The Danger of Biblicism

Biblicism is a problem in the conservative Christian church today.  By “biblicism” I mean an over-rigid adherence to certain Bible texts or teachings at the expense of context and other biblical teachings.  Biblicism is a cousin of legalism since both are often quite rigid, demanding, and unforgiving.  Some examples of biblicism would be an inflexible adherence to things like courting, abstinence from all alcohol, and insistence on a certain way to run a home (to name just a few).  Biblicism often doubts the value of general revelation and sometimes views the Bible as a science textbook.  I’ve also noticed that many biblicists are self-taught and sometimes do not like creeds and confessions.  Biblicism can lead to many problems in a church’s life and in a Christian’s life.

Terry Johnson has a helpful section on biblicism in his book on the five solas called The Case for Traditional Protestantism.  Here’s part of it:

“Believers must not fall into an unwarranted biblicism which, in the name of biblical authority, narrows the scope of its application to only that which the Bible explicitly states and not to that which it implies as well.  This is a danger when the nature of Scripture is not understood.  There is not a verse for every occasion.  The Bible is not a book of detailed causistry providing answers for every imaginable ethical question.  No doubt some have wished that the Bible were such a book….  Yet it still applies to every occasion.  How so?  It reveals general principles which, to be grasped, must be illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and, to be applied concretely in life, must be joined with reason and wisdom.  The need of wisdom can be illustrated by this fact – almost all of life is lived between the lines of explicit biblical commands.”

“We can summarize our point in this way: The Scriptures are sufficient to reveal to us the truth and will of God when read in conjunction with biblical wisdom.  Biblical wisdom can be defined as understanding the nature of things.  To do so I must know the ‘sacred writings,’ ‘which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim. 3:15).

Johnson later notes how a person may know what the Bible says but not really understand the nature of things and therefore misapply the Bible’s teaching.  The farmer doesn’t plant in the spring because the Bible commands it.  “He does so because he correctly percieves the nature of things and acts in harmony with it.”  The wise Christian understands general revelation and special revelation, and conforms his life “to the reality that both books (nature and the Bible) reveal.”

Yes, the Bible is the Christian’s highest authority in all of life, and yes, Scripture is sufficient for doctrine and life.  But that doesn’t mean we should ignore general revelation.  It doesn’t mean that there’s a Bible verse for everything.  It doesn’t mean we can ignore context and flatten out the Bible.  It doesn’t mean we don’t have to use wisdom in all areas of life.  Biblicism sometimes sounds good because it uses Scripture so much, but we have to remember there is a wrong way to use it!  And typically, as Augustine said, the person who has himself as a teacher has a fool for a student (cf. Prov. 1:7, 12:15, and 28:24). So we need to humbly listen to wise counsel and fervently pray for wisdom ourselves, which – thankfully! – God gives to those who ask in faith (James 1:5-6).

The above quotes are found in chapter two of The Case for Traditional Protestantism by Terry Johnson.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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5 comments on “The Danger of Biblicism

  1. mcaughman5 says:

    Excellent review of a very serious problem that had the church in downward spiral.. Looking forward to adding this to library. SDG

  2. Greetings Shane – How would you describe the differences between biblicism and bibliolatry?
    I’ve never heard the biblicism term before, but wonder if you’d consider the two one in the same? Thanks in advance!

    • Thanks for the question! I suppose the two terms are related, but I don’t think they are synonymous. How would you define bibliolatry?

      Thanks!
      Shane

      • I’d agree, according to your definition, that the two aren’t the same. The first time I’d heard the term bibliolater, it was with negative connotations as is the case here with biblicism. After looking deeper into its meaning, I identified with bibliolatry as it is an “extreme” reverence for the Bible. To me, that is an honor rather than a hindrance as a Christian since our only solid and true source for knowing God is via Scripture. Although I’m in total agreeance with your insight that Spirit given wisdom is a necessity as we navigate biblical texts, I hold close the rule that, as long as we’re using Scripture to interpret Scripture, the Word always wins. I try to steer clear of cultural and flesh-driven feelings as I read His words, whether they make logical sense to me or not. I consider this extreme in today’s church culture, since I see so many Bible believing Christians working out their issues without adhering and/or referring to all the wisdom He breathed on the pages of our Bibles. I think some may think bibliolaters bow down and worship the material book, but I view it as bowing down and worshipping the revealed Word of God. As always, defining our terms is helpful! What comes to your mind when hearing the term bibliolatry?

    • Thanks, that makes sense. I suppose “bibliolatry” does have negative connotations for me since it seems like it’s related to idolatry. It sort of makes me think of a Muslim’s regard of the Quran.

      However, I didn’t disagree with what you were saying, that God’s word is our highest and chief authority for faith and life. I guess I’d just use a different term that “bibliolatry” since many people, even solid Christians, may think negatively of that term. I would speak if it in terms of having a reverence for Scripture that Scripture calls us to and in doing so, be sure not to divorce the Word from its author, God.

      My two cents…thanks for the discussion and kind tone (which often is not the case on blog discussions). I appreciate it.
      Blessings!
      Shane

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