Developing the Cult of the Bible

WikiGodPod: Our Stories Shaping God

A while ago I was talking about stuff on WikiGodPod, a podcast out of the Greater Toronto Area (I live close to the GTA in Kitchener) centred around our stories and how that shapes how we understand God. I’m not somebody who speaks well without preparation, so the potential questions were sent in advance and I spent a few hours the night before and morning of planning. I figure since I already spent those hours writing notes, I may as well clean them up a bit and publish them here.

How did what I call “the cult of the Bible” initially develop in/after the Reformation period?

That’s a good phrase that I haven’t run into. I went to a church once that actually sang a song to the Bible about how great the Bible was. It was a great church in a lot of ways, but cultish is definitely an apt descriptor for how I felt during that song.

A personal favourite way of explaining came from one of my professors in seminary. She talked about it in terms of what Trinity we worship – not just in theory but in practice. She argued that in the Catholic Church the Holy Spirit was largely replaced by the institutional Church. When Protestants came along, they booted out the institutional Church and replaced it with the Bible. Eastern Orthodoxy actually maintains a fairly strong Trinity in practical ways, but we don’t hear from them nearly enough in the West.

In my chapter, I make a pretty simple case for why Protestants moved us in this direction. 1. The Church was corrupt and using their authority to hurt a lot of people. 2. The Reformers needed an alternative source of authority that could justify them breaking free. 3. The printing press and growing literacy rates provided the opportunity for a book to become that new source. That might not have been a huge problem early on, but as time went on, that solidified into the cultish way of looking at the Bible that we now have in a lot of Protestantism, manifesting through things like proof-texting and defining ourselves apart from each other through strict doctrinal differences no matter how small.

According to Alister McGrath, what was “Christianity’s dangerous idea?”

McGrath talks about the Protestant idea of everybody interpreting the Bible for themselves as the dangerous idea. He doesn’t necessarily mean dangerous to mean negative. We can’t deny that it did free a lot of people from a corrupt church hierarchy, including pressuring the Catholic Church to make necessary changes. He uses dangerous simply to mean the radical consequences of this idea, which we take completely for granted now.

He talks about other consequences of this idea as well, but it ties into my chapter in that it began to allow Christians the permission to look down on other Christians if they didn’t understand the Bible in the same way. That’s how we went from 1 denomination for the first 1000 years of the church, 2 for the next 500 years, and then jumped to something like 6000 in the 500 years since. We disown each other as soon as we disagree on anything.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • It is a big leap from everybody reading the Bible to everybody interpreting the Bible. Where once there were New England Puritan farmers reading the Greek New Testament by the fireside, we now have the ‘what this verse means to me’ cult.

    There is an epidemic of disregard for context.