“Sound doctrine does not treat of God and creatures equally, but of God primarily, and of creatures only so far as they are referable to God as their beginning or end.”
–Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica I.1.3
Bible knowledge is poor among Christians today, and this is rightly lamented by many ministers and theology professors. But what is often overlooked is the subtle, and therefore dangerous, problem that many Christians approach the Bible with the wrong view of it. What the Bible is and what it is trying to do is not what many Christians believe about it.
It is no surprise that so many Christians are not deeply transformed by the Word of God. They are not approaching the Bible in the God-intended way. Christians complain that they are not being helped that much by studying their Bibles or listening to Biblical preaching. But they are like someone who has confused his medicine and mouthwash, and then complains that his mouth still stinks after rinsing with the foul-tasting liquid.
Two Ways to View the Bible
But Aquinas gives us two options for how we approach the Bible. He rejects one and accepts the other. They are:
- Approach the Bible as treating of God and humans equally.
- Approach the Bible as treating primarily of God, and only treats of humans insofar as we are referable to God.
Aquinas rightly rejects the first and accepts the second. The first is an incorrect and dangerous view of the Bible. No Christian would have the audacity to think the Bible primarily dealt with humans but not God, though many Christians are so bold to think the Bible deals with humans and God equally. We might not be dense enough to leave the Creator out of the picture, but we are dense enough to bring the Creator down to the level of the creature. (Or is it bringing the creature up to the level of the Creator?)
The Bible is not for our glory, but for God’s glory. We have to approach the entire Bible as if its primary concern is God’s glory and God Will. We are only involved insofar as we are apart of God’s story. (How many people read the Bible as if God is a concern only when he is apart of their story?)
Two Problems with the Wrong View of the Bible
When the Bible is approached as treating equally of God and humans, there are at least two negative consequences.
First, it either leads to or reinforces the moralistic, therapeutic deism so prominent today. God is there to make us feel better about ourselves and to provide rules for a well-lived life. But this isn’t the God of the Bible, whose will is going to be accomplished, who seems deeply concerned with His own name.
Second, it leads to the pop spirituality so endemic in the church right now. This form of spirituality is too man-centered. True Christian spirituality is radically God-centered.
Addressing the Problems
We can’t fight these two problems without addressing the underlying issue of how we see the Bible. So how do we do this?
For lay people, when we are reading the Bible, we have to learn to ask ourselves what this passage is saying about God and His will. Only then should we move to the question of what this means for us.
For ministers, we have to resist the pressure to make every lesson about how this passage or that passage can immediately help our audience. We have to make our lessons primarily about God. When we become man-centered in our teaching and preaching in order to be more useful, we put attention upon a useless creature, the human being, and remove it from the only useful being, God.