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Why “Biblical” Often Tends to Be Unbiblical

Not too long ago, a blogger was criticizing contemporary evangelicalism’s obsession with the term “biblical.” This blogger suggested, if I remember correctly, that seminaries should come up with a degree in “Biblical Biblicalness.” There is, of course, something to be lauded in this emphasis. But I would suggest the opposite is actually taking place. Terms like “biblical” often lose their meaning rather quickly. Instead, they become storehouses for other kinds of things. When I hear people use the word “biblical” today, more often than not, it is a placeholder for, “what I find comfortable in light of my background.”

It is usually easy to point out, in light of the fact that these people’s claim to “be biblical in all things” is, itself, extra-biblical. The call to be biblical itself is based on theologizing. That is not to say that the inclination is somehow unbiblical but that the content of what it means to be biblical is based on a theological development (the Bible never states, for instance, sola scriptura – Scripture alone). I say this because I find that the term biblical is usually used in an unbiblical manner. It is an elitist tendency to write off other people who stand under God’s word and to, instead, apply God’s sovereignty to themselves. Rather than standing under the judgment of Christ, they stand at his side, pointing out people they think deserve his wrath. They often mimic, in other terms, the Pharisees. 

Too often, the term “biblical” is wielded as a way not to deal with other human beings but to dehumanize them through one’s own “obvious” reading of the word. Too often, this “obvious” reading is really just an American reading – taking one’s own worldview and applying it wholesale to the biblical text. The implication of this is that it is far too easy to learn an interpretation of the word as a way to sheath the sword of the Spirit – or, in other words, to learn the word in an attempt to hide from Jesus’ penetrating glare.

To be truly biblical, therefore, we must be undone by Jesus. The word is, to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s great little phrase, the “dagger at the heart of the church.” Or, with Hebrews 4, the word is the two-edged sword which cuts us to where soul and spirit meet and where joint and marrow reside – and it leaves us naked and exposed before the one to whom we must give an account. Being biblical is being laid bare before Christ – and living there – undone by his word and grasping onto him alone for the grace to survive his penetrating glare. 

Ironically then, the term biblical is often used to avoid being biblical.