On Biblicism vs. Being Biblical

Biblicism is marked by:

  • Superficial reading of Scripture without attention to harmonizing the whole canon.
  • Reducing a theological argument to proof texts at the expense of inductive arguments.
  • Treating as foreground in the text what must be brought from the background through theological reasoning.
  • Not being aware of or intentional about theological interpretation (the interplay of a theological hermeneutic with the historico-grammatical method?)
  • Limiting oneself to the foreground — express statements and not considering good and necessary consequences.
  • Tendency to see as positive law what is instead an expression of natural law.
  • Refusal to use extra-biblical terminology to express or safeguard Biblical ideas.

Biblicism is like someone asking, “Does your wife have a second husband?”

And you answering, “I don’t know. She hasn’t mentioned it.”

Or answering, “She doesn’t, but I only know that because I asked her.”

Some things are so clear from Scripture (from its patterns, portraits, assumptions, implications, entailments, motifs, repetitions, stories, theology, and design) that if you were to insist upon a specific verse before believing them, you would be absurdly rejecting its clarity, not leaning into it.


Consider the deity of Christ. We know, by the Spirit through the Word, that Jesus is talking, walking Wisdom Incarnate. He is the very Author of Proverbs. And the Creator of Heaven and Earth. He doesn’t need to say, “I am God”, for us to know this.

One who swims in Deuteronomy and Proverbs, and then reads the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) with the eyes of childlike faith, can immediately know this without any doubt.

John 1:1 expressly confirms what was always there.


It’s good to appeal to clear Bible verses that speak to specific issues, but we ought not do this as though the rest of the Bible (and in many cases, nature) isn’t already clear and authoritative on the issue. We use Bible verses to appeal to God’s own spoken authority, and to confirm what God has revealed elsewhere, not to imply that he was silent until then on the matter.

There is a similar danger to presenting philosophical arguments for the existence of God—as though, in the absence of such presented arguments, his existence wouldn’t be obvious. While such arguments can be helpful (I’d argue they can serve as a conversational bridge to sharing Scripture), they can also reinforce someone’s prideful assumption that they need arguments, or that nature and conscience and God’s word aren’t clear. James Beutler writes,

“The errors (biblicism and philosophy) run in different directions, but both disembody one element. We should not attempt to argue in the abstract nor seek an absolute particular, but rather bring to bear the full light of revelation. Nature, God’s revealed law, and prophesy are all foundational to Jesus’ teaching and must be presupposed in every discussion, whether philosophical or doctrinal/ethical particulars.”


The opposite error of biblicism found among sophisticated academia is to under-appreciate the sufficient clarity and authority of punchy, terse Bible verses on an issue. If someone asks, “Is homosexuality a sin?”, and you wax on for 20 minutes about a holistic Biblical portrait of gender and marriage, yet without any appeal to the key verses, you’re perhaps:

  • Leaning into your own rhetorical abilities
  • Ashamed of the offensive, concise, accessible clarity of Scripture
  • Avoiding the appearance of uneducated simplicity

Sure, everything you said was true, but waxing on can be a way of avoiding the embarrassment of being a Christian who trusts the authority of God’s word. Why needlessly bloviate when really you could just answer the question—John MacArthur-style—by quoting a Bible verse? Take your blows. Be weird. There’s another time for extended explanations.

Divine Simplicity Summarized

Steven J .Duby’s summary in Divine Simplicity: A Dogmatic Account, 81-86:

(1) “God is pure act and is therefore not composed of act and potency.”

(2) “God is entirely spiritual and is therefore not composed of corporeal parts.”

(3) “God is his own form (deitas) and is therefore not composed of matter and form.”

(4) “God is his own divinity subsisting and is therefore not composed of nature and suppositum or individual.”

(5) “God is really identical with each of the persons of the Trinity and is not composed by them.”

(6) “God, who is his own essence, is identical with his own existence also.”

(7) “God transcends classification and demarcation and is therefore not composed of genus and species.”

(8) “God is identical with each of his own attributes.”

(9) “God is wholly himself and not susceptive of any composition at all.”

(10) “Finally, while God is fully himself and incomposite in himself, he is also not joined to other things as though he might become part of a composite.”

The Father and Son: Incomprehensible

😠 Arius:

  • God’s essence is incomprehensible (cannot be fully grasped) to creatures.
  • The Son is merely a creature.
  • Therefore the Son does not fully know the Father.

😠 Eunomius (neo-Arian)1:

  • God’s essence is unoriginated or ingenerate (not begotten).
  • Such a nature is simple (without parts) and comprehensible.
  • Therefore the Father doesn’t know anymore about his own essence than we do.

😊 Gregory of Nazianzus (trinitarian):

  • God’s essence is incomprehensible to creatures.
  • Both the Father and the Son are God; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father.
  • Therefore the Son shares in the same incomprehensibility as the Father.
  • And the Father and Son share in the same knowledge of each other.

Glory!


1. “God does not know anything more about his own essence than we do, nor is that essence better known to him and less to us; rather, whatever we ourselves know about it is exactly what he knows, and, conversely, that which he knows is what you will find without change in us.” (Eunomius Fragment II from Socrates “Scholasticus”)

Renihan on human liberty

It is a “dependent liberty.” “The liberty of second causes is not an absolute liberty, but a dependent, relative, or subordinate liberty. The liberty of second causes does not consist in an indifference to, or capacity to act or not act independently of, God’s decree. Rather, the creature’s liberty depends on God’s decree.”

It is a “correspondent liberty.” “The liberty of second causes corresponds to, or fits with, their being and nature. God has made creatures in such a way that they are able to act in a manner corresponding to the measure of their being… We live and act within the limits of the way in which God created us. God has made us able to think, evaluate, and decide. To do so, we use our intellect, or faculty of understanding. So, we cannot act beyond the reach of our capacities or faculties, whether physical or intellectual.”

It is a “concurrent liberty.” “Men act freely in accordance with the scope of their volition, and that God sovereignly accomplishes his purposes through all that they do. The first cause concurs with second causes… Men make plans, but God fulfills his own will through their actions. This is not a “zero-sum game” between the Creator and creatures. Man acts freely, and God sovereignly brings his will to pass. This is the concurrence, or concursus, of the first cause with second causes.”

– Samuel D. Renihan, Deity and Decree

The doctrine of the Trinity is humbling

We cannot peer directly into the blazing Sun of his glory and grasp the inner core. Only God comprehensively and immediately knows himself.

We find ourselves utterly dependent on God to reveal himself. We otherwise stumble in the darkness. We need our eyes opened, our minds enlightened, and light shown into our hearts.

We cannot use “univocal” language about God. We must rather use analogical language. “His righteousness reaches to the heavens.”

We require a multiplicity of analogies, none of them adequate. We cannot push any given analogy too far. In concert they keep us tethered to the truth, as we are prone to drift from it.

The doctrine of the Trinity gives us guardrails or boundaries. We must stay inside them. Oh, what a challenge to our arrogance, our doctrinal wanderlust! What a rebuke to our clever ideas!

It is intellectually overwhelming. It is immense. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139:6) We must simply submit to it. While others scoff, we must fall prostrate and worship.

“I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Psalm 131:1-2)

Our flesh insists on making God in our likeness. The Trinity refuses to be remade in our image. He is other. He is holy, holy, holy.

The flesh is agitated by the doctrine, as it exposes us. Not just our humanity, but our sin. Not just our finitude, but our idolatry.

Those wishing to minimize mystery find themselves overwhelmed with God’s immensity and inexhaustible, incomprehensible depth.

Those wishing to minimize doctrine are presented with the rich treasures of beauty and detail made available by God’s revelation to the creaturely mind.

Studying the doctrine puts us into contact with Christians far more thoughtful, far more intelligent, and far more adoring of God than we are.

We rediscover the voices of church fathers warning us over repeatable errors. We realize that Christ’s church has always been the pillar and buttress of the ruth. Its traditions are fallible but are nonetheless smelling salts and weighty deterrents. “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.” (Proverbs 22:28)

“And here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
You’re altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me”

“Holy, holy, holy!
Merciful and mighty
God in three persons
Blessed Trinity!”

No to-do list condemnation in Christ

Stop using your to-do list as a self-condemning document.

There is therefore no to-do list condemnation in Christ Jesus. (cf. Romans 8:1)

It isn’t sacred. Add items you did to your to-do list. Your original plans were fallible.

You accomplished some things that weren’t originally on the list. Live with that.

Perhaps you are more productive than you think. Stop beating yourself up.

End of day: What did I accomplish by God’s grace?

Be gracious to yourself. Why? Because God is gracious toward you.

Are you abdicating basic responsibilities? Maybe. If so, repent. Get angry, and channel that anger toward action, not self-condemnation. But be slow to judge yourself and others.

Start the day with God’s grace – it is empowering. Then work with all the power that God is mightily and graciously working within you. Then end the day by resting in his grace.

“Believers are accepted through Christ, and thus their good works are also accepted in him. This acceptance does not mean our good works are completely blameless and irreproachable in God’s sight. Instead, God views them in his Son, and so he is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, even though it is accompanied by many weaknesses and imperfections. (Ephesians 1:6; 1 Peter 2:5; Matthew 25:21, 23; Hebrews 6:10)” (https://founders.org/library/1689-confession/chapter-16-good-works/)

This only applies to Christians – those who are completely and permanently forgiven in Christ. If you are not forgiven, then you are in rebellion. In this case you have far worse things to worry about than your to-do list failures or misplaced shame. And no to-do list success can fix that.

But for those in Christ:

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” (Romans 5:1-2)

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

On the static potential of finite gods

A finite god that anticipates endless improvement is terribly static, immobilized, and boring.

Nearly all of his being is in a potential state, not yet actualized. Since this finite god’s improvement is never-ending, most of his potential will never be realized. Almost the entirety of this god is static or “slow”, not yet put to full use, and not yet up to speed.

As though watching a demigod toddler learning to walk, his worshippers clap and say, “But at least he’s getting better! He’s not completely still. And we can relate to his limitations.”

But the infinite God is completely actualized. None of himself is potentially better. His whole infinite being is active, both in the inner life of the Trinity, and in the love of his creation.

He isn’t bumping up his own limitations, having to stretch himself. He doesn’t need more gas in his fuel tank. He isn’t upgrading along the way.

Since he is entirely infinite, and all of his attributes coextensive, and completely perfect, the fullness of his perfection is active.

On masks

teal and white underwear on gray textile

An April 2020 NatGeo article notes the social significance of masks:

  • They offer “sense of agency and control.”
  • They express communitarian solidarity.
  • They give one a “sense of contributing to the public good.”

The article is still relevant, as their social significance has cemented and increased. They function as a proxy or symbol now for a variety of political sensibilities.

At best, especially among those most convinced of their effectiveness, masks demonstrate neighbor-love. They are seen as a reasonable way to submit to government, express social solidarity, and show courtesy to others having a range of sensitivities and risk levels.

I can’t reliably judge random individuals over this – there are a lot of reasons a person might use a mask. But I would argue that masks also became an icon for the fear of death, a false sense of control, and acquiescence to communitarian excess.

There is another concern distinct from medical efficacy and cultural significance: natural impropriety. The face is designed to be the most visible, dignified center of attention and interpersonal communication. The face shines with a natural glory. To cover it is unnatural and requires an extenuating circumstance. It is, to some degree, dehumanizing, especially on children.

As those in the UK had to carry on during the German Blitz – maintaining a sense of life and normalcy worth saving – at some point we have to decide, with a moral calculus factoring in social significance and natural impropriety, that a mask mandate is unhealthy for the non-medical aspects of society.