On the Danger of “Using” the Bible, Part 1

One of the hallmarks of Evangelical Christianity is our insistence on the magisterial authority of Scripture. But I have recently become aware of just how often we are eager to promote the “use” of Scripture in our engagement with the Bible. This can be dangerous.

Using the Bible

This talk of “using the Bible” often arises among leaders who are eager to persuade others of the rightness of their proposed programs and mission. They turn to Scripture as a powerful, God-given tool for spiritual influence. Where better to find our marching orders as servants of Jesus than in the written Word? The whole focus is upon how others should agree with us and follow our plans.

Further, we say, Scripture is given to guide us into God’s way, to tell us what we should do. That is its proper “use.” So we read the Bible to find the answers to our questions. And when we read it, we think that the real goal of Bible reading and study is to determine what we should do about the God-given text. Biblical reading and teaching, without definitive, specific application, strikes us as disappointing, or even deficient. So our pre-occupation is with application to ourselves and our communities and our churches.

The Right Use

Now, there is something precisely right about this concern for the use of God’s written Word. The law of God has been written on our hearts under the new covenant of grace. We should be zealous to do what pleases the Lord, and Holy Scripture is indeed given to disclose to us what pleases him.

Further, Scripture is given as a means of grace in the church, so that together we may be led into God’s way for building a community of disciples, for worshiping God in Spirit and truth, and for working together to serve the world around us in Jesus’ name. Our leaders should point us to the Bible’s teaching on these matters as perhaps their most powerful tool for guidance and influence. When leaders do not direct us to Scripture we should be careful, lest we are led astray. And when they do direct us according to the teaching of the Bible, we may anticipate God’s smile of approval and delight on our lives and mission together.

So what’s not to like about “using” the Bible? I am not writing “against the use of Scripture,” nor do I mean to suggest that we should dispense with the use of Scripture. But I am persuaded that there is a real danger lurking here.

It was first suggested to me in the following, very challenging statement by D. A. Carson:

"To our shame, we have hungered to be masters of the Word much more than we have hungered to be mastered by it."[1]

Whenever we read or hear Scripture taught or expounded, we are immediately confronted with the challenge: "Who is the master? Whose agenda is being served in this engagement?" The frequency of we and us and ourselves should at least give us pause. And so should a use of Scripture that seeks to recruit others to join our program.

Often our concern to use Scripture betrays us at exactly these points.

Read more “On the Danger of Using the Bible, Part 2.”

[1] Carson, “Recent Developments in the Doctrine of Scripture,” Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon, ed. D. A. Carson and J. D. Woodbridge (Zondervan, 1986), p. 47.

About the Author
Faculty Ministries

Thomas Trevethan Tom received an MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Tom was one of InterVarsity’s most gifted Bible expositors and he authored the books The Beauty of God’s Holiness (InterVarsity Press) and Our Joyful Confidence: The Lordship of Jesus in Colossians (DILL Press). He lived in Ann Arbor with his wife Barb after retiring in 2014 from 47 years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Tom served as InterVarsity campus staff for the University of Michigan for many years, and most recently served on the InterVarsity Faculty Ministry Leadership Team as a writer, creating many resources for faculty and grad students. Our hearts go out to Barb and the family upon learning of Tom's passing in October 2023. His voice, in both writing as well as singing, will be greatly missed.