Many misguided evangelical Christians think (wrongly) that by dishing out or reciting Bible verses, they attain a certain magical power like a chanted Hindu mantra. They think having bible verses in verse number and chapter or literal verbatim recitation of the bible, makes them more successful or effective, either in evangelism or in their business or personal formation.
Nothing could be so erroneous. This shallow spirituality believes being able to recite bible verses is a veritable sign of one’s faith or one’s authentic conversion to Jesus. We have many other false signs like not worshiping statues (but we worship idols like power, wealth, etc.), not worshiping Mary, or not making the sign of the cross which is Roman Catholic. Many also think they carry a distinctive by not drinking alcohol (Jesus owned the biggest winery in his time), not saying cuss words, not smoking, not doing to sleazy bars (patay sindi) and not gambling (except shorts in stock exchanges).
The best use of the bible is actually to hide it. C. S. Lewis encourages Christians to learn to hide it, especially in their sermons. This is actually very profound. If a Christian preacher is able to preach a message without letting the audience know a line or a sentence came from the bible, it would be awesome.
Christians need to communicate the bible without making it known as coming from the bible. By doing so, Christians begin to internalize the bible. Their preaching also ceases to become pedantic or sound like platitudes, or worse, not appear as self-righteous or legalistic. The effect is super powerful. When the bible is communicated in such a way as to conceal its true source, its power is not only enhanced significantly, but it is removed from being superstitious or magical, and becomes truly divine or spiritual.
When a Christian learns to hide the bible, he in turn learns to see the bible in places he has never imagined it existed. He begins to see the bible inside seemingly secular things like the Lord of the Rings. Suddenly, he realizes how biblical the Idiot of Dostoevsky really is. He marvels at how biblical Les Miserable is. This opens the door for him to preach to the whole world a gospel that actually permeates the whole existence of mankind like a melody that resonates. Suddenly, we realize that the Bible is found in many places.
Democracy is biblical, and so is the emancipation of slaves (the bible does not condemn slavery or dictatorship as long as it does not lead to dehumanization – if slaves are treated like family and dictators rule benevolently). Soon we realize that Mozart’s music as well as T. S. Elliiot’s poems are biblical. The bible has expanded, it is not merely a compilation of 66 or so books. Its music is not just heard inside the Bible but its music soars in creation and is heard in the hearts of men who have noble hearts.
Being biblical is no longer important to Christians today. There was a time when being biblical was the battle cry of all true believers. We always checked if this teaching or that sermon was biblical but alas, sad for us, many used as their measure, a proof text or literal stamping as the measure of being biblical. We had to cite verse or chapter to prove something was biblical and in the end, we failed because we had not really internalized Scripture and what we were spouting was not Scripture but a superstitious or magical mantra. We related to scripture not as a truth and a truth that is a person, but we related to scripture the same way we related to a lucky charm or a magical formula.
We need to be biblical but we need to learn how to become biblical and the first step is really to believe that unless we are biblical, our Christianity is just what Mao Tse Tung said it was, an opiate of the people. When we are biblical, we relate to a reality that is firmer and more solid than the visible or empirical reality of the scientists. Actually, when we are biblical, we are able to see what is real. The bible says we live by faith, not by sight. There are things more real than visible things. To be biblical is to connect with a reality that resonates deeply with our true being.
Humanist Christians are not biblical. They simply believe and follow what is civilized and humane. It is true that being simply humanist can lead to despair. Being biblical requires an absolute reference point outside of or above humanity. Humanism uses mankind as the reference point which is a fatal thrust. We cannot judge the criminals of the Holocaust concentration camp just using man as the judge or reference point.
Morality becomes either relative or utilitarian using man as reference point.
Who can say that Stalin was evil? Who can judge Hitler? On the other hand, those who judge Christianity have no recourse except to judge Christianity using Christianity’s absolute reference point, the bible. If we cannot judge same sex marriages of homosexual, how could anyone judge that Christians are hypocrites or bigots (which they often are)?
Being biblical means there is a morality determined by an absolute God and having such an absolute reference point, being biblical also allows us to see what is real, what is just, what is moral.
We cannot say, the bible is an absolute truth, like a principle or teaching. It is more than that. The bible is a Person, the truth is a Person. The Christian Deists, the founder of America, were not biblical Christians because they believed in an inanimate truth, a god who was distant and uninvolved with the day to day affairs of mankind, a God who was indifferent and detached. Our biblical God interacts with us and creation, engages us deeply. In our humanity, he pierces us through the Holy Spirit to provide a theme or a flavor that nourishes deeply and liberates profoundly.
It makes a difference when we are biblical because we are referenced to a truth who is not impersonal but actually a Truth as a Person who relates. Christians who come to the bible to master or become experts in turn master the bible and master God. They are not biblical even though they spout bible verses all the time. Being biblical means surrendering to God but most of all, it means having a loving relationship with that God.
Legalistic Christians dish out bible verses that are cold and enslaving. True biblical Christians unleash a liberating truth, sets people free. Freedom is a sign of being biblical. It is not licentiousness but a freedom to submit to the truth in a way that releases our true humanity.
But we cannot attain this without learning to hide the bible. It is this process of hiding that internalizes the bible so that we in turn get to see the true personal and warm God within. The bible is not composed of cold lifeless texts. The bible is a living word that engages life on earth passionately. It is like a man going around the world, talking with people, influencing lifestyles, blessing people and bestowing light in dark places. Most of all, the bible revitalizes existence by revealing original designs and patterns, a process of creation and recreation through covenanting and redemption. We get to see what is human in the original form, and how we have been dehumanized (we lost that original design) and how we can regain our humanity.
The old world Christians actually had two bibles, the written one and the unwritten one (referring to creation). It is because they believed creation was a sort of bible that made it possible for them to understand physics and mathematics and biology. If we assume that a reasonable God designed creation, then the laws of physics would be reasonable and thus knowable no matter how complex. They also behave reasonably so that a correct calculation of trajectory can ensure that a rocket fired from earth could land on a precise spot on the moon.
If we are not biblical, we create a Jesus who is not from the bible and thus, not a real Jesus. If we are not biblical, we engage a reality which is not true (we are materialistic or else, we become Gnostics). If we are not biblical, we cannot establish order nor promote beauty. Nothing we do will last and become effective.
The world has been in search of the holy grail of life for centuries – what will last and what will be effective. This is captured in the word, sustainability. At the beginning, fifty years ago in Wall Street, some smart finance experts defined sustainability in financial logic, computing the cost of money and ensuring loans were paid by the poor as a poverty alleviation scheme. In time, sustainability evolved to also include an ecological dimension. Businesses that were successful were not sustainable if they destroyed the ozone or polluted the Amazon River and killed wildlife. Again, it evolved to include social sustainability – sweatshops were discouraged. Factories employing juveniles or children and did not provide enough protection for women were condemned.
Sustainability further evolved to include also other dimensions. Now we know that China cannot become sustainable unless and until it also incorporates human rights into its definition of progress. As we seek to alleviate poverty, we realize it is not just financial capital that is important. There are other things needed to make the program sustainable. It is actually, we are slowly realizing, a full-orbed approach that takes into consideration many dimensions of human existence or flourishing.
Sustainability is not just financial or ecological or social or political but all, and even must be gender sensitive also (many in poor countries have poor families receive grants of land or housing but the land titles are in the name of the husband, so when the husband runs off with another woman, the wife is left helpless. The law has to be changed to take into consideration the welfare or right of the wife to make the program gender sustainable.
Actually, the search for sustainability is fully encompassed in the idea in the bible of shalom, peace. This word is a gigantic word, referring not only to psychological or political peace but to all, peace with God, peace with men, and peace with creation (some include peace with the self). To be sustainable is to have something that will last and will be effective and that is what is meant when we say something is biblical – because it is in accordance with the Bible; it will last and will be effective.
Shalom is the Holy Grail that has persistently eluded mankind and all because they refuse to search for it in the Bible or else, they go to the bible not in search of the Living Word but a lifeless impersonal truth. If a poverty alleviation program is biblical, it will seek to approximate shalom and will surely last and be effective. This was shown in the conclusion of the famous book written decades ago, In Search of Excellence. The authors studied the best 1,000 corporations in the world, studied their practices and values to find out why they were strong and successful and in the end, they showed that they were excellent because they were honest, they treated their workers justly, they were judicious in spending, and saved money. All these are actually found in Proverbs.
In the end, what makes us biblical is that we have finally become human. Satan can quote verses but it does not make him biblical. Christians can quote verses but until they become fully human, quoting verses does not make them biblical.
To be human is to be holy. To be human is to enter into our calling – to relate and to work. We need to work hard and relate deeply. Our calling to relationship is seen in the invitation or command to multiply, to get married, to be bound permanently as husband and wife, to become one. Marriage is the microcosm of society, a community made or composed of families related by love and marriage. It is a community that subdues and rules, as steward of creation. The goal is to develop and to prosper, in order to bless, which means to humanize instead of dehumanizing others.
Abraham was called as one individual but he was called to become a great nation, as innumerable as the stars in the skies and the sands in the sea. He was called to be a great nation that would display the kingdom, show how it works – a nation that was just and compassionate, righteous and holy. Israel was also later on called to be a kingdom of priests, meaning, they were to mediate God with the rest of humanity which is the work of a priest (different from or in addition to intimacy and work, to be holy).
To be human means the capacity to love and be loved. Although life in this world was cursed (fallen world), the curse no longer works to defeat us. The curse remains (death and betrayal) but through it and despite it and because of it, we can still love and better, to love as Christ loved us. It is also true with work (it remains cursed, to suffer decay, failure and frustration) but nevertheless, we can work and we can prosper and the curse does not work to defeat us but only to make us more noble. The curse actually works to sanctify us instead of penalize us. It is after all a redemptive curse, designed to make us repent and return to God.
When we work hard and relate deeply, we approximate shalom also – we subdue and rule as stewards in community, to bless others. As stewards, we believe God owns all our wealth and possessions. This is shalom, it will last and be effective. This is what it means to be biblical.