stinging report on Wednesday, the Vatican said the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had been “silent on the right to life” and had failed to make the “Biblical view of family life and human sexuality” a central plank in its agenda.

            oh my…Lord…have mercy… :(

        • Amen Boaz. You have articulated my thoughts as if you were tuned into my brain. Thanks

        • “Christianity is Biblical. The Bible is the best source of Christ’s and the Apostle’s teaching about what Christianity is. If something isn’t biblical it isn’t Christian.”

          That assertion cannot be historically supported. The product of Christ’s actions and the Apostle’s teaching was not a “bible” but a church — a people of God. Heck, their own words and writings attest to that fact. How can someone grant 2 Timothy 3:16 (referring, I’ll note to the LXX, not deliberately self-referential or referring to any of the NT or what modern Protestants have adopted as their OT) such a broad scope while virtually ignoring, for instance, 1 Timothy 3:15?

          As the centuries went by, those writings which were preserved through periods of persecution and destruction grew to be recognized as Scripture and were eventually canonized by that aforementioned Church in the 4th century. Certainly they are important and the Gospels in particular have always held a very high position in the Church. Certainly something that directly contradicted the New Testament and the tradition of its interpretation by the church should probably not be considered Christian.

          But the New Testament writings are not and have never been all-encompassing. They don’t, for instance, provide detailed liturgical instructions like God did in Leviticus. Where they provide any detailed instructions at all, it’s typically just to correct liturgical abuses when the author could not be present to do so in person. And that’s just one example — though a pretty important one.

          The bible is neither comprehensive nor somehow magically self-interpreting. And both points are important. Arius, for example, argued extensively and solely from the NT. Nor can it really be said that his interpretation was somehow “disproved” though it was argued against. What eventually won the day (though it took decades) was the continued assertion by faithful bishops that the interpretation of Arius was contrary to the way the church had interpreted the NT and contrary to the faith that had been entrusted to it.

          The idea you asserted is utterly anachronistic. That’s the part that has never made sense to me.

          • A hundred thousand “thank-you’s”

            Christianity was alive and well before the 1500’s……really!

          • Aidan Clevinger says:

            …But Boaz never said that Scripture was supposed to be all-encompassing. You said that things which explicitly contradict the New Testament should be considered unchristian; which is what he and I both are arguing for. And figures in the church have always used Scripture to defend their assertions; Justin Martyr did it against Trypho, Clement did it when writing to the Romans, Polycarp and Ignatius did it when encouraging their brethren, and so on. Yes, the canon took centuries to define, but there were always certain things (the Gospels, some of Paul’s epistles, etc.) which were used much the same as the Old Testament was.

            And I get the whole idea of there being lots of interpretations, but (and perhaps I’m simply an intolerant, crusty old fundy) I really do believe that there are correct interpretations and there are incorrect interpretations, neither of which are dependent upon the view of the Church, but rather on the text itself. Granted, there are some things which are mysterious and some things we’ll never have a definitive answer for: see “the Book of Revelation”. But there are other matters which are very clearly revealed and need no tradition to define. When Jesus says, “I and the Father are one”, there’s no ambiguity about that. When Matthew says that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have one name, there’s no ambiguity about that. I start from the assumption that a series of letters written for fisherman, peasants, and slaves really was intended to be understood by the same.

        • Boaz, good post. I don’t think, however, that you showed the post was “wrong.” I think you gave some helpful clarifications and further insight.

        • Um…Aristotle is humanistic platitudes? Methinks you don’t know the first thing about Aristotle.

      • Hello Mike,

        I believe that the example in the post is extreme and wrong. Mitt Romney is not “Biblical” in anyway. Regarding politics, a true believer in Christ should not be concerned with the kingdoms of this world considering the fact that a believer is seeking an everlasting kingdom. Believers are to have their minds set upon things above and not on things of the earth. Jesus said, “If my kingdom were of this world then would my servants fight.”

    • Brian McLaren uses the term “constitutional” to describe the way many people try to read the Bible. They see as a founding document that sets forth all the rules and guidelines governing the church. The problem with this,of course, is that many people are reading the same book and coming to different conclusions about these things.

      The word “authoritative” is interesting to me. When I respect a person as an authority, I generally don’t consider them infallible, and certainly not inerrant. I also don’t usually get incredibly upset when there are minor inconsistencies with the way the relate certain things. What it does mean is that we let that person speak into our lives, and that we are willing to let ourselves be changed by them.

      • This really wasn’t meant a reply to Rob’s post, but really just to the article in general. I’m not sure how it got under here.

    • Matthäus says:

      I really think people here are overreacting to a reasonably balanced article. But then again, I must confess that I’m not sure that I know what “authority of scripture” even means. As St. Vincent of Lerins said back in 434, “owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.” Merely having a “biblical” argument doesn’t really mean much—Arius, Novatian, Sabellius, Donatus, Macedonius, Pelagius, Nestorius, and all the other classical heretics had their “biblical” arguments. I don’t believe any of them represent the Faith, or what the Bible actually says, and I don’t believe the vast majority of so-called “biblical” positions on this or that for the exact same reason: I don’t accept the authority of the interpreter. I’m not arguing for a lower or relativistic/subjective view of scripture , but to claim that the Scriptures have authority and ignore the interpreter behind the curtain is a huge oversight.

      • If the Bible states that Jesus is the Son of God, I am sure that is what it means. When we leave the canon of scripture, which is closed, up for an interpretation we venture into dangerous territory. If the prophecy of scripture is not of any private interpretation, I am sure that it is more than safe to conclude that neither is the rest of scripture. (1 Pet. 1:20-21) If Revelation contains a warning about those who add to or take away from the words of the book, I am sure it is more than safe to conclude that God would state the same about those who add to or take away from the rest of the books in the Bible. (Rev. 22:18-19)

        • Randy Thompson says:

          It was the church that picked the books.

          • Rob ZionFreak says:

            Are you questioning who inspired scripture? (1 Pet.. 1:20-21)

          • RE: Rob ZionFreak @ April 21 1:10 AM

            It is a historical fact that the Church canonized (picked) the books of Scripture. This isn’t about who inspired those Scriptures- rather, it is an affirmation of the promise of Christ. That is to say, that the Holy Spirit would be with the Church, and that He would lead the Church into all truth.

            The Church canonizing the Scriptures is an example of said promise being fulfilled. The Church determined, with the aid of the Spirit, which books were to officially codified into what was read during Liturgy, and from which doctrine was drew from. The Church, with the aid of the Spirit, determined which books were not consistent with the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, and rejected those from the Canon of Scripture. And even among those, there were some that were rejected not because they contradicted the teaching of Christ and the Apostles, but because it was recognized that they did not hold the authority that those books which were accepted held.

      • Good statements — I am just enjoying reading the insightful dialogue. (Forgive me for not advancing the arguments either way, or adding anything substantive to the discussions.)

        C.H.A.T. = Chatting (or if you prefer, Christians) Happily Arguing Theology

    • I am smiling and happy to read such insightful comments…. thank you for being, or at least sounding, intelligent.

  5. I have heard a lot of this over the last few years. I think one of the worst offenders is the huckster…er..historian David Barton. I have heard him claim that the the minimum wage is not biblical, nor are capitol gains taxes. On the other hand the free market is biblical as is the gold standard (someone needs to introduce Barton to zombie William Jennings Bryan).

    Anyway, all this seems to do is to tie Christianity to a set of specific and fleeting political positions. It makes people in my situation, outside of Christianity, less likely to pay any attention to it. If you can twist this ancient text to justify any political position you want it to, it doesn’t seem to show much respect for the bible. To twist the Anne Lamott quote a bit, “You can assume you have created god in you own image when he likes everything you do.”

    • Topher,

      I’ll wade into this. I have not read or listened to a lot of Barton, so I can’t speak for all his positions. But I will tell you I sense in a lot of the criticism of him (not from you per se) some institutional snobbery. That simply b/c he is not a classically trained historian he can’t speak to history. We are not talking medicine or physics here.

      I think he does a good job, not as a primary resource, but as a suppliment to traditional historical text and presentations. Have you seen a typical middle school or high school history textbood these days? There are gaping holes in them and some very important considerations are completely glossed over or left out.

      Austin

      • My issue with Barton is that he is a liar, plain and simple. Just google David Barton and John Adams and the Holy Spirit letter. Read how Barton quotes the Adam’s letter both on his website and on the Daily Show and any other place. Then just google the full text of the letter and read it for yourself. You will find that Barton selectively edited the quote so that it made Adams say the exact opposite of what Adams was saying. This is form of lying.

        I could go on about it, but whatever the state of history textbooks in schools, i would rather gaping holes then outright falsehoods and lies. I know this is OT, but I get really impassioned about Barton because so much of his schlock is so easy to debunk. Yet, so many Evangelicals (like some in my family) swallow his stuff without question and Barton laughs all the way to the bank.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      If you can twist this ancient text to justify any political position you want it to, it doesn’t seem to show much respect for the bible. To twist the Anne Lamott quote a bit, “You can assume you have created god in you own image when he likes everything you do.”

      Men of Sin will ALWAYS cite some cosmic-level authority — Bible, Koran, Darwin, Freud, Marx, Nature — to justify on the cosmic level what they wanna do anyway.

      “When ‘What is Right’ has been thoroughly deconstructed, ‘What I Want’ will still remain.” — C.S.Lewis(?)

      • Great statement Headless Unicorn Guy: “Men of Sin will ALWAYS cite some cosmic-level authority — Bible, Koran, Darwin, Freud, Marx, Nature — to justify on the cosmic level what they wanna do anyway.”

  6. Chaplain Mike
    It is unbiblical for you to insist that we quit using the term biblical to describe biblical concepts or teaching that is found in the bible, however ubiblical our use of biblical concepts and the bible may be. If you repent of your article, I think that would be very biblical.

    :)

  7. I concur. Derek Webb on his blog wrote a similar article recently on the word “Christian”, as if slapping that label onto any thing makes it “okay”. I feel similarly about people who say America is a Christian Nation or that we have always been founded or followed biblical values. Does that include slavery or the extermination of natives as being biblical things? Well, some people actually argued that back then, though few would today. I think the only way to discern whether something is truly Christian or Biblical is if it reflects the love of Christ as expressed through the two greatest commandments, which sum up the Bible: loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. Anything more specific than that: biblical views on marriage, dating, sex, politics, etc., can pigeon hole a writer and a reader into believing that if one does not act or believe in a proscribed “biblical” manner, one must necessarily be far from the heart of Christ. That confuses things. God is most concerned with the heart of the individual and of His people. People are Christian. Not things. Love is biblical, and love dwells in the hearts of true believers. How can people quantify that, or say this or that thing is biblical. Does it reflect the true love of Christ 30%? 50%? 70%? Is it fully biblical? I agree that the term should be used with caution and with wisdom and not with the intent to manipulate people into believing that adherence to another view of doing things somehow makes one less of a Christian, less “biblical” and thereby, not as close to the heart of God as the one who is more so.

    That being said, you should check out my Christian and very biblical blog! ;)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Derek Webb on his blog wrote a similar article recently on the word “Christian”, as if slapping that label onto any thing makes it “okay”.

      In the past on this blog, either Chaplain Mike or Jeff Dunn have recounted how the Christian (TM) businesses (the ones with the word “Christian” or other Christianese buzzwords in their names) were the least trustworthy and most likely to stiff you — Cash Up Front only.

      • That would have been from Jeff, when he was in radio. He states that advertising for any such Christian (TM) business was strictly on a cash basis.

  8. Aidan Clevinger says:

    Posts like these always make me feel like a tight-lipped, right wing fundamentalist. I completely understand the original point, and Chaplain Mike raised some great examples of how we can use the Bible (and the adjective “biblical”) in very wrong ways to support our own earthly agendas. Having said that, however, I don’t think that describing things as “biblical” is necessarily wrong. Nor do I think that telling people that they are wrong is always a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s necessary, so long as it’s kept within certain limits. If someone says that there is no Trinity, or that Christ’s death and resurrection isn’t our sole hope for salvation and for the fulfillment of God’s purposes, then that person is simply wrong and needs to be told that. Failing to do so out of a desire not to offend or be arrogant isn’t being helpful; it’s failing to speak a needed truth. If I can paraphrase the Fearsome Tycoon, hand-wringing about things that have been clearly revealed is not admirable.

    I don’t think the answer is to avoid saying that things are biblical; as Boaz pointed out, if it’s not biblical (at least in theology), it’s not Christian. I think instead that we should focus on a few things: 1. Self-examination to discern between what’s part of the faith and what’s part of our own personal, private beliefs, 2. An understanding of the difference between fundamental and secondary doctrines, so that we don’t go around damning everyone to Hell, 3. A gracious attitude in all of these conversations.

  9. The Previous Dan says:

    This article raises a big question in my mind. I understand what your (and her) posts are saying, the Bible isn’t a self-help book, handbook, or manual. It is about the revelation of God in the person of Jesus. Therefore, the person and work of Jesus is what is truly “Biblical.” However…

    The Bible also contains a whole bunch of advice on various topics, in the wisdom literature and elsewhere. Isn’t that “Biblical” as well? If you want to take the term “Biblical” off the table, how do we refer to what is said in those sections?

    • Jack Heron says:

      The trouble, I suspect, is that the use of ‘Biblical’ generally implies ‘Well, we’re done here! Question answered!’ The great strength of the advice-giving bits of the Bible is that they don’t provide answers. They provide thoughts, much more useful in our present circumstances. Even a lot of the sayings in Proverbs seem directly to contradict other bits of Proverbs – which doesn’t stop people taking whichever of them they like as The Biblical Response.

      • The Previous Dan says:

        I do understand the term “Biblical” can be used like a club. I’m just wondering what the alternative is. How are we supposed to convey that something is our conviction on a certain topic based on our understanding of the Bible? I suppose we could use a disclaimer sentence every time, but it just seems rather cumbersome and also smacks of Religious PC Speak.

        • Jack Heron says:

          Do we really need an alternative, though? Can’t we just say ‘I think X after considering passage Y and argument Z’? We know we’re Christians, the people we’re talking to presumably know that, we don’t need to constantly remind people ‘hey, I read the Bible’.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The trouble, I suspect, is that the use of ‘Biblical’ generally implies ‘Well, we’re done here! Question answered!’

        Though I’d put it more like “The use of ‘Biblical’ generally implies ‘Ees Party Line, Comrades!’ ”

        Though I’ve heard the word “Scriptural (TM)” used more often than “Biblical” in that context.

  10. I agree in principle, with objections. “Biblical” is the new “spiritual.” Both are very fluid terms that often either communicate only a vague notion of their actual meaning, or else require a listener to supply their own meaning or interpretation. However, it is not the word itself but rather how it is used that should be corrected. Certainly, we should be able to talk about a “biblically-informed” view of God or man, rather than having to fall back to the more precise but not more meaningful, depending on how it is used, “Bible-based” or “Scriptural” language. I fear vilifying a perfectly good term may be throwing out the biblical baby with the semantics bathwater.

  11. Denton White says:

    The Bible is the Lord’s own means through which He reveals His love for sinners and all that He has done to redeem us to make us His children in Christ Jesus. It is His “tool.” The term “biblical” is used in as many ways as there are persons who use it. As with any word, it is a “tool” that we use to help us communicate. As I use the word, “biblical” means pertaining to the revelation of Jesus Christ as God the Son, the Son of Man who takes away the sin of the world. So I don’t use the word to refer to economics, politics, etc. The Bible is important, it is holy, because God uses it, not because we give it a status. It is the way the Word of God (Jesus) tells us the truth. That is why it is important. Ok, I’ll stop now because I’m getting off the subject. Hope you can talk about Jesus without using the word “biblical.” It will take some doing.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I will try my best to avoid using the adjective “Biblical” to describe what I think “the Bible teaches.” The use of this word as a prescriptive adjective to promote positions and convictions is rampant among Christians. The problem is, it usually obscures more than it enlightens, hurts rather than helps, and stops discussion dead in its tracks rather than promoting good conversation.

    Chaplain Mike, you had better also avoid its synonym “SCRIPTURAL” and pseudo-synonym “GODLY” as well. All of these have become only cosmic-level authority to cite for “I AM RIGHT! YOU ARE WRONG! HAW! HAW! HAW!” Nothing more than a cosmic-level hammer to beat down the Other.

    This also has some linkage to yesterday’s posting on “Heretics”; the working definition of Heretic is all too often the Other that must be beaten down; cue the above “I AM BIBLICAL! YOU ARE HERETIC! HAW! HAW! HAW!”

    I mean, this is the sort of crap I expect from a schoolyard full of six-year-olds. Or getting beaten up in a high school locker room. THAT is the best the Kingdom of God has to offer — Lord of the Flies Pecking Order? Where “I CAN BEAT YOU UP!” or who can scream their Party Line the loudest (and force it on the most people) wins?

    • Brianthedad says:

      You beat me to it! Scriptural was the go-to adjective in the uber-conservative church of my youth. And nowadays here in Alabama, oft-spoken in hushed tones of “… That ain’t scriptural…”

  13. Why should Jeffries go on to “4th Abrahamic Religion” and say the LDS exhibits well-rounded biblical principles? I think the Taliban have them way beat on the O.T. worldview front he is most comfy with anyway. “Biblical” has gone the way of “evangelical”; it has become linguistic shorthand for holy. Holy is a word, thanks be to God, that has seemingly been overlooked by the evangelical image industry. But I came across a quote yesterday that puts this Jeffries-sort of “biblical” confusion and says it all to me. Dick Clark supposedly once said, “I don’t make culture, I sell it.”

  14. BC versus PC? Time to crack open the vaults and republish the article where Franky Schaeffer stated that evangelicals are using the same politcal tactics as liberals.

    • Here is something rather ironic – Franky Schaeffer was the editor of an anthology called:
      Is Capitalism Christian?: Toward a Christian Perspective on Economics

      Replace the words Christian with Biblical and you get the idea of this post.

      The answer in the book was an emphatic “Yes”.

      Franky has since recanted his earlier position.

      • He’s quite the enigma. The PBS special “Religion in America” credits/blames Schaefer for much of we now call the cultural war, which he now regrets. Nice.

        • I like some of Schaeffer’s earlier stuff, like Addicted to Mediocrity, but I now find myself wondering just what the deal is with him. He has changed so many of his positions from one extreme to the other one wonders what’s behind it all. He has been a filmmaker, author, culture critic, political activist, etc. Really he just seems like a media gadfly. Every few years he reinvents himself and surfaces with a new cause or angle. Cynically speaking, it’s like he just wants to do what he can to keep his name out there.

  15. Actually, I saw an article by a liberal begging the question whether or not Jesus would endorse “Occupy Wall Street” and tax increases for the rich. Two sides can play at this game.

  16. I don’t think Jesus wants anything to do with politics in America. It’s a freakin’ mess…

    • Amen to that…..as well as the idea that “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people set apart” refers to AMERICANS when it really refers to CHRIST-FOLLOWERS!

      Easy to confuse the red, white and blue with God….like we have a monopoly on Him here in the USA…..

    • That may be the most Biblical comment yet, Lee.

  17. Two Kingdoms.

    ____

    Yes we should be politically active and do what we believe is right.

    No, we shouldn’t tie politics to the gospel of Christ Jesus, and reasonable Christians can and may disagree about the best way to go about things in out country and on this earth.

    Both sides really ought pay attention, for both sides are often guilty of the same thing.

    • Jack Heron says:

      And, I would add to that, it’s not even ‘both sides’. It’s *all* sides, because nothing is a two party issue – not even two party politics. It’s easy to demonise the opposition and exalt oneself when we believe it’s Us vs. Them, much harder when we realise just how many subtly different ideas and views are out there. And especially when we realise how many conflicting views are all, apparently, ‘Biblical’.

      • Right, Jack. “All sides.”

        I said “both sides”, because basically Christians in this country are divided between fundamentalists and liberals.

  18. Tongue out of cheek now.

    I have become nervous about using the word biblical in the sense that this article criticizes. I used to talk of biblical world-view. I now like to think of a life or even worldview as biblically informed, which I try to be.
    It leaves room for my wonkiness. I am trying to get there, but have by no means arrived. So I try to be biblically informed.

  19. This is an important point in our discourse. In our book, “Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk” we actually warn the reader to keep alert for those who use this less-than-helpful-and-overly-abused word… it shuts down conversations and keeps skeptics confused.

  20. There are things that a really godly and there are things that are really biblical. Thing is, when you see these things, they usually look a lot like Jesus, and they don’t trumpet themselves as being godly or biblical and certainly don’t those terms as a weapon.

    But the terms are overused and misused a lot.. Used to justify things that not only aren’t biblical but are often very unchristlike. Also, they can lead the people using them to dismiss or even view with contempt those who disagree with them. And once you cross the line into contempt for or dismissal of another human being created in the image of God, especially if you do it to be more “biblical” or “godly,” you’ve wandered pretty far from the way of Jesus. I’ve seen this happen. It’s ugly, it’s alienating, and it is absolutely not the gospel.

  21. Scotteriology had a funny post a while back imagining a sermon that abused the word “biblical”. And I quote:

    Mark 14:52, “but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. ” Brothers and sisters the text clearly states that when the man was running he was unclothed. The Greek word used here is gumnos, it means literally “naked, bare, unclothed,” and all six times it appears in the NT it is used in this sense. Also, the Greek word that means he “ran off, or fled” is in the active. So hear we have clear biblical precedence of a person actively running naked.

    But he left the linen cloth and ran off naked… ran off naked. I’m wondering this morning how many people in our church like to go out for a run on a consistent basis. Maybe you are training for a marathon, or maybe you just like to go out for a light jog. What really concerns me, however, is that we like to say that we are a Bible believing church, and yet every time I see someone from our congregation running they have clothes on!

    Saints, how do you expect to have the blessing of the Lord if you won’t even follow his Word? We find this man in Mark’s Gospel and when he runs, he runs naked. Are you willing to run naked? Are you willing to trust God’s Word? When you go for your run this week, run naked: It’s a biblical principle!

  22. I think it just happens when we take our eyes off Jesus. I can’t stand alot of terms based on the overly critical and even false use of some of them. I can’t bring myself to speak Christianese on any basis.

    Lord just let me be salt and light. Why? Because salt always preserves and light always shines the way. And above all things, help me to keep my eye on You. Amen.

  23. In the interest of proper, er, biblical exegesis, I offer the following definition of “biblical” from an online slang dictionary:

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=biblical

  24. “Biblical” is, as other’s have noted, merely a way of giving something the divine stamp of approval, and has hardly anything to do with the Bible at all! Now correct me if I’m wrong, but this equates to attaching God’s name to whatever causes has been labeled “Biblical.” Now, unless that cause is actually God’s own, then isn’t that the same as taking God’s name in vain? Isn’t that what the commandment “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” is actually all about? Evangelicals would know this if they just read their catechism…

    Oh wait. They don’t have one. They gave it up when they distanced themselves from their original Protestant roots. So basically they’re back in the same boat they were before the Reformation: Freely taking God’s name in vain as they please. Unless the “Biblical” cause is the free forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, IT ISN’T THE CAUSE OF JESUS. How have we become so estranged from his message?

    I just came from the M-Bird conference, and they were totally pounding free grace in Christ like it’s going out of style. :D

  25. Kelby Carlson says:

    I try not to use the word biblical, though I understand how it can be helpful in some circumstances. I don’t think there are “biblical” views of a lot of things others do: I think my view of political activism is biblically informed, to be sure, but i have know way of knowing whether it’s “biblical” (I’m a two kingdoms guy, but I don’t think there is necessarily a biblical vision for politics, for example.) I would love it if the word godly died–it’s even more of a buzzword. Whenever I hear the term “godly” it’s usually in refrenece to marriage, usually coming from a man, and is either a mask for a) perfectly good marriage advice that could just as easily been given by a non-Christian or b) complementarianism.

  26. Thanks to Mike and all those who left comments on this topic. This has been something that has been on my own mind for awhile, but just couldn’t articulate. I’d recently come to the same conclusion but have been wondering if it was just my getting hung up on silly semantics. Apparently not. Sometimes it seems like there’s this mountain of pop “Christian” culture language obscuring the real message of Jesus. Avoiding use of that language, including the term “biblical”, might be a good way to start deconstructing that barrier.

  27. This is definitely a different way to look at things. Thanks for sharing.

  28. I know I’m revisiting this conversation way too late, but “biblical” may encompass the Life Under The Sun of Ecclesiastes – – how to make the best of our limited time here. That’s biblical, but it’s NOT the gospel… It’s part of the vanity of life.
    The gospel is unfettered by economic systems or voter preferences, and attempts to tie it to those systems for the sake of the gospel will result in a form of godliness that denies its power.