Those who don’t use bible as a source of revelation.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 March 2023

So I wrote about how the bible’s a source of revelation, and how it can be a useful tool as we Christians develop good theology. Problem is, not everybody who calls themselves Christian does this. Whether unintentionally or deliberately, way too many of us don’t bother with bible at all.

Whenever I bring up this fact with certain Evangelicals, thanks to certain prejudices they have, they immediately think of mainline churches. The assumption they typically have, is old-timey churches don’t bother with bible; their theology is based on feel-good junk. This assumption’s not based on anything valid, ’cause I’ve visited and studied the history of mainline churches, and know a few of their pastors. Their churches’ official doctrines are based on longtime traditions… and these traditions are regularly based on bible.

Don’t believe me? Look at their catechisms. A catechism is a list of a church’s official doctrines, frequently presented in the form of a list of frequently asked questions, ’cause it’s easier to memorize that way. They regularly encourage children and newbies to memorize ’em so they know exactly what Christianity—more accurately, their church—teaches.

  1. “What is the chief end [by which they mean purpose] of man?”
  2. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him for ever.”

Now, does that question-and-answer pair come from bible? Kinda.

1 Corinthians 10.31 KJV
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
Psalm 145.1-2 KJV
1 I will extol thee, my God, O king;
and I will bless thy name for ever and ever.
2 Every day will I bless thee;
and I will praise thy name for ever and ever.

That question and answer is based on bible. Most of the catechisms connect right back to bible. Or at least they claim to; every once in a while you’ll find a Q&A where you’ll balk: “Wait, is that what the bible meant?” and no, not really. Catechisms are the work of humans y’know, and humans make mistakes.

Hence every so often there’s gonna be an official teaching of that church where y’might wonder, “How’d they come up with that?”—and nope, it’s not from bible. The church’s founder, or one of its more famous preachers, or some significant author, coined it. The people of that church thought it sounded like godly wisdom—and hey, maybe it is! But maybe it’s not. And either way, since it’s not bible, it’d better be consistent with bible. At the very least it’d better not contradict it!

So that’s what you’ll find in mainline churches: People who are trying to be consistent with the scriptures. But also consistent with their traditions. Traditions are very important to them!—they help connect ’em with one another, and with the Christians of the past. Likewise they figure those traditions are ultimately, originally based on the apostles’ teachings, i.e. bible: We shouldn’t find any contradictions between them.

Yeah, those people with hangups about how biblical mainliners are, don’t really know any mainliners.

Me, I’m not necessarily even thinking of mainliners and catechisms. I’m thinking of heretics. ’Cause I know a few.

“Christians” who actively reject bible.

I know some former Christians, and some former pastors who still largely consider themselves Christian. These folks have decided they no longer trust the bible.

Oh, they’ll still pull ideas from it. They’ll keep, and preach, any of the ideas they like. They’ll quote verses they consider relevant. They’ll cherry-pick themselves a belief system. But the rest of the bible, they dismiss. God, they insist, isn’t at all like that; the bible’s wrong about him; it’s not valid.

And a number of ’em have chosen to become evangelists for this new bible-rejecting lifestyle. “Stop believing the scriptures! Stop trusting them to tell you what God is like! Follow me as I follow Christ, yet reject his apostles and prophets. I only follow the Holy Spirit; so should you. He’s the only one you need to heed. Be like me.”

Yeah, no thank you.

True, we can follow God without a bible. Abraham did. So did Moses; dude had to write it! So do lots of people who can’t read, or don’t have a translation in their language, or who live in oppressive countries where they’re forbidden access to an uncensored bible. The Holy Spirit can and does work around all those problems, and if these people want a bible, you realize the Spirit frequently says yes to their prayers and gets ’em one. He sees the bible as valuable; he did inspire it after all. Stands to reason we should see it as valuable too, right?

True, plenty of heretics totally have bibles. Having and reading and quoting a bible doesn’t make us heresy-proof! Certain heretics quote scripture all the time. Quote it wrong—that’s part of the problem—but they do quote it, and claim their interpretations are entirely correct. After all, as is common with heretics, they insist they know better than every other Christian on earth. Certainly know God better. They’re right; we’re wrong.

Bibles are no guarantee we won’t go astray. But those who reject bibles—well, that’s pretty much a guarantee they went astray a while ago. ’Cause they’re rejecting the bible’s revelations about God, from God. These, they insist, are not from God… because they know better, don’t they.

Rejecting Old Testament—whether because it’s hard to follow, because we imagine it’s been canceled out by New Testament, or because we don’t like the popular false interpretations which make God kinda look evil—would mean we reject everything God had to say about himself to the ancient Hebrews. God proved too hard for us to understand—or we arrogantly presumed we did too understand, but we don’t like this wrathful-sounding God, so we’re instead gonna cherry-pick verses till we’ve fashioned a god we do like. One made in our image, usually.

Instead of bible, we’re gonna claim we follow the Spirit. Assuming we can even hear him, or recognize the difference between the Spirit and our own urges, biases, and lusts. Heretics, y’notice, kinda don’t. The bible’s meant to be something we compare with our various “God ideas” to make sure they’re consistent with what God wants, and his character. But since these guys don’t do bible anymore, they can’t properly fact-check themselves. Not that they ever feel they need to; again, they know better! They alone know what God’s actually like… and wouldn’t you know, he sounds just like them! How ’bout that.

So, can you call yourself Christian if you do theology without a bible, or with the bible considered an optional, selective type of revelation?

Well let’s face it: You can call yourself whatever you please. You can call yourself a hardboiled egg if you like. People aren’t likely to believe you though. And if you call yourself Christian but reject bible, most bible-believing Christians will figure you’re off your rocker. You might convince pagans, but what’s that matter?

Christians who passively reject bible.

More commonly, more casually, a number of self-described Christians don’t bother to base their beliefs on bible, nor use the bible to fact-check the things they do believe.

No, not out of malice, or arrogance and pride, or because they’re fashioning an imaginary God who tells them only what they want to hear. Largely it’s just out of apathy. They don’t care whether their beliefs are consistent with the scriptures. They just wanna believe what they wanna believe. Why be so nitpicky?

“Being so nitpicky” is what they regularly accuse me, and my fellow theologians, of whenever we dare to challenge any of their beloved beliefs. Any time I point out not everything happens for a reason, or their favorite “biblical principle” is based on out-of-context verses, or their favorite “biblical promise” isn’t a promise to them at all (and may not even be a promise to anyone), they complain: “Why are you knocking down my imaginary castle? Stop it! You’re no fun.”

I mean, if you wanna embrace a delusional distortion of Christianity instead of following a real live Christ Jesus, you can easily do that in the United States, and you’ll have plenty of enablers. But you do run the risk of Jesus telling you, “I don’t know you,” and that’s gonna suck. I don’t recommend it!

Instead I recommend getting serious about your theology. Start asking, “Is that biblical?” rather than reposting every nice idea someone’s turned into an Instagram meme. And if it is biblical, make sure you’ve not misunderstood the bible—is it something the bible describes as commonly taking place in ancient times, but we’re actually not to do it (i.e. patriarchy)? Is it something we’ve taken literally when that’s not what the authors meant for us to do? Are we assuming God’s attitudes when he says or does stuff are in any way inconsistent with the Spirit’s fruit? Are we guessing at the interpretation, or have we cracked open any history books to find out, “Exactly what were the ancients doing in this passage?”

Yeah, that’s a bit of work. Shallow religion is way easier! And rejecting the bible entirely, is easiest of all. You don’t have to know anything; you just have to follow your gut. To your own destruction, but hey.