Here’s what I recall. I was a relatively new Christian, already getting my feet wet sharing my faith, leading Bible studies and so forth. I was in that phase of nearly insatiable curiosity about the Bible. In my church, that meant total dependence on what you might learn from your pastor and any books he might give you.
I listened to my pastor and other preachers with complete and utmost confidence in those days. I had entered a new world and the one unshakable fact in it was the truth- the literal truth- of the Bible.
The turning point came one day when my pastor was preaching a sermon on the Bible itself. The wonder of the inspiration and perfection of scripture was a frequent theme. I paid attention because I agreed with the message, even though most of the message was well over my head.
He began to talk about the Trinity. God was one God, eternally existing as three persons. And if there were a fourth member of the Godhead, a “Quiddity” so to speak, it would be the Bible. The Bible was the incarnation of God just as Jesus was the incarnation of God. As Jesus was the God-man, this was the God-book. Its inspiration and Christ’s incarnation were identical.
As Jesus Christ was the Word in flesh, so the Bible was the Word written. It was an eternal Word, always in heaven, eternally settled before it came to earth. And the Word was with God and the Word was God.
Now you have to remember that I was only a boy of 15 or 16. I didn’t know enough about this subject to fill up a piece of paper. Many of the words and concepts in the message would be beyond me for years. But the concept of the incarnation was something that had reached me. I understood the baby in the manger, the man on the cross and the teacher of Galilee were all “God with us,” God in human form. I knew the incarnation made Jesus unique, unlike anyone or anything else.
The idea that the Bible was also an incarnation of God sounded strange. I had never heard it before. It had a certain elegance to it, but it also struck me as something well-meaning, but wrong. Wrong in that the Bible was inspired, but the Bible was not equal to Jesus Christ, God the Father or the Holy Spirit.
I said nothing about this, and I don’t recall my pastor going down that particular road again. It’s been interesting to me, however, that this memory has stayed with me over the years. It was one of two or three incidents in my early years that gave me a clue that I was not among the infallible. Some of what I was hearing might be wrong, even seriously wrong.
This was, actually, very helpful to me along the way as I grew into maturity as a preacher and teacher. I had utter confidence in everything my mentors said, but this incident (and several others) reminded me that those I respected so much could be carried away in their commitment to the Bible as “God’s Word.”
Today, I have seen many examples of this in many areas of Christianity. I’ve come to expect it. It is one of the dynamics of conservative evangelicalism that have made me the person I am. The more we feel the need to elevate and exalt something as “true” or “from God” or “God’s Will,” the more likely that we will become excessive, and often uncareful in what we say and do, and the more likely we are to wind up teaching error as a result.
Too many compliments can become an insult. Ironic, but true.
Any honest Christian can spot this quality in other religions. Fundamentalist Islam is rife with it. In the cause of the Holy Quran, the reputation of the Prophet and the “will of Allah,” excess is exceeded by excess with no reluctance. Legalism, cults, the Roman Catholic Church’s devotion to Mary….we know these examples, and we see the error.
It is the nature of religious language and religious dogma to make authoritative claims based upon revelation. It is the nature of human beings to extrapolate, connect and exaggerate. Put these two tendencies together, and there is a great need for us to be cautious in our claims for ultimate truth and ultimate authority.
In a comment thread at Jollyblogger discussing T4G’s exclusion of women and equating of complimentarianism with a true view of scripture, BHTer Joel Hunter says:
So no one is immune from undermining the practical authority of the Bible just because they profess a “high”, even inerrantist view of the Bible.
This needs to be thought about. The creation of authoritarian statements, interpretations and practices almost always come from the highest possible view of the authority of scripture. But what if our view of scriptural authority takes us in the wrong direction?
What if our attempts to endow scripture with the highest possible authority takes us too high? Too far? The fact that some reading this are already saying “You can’t go too far in asserting Biblical authority,” illustrates the problem. You can. Many do.
I read with interest that we now hear that any “extra-Biblical authority” has no place in many versions of the faith. This is an example of the kind of thinking that goes too far in a good cause. Biblical authority is unique, but it does not exile or eliminate other kinds of authority.
What I heard as a young man was Bibliolatry. It’s a word that conservatives hate to hear, but we must hear it. The Bible is ours for dozens of good, God-inspired, Christ-exalting reasons. But we can exalt the Bible in the wrong way. We can go too far.
I was glad to read Dr. Al Mohler’s recent comments on contraception. It is a good example of Biblical reasoning in its proper place alongside other kinds of reasoning, giving the proper place to the Lordship of Jesus and the Kingdom of God, yet not ignoring how the contemporary world is different from the world in which the Bible was written. His conclusions were balanced and helpful. I’ll be filing the article.
Of course, not every kind of reasoning on this subject is as balanced as Dr. Mohler’s. And the reason is always a sincere desire to “do what the Bible commands.”
My “turning point” helped me to find the Bible as the Word that presents the Living Word, God’s mediator, given for us and for our salvation: Jesus Christ. I learned to listen for the difference between Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture, and to not equate God and His written word in ways that abuse both God and those who love scripture.