Let us Avoid Bibliolatry

Bible-close-up

Following a distinguished academic and pastoral career, Peter Jensen (1943 – ) was elected Archbishop of Sydney in 2001. His vision is strongly evangelical: “Our fundamental aim should be to address the secular challenge by providing flourishing Bible-based, gospel-centered, people-nurturing churches in as many places as possible.”1 Because of this devotion to the Bible as the Word of God, Jensen has been charged with “bibliolatry.” Here he explains why such an indictment is nonsense.

There is indeed an instinctive and proper distinction between God and the Bible. The one is not the other, and anyone who worshipped the Bible would be guilty of bibliolatry. Is it fair, however, to accuse evangelicals of bibliolatry? (It may be worth observing that if evangelicals have been guilty of this sin, it has been an inveterate offence of Christians of all types throughout history.) The charge is more flashy than true. We return once more to the gospel that first brings us the knowledge of God. Much has already been made of the fact that the gospel and the knowledge of God are relational, not merely intellectual. That is the nature of the knowledge of God that the gospel brings. But the gospel is inescapably verbal; it is the word of God. We are asked to believe and obey it. In doing so, we are believing and obeying God himself, who by this means brings us into relationship with himself. If this is wrong, so too is our treatment of the Bible, for our attitude to Scripture flows out of our attitude to the gospel.

If one person communicates with another, say through a letter, the recipient neither confuses the instrument with the sender nor separates the inseparable. It would be intolerable for the recipient to say, for example, that he did not keep to arrangements for a meeting, set out in the letter, because they were only words and not the person. One can never plausibly say, “I did not believe your words, because they were not you.” Even in human affairs we stand by our words. As you treat my words, so you treat me. I am rightly offended, in a personal way, if you slight, disregard, disobey or contradict my words. I think you have done these things to me. Likewise, if you trust my word, you are trusting me; if you obey my word, you are obeying me; if you honour my word, you are honouring me. That is the nature of the language and persons in everyday experience.

So it is in the case of the Bible. Indeed, it is more so in Scripture, because the God who speaks is intangible to us. He cannot rely on body language. Or, if it is said that he relies on “body language” in the incarnation, such language is accessible to us now only in the language of Scripture. In any case, again and again, in both Testaments the word of God is treated as God himself is to be treated.2

Footnotes:

1 Peter Jensen, “Archbishop Peter Jensen: Profile,” Anglican Media Sydney, http://www.anglicanmedia.com.au/old/archbishop/profile.htm.

2 Peter Jensen, The Revelation of God, in Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 165.

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