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Why the word Biblical is driving me crazy

March 5, 2013

I was driving home today when the radio station to which I normally listen faded out.  It didn’t surprise me as I live on the fringe of its reach but, each time it does, my car radio ends up playing a very right-wing political station instead.  I am not particularly fond of political ranting, be it from the left or right, so I was about to turn it off when I heard the magic word “Biblical.”

I was immediately interested.  The station, based on the snippets I’ve heard, seems entirely secular so I wondered just why it was that they were suddenly using that term.  As I continued to listen, not only did they use the word Biblical, they were doing an “analysis” of the story of Jesus turning water into wine.  Now of course, had they been Christians, they would have been doing “exegesis” or an “expository teaching” of that text but I was prepared to forgive their lack of familiarity with evangelical lingo because I wanted to know what they had to say.

As it turns out they were sure that this passage teaches the virtue of self-reliance.  Jesus didn’t ask government to supply the wine, didn’t say that there was nothing he could do, he went right ahead and provided the wine.  Lest you think they were calling for us all to turn on the tap and make wine I am happy to report that they admitted that “we aren’t Jesus.”  It is however a good example of good old American self-reliance, or so they say.

Of course, since this was straight from the Bible, if you disagree then you are disagreeing with God, not the guy on the radio.  The word Biblical is the trump card that is intended to end all opposition.  At times, as in what was said on the radio today, it is pretty easy to disagree, even laugh about their understanding of the passage but it seems to me that the word Biblical has become something of a club in too many hands.

Just this past weekend a well-known evangelical wrote an article touting “Thinking Biblically about” serious allegations against another ministry leader.  He uses selected verses to say that he does not “need to have an opinion” on the charges and that he has “deliberately avoided learning too much.”  Now, I am not requiring him to jump into the discussion, plenty of others are doing it.  Nor do I urge him to take a side on anything without facts.  My complaint is that he has characterized his stance as “thinking Biblically.”  In other words, if you disagree, you aren’t thinking Biblically.

To no great surprise, the internet is lit up with other Christians, citing other verses, who disagree.  They are seriously and passionately interested in a matter that could bring shame to the church and want to get to the bottom of it.  They too have verses that support that hunger for truth and justice.  And they rightly resent the implication that they are not “Biblical.”

I’ve written on the abuse of the word Biblical before and, if you know me in person, you have heard me rant about it more than once.  My poor wife has gotten to the point when she can almost recognize my body language as I tense up over its use.  Biblical has become a power word; a word used to silence critics and shame those who differ with us.  Rather than defending and explaining our understanding of Scripture we take the easy way out and call a different understanding “unbiblical.”

Our culture is drifting away from caring what the Bible says at all.  I saw an article this week about a number of college students who were asked to read a “poem about God.”  The poem, by and large, got good reviews, most of them liked it.  The poem was the 23rd Psalm.  Only a tiny fraction of the group recognized it as from the Bible.  Do we really want to turn the word Biblical into a sword intended to wound other believers while the world sees the whole argument as to what is Biblical as reason to discount the whole Bible?

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