More Bible or More Virtue?

Last week, I wrote about the problem of the development of authoritative tradition within churches of Christ.  Though I don’t believe that either I or anyone else know the extent of this problem, I think few would dispute its existence.  I suggested that the cure for the disease was, simply, more Bible.  The more we are willing to return to the word and the word only, the more we are willing to follow wherever it leads, the more we will move away from human tradition.

As a rule, simple solutions to complicated problems are either elegant or (more commonly) simplistic.  Not surprisingly, I collected some thoughtful comments that suggested that I had fallen into the latter error.  With the commenters’ permission, I’m going to address two of them in this post.  They are as follows:

“It is just too simple to say that all we need is more Bible. We also need to improve our love. We need to increase our faith. We need to change focus from inward to outward. We need to train our children to believe rather than to just think. We need to pray more. We need to minimize our lives that are just too full. We must get to know people so we can see if they need more Bible or more love or more faith, or some combination of those listed above.”

“2 – While I am and will forever be in favor of ‘more Bible’ I’m more inclined towards a battle cry of ‘more Jesus!’ The Bible did not die for us. The Bible is not our Savior. It is a means to an end, but not the end itself. The end is Christ.”

Though from different people, both comments are saying about the same thing:  “Yes, Bible study is important, but other things are more important.”  Certainly, they and I agree that growth in these areas is necessary.  I am loudly in favor of increased love, faith, selflessness, prayer, and (especially!) devotion to the Lord.

That’s not the question.  The question is whether such growth is possible apart from the Scriptures.  Without reference to the Bible, people can grow in something they might call love, but it won’t resemble the love that Jesus taught.  I would imagine, for instance, that 99 percent of people who don’t know the word would call Jesus’ teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage unloving.  Similar errors abound, and only thoughtful study of Biblical love can correct these mistakes.

Much the same can be said of every other item on the list.  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.  There is no way to come to know Jesus without coming to know Him through the word, and people today who claim to know Jesus apart from the word invariably have invented their own idol and named it “Jesus”.  If we want Jesus to teach us how to pray, again we find ourselves turning to the Bible.  Selflessness (consistent selflessness, at least) is the result of absorbing the ethical teaching of the Scriptures.

In fact, the whole discussion reminds me of something my son’s soccer coach said during last week’s practice.  He told his boys’ U8 team that they were allowed to kick the ball with the sides of their feet or with the tops of their feet, but never with their toes.  Why?  Because you can’t control a toeball.  It can go just about anywhere in front of you, rather than going where you want it to go.

Trying to develop virtue without the guidance of the Bible is nothing more than kicking spiritual toeballs.  The results are unpredictable, not controlled by God, and extremely unlikely to be what He wants.

As a result, arguing that we need more of X spiritual good rather than more Bible is akin to arguing that we need more houses rather than more work with lumber, saws, hammers, and nails.  In both cases, the second is how you produce the first, and hoping for the second without the first will only guarantee disappointment.

Of course (again, in both cases), there’s a lot more to it than that.  As powerful as the word is, it can’t penetrate a hard heart (though if it can’t do the job, nothing else can either).  At the other end of the spectrum, I find that I cannot fully explain the work of the word in me.  In some ways, the Bible strikes me as being more akin to a computer program than a normal book.  Once it’s installed, it doesn’t sit there as an inert lump of knowledge.  It does things.

I believe that God intended it to be so.  The Bible is supposed to work within us, to help us to be conformed to the image of Christ.  Without that help, we’re never going to get there.  More Christ is the end, but more Bible must be the beginning.

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