(This is a re-post from June 2017)
Biblicism is a problem in conservative Christian churches 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 or theology textbook. I’ve also noticed that many biblicists are self-taught and sometimes do not like creeds and confessions. Biblicism can lead to many ugly 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 thus 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 and natural law. 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 Scripture! 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.