Here is a recurring question of mine. What is the distinction between having an appropriate respect for God’s written Word, and being a bibliolater? To clarify, a bibliolater is one who is reductionistic in one’s thinking, and who fails to see that ultimately Jesus is the living Word of God. In this clarification I realize I am providing some parameters for addressing this issue, but still it doesn’t completely provide discernment. For example, the written Word has some kind of close connection with the living Word, but I don’t think it’s clear how close this connection is.
Jesus once said that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him, and yet I know there are Christians who treat the Scriptures as if they have all authority. Certainly the Scriptures are authoritative, but it seems to me they are sacramentally authoritative, in that they are the divinely created channel to communicate the life and authority of Jesus. The problem, however, is that the Scriptures are often treated as having innate authority, an authority that can be then mediated by those who have some kind of familiarity or mastery of the text. This is a problem because the picture of authority in Scripture itself is not primarily a matter of cognitive mastery, but of spiritual development, a development that comes from wrestling with and becoming intimate with God. I imagine that this issue is connected to Paul’s distinction between the Spirit and the letter, wherein the former gives life and the latter brings death. Having acknowledged this, however, I am concerned about the consequences of placing too great a distance between the written Word and the Spirit of God, as this would quickly lead to gross subjectivity, innovation, and error, all of which are forms of death.
Along with the relationship between the letter and the living Word is the matter of how we relate to and draw upon the Scriptures when formulating doctrine, and constructing visions for spiritual growth and Christian living. In opening this inquiry, I spoke of biblical reductionism, by which I refer to the conviction that Christians should not be involved in spiritual practices that are not explicit in or clearly endorsed by Scripture. But this attitude raises questions regarding the nature of Christian freedom, as well as questions about the parameters and purpose of Scripture. For example, are the Scriptures supposed to be an exhaustive compendium for how one ought to live, or is it a foundational document that provides a basic framework and set of dynamic presuppositions that we then have to work out in the context of our individual and collective Christian lives as we engage new issues and areas of inquiry? I will be honest, and say that I tend toward the latter, but I see problems here as well. However, I won’t attempt to articulate these problems, as what I have said thus far is enough to provide the groundwork for processing my question.
So, again, I pose my question. What is the distinction between having an appropriate respect for God’s written Word, and being a bibliolater?