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:
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 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.”
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.