Tag Archives: bibliology

Reggie McNeal on the Bible

Reggie McNeal, a Baptist, in his book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church says this about the Bible in North America:

The current dilemma with how we use the Bible is twofold. One is that in the last gasps of the modern church, we have made Bible study in itself a mark of spiritual maturity, clearly missing the major evidences of what God looks for in his search for spiritual maturity–our relationship to him and to people. The Pharisees studied the Scripture and knew it better than any other group, but Jesus chided them for missing the point. (He was the point!) If our Bible study does not show up in a life that looks increasingly like Jesus’ (captured by his heart for people), it is merely a head trip, a point of pride, and an idolatrous substitute for genuine spirituality. Second, in a pluralistic religious environment, we need to remember that it is not essential to convert people to the Bible; it is imperative that they meet Jesus and begin to develop a relationship with him. When a person loves Jesus, that person will want to know everything Jesus did and said. The hunger to know more will naturally lead people to the Bible. People do not need to agree with our definition of the truth to come to the Truth. (114, emphasis original)

I said something similar in my post The Narcissism of Christian Education.

An Alternative to Calling People Biblical Literalists

I was having a conversation with my students tonight about different denominations and what distinguishes us as a Lutheran church. Being a part of a Lutheran church within a few miles of bastions of Baptist (Southwestern Baptist Seminary) and dispensationalist (Dallas Theological Seminary) theology, we are definitely in the minority. Most of my students go to school with, are in FCA with, have conversations with, and sometimes go to youth group with their baptist and non-denominational friends. They have picked up on the fact that most of their friends and their churches seem to talk differently than we do about scripture. And it’s not a difference in authority, but of hermeneutics. We all affirm the authority of the scriptures, but the nature in which we read them has a different character to it.

When I asked my students how they would describe the way most conservative denominations read the Bible, they said that they read the Bible literally. I’m not a big fan of calling people literalists, not because it might not be partially true, but because it doesn’t convey to me the real issue.

Sunday Afternoon

Then I came up with an analogy that I think makes the distinctions a bit more clear. I think that most conservative churches are biblical pointillist. In art, pointillists use dots, or points, of concentrated colors together to paint a certain picture. The above picture is an up close look at pointillism. So when I say that some people are biblical pointillists, then I mean that people and churches tend to construct their theology by beginning with very small portions of scripture, oftentimes individual verses, and weave these together into a cohesive picture, like below. That is why conservatives tend to encourage spiritual disciplines like bible memorization.


I think that the mainline church tend to be more thematic, or dare I say narrative, in the way they read the scriptures. We look for themes and narratives that tie the verses together and thus make a cohesive, nuanced, flowing argument across the scriptures. Our colors are blended together from one color to the other to make a smooth transition between one theme and another, one book of the Bible and another.

I’m not using this analogy to argue for one side or the other. Judging by the kind of church where I have chosen to work, you can guess which side of the issue I tend to end up on.

I guess I’m simply curious if you think this analogy makes any sense. Is “biblical pointillism” a better, more acurate classification than “biblical literalism”?