There is a certain kind of idolatry that is rampant within many churches today. It masquerades as godliness, but is really full of dead men’s bones. As with most idolatrous behavior, it is not easily discerned or detected by those who practice it. This is why it is insidious and dark. The sin I am referring to is what I will call “biblical colonialism.”
What I mean by this term is the activity of some believers and churches to approach the text of Holy Scripture with the intent of doing hermeneutical conquering. That is, coming at the text of the Bible in such a way as to determine the right interpretation and defend that interpretation with life and lips to the point of holy war. This is to reify in a position that is believed to be the right and true teaching of the Word of God. The Bible then inevitably becomes elevated to such a level of being the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Scripture. The Spirit of God is replaced with what such colonizing persons believe to be the only plain and authoritative truth of the Bible. And they will not be dissuaded even by the blessed Holy Spirit to change their position. They will die for it, or, at least, go on (un)holy campaigns and wage battle after battle defending their idolatrous behavior. It is, some Christians believe, the biblical high ground. But is it?
Instead, could it be more of the modernist impulse to have answers for everything? It seems to me that the Enlightenment project of sheer rationalist thought has left in its wake a draining of all mystery; the belief that every biblical problem can be answered; the endeavor and even compulsion to understand every cultural, social, and political issue through the modernist lens of sheer objective knowledge. In other words, it is the aggressive attempt to colonize the Bible and conquer it so that it serves my need to have clear black and white answers to every issue there is, as if this is the real task of the church. It is to try and master the text of Scripture, instead of putting oneself in the humble position of being mastered by the Scripture. If we are so certain about our interpretations of Scripture, then no wonder so many women feel oppressed by the church and even more gay individuals will have nothing to do with the evangelical church, not to mention the wholesale flock of entire generations of young persons from institutional church life. It is the height of hubris to think that when we get beyond the core cardinal doctrines of the faith as expressed in historic Christianity that we can colonize the Bible and conquer it so that our interpretations on a range of issues are on par with God himself. It is to value hermeneutics over love; to esteem interpretation over grace; to seek conquered territory over hospitality.
Perhaps alongside the commonly identified idols of money, power, and sex we must also include the Bible itself. After all, Holy Scripture is the revelation of God – not God himself. To treat it otherwise is to miss its central message of redemption in Christ, and the great need that the entire world has to come to grips with the person and work of Jesus – not with my interpretation of particular Bible verses that are ancillary to people knowing Christ. King Jesus is the rightful ruler of the universe – not me or my supposed conquest of Bible passages that purport to have all the correct and right answers to all of life’s problems and woes.
If I am “right,” the only real posture to take for many believers and churches today is to prostrate ourselves before the God who is jealous for his Name to be set apart as the only one to be worshiped and adored. There is a great need for repentance – not for other people, but for us who claim to know Christ and serve him. Instead of belly-aching and complaining that the world should be serving the interests of evangelical Christianity, we have desperate need to come back to the ancient practice of seeing the church as the continuing presence of Christ on earth and serving the world’s people. Only then will we reverse the curse of biblical colonialism and spread the good news of new life in Christ.