HAVE WE BECOME BIBLIOLATERS?

Last year, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Trevor Burke regarding some of the themes in Peter’s first letter.  As we were talking about various topics within 1 Peter, he began to talk about the importance of the ministry of the Spirit within the life of the believer.  As a result, he made a very interesting statement regarding the role of the Scriptures within the life and ministry of certain segments of the church [in video, beginning around 3:20].  He said (presumably hyperbolically, raising concern):

“We put a heavy emphasis upon the Word of God.  And we’ve invented a “new trinity.”  We talk about the Father, Son, and the Holy Scriptures.  We’ve put the Word of God almost up on kind of a power with the other two members of the Trinity.  And I say to my students, “We’ve nearly become bibliolaters.  We’ve nearly become worshipers of a word, instead of being worshipers of the Word of Jesus Christ.””

So what do you think?  Have we become bibliolaters?  What constitutes a heathy reverence for, respect of, and reliance upon God’s Word?  How can we avoid “bibliolatry” in our lives? How do we avoid being guilty of Jesus’ charge against those challenging his authority in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”?

Any thoughts?

Dr. Trevor Burke (Ph.D., University of Glasgow) is professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL.  He is the author of Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor (InterVarsity Press, 2006).

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8 thoughts on “HAVE WE BECOME BIBLIOLATERS?

  1. I do think he’s on to something. We have a tendency to do that. The Bible is a means to an end, it’s a way for us to encounter God. Now it is the very Word of God, yes. But it isn’t God. Our goal isn’t knowledge of a book, but knowledge of our Lord.

  2. Trevor Burke has impeccable credentials and global Christian insights as a basis for what he says. However the suggestion of evangelical bibliolatry does invite some questions of its own. How is the suggestion of bibliolatry to be squared with what, by all accounts, is an epidemic of biblical illiteracy among professed Christians? In order to ‘worship’ the Bible, one would have to be quite familiar with it. However, this familiarity is an increasingly rare bird. So the suggestion about bibliolatry needs some fine tuning. It is nevertheless true that the person and ministry of the Spirit goes under-recognized and under-emphasized across wide swaths of evangelicalism in North America. But is it fair to lay blame at the feet of extreme devotion to the Bible? Ironically, greater familiarity witht the Bible _should_ lead to greater recognition of the person and work of the Spirit.

    • I would like to think that I also have a biblical basis for my comments for Scripture itself teaches that we do not worship a book (the Bible) but the One who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit (e.g., Jn. 20:28; Phil. 2:10-11; Rev. 22:9)! I agree with Ken Stewart’s observation that biblical illiteracy is on the increase. My comments, however, were addressed to Christians (and I include myself) who rightly study and teach Scripture using all the important and relevant exegetical and linguistic tools at our disposal in order to accurately understand the text in its literary and historical context. But if that is all we are doing and it does not lead to a deeper, loving, worshipful relationship with Jesus Christ, it is in vain and we are in danger of engaging in a form of bibliolatry. My comments were really a reaction to the latter.

  3. “It is nevertheless true that the person and ministry of the Spirit goes under-recognized and under-emphasized across wide swaths of evangelicalism in North America. But is it fair to lay blame at the feet of extreme devotion to the Bible?”

    An excellent insight, Dr. Stewart!

    I totally agree that biblical illiteracy is an epidemic within Evangelicalism and beyond. Perhaps Dr. Burke is referring to a view that is present among many pastors/elders/leaders in certain hyper-conservative sects of American Evangelicalism? Places where “I need to be right” trumps the humble, “God, by your grace and your Spirit’s illuminating work, as I come to your Word, may I accurately see just a little bit more of your glory through that dimly lit window.”

    Would that our theology always be properly embraced so as to lead to doxology!

    Thanks for your comments!

  4. A healthy reverence and respect for the Word of God is completely different from bibliolatry. The charge of ‘bibliolatry’ on the popular level usually comes from folks who would verbally affirm the importance of the Bible, but deny it in practice. This would include preachers who don’t preach.

    For example, many of the Harvest Bible Chapels here in Canada are derided as “Sheep-stealing bibliolaters” because our pastors… preach the Bible and people show up.

    Funny thing that.

    Bibliolatry, in my mind, really comes into play when we elevate a preference to a precept. This would be saying that our preference in translation is the one that all Christians should use, period.

    Side note, if you’ve not already read it, a great book dealing with Scripture’s place in the believer’s life (in the context of the doctrine of Revelation) is The Revelation of God by Peter Jensen. I highly recommend it.

  5. Good thoughts, Aaron. You’re right in pointing out that a healthy reverence and respect for God’s Word is completely different than bibliolatry. That was just a poorly worded question on my part. I should have said simply, “How can we be people who are avoiding bibliolatry in our lives?” and “What constitutes a healthy reverence for, respect of, and reliance upon God’s Word?” I’ll change that…

    Thanks for the interaction and the book recommendation!

  6. Pingback: The Message of Sonship «

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