Many people viewing the post Christian wasteland that Europe has become, looking on from more orthodox parts of the world, instinctively think that the way to reach Europe again is by becoming culturally sophisticated enough and defend the gospel on secularisms own terms. I guess that’s one way to do it. But experience has shown that in the Nordics, it is often the churches that are most unapologetically biblical, holy and counter cultural that have seen the most impact in standing up to the secular cities of the Nordics, and in pushing back the endless cloud of lostness that bubbles over our ecclesiastical “life under the sun.”
In the momentum that such counter cultural churches sometimes develop, I have encountered some Christians who seek to distinguish themselves from all the other sell outs by being the most “biblical”. Now the Protestant establishment in Denmark stems from Luther and has a long history of standing on the Word of God alone, “for I can do no other.” In some ways this complicates the matter: in as much as one is required to indicate whether one is a member of the “Danish Evangelical Church” when applying for a social registration number in Denmark, and where sola Scriptura may be a concept preached on secular public radio when state church services are aired on Sundays. In other words, there are many who claim to be “biblical”, even radically so. In an effort then to distinguish the evangelical churches here in Denmark (and probably to some degree in the other Nordic countries), we may assume that by simply saying “Bible” as many times as possible or by proof-texting every word that comes out of our mouths, we are distinguishing ourselves as the most biblical people around. Now, while the desire to be biblical is to be celebrated, and “biblicist” is a word that get thrown around a lot from liberals, we must ask ourselves if there is a difference between being biblical and being biblicist.
Three indicators of biblicist church
By “biblicist” I mean the tendency of some evangelical Christians to disregard the historic, orthodox creeds of the universal church while at the same time making themselves the only trustworthy interpreters of Scripture. This kind of biblicism is therefore per definition highly individualistic. But of course, it can be tricky to know the difference between true biblical faithfulness and this kind of individualistic biblicism. So, what are some characteristics to watch out for?
- Biblicists pit systematic theology against exegetic theology – Biblicists will often resist theological reflection and categorial analysis of this reflection. Many Biblicists misunderstand the purpose and limited scope of systematics, and thereby claim that any use of dogmatic theology violates the exegesis of a passage. They may also claim that dogmatists treat the bible as a systematic text book, not realizes that both the exegetical theology and systematic theology (and pastoral theology and historical theology etc.), are used by good systematitians to complement one another like the various legs of a table. This is something to watch out for.
- Biblicists individualize the gospel – Biblicists will also tend toward a naiveite that suggests that all individuals have equal interpretative rights to the pages of their chosen Bible translation. In the life of the church, in the hands of a disciple and with the illuminating aid of the Holy Spirit, Christians can read the Scriptures with confidence. This, though, should not excuse an ignoring of good Christian books, good Christian fellowship in the local church or for that matter the teaching of said Christians local pastor. A biblicist will not seldom isolate him- or herself from the local church. Is this you? If yes, you need to repent.
- Biblicists may mask other agendas – Many of us have heard it said, “Give me a chapter and a verse for that!” Or “I opened my Bible and God told me to do this!” Unfortunately, in a shortcut to careful reflection or propriety, we can sometimes use the Bible as an excuse for behavior with other motives. As many pastors know, this is a tough shepherding issue, but in other cases whole churches can tend into this biblicist rut—this is dangerous.
What is a biblical approach?
There could be many books written on the question of what a biblical approach is, but in this context we can see that it is a church that is shaped and formed by Gods word. This means that the preacher and pastor should be driven by the teachings of the scriptures, and that theological reflection is curbed and direct by the aim of the scriptures. It means holding bible as the authority in dialogue and with respect for the other informing orthodox creeds, exegetical commentaries, philosophic theology and even dogmatics. This intend will also include proclaiming Christ (Col. 1:28) and enthroning the gospel of Christ as the only way to see God (2 Cor. 4:3-4). Concretely, this means preaching the word sequentially, while also periodically zooming out and taking the grand story of theology in view. It also means having a blended approach to personal spiritual disciplines, both digging exegetically into commentaries and trying to read the whole of Scripture in a year. It also means stretching our twitter length attention spans and actually reading systematic theologies, from various eras and traditions. By way of recommendations: one could do much worse than starting with the newly English translated four volume Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck, move to the lighter Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, and then, if you can read Norwegian, dabble in Axel Valen Sendstads Troens Fundementar. All this to say, let’s have a complementary approach to the theological disciplines, and make room for reading them all! This is the truly God honoring, and biblical approach.