More and more we are hearing some within Christian circles voice a concern over bibliolatry. What is bibliolatry? That’s a hard question to answer. Here’s why. On the surface, the term just means worship of the Bible. Obviously, no one sets up a shrine to their Bible and bows down to it. So what types of actions are being accused of “Bible worship”? Those who are concerned about it claim that some Christians have elevated the Bible to god-like status. The most specific accusation I have seen is that Christians who worship the Bible believe that it is the only source of hearing from God and truth.
But is this a real problem? I do not know any conservative Christians who do not believe that truth can be revealed through nature or that God can speak to us and lead us through prayer. Instead, conservative Christians believe that all other ways of finding truth or “hearing from God” need to be checked by the Word of God. Conservative Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God.
What seems obvious to me is that those who are warning us not to worship the Bible are often progressive “Christians” who believe that truth is continuing to evolve. They are uncomfortable with some of God’s opinions in the Bible, so they would like to have the option to update those opinions. The charge of bibliolatry seems to come out when someone is arguing for what is clearly spelled out in Scripture in touchy cultural debates. The ultimate goal is to separate us from God’s standard in the Bible and give us more latitude to hear something different from God.
Another aspect of this accusation is that they believe that Christians who hold tightly to the Word of God love the Bible more than they love Jesus. This would be the only area where their argument may carry some weight. We all have met people in churches that know the Bible inside and out, but don’t live like Jesus. Those individuals love to beat others over the head with the Bible but don’t show much love to others. This can be an issue, but it is still not worshipping the Bible. It would probably be more accurate to say that it is worshipping yourself because you are using the Bible to bash the shortcomings of others, while not caring what the Bible says about your own.
The problem with this aspect of their accusation is that we can’t accurately know Jesus without the Bible. It is often pointed out that the early church didn’t have the New Testament in its entirety for many decades. All they had was the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit, and the testimony of their experience with Jesus. However, God in His wisdom knew that within the first few decades of the ministry of Jesus, it would be very hard to distort the true history, teaching, and character of Jesus because there were so many living witnesses. But once the witnesses began to pass away, it was very important to accurately record Jesus’ teaching and life so that future generations could not make Jesus whatever they want Him to be. So, yes our relationship with Jesus should be the most important thing. But without the Bible, we cannot know God accurately, and we will very likely make up our own God. Any experience we believe we have had with God needs to always be held up to the standard revealed in Scripture. There is no tension between Jesus and the Bible unless you are trying to make Jesus into your own image.
By use of an apt illustration from the science of astronomy, [E.Y.]Mullins makes two points: 1) the indispensability of the Bible for knowing God, and 2) the folly and lack of integrity of those who wrongly charge believers with worshipping the Bible. He said, "The telescope is interposed between the eye and the heavenly body. The astronomer is not accused of worshipping the telescope or advised to pursue the science of astronomy without its aid. The telescope tells him what he could never discover without it. He relies upon it as an 'authority,' and carries forward the discoveries of science.”1
Over and over the Bible tells us that it is the standard that determines what we should believe about an issue (Acts 17:11). The Bible says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Why? Because we can’t know what we are trusting without the accurate depiction of Jesus in the Bible. Jesus Himself often used the phrase “Have you not read (Matthew 12:3, 19:4, 22:31),” demonstrating that He believed that God expects us to follow what He has revealed in His Word.
What is ironic about this accusation of bibliolatry is that it is based on the Bible! How do they know idolatry is wrong - Oh right, from the Bible. Their goal is to be able to selectively use the Bible. Progressive theology wants to retain some of the basics of Christianity. They like love, forgiveness, and Jesus dying for us. They don’t like God limiting their personal choices, accountability, or repentance. By making bibliolatry a growing focus of concern, they give themselves more flexibility to update Christianity to fit their own views.
Let’s keep the focus on Jesus, but let’s use the Bible diligently to accurately focus in on Him. Let’s let God define Himself through His Word, instead of relying on feelings or experiences. And let’s share the Word of God that has the power to transform people because it is inspired by God.