Biblicism: the Bible and Evangelicalism #3

Biblicism: the Bible and Evangelicalism #3 March 29, 2022

When I was a child, my mom began attending a ministry for single adults. I got to know many of the people because they often had events in which single parents could bring their children.

I would say that it was an evangelical group, but I really doubt that we knew what an evangelical was back then. Certainly, many of the people later adopted the beliefs of what became known as evangelicalism and the religious right.

During these events, I remember a man who led the worship. Occasionally, he would play songs that he had written himself.

For some reason, I have never forgotten one of them. It was about the Bible and the chorus went like this:

(Note: I suppose you are all glad this is a written post so you don’t have to hear me sing):

It’s our Maker’s, manufacturer’s,

Instruction manual

Sometimes called

‘the good book’

But by most still called

‘the Bible’

I don’t recall any other parts of the song (those who know me are probably amazed that I remember that much—oh the beauty of song!).

I remember this chorus because it embodied the convictions that were so prevalent in the world in which I was raised. The Bible was God’s “instruction manual.”

As a young person, I came to view the Bible along the lines of a car’s owner’s manual. It told me when to change the oil; what the air pressure in the tires should be; and where the spare tire was located.

This may seem fine to you. But it’s not only a radical misunderstanding of what the Bible is, it is also quite dangerous.

The Bible as an instruction manual

In order for the Bible to function as an instruction manual, we must know what it means. A car, for example, can either take diesel fuel or unleaded gas (whatever happened to the days of “leaded”—or “regular” as it was called back then—gas?). And we need to know for sure which one it is.

Imagine if you attended a Baptist church where it was well known that Christians must only use Pennzoil (after all, they voted on it). Then, while out of town on a business trip, you wandered into a charismatic church (ok, no one wanders into a charismatic church, you are pushed in by the Spirit) only to learn that the Holy Spirit fills you with Valvoline (after all, isn’t the numerical value of Valvoline in Aramaic is 777).

The point is that in order for the Bible to be an instruction manual we must know for certain what it means.

And what it meant for me back then was:

  • The rapture was going to occur at any time
  • Women can’t serve in church unless they do so under a man
  • Gays are bad
  • Abortion is murder
  • The poor are lazy
  • The communists are godless
  • The liberals only care about their freedoms so they can live reckless lives
  • America was established by God and our prosperity is evidence of such

Now I am not addressing whether these beliefs are true or not, only that we were certain that they . . . (we are sorry, but Rob was raptured in the midst of writing this post. We have taken his notes and published the rest of this post as we believe he would have done)

Before I (we mean “he”) venture any further, I wish to reiterate that I have a very high view of the Bible. Reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible is a central part of my daily life and I hope that it is for you as well.

The love for the Bible is one of the great gifts that evangelicalism has presented us. An entire industry of study Bibles, devotional works, and small group studies have arisen because of the evangelical love for the Bible.

The Bible stands center stage in evangelicalism. And for that I am glad.

The problem, as I see it, is that evangelicalism has not listened to the Bible and its call to humility and a sacrificial love for the sake of the other. Instead, they have assumed that they know what the Bible says and how it should be applied in the present world.

My criticisms in these posts, then, are not with the Bible. Instead, I am intending to expose some of the dangers of evangelicalism and its view of the Bible.

The Bible as the Sword of the Spirit

Tragically, the Bible has become a weapon. It has literally become sharper than a two-edged sword. This is not new. The Bible has been a weapon for Christians throughout much of its history.

For evangelicals, however, it has been especially sharp.

Many have used the Bible (or shall I say, “their understanding of the Bible”) as a measuring stick with which to judge:

  • Who is genuinely saved and who is simply a cultural Christian
  • Who is worthy of our compassion and who isn’t
  • Who is a liberal and bent on the destruction of Christianity
  • Who is in sin and must confess before the congregation or be expelled

Now, you might say that I am providing too sweeping of a caricature of evangelicals.

I don’t mean to do so. I am, in part, speaking of my own past and what I experienced.

At the same time, I am speaking of the movement as a whole.

I do not intend to condemn all evangelicals. After all, I still self-identify as one.

I am, however, intending to provide a voice from within in order to sound an alarm.

I fear that it is too late to save evangelicalism. And maybe it shouldn’t be saved anyways.

But I do not believe that it is not too late to rescue some within evangelicalism that have become so disillusioned that they are leaving the Church and even their faith.

That alone should be enough to cause us to stop and recalibrate.


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About Rob Dalrymple
Rob Dalrymple is married to his wife Toni and is the father of four fabulous children, and has two grandchildren. He has been teaching and pastoring for over 32 years at colleges, seminaries, and the local church. He has a PhD (Westminster Theological Seminary) in biblical interpretation. He is the author of four books (including: Follow the Lamb: A Guide to Reading, Understanding, and Applying the Book of Revelation & Understanding the New Testament and the End Times: Why it Matters) as well as numerous articles and other publications You can read more about the author here.

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