What does it mean to be biblical?
The bible is our lens that allows us to see reality.
For many people, only material things or physical things are real. They believe, only things they can touch or measure or see are real and the rest do not exist or do not matter.
This belief can be very subtle as when people promote or sell aggressively a kind of prosperity or development that is very materialistic. We object when we can, and say, man is not satisfied by material blessings alone.
The bible says it more poetically, man does not live by bread alone….
The bible in general also tells us that we live by faith not by sight, meaning, there is a reality greater than what our eyes or our reason can perceive.
Failing to be biblical can be fatal in many ways. Today, there are many attacks on marriage and gender. Marriage as an institution is fast losing ground. It will not be long when marriage contracts in the whole world will have an expiration period, for example, good only for ten years.
Marriage between male and female only is also on its way out. Many will argue now that marriage is a right that should be given to all and it is not exclusively between male and female. Same-sex marriage is a fast growing trend in the world.
But many Christians actually do not want to be biblical. Most don’t even care if they are biblical. There is a small minority in the Christian circle who tries to be biblical but end up in the worse imaginable way and become thoroughly unbiblical. They are giving the label biblical a bad reputation. What they mean by being biblical is by being so literal about the bible, being so textual, almost to the verge of saying the text itself has power or authority more than what the text is trying to say. They give the text some supernatural power of its own apart from its meaning, like a magic chant or a lucky charm. This is the reason they are very apt to quote verses and knock people on the head with a bible quote.
Most evangelicals use the bible only in order to know the dos and don’ts of the Christian life (internal personal piety) but not as a way to perceive reality. This is very significant because the latter affects our worldview or how we think. A biblical worldview enables us to speak into the world in a way that brings light into the world when the world fails to see what is real or when it falls into the wrong path, for example, pursuing fantasies and illusions. We are not only to make our behaviors conform with the Bible commandments, we also need to make our worldview conform to the Bible, which means to think as God thinks and to see as God sees.
We must notice that the way God thinks and the way the world thinks is most often opposite and contradicting. What the world calls great or superior God calls low and inferior, and vice versa. God says, if anyone wants to be great, he must become the servant of all. Paul said, the world considers the gospel foolishness when in fact it is the wisdom of God.
We are evangelicals mainly because we uphold Scripture as the sole judge and authority for all things, including our own lives. We do not believe the Bible is the literal word of God in a proof texting sense. We believe it is the literal word of God in the sense that it is the final authority and the only authority on what reality is. It is a form of superstition to think that merely quoting the bible has power in itself. I have discussed this lengthily in another article, where I said, we need to learn how to hide the Bible when we teach or preach. When we learn how to hide the Word, so people don’t know it comes from the Bible, we also gain the capacity to see the Bible in places we don’t normally see it. Within our own selves also, we begin to see how the Bible actually works in our lives without quoting verses. It is a significant step in our maturity that we are able to see the Word all around us and inside of us without having to quote actual chapter and verse. When we have thoroughly hidden the Bible (not quote verse and chapter or use the literal text but just its content and meaning) we have also in the process fully internalized the Word and now thinks in a Biblical way.
It is the Bible that sees and knows what is real.
Of course, the secular world can produce a similar outlook or perspective and non-Christians also are able to see reality similar to what the bible sees but then, their worldview is correct only because it is in accord with what the bible says. It does not mean that there are now two equal sources of light. We believe that truth is not a monopoly of Christians, evangelicals or otherwise. But we believe also that only the Bible is the final evaluator of what is right or wrong. The bible is the absolute reference point, unchanging throughout time.
We cannot and must not infuse other sources of “light” with or alongside or together with the Bible light. Only the Bible is the true light. Years back, the church included the teachings of Aristotle into this light and created a mixture which in fact diffused and diluted the light coming from God, with a human source.
In the Enlightenment period (which was not really an enlightenment), European societies displaced God’s light with a human light (humanism) which removed the absolute reference point with a relative reference point. Since then, the bible has played second fiddle in the thinking of European societies which started the decline in European civilization. Divorce and abortion became common practice. When we use man as the reference point for determining values and perspective, we also realize soon that it will lead to despair because man is a sinner and prone to erratic behavior. The ultimate expression of this despair was in the holocaust when six million Jews and Polish were exterminated in the gas chambers, because the Nazis supported by the state church (Lutheran) considered Jews inferior (and as a result could conduct horrible experiments on them).
The enlightenment also gave rise to secularism. Basically it meant only matter exist. From there, demons or spirit beings ceased to exist also. This is not just because I have an affinity for demons or a fetish for them. Paul teaches us that ultimately our enemy is not humans or flesh and blood but the underlying powers like demons and other spirit beings who have rebelled against God. This is important because we fight so much, even our own spouses we consider our enemies when the bible clearly says our enemy is not flesh and blood.
The bible as our reference point promotes a just and humane society. The bible as the absolute reference point also promotes stability and order. The bible holds in a healthy balance the promotion of life, beauty and order as society develops through time. Too much order (rule of law) destroys life, too much beauty results in chaos and too much life leads to tyranny.
There are two bibles in a sense, the written bible is what we read and the unwritten bible which is creation, which we study and observe. Creation is God’s second bible because through it we also indirectly get to know the truth.
It is because the whole of creation is so logical and rational that we know there is a Designer who made creation. Creation or nature is predictable and knowable. We build houses because we know tomorrow it will still be there barring typhoons and other natural calamities (which also are in a sense predictable). Watch the TV serkes the Fringe. It is about a world where there is a parallel world beside it. At one moment a building is standing before you and in the next moment, it is gone.
We also build on what we build in knowledge and in processes because of the rationality of creation. Thus, we accumulate knowledge.
One Christian scientist argued for this Design when he said it is precisely why we are able to calculate inside our laboratory the trajectory of a flying object and design a rocket to land on a precise spot on the moon that we aimed at. We know time will always move in sequence according to measured units and we know that tomorrow the sun will rise and will set. This predictability shows a Designer, God.
We can also target bacteria in order to treat people with diseases, by using antibiotics because we can expect or predict certain results. The world is not chaotic and illogical. There is much we do not know or understand about nature or our bodies still but the more we know the more we affirm its stability, predictability and reasonableness, indicating that it is not random and that it must have been designed by a wise and logical God.
The greatest attack on biblicality and reality is the theory of evolution. There are many things correct about the theory except its denial of God. Evolution also teaches about the randomness of creation in order to deny the existence of God. The bible sees this taunt – many will say there is no God but God calls them fools.
The bible basically helps us to see what is real. Is the soul real, meaning does it exist even though we cannot prove it? Yes, it is real. Is heaven real? Yes and no. Yes it exists but it is not located in a far away galaxy. Heaven is where God is and God intends that in the end, heaven will come down and be in our midst, here on our planet. In the end God will come down from heaven or from where he is and dwell among men so that heaven is now on earth. Heaven is an ancient Roman concept referring to the highest absolute authority from which power derives. There are many powers but the only authority is God and Jesus has given this authority to us in the great commission. Without authority, power is useless.
When we read the bible, our greatest objective is actually to know the reality of God and in the course of time, discern the details of this reality, meaning, we can fine-tune our understanding of who God is. This is the greatest reality we gain from reading the Bible or from being biblical.
- S. Lewis said, God is the great iconoclast. His job is to destroy constantly all our idols we make of Him or destroy all of our misconceptions of who God is, until we finally arrive at the true picture of who God really is, the final reality.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 says, we will know finally when we see Him face to face, meaning, our perception of the reality of God will become clear when we see Him finally, face to face (using our eyes, or more precisely, since our eyes by then will be transformed into incorruptible eyes, we will see Him with our eyes of faith).
Many Christians come to the bible in order to become transformed, to become like Jesus. They do not realize though that before we can be discipled, we need to have a clear view or perception of God or Jesus. It is not just seeing or knowing in a cognitive sense for reality in the bible is not just one-dimensional (uutakin). Reality is multi-dimensional, seeing with our eyes, our hearts, our soul and our bodies is required to perceive biblical reality, especially God. This is why many ancient spiritual teachers would say, we are transformed when we gaze at God, when we sit at his feet. It is knowing God that transforms us more than any cognitive-behavioral techniques or practical applications. And this knowing is not just a mind knowing but an experiential knowing, involving all of us, the mind, heart, soul and body. Ultimately, it is the sense of being loved that changes us.
When we know God, we know we are loved. This is the automatic result of knowing God. It is senseless, as far as the Bible is concerned, to know God and not know love. Here, we are confronted with an age old question, Is the love of God real to you? For many in today’s generation, this is not true and it may not even be important.
In spirituality, the love of God, his intimacy and his embrace, is the most central of all and we go to the Bible to see the reality of that love as well as come out from the bible with lenses that help us see the reality of that love, intimacy and embrace.
The reality of our being is also indicated in the bible – we are heart soul mind and strength (reason, emotion, longing, and body, if you want). Meaning, we are not just mind or emotion or body or soul, we are all four together.
We also have the built-in capacity to dissociate and detach or disconnect. We can disconnect from our selves and from reality around us. This is why PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder happens – when the mind disconnects from the body as psychology has recently realized.
Psychology is not always scientific but when it is scientific it can provide amazing results, which are correct and therefore biblical perceptions of reality, the reality of our inner world, our heart and our soul.
There are many studies about our mind and our reason (which we take for granted to be true and which we believe are scientifically established facts in psychology) but there are many debates about the rest of our inner being – our soul for example. Very few believe there is empirical proof that the soul exists.
I think the reason is because we are using a very inadequate tool to study and observe aspects of our being which God made. Science is still a young field of study. We cannot use a ruler to measure the universe; it would be too small. So also, we cannot use cognitive measures to observe our inner realms, our interior life or our spirituality. Those tools would be too small or too imprecise to yield anything of significance (and just because we cannot produce anything significant, we cannot argue that there is nothing at all in our inner being).
We need to be biblical in order to be a true Christians. We need to look at Scripture to see if our understanding of reality is correct. We need to see if our view of God is also correct. Only the bible can tell us that. Humanism cannot, even traditions cannot. All things must be judge by the Bible and all things comes second to the Bible as authority.
The bible tells us many more things. Is politics a concern of Christians? Can we destroy a viable fetus inside the mother’s womb? Is depression real? Can businesses be operated for profit only without any concern for nature or people? Are black people human beings?
For centuries, white Europeans have enslaved black African people believing that black people were not human. They also did this because the believed they were the new Israelites and they went around the new world or Africa like the Old Testament Israelites commanded by the God to kill all the Canaanites. The white Europeans in north America killed many of the native Indians. The European mostly Calvinist in Africa also killed many of the natives and the practice of apartheid (absolute racism) continued on until it was finally dismantled in the time of Nelson Mandela (only recently).
One reality the bible gives us is about helping the poor. We need to give just wages and give wages to laborers on time. This is part of our biblical reality.
God holds us to account for how we perceive reality. When something is important to God, then it is as far as we are concerned, real.
The bible teaches us both a piety that is personal and internal as well as a piety that is external and public like helping the poor and promoting justice.
I like the story in the book Velveteen Rabbit, when the stuffed toys talked about what is real? In that beautiful story, real is being loved. Beauty is real as much as heroism as much as gentleness as much as a kiss.
When the bible says it is real, then it is real. In other words, what is true is what is real. What the bible teaches as truth is what determines what is real.
I think when Jesus said you will know the truth and the truth will set you free, most of that refers to the perception of what is real, what is human, what is important, who is God, why do we exist, etc. When we know what is real, there is profound freedom in it. We know the world is not deterministic (it is not true that whatever we do will not change our destiny). We know that we are not like the animals. Government cannot control our population so only good and smart people are allowed to procreate nor can government decide that sick people should be killed (euthanasia). People are not fulfilled merely because they have a house, pension and healthcare. They need also love and community.
Being biblical is important is determining what is sustainable, what will last and what will be beneficial to all. It is not true that only the Word of God and the souls of men will last (meaning, only these two have a reality that is eternal). All of God’s creation have eternal significance or else killing an elephant for fun should not matter at all.
What we do, in prayer, meaning prayerfully, will also last into eternity. The schools we built for the poor will last when we build them in prayer. When we get to heaven, they will be the crown on our heads or rather the precious gems on our crown and although they may not be in the form or shape we supposed them to be, we will still recognize them somehow.
There will be a new heaven and a new earth suggesting that there will be an ultimate reality for all of creation. We are so fond of saying, all things will perish and all be will burned with fire on the last day but we forget that within all things, us sinners especially, God has injected the serum of eternity so that as our perishable body decays, within that decay itself, our imperishable body is also being born.
In our time, we were so hooked on being biblical that we sounded like fanatics to the world around us. Expositor preaching was the only way to preach in church. We were literalist in our approach to the bible because the threat was so near and so real. It is like the South Korean church being vibrant and so aggressive all because North Korea threatens its very existence daily.
We were surrounded by a world collapsing into secularism and humanism. The church had become liberal, meaning, it accepted truth from everywhere, not just the bible. Whatever was popular took the place of the bible authority. When the world banned the spanking of children, the church followed suit.
Today, we have lost not just our literalist view but even our desire to be biblical. We take it for granted now that authority and reference point can come from other than the Bible itself. We are not horrified at diluting the bible authority with humanism or new age teaching.
Many so-called biblical preachers do not care to question the materialistic values of their society, promoting alongside their gospel their own capitalist culture. We define wealth in church in a capitalist way, as accumulation, hoarding and possession. The bible teaches the opposite, wealth is measured in our giving not in our possessing.
We are also very selective. Churches today can speak out strongly against many current issues but no one dares to speak out against same-sex marriage, divorce, abortion and greed (for fear of lawsuits). The olden days expository preaching required that we base the Sunday sermon topics on a systematic round of bible books, from Old Testament to New Testament, in order and back again to avoid being selective.
Without the bible as our absolute reference point for determining what is true, in short, without the bible as our compass for life, what will happen to our civilization? What will lead us to the Promised Land?