I admit, many theological type words rub me the wrong way when someone throws them into a sentence. The reason for this is that it reminds me how people getting caught up into lengthy, sometimes heated debates regarding some abstract theological point of lesser significance (but which the person argues for as if vitally important).
On a related tangent, I recently attempted to look up some information about the basics of Christianity. Every site I found online focused on theology and denominations. If I were not a Christian or a very new one, I don’t believe theology of this sort would be the first thing on my mind. In fact, even if I studied my bible, I don’t believe I’d likely ever think of theology as such in a systematic, abstract, intellectually detached way as seems common.
It is disturbing that the qualification for being a pastor is generally held to be almost solely a matter of theological training. Christian ministers have been taught that teaching and upholding “correct” doctrine (whatever that may be) is most important. From my understanding, little is taught in seminary about how to “shepherd”, love people, care for a congregation, lead people, etc. (And Jesus said that they would know we are his disciples by our love…. hmmmm….) But I digress.
Recently another word has been added to the list of words which rubs me the wrong way: “biblical”. But how could I possibly not like “biblical”? you might ask. I’ve found that often people use it to judge one preacher, church, or article as better than another. This judgement is made simply by virtue of the “biblical” label. If something is more “biblical” then it must unquestionably be better. After all, who would argue that less biblical is better?
But the problem is in how “biblicalness” is measured. I want to suggest that a teaching which references and quotes the bible often, if not a direct teaching on a specific passage, could actually be less biblical than a teaching that doesn’t ever directly reference the bible once. My observation is that people judge the “biblicalness” of a message by virtue of how many times scripture is quoted. I someone is teaching on a passage of the bible or if the bible is referenced often, it is more “biblical”.
I understand where this sentiment comes from, and I believe it is good. There are preachers and churches and people out there who preach general positivity, self-help, inspiration, and “do good”. While they may be nice messages and have some truth in them, they are basically unrelated to and disconnected from the bible. As such, they can be based on human wisdom and not very helpful in living the Christian life.
But simply referencing the bible more does not make a message more biblical. I’ve said for a long time that I could argue for almost anything using the bible. All which must be done is to take a verse here and there out of context, and then provide the appropriate interpretation of these verses to support an idea. This practice is called “proof-texting” and does not make an idea or message biblical.
A message is biblical when it aligns with the Spirit and the overall teaching, properly understood in context, of the whole bible. In this way, a message can be very biblical even if not directly referencing the bible (though a biblical message is likely to reference the bible). On the other hand, another message could reference the bible extensively, or even be teaching directly on a passage, and yet not be very biblical if the overall teaching doesn’t line up with the Spirit of the bible.
Along with this, the bible can be improperly over-emphasized. In Protestantism, emphasis has been placed on the bible as the authority. This was done in reaction to the fact that authority had previously been placed in (Roman) church tradition, the pope, and in the hierarchy of leaders in the church. The bible is correctly placed above these things, yet it isn’t the ultimate authority. Jesus is our authority.
The bible isn’t intended to be a goal in and of itself. Yet often the people who talk about “biblicalness” seem to have the bible as their target, as if the point of being a Christian is simply to know the bible. Our goal is (or should be) to know Christ. The bible is one of the best resources we have for this. Yet the point isn’t to see the bible, but to see through the bible to Christ. Having complex and well developed systematic theologies doesn’t necessarily make us biblical. But when we’re walking in the Spirit, we will be biblical, even when were not focusing directly on it.
Maybe I’m imagining this problem to be bigger than it is. I’ve grown up with the bible and I’m more familiar with it than most people. I say this not to brag, but because it’s difficult to remember that most even regular church attenders don’t know the bible well. At least that’s my impression. And when you don’t know the bible, it’s not difficult for someone to convince you that almost anything is biblical. So I do think most Christians need more of the bible rather than of a bestselling author or famous preacher. Christians should know the bible so they can discern whether these other messages are really biblical and when they are not. So I’m for “biblical” when it means Christians getting to know the bible, but not when it means things like “my theology is better than yours”.