Why is the Bible so often described as the ultimate authority and foundation of the U.S. evangelical church?
Isn’t the ultimate authority of the faith actually Jesus, God in human form, the one who fully embodies the Almighty, saves us from sin and separation from the Divine, and guides us through both his teachings and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?
A popular theme that has run throughout the U.S. evangelical church for several decades is an adherence to a “biblical worldview.”
This generally translates to applying strict doctrinal guidelines to the way we view the world, culture and, in particular, the people around us.
It hasn’t always been this way though.
An affirmation that Jesus is the “criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted” that appeared in the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message was intentionally removed from the 2000 edition of the Southern Baptist Convention’s doctrinal statement following the fundamentalist takeover.
This turn toward developing a strict biblical worldview based on doctrine permeates the U.S. evangelical landscape.
Extreme literal interpretations of the Bible over the centuries in attempts to apply Scripture without considering its historical and cultural contexts have led to innumerable atrocities and injustices committed by the church and individuals, including racial discrimination, promulgation of slavery, subjugation of women and perpetuation of violence.
Strict adherence to a particular doctrine or theology also carries with it the potential for sin, namely idolatry.
It is possible to place the love of our particular biblical interpretations or doctrines above our love for God and Jesus’ directive to “follow me,” and God calls this sin.
Frankly, these things can tend to distract us from our ultimate purpose – loving God and loving others – and to divert our attention from the message of salvation and instructions in righteousness, the Bible’s key themes.
That’s why I always return to Jesus, God in the flesh, as the foundation of my faith and worldview.
When something a pastor, teacher or church leader says or does doesn’t line up with the words and teachings of Jesus, I have to question it.
If a person’s intentions, motives, general behavior and attitude reflect more of their adherence to strict doctrine than the Spirit of Jesus, I see red flags everywhere.
Don’t misunderstand me. Nothing I’ve said here should be construed as an attempt to downplay the role of Scripture in the church. I love the Bible.
Like most professed followers of Jesus, I consider the Bible to be God’s revealed word, but it must always be interpreted through the lenses of Jesus and love.
God’s word was never intended to insult, demean, oppress, exclude, belittle or attack.
These are the very things Jesus preached against and represent the essence of all that is “anti-Christ.”
I propose a transition in the evangelical mindset from a biblical worldview to a Jesus worldview, interpreting and relating to culture, people and the world around us through the eyes and heart of Jesus, as opposed to strict, non-essential biblical interpretations or doctrines.
I’m not the only one.
These conversations and articles developed into Nurturing Faith’s Jesus Worldview Initiative, with a stated mission of “exploring creative and collaborative ways to restore following Jesus as the highest Christian priority above all other ideologies and allegiances.”
“The greatest challenge facing followers of Christ today is the challenge of restoring Christ in Christianity,” Gourley says. “Far too many Christians talk about a ‘biblical worldview’ or a ‘Christian worldview’ in ways that have nothing to do with Christ, and which many outside of America’s churches readily recognize as fear-induced prejudices and self-serving agendas that are nothing more than hatred of or discrimination against others.”
I concur wholeheartedly with Gourley’s statements, observations and the message being brought to light through the Jesus Worldview Initiative.
The time has come to put Christ back at the heart of Christianity.
Jerry A. Hudson is a former news writer and reporter who now serves as press liaison for a local law enforcement agency in Georgia and is currently enrolled in the certificate of ministry program at George W. Truett Theological Seminary. He is an ecumenical Christian, blogger, online seminary student and armchair theologian who describes himself as a moderate evangelical with Wesleyan-Arminian and Anabaptist theological leanings. His writings also appear on his blog.