Evangelicals and the Bible gone bad: what to do? Bible and Evangelicalism #2

Evangelicals and the Bible gone bad: what to do? Bible and Evangelicalism #2 March 8, 2022

Many have experienced those who thump their Bibles as justification for why they are right and everyone else is wrong.

Such people decry the dangers of Muslims, Communists, and liberals. They vehemently reject the conclusions of godless scientists who are trying to undermine the plain, literal reading of the Bible.

They are convinced that the Covid outbreak is clear evidence of the fourth Seal of Rev 6:7-8, and a governmental conspiracy so that we will unwittingly receive the Covid-vaccine, which is actually the Mark of the Beast. (I knew there was something funny when the nurse asked if I wanted my injection in my right hand or my forehead!)

These Bible thumpers seemingly delight in war and conflict in the Middle East: after all, it is a clear indication of the imminent return of Jesus—”Sorry that you are suffering from this war and the malnutrition that accompanies it, but I am ecstatic because Jesus is coming for me and not you wretched souls.”

Somehow these Bible thumpers find in their Bibles that all democrats, gays, and anyone else they do not like or agree with, are damnable and worthy of our disdain.

Nothing can shake such people from their convictions because “the Bible says so.”

(Somehow, I get the feeling that their Bibles are missing verses like John 13:35, the entire letter of 1st John, let alone a million other verses).

In some local churches, the Bible is used by Pastors and Elders to demand absolute cult-like allegiance.

Now, I noted in my last post that I have an extremely high view of Scripture. I believe that the Bible should be preeminent in the formation of the Christian life and in the Church.

But we must admit that the Bible has been weaponized by some and when it is it can be lethal.

Sola Scriptura: The problem of the Bible alone

Biblicism, one of the pillars of evangelicalism, arose out of the view that the Bible is the only authority for the Church, which itself arose from the debates with Catholicism that eventually led to the Protestant Reformation (16th century).

To overly simply the discussion, many advocates for reformation (Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, et al) pointed to a number of ills within the Roman Catholic Church. The errors, as they saw them, regarded both doctrinal issues (e.g., communion, the authority of the Pope, salvation, and Purgatory) as well as practical and ethical matters (corruption in the Papacy, services in Latin, selling of indulgences, accumulation of wealth, et al).

One of the responses by the Catholic church to the advocates for reform was to appeal to the “Tradition” of the church. That is, although the Bible may not endorse the notion of purgatory, or Papal authority, the Tradition of the church does.

As a result, when the cries of corruption and the calls for reform went out, they tended to fall upon deaf ears (at least for a time. Eventually, many of the calls for reform were heeded, but by the time they were it was too late. The divide was irreversible).

The Reformers[1] countered such claims by asserting what became known as Sola Scriptura (“the Bible alone”) that the Bible alone is our authority and that the Bible trumps “tradition”—a claim that I essentially agree with.

What many do not recognize, however, is that Sola Scriptura brings with it a significant problem: namely: “how do we know what the Bible means?”

Any attempt to answer this leads to another question—and it is here that many evangelicals,[2] well-meaning or not, have been able to exploit in order to serve their own ends—namely, “who gets to answer the first question?”

That is, if the first question is “how do we know what the Bible means,” the second question is, “who gets to decide what the Bible means?”

The history of Protestantism is littered with attempts to answer these two questions.

Ironically, in an effort to answer the second question (who?), Protestants often appeal to an authority (the Westminster Confession; or the Southern Baptist Convention, or the Methodists; or the Elders of a local church; or the Senior Pastor). This in all actuality is not much different than the answer that Catholicism provides. In other words, we have traded one tradition (and Pope) for another.

The danger should be quite obvious—as it usually is in hindsight.

It is into this void that some evangelicals have moved (mind you this problem has not only been exploited by evangelicals but since evangelicals are our concern in this post we will venture no further).

When we recognize that this debate was evolving at the same time as the Enlightenment and its growing individualism, all the fuel that needed to allow a rogue pastor/board/denomination, or even a well-meaning pastor/board/denomination go rogue has been made available. All that is needed now is tinder.

To say this another way: If the Church doesn’t have any authority to tell us what the Bible means, then who says I/we cannot decide for myself/ourselves?

This is precisely the problem that I was facing when the individuals mentioned in my last post came forward with their heretical viewpoints. There was simply no way to tell them they were wrong—at least no way that they would listen to.

Dangers of Protestant theology

Though there are merits to the notion of Sola Scriptura, one of the dangers of this belief is that it often leaves us defenseless against abuse. There is no means of keeping those who stray in check.[3]

After all, if the Bible is the only authority, and if those in authority in a local church are convinced that the Bible accords with their abusive beliefs, then who can tell them any differently? Or if an individual or group within a local church goes rogue, the pastor and elders (if there are any) have no recourse to silence them. All they can do is ask them to leave, which just creates more churches/denominations.

The only option is to appeal to an authority other than the Bible. But you can’t if the Bible is our only authority.

(Ironically, there is not one verse in the Bible that says that the Bible is the only authority for Christians. Therefore, an appeal to Sola Scriptura can only be made by appealing to an authority outside the Bible).

Now, in saying this, you must know that I am not convinced that Catholicism’s answer (i.e., that the Traditions of the Church and the Bible are the final authorities) is necessarily any better: at least not as it has worked out in practice. The Catholic Church’s affirmation of Purgatory, Papal infallibility, and the centuries of papal corruption are problematic in my view.

Biblicism

The point here is that the evangelical pillar of biblicism, which grew out of the Protestant conviction that the Bible is the only authority for the Church, has a notable weakness. And it is this weakness that has been exploited by many including some of the more radical evangelicals.

Where does that leave us?

I suppose that I should address this some more in my next post. For now, I would say, it doesn’t leave us in a very good place at all.

All we can do is follow Christ in humility and love so that the ills of these rogue evangelicals are exposed, or at least countered, by our love.

 

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[1] I am using this designation generically; knowing full-well that some of those who advocated for the Bible alone were doing so prior to the formal beginning of the Reformation.

[2] Of course, it is more than some evangelicals that have exploited this problem. But since that is our only concern here, I will not address the myriad of others who have seized the day also.

[3] Denominations have some protection in that the leadership is bound to the denominational decisions. Even then, however, if those who disagree have enough support, they can simply leave and start their own denomination. Or if those who are corrupt have enough power, they can silence the dissenters in a manner similar to the many years of Rome’s silencing of the cries for reform.

About Rob Dalrymple
Rob Dalrymple has a PhD in biblical interpretation with an emphasis on the book of Revelation He has written extensively on Jesus and the Kingdom; the book of Revelation; and the end times: we will have some of his books for sale after the service Rob is the director of Determinetruth ministries. A non profit ministry designed to equip pastors, leaders, and the larger body of Christ for service in the kingdom of God Rob writes regularly on Patheos, has a podcast, and will soon launch a YouTube channel If you want to follow Rob search “determinetruth” (one word) Or search for Rob on Facebook and connect with him that way! RobDalrymple.79 You can read more about the author here.

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