Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The error of Textualism in the Fundamental Church

I came across this excerpt from A.W. Tozer which was footnoted in a book I have been reading.  I thought it profound, and all too true.  Here are some definitions of the word "Textualism" from thefreedictionary.com

1. A theory of legal interpretation emphasizing the importance of the everyday meanings of the words used in statutes.
2. Strict adherence to a text, especially of the Scriptures.
3. Textual criticism, especially of the Scriptures.
What is generally overlooked is that fundamentalism, as it spread throughout the various denominations and non-denominational groups, fell victim to its own virtues. The Word died in the hands of its friends. Verbal inspiration, for instance (a doctrine which I have always held), soon became afflicted with rigor mortis. The voice of the prophet was silenced and the scribe captured the minds of the faithful. In large areas the religious imagination withered. An unofficial hierarchy decided what Christians were to believe. Not the Scriptures, but what the scribe thought the Scriptures meant became the Christian creed. Christian colleges, seminaries, Bible institutes, Bible conferences, popular Bible expositors all joined to promote the cult of textualism. The system of extreme dispensationalism which was devised, relieved the Christian of repentance, obedience and cross-carrying in any other than the most formal sense. Whole sections of the New Testament were taken from the Church and disposed of after a rigid system of “dividing the word of truth.”

All this resulted in a religious mentality inimical to the true faith of Christ.  A  kind  of  cold  mist  settled  over  Fundamentalism…the  basic doctrines were there, but the climate was just not favorable to the sweet fruits of the Spirit…the doctrines were sound but something vital was missing. The tree of correct doctrine was never allowed to blossom. The voice of the turtle [dove] was rarely heard in the land; instead, the parrot sat on his artificial perch and dutifully repeated what he had been taught and the whole emotional tone was somber and dull…. As the letter triumphed, the Spirit withdrew and textualism ruled supreme. It was the time of the believer’s Babylonian captivity…. The error of textualism is not doctrinal. It is far more subtle than that and much more difficult to discover, but its effects are just as deadly. Not its theological beliefs are at fault, but its assumptions.

It assumes for instance, that if we have the word for a thing we have the thing itself. If it is in the Bible, it is in us. If we have the doctrine, we have the experience. If something was true of Paul it is of necessity true of us because we accept Paul’s epistles as divinely inspired. The Bible tells us how to be saved, but textualism goes on to make it something which in the very nature of things it cannot do. Assurance of individual salvation is thus no more than a logical conclusion drawn from doctrinal premises, and the resultant experience wholly mental.
Then came the revolt. The human mind can endure textualism just so long before it seeks a way of escape. So, quietly and quite unaware that any revolt was taking place, the masses of Fundamentalism reacted, not from the teaching of the Bible but from the mental tyranny of the scribes.

Excerpted from: Keys to the Deeper Life by A. W. Tozer.
Copyright © 1957 by Sunday Magazine 1987 by Zondervan Publishing Corporation.


  1. Tozer wrote:
    > It assumes for instance, that if we have the word for a thing we have the thing itself.

    This is the essence of lawlessness – doing what is right in one’s own eyes. It is not that we do what we think is wrong or evil but that we see with the wrong eyes, the eyes of the flesh and not the eyes of the spirit. In the arena of textualism, we ARE supposed to study the written words of the Bible but we must LIVE by the words spoken by Him who gives life – and these two, when rightly gleaned and divided by the work of the Holy Spirit within us, will not contradict one another. And the only way to do this is to balance the two – but if we only think that we have balance, we have only attained yet again to lawlessness, what is right in our eyes. Though it seems overly-simplistic, we must come to understand that JESUS is our balance between the written word and the spoken word. It will always remain true that lawlessness, what is right in our own eyes, has nothing in common with righteousness, what is right in God’s eyes.

    Neil Girrard

  2. Absolutely correct Neil - I liked what you said about JESUS being our balance. Unless we are submitted to the cross of Christ, we go astray. We are supposed to study the Bible, but for what purpose? Absolutely correct again - it so that we might live rightly, love more, and grow in our relationship with God and men.

  3. It's worse than Charismania....at least with this schism the consideration of the Spirit's work is considered although misapplied.