What is spiritualizing the Bible. Well, let me list a few examples. Here is one: take the passage of David and Goliath. You are David and there are various “giants” in your life. The giant of depression, fear, or a thousand other vices we face. Now take the stone and hurl it at the giant. Usually the stone is spiritualized to be prayer, or the scripture or something else. Or one of my favorites Joseph journey from the pit to the palace. Oh, the fodder to work with there. There are hundreds of ways the scripture can be spiritualized. It’s really easy actually. Just take an illustrative passage, a narrative with a good story and begin to plug in whatever you want to make a point. I was one of the best. I could take a passage of scripture and whip up a sermon in no time.
What’s wrong with reading the Bible and preaching like this? Doesn’t Paul use allegory? Isn’t the book of Hebrews full of comparisons to the Old Testament? Let’s take a closer look at this practice.
First, the obvious danger is to read a meaning into the verse which is not there. This is called eisegesis, the practice of reading one’s own interpretation into a text. When we spiritualize a passage, we are imposing a meaning that the author did not intend. We are twisting, adding, distorting, assuming, taking liberty with the most holy of books. That is serious. To be fair, the aim of many who spiritualize passages are not malicious. But this is no justification for dangerously handling scripture.
Secondly, a doctrine is not build upon illustrative passages. Remember that. An Old Testament illustration/narrative such as David and Goliath are not meant to build doctrine on. The purpose for those passages are to move along the story of redemption. Lessons can be learned from those passages, faith can be increased, and similarities can be noted. Even in some instances Christ can be seen as a type and shadow in the lives and events of old testament figures. However, a doctrine of church practice and theology should not be built upon illustrative passages and events.
Illustrative events and passages should be taken in context and most of the time applicable for only that context. For instance, Peter’s walking on the water is contextualized. There was a specific circumstance, word, and purpose for that event. It was not meant to be the cornerstone for a doctrine of “wave walking” by the church. We would do well to apply this principle to the scripture.
Thirdly, I have noticed that the end application of the spiritualization of scripture is two-fold. 1. That this new “take” on this passage is God’s word for the hour. Almost like a prophetic message for the people hearing it. 2. And that this “fresh word” has inherent power to always either make a person have finical prosperity, physical health, breakthroughs in relationships, happiness, and other various utopias. I argue that the clear teaching of scripture does not exclude repentance, suffering, humility, self-denial, cross-bearing and the like. Also, the word of God is prophetic and powerful. We do not need personality, “new takes”, emotion, dramatization, to activate the scripture’s power. More on this later.
Now I understand that the teacher does not set out to twist the passage. They think they are being led by the spirit. And, after all, they intend to back up their assertions with other scriptures to make it clean and neat. What are some of the dangers to spiritualizing scripture?
Fourthly, we consider the dangers of spiritualization. The obvious danger is that the scripture is not the authority but the vehicle to promote the teacher’s ideas. We are not hearing what the Bible has to say but what a person has to say. Another danger is that some do a sloppy job at substantiating their eisegesis. They leave the passage butchered, confusing, mistreated and they ill inform the body of Christ. They set themselves a pattern of misinterpretation and lack of accountability by operating in a subjective theological manner. There can be no true fellowship because the common faith that keeps us united as believers is being weakened through poor biblical knowledge.
The opposite of eisegesis is called exegesis which is to draw out the authors meaning of a passage. Whereas eisegesis, the reader set his own ideas over scripture and usually attempt to force a passage to say what he wants it to say, exegesis seeks to draw out what the author is truly saying. This is hard work. One comes empty to the text, they reads large portions of the text to understand and answer basic questions such as: who is writing the text, who is it written to, where is the beginning of the thought, where is the end of the thought, how does this passage relate to the whole book, how does it related to the whole Bible? Proper exegesis is cumbersome, time consuming and very rewarding. The product of exegesis is the believer’s food and water. Christ is never more fully revealed, and God is never more highly exalted when the Bible is accurately and faithfully proclaimed.
There are difficult, unique passages that are a challenge to wrestle with. The difficult is interpreted in light of the plain.
The clear teaching of scripture will accomplish several things. First to unveil Christ as the center of scripture, the object of faith, and the Lord of all. He is the center, not us or our needs. Secondly, scripture proclaimed is the means by which faith is given to the hearer. A watered down, subjective, flimsy, exposition of scripture may do more harm than good. Next the scripture teaches and governs the church leading them in righteousness and maturity in Christ.
Some parting words. The scripture will clarify and spiritualize itself. Best practice is to let scripture interpret scripture. Hebrews is an excellent example of scripture clarifying and interpreting scripture. If a passage is used symbolically then much care must be taken to convey biblical truth. I would strongly suggest only those fit and mighty in the word should practice it. CH Spurgeon, Martin Luther, have many sermons that are beautifully constructed and faithful to the scripture and text. May God help us rightly divide the word of truth.