I saw the graphic above pop up on my newsfeed on Facebook and was beyond disturbed. There is a lot that can be critiqued about these men’s theology (both Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis), but having the presence and person of God equated with the Bible was not something I’d expect from fellow Charismatics. Usually these sorts of statements, though not usually as bibliolatrous, are made to battle the over-experientialism of Charismatics and Pentecostals perceived by cessationists and non-charismatic Evangelicals. In a conversation with Rachel Held Evans, Jonathan Martin remarked, and I believe accurately, that “Pentecostals are not fundamentalists that speak in tongues,” and he went on to explain that the distinct Pentecostal worldview that creates an urgent people empowered by the Spirit to bring action and make known the Kingdom of God on earth. That being said, this quote from Jesse Duplantis that mixes God’s presence and personhood with a book is unbiblical, potentially blasphemous, and completely contrary to the charismatic worldview.
With such a statement put out by well-known charismatic leaders, I cannot help but mourn that much of the charismatic world has become but fundamentalism with tongues and some “floor time” (as a result of getting slain in the Spirit, of course). To see such a core distinctive of Pentecostalism—the presence of God—butchered in this manner is heart breaking. Attempts by Pentecostals to not be the deranged cousins of Evangelicals have been made since the establishment of official Pentecostal denominations, and this bizarre form of biblical inerrancy spouted by Duplantis is but one of many examples. As the Pentecostal revival exploded, thousands of well-respected Evangelicals, primarily from Holiness, Reformed, and Baptist backgrounds, were set aflame with zeal and a fresh sense of Holy Ghost power and their practice began looking a bit stranger than their brethren. As a result, they were shut out from the world of Evangelicalism and began developing peculiar and precious ideas and practices, such as the apocalyptic transformation of the world, the ordination of women, radical nonviolence, and the normative practice of the miraculous and charismatics gifts of the Spirit. Over time, in attempts to fit into American Evangelicalism and create unity, many of these peculiar doctrines were let go of and doctrines that were considered the norm in Evangelicalism were adopted or emphasized like never before in Pentecostal history. I cannot help but see this quote by Duplantis as evidence of an attempt to have what he may see as a healthy Evangelical view of the Bible.
Again, Duplantis’s form of inerrancy is especially disturbing because not only does it cause one to have an uncritical and irresponsible approach of reading the Scriptures, but these books come to replace the presence of God and become divine in and of themselves. The doctrine of Christ as the Word, or the Logos, as revealed in the gospel of John, is taken out of context to support bibliolatry. George Fox, a founding figure of Quakerism, seemed to have encountered similar teachings and attitudes developing in his day, and refused to call the Bible ‘the Word of God’, reserving this title for Christ alone. Perhaps Duplantis’s statement is his way of dealing with those who put too much authority on spiritual experience, but this is inexcusable and is incompatible with the charismatic conviction that God is close and moving on this earth today through the Holy Spirit. Friendship and intimacy with God cannot be reduced to spending time reading a book, and the worship of a book cannot become the worship of God.
I am not proposing an ungrounded mysticism or that intellectually wrestling with the Bible is unnecessary. I am not even saying that reading the Bible isn’t a powerful spiritual experience. In fact, I very much believe theological reflection and Bible study is one of the deepest ways we can fellowship with God. But that’s the thing: the Bible is meant to lead us into worship and into God’s presence; it is not mean to be worshiped or replace God’s presence. Bible reflection, or meditation, or study, is a space to meet with Jesus and seek his wisdom. Sometimes it can be a sweet, nurturing experience, and other times it can be a place of blood, sweat, and tears that may pop you out with a wrenched hip like Jacob, but somehow more full, more whole, and more new. The Bible is a wrestling mat, but the one being wrestled, the one being encountered, and the one being exalted, ought to be Christ and Christ alone, and never the book itself.