Excessive Bible Study Produces Arrogant, Judgmental Christians

Years ago there was a lady in the church I served who was really into John MacArthur.

(If you’re not familiar with John MacArthur, he’s was like the Bill O’Reilly of pastors during the 90’s).

It seemed that every time she saw me in the hallway she was sticking a John MacArthur sermon CD, book, study guide, or pamphlet in my hand.

“Pastor Brian, this teaching is so powerful. You MUST listen to/read this.”

I could tolerate all the MacArthur paraphernalia and the not-so-subtle hints about how shallow my sermons were, but the one thing I couldn’t stomach was the condescending way she used to talk about the new people who were coming to faith in our church.

“Pastor Brian, the baby Christians here aren’t quite where they need to be…”

“Pastor Brian, we need to get these baby Christians in the word…”

“Pastor Brian, have you seen those…”

I wanted to hurl every time I talked with her.

Here’s a simple fact: most Bible consuming Christians I’ve met over the years have been painfully arrogant.

No-one is as spiritual as they are.

They confuse Bible knowledge with spiritual maturity.

They’ve turned the study of scripture into a recreational hobby, as if the act of studying the Bible itself is what pleases God.

And worst of all, they’ve committed the most subtle form of idolatry of all – they’ve replaced the centrality of the risen Jesus in their life with a book that talks about the risen Jesus.

And then they look askance at anyone who dares to differ with them.

What pleases Jesus more?

A “baby Christian” who has never read Jesus’ command to be humble, yet is radically self-effacing?

Or the person who has memorized every verse in the Bible that talks about humility yet remains painfully arrogant?

I believe that Christians need to read the Bible every day. Five minutes a day. An hour a day. The length doesn’t matter, but the goal does.

We study the Bible not to simply know it, but to get to know it’s author and obey Him.

That’s a fine line of distinction, but an important one.

Your thoughts?

Brian loves helping Christians live thoughtful, courageous lives. He's a popular blogger, author, and pastor at Christ's Church of the Valley in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

  • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

    “We study the Bible not to simply know it, but to get to know it’s author and obey Him.”

    Love this quote.  Growing up as a pastor’s kid (PK), I knew the answers to all the Bible questions.  When we studied the Bible in my freshmen English class at a public high school, I was the one who know all the answers and could elaborate on the stories that we were studying.  I imagine now that it came across as arrogant.  One of my good friends who was in the class initially thought I was a Bible geek.

    This is not necessarily a compliment.

    The cool thing is that four years later when we were both getting ready to head our separate ways to college, he wrote a note to me that left me in tears (of joy).  His note went on to thank me for our years of memories and friendship, and it most of all thanked me for introducing him to Christ.  If my Bible knowledge led to this life transformation for my friend then it was worth it!

    That’s the kind of Bible knowledge I want to have.

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      Well put Jon.

  • Davenwood

    We as pastors can fall into those same traps. We go to preachers meetings, conventions, or just talk to each other and some guys just have all the answers. If you disagree with them you are a “slacker” or worse. I love Jon’s comment about getting to know the author. Good advice for all.

  • http://twitter.com/mikekjergaard Mike Kjergaard

    Hey Brian,

    Yes, I agree, for the most part. Sometimes these folks can
    be Pharisaical and annoying. However, there is something to be said for those
    who believe Bible study and sound doctrine are important. I grieve over the biblical
    illiteracy in the typical Christian church. While it is true that information
    doesn’t necessarily lead to transformation; it is also true that spiritual
    growth is difficult without a steady diet of the “milk” and “meat” of God’s
    Word. Life AND Doctrine are important (1 Tim. 4:16). You and I know folks who
    have been Christians for decades, yet they would be hard pressed to give a
    simple explanation of the Gospel. I’ve seen long-time members (very plugged-in,
    wife-of-an-elder, et al) struggling to find the book of Titus. REALLY? We can
    and should do better, eh?

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      Yeah, I agree. I think its a both/and thing.

  • Jack Cottrell

    Two fallacies here:  (1) Fallacy of false cause:  assuming that high-volume Bible study is the CAUSE of the arrogance displayed.  (2) Fallacy of false choice:  assuming there are only TWO ways to please Jesus: study the Bible only a little and be humble, or study the Bible a lot and be arrogant.  There is surely a third choice:  study the Bible a lot and be humble.  Hebrews 5:11 – 6:3.

  • Tamara Tipton

    I agree completely. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Kilson/558740263 Jim Kilson

    In response to this statement I would have to say no, while
    it may be true that in our own desire to be “right” we can and often
    are arrogant and judgmental, and in some of those situations we throw Scripture
    around haphazardly in a misguided effort to prove how “right” we are.
    The study of the Word of God is never the cause of this, and thus should never bear
    the blame for inappropriate human actions. The only way scripture study could
    be excessive to the point of being classified as a “negative” is if one is
    neglecting the other Scripture directed obligations of life to engage in it. We
    should always encourage people to study Scripture… for it is profitable
    beyond measure.

  • Milsdj

    A true Christian should desire to be in God’s Word. As that Christian consumes the Word he should be driven further towards humility. You make the statement that those who really study the Bible are full of arrogance. Might I suggest that they are simply Christians with a basic personality flaw, Christians who need guidance, or not true believers at all. We, the Church, have lost the art of practicing discipline. Allowing a person like you point out to be in a position of influence or as a teacher, is like knowing you have a cancer that could be relatively easy to remove, but not wanting to bother removing it; not saying that you would allow this, but know of others who have. If the person has a personality flaw, reproof/correction is called for; along with possible counselling. Training is called for in the case of the misguided Christian. And an application of the gospel for the one who is not a true believer. In any case that person must be removed from any position held until there perspective is corrected and display proper humility. My 2 cents…

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      Maybe. My experience, however, is the opposite. Reading the Bible devotionally, every day, is to be encouraged. Turning Bible into a recreational obsession, like I see some Christians do, leads to, well, an arrogant, snobbish attitude towards those who don’t.

      • Milsdj

        Yes, but again, this is not the correct attitude. A true Christian with correct motives would/should not approach bible reading & study in the manner you mention. At the very least they should be called out for their wrong attitude; of course in sincere love. Just calling them out may be enough to cause them to realize what they have been doing, but further instruction may be required also. I think that it is more likely to identify the people you mention because they do have that arogance. I have known a good number of Christians, who are well studied, very knowledgeable, but who have such humility (as a result) that you’d never know it unless you spent time with them; seeing how they live and handle circumstances. I hope there are many more of this type of well studied, silently humble, Christians out there. My heart does brake for those who are like you point out. They are caught in a bondage; bondage to works and trying to justify themselves in light of how much better they are than others. We cannot justify ourselves. Only Christ can justify, now that’s humbling.

      • Bhoshauer2

        interesting, but it would seem that your conclusions are spurious (as per Jack Cottrell’s note above.  Your initial comment was that ‘most’ really-deep-into-Bible-study Christians’ exhibited this arrogant behavior.  In this current post, that number is now down to ‘some’ Christians.  Additionally, you now mention that these ‘some’ are ‘like I see’ believers, but you only mention the arrogant, snobbish attitude is what you see, but not that you have actually observed these ‘some’ in their times of what was initially ‘excessive Bible study’ now ‘recreational obsession’  Bible study…  This leads me to wonder if you have challenged these aforementioned believers about the dangers of passing judgement in this form, or if you have simply become guilty of doing the same thing about which you have passed criticism on your now ‘fellow log-eyes.’  
        It would seem that you have (as often is the case with us) used ‘the worst of us’ as examples and thrown ‘the best of us’ under the bus to make your initial point.  This is unfair and inappropriate to all of us who have spend a LOT of time in Bible study, reflection, writing, teaching, leading and actually helping the ‘newbies’ as we walk through this journey with one another.
        Just some thoughts.

  • Andy Bennett

    The problem of arrogant, judgmental Christians presents many valid concerns. Why are they that way? It looks like you are saying it is because they read the Bible in a way that turns their thoughts/hearts into concrete rather than in a way that turns their thoughts/hearts to Jesus. But what does that mean? Why take the Bible out of the equation? At what point are you going to allow them to read the Bible again? A symptom of the problem is the bad behavior, reading the Bible is a contributing factor (for continuing the bad behavior AND for good behavior too), but the basis/abnormal condition/cause/the problem itself lies within the person. 1) Take their Bible away or 2) confront their behavior by lovingly pointing it out (and the course of other “disciplinary” matters) and encouraging consistent reading, accurate interpretation, and tending to their fruit of the Spirit? The latter option seems hard to beat. There are other options too, e.g., one could dismiss the whole thing as important. It seems very important to realize that part of the problem is that such arrogance and judgmentalism is intimidating to many and as such it goes unchecked face to face. The personal approach is best, but cyber social media is a good start.  Maintaining a continuing dialogue with such Christians is difficult because often those who think they know it all stop the dialogue from continuing. They often refuse to talk about it. They often threaten to leave (and take their money with them). They often ignore their own behavior and the person who points it out ends up being the bad person in the eyes of the arrogant and judgmental (the psychologists call this “projection.”). It’s easy to confuse confidence and correctness with arrogance and judgmentalism though. Be willing to keep any disagreement open to discussion. If not, the accuser has a foothold to will and encourage arrogance. Who is arrogant and judgmental in your life? Correct her/him, rebuke her/him, and encourage her/him. Stand up and confront that which convicts you. Accepting we have the Holy Spirit, I do not think it is a good thing to ignore his guidance. It’s a capital experience to be found “annoying” and “contentious” when doing the right thing. Sooner (now) or later (The Judgment) they will have to give answer for their bad behavior. Making it sooner seems to promote their best interest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1344506998 Brian Nall

    You’ll find arrogant people in all areas of life, both Christian and non-Christian. If Bible study is to blame for this problem, I’m not finding the connection. This is a heart issue. There are people who study the Bible a lot and are arrogant. There are people who study the Bible a little bit, or never, and are arrogant. There are people who study the Bible a lot and are NOT arrogant. There are people who study the Bible a little bit, or never, and are arrogant. Additionally, when we start judging people for their motives in studying the Bible we enter very slippery territory.

  • Rmarks42

    After nearly 40 years of ministry, now retired, I sat down and wrote a piece titled: “What I would do differently if I had my ministry to do all over again.”  One of those things I wrote was that I would change the pattern of being a “MacArthurite.” For I was raised on “exegetical preaching style”, and felt that MacArthur epitomized it to a “t”. During the latter part of my active ministry, I changed my style, and it was to take anything away from the Word, or my love for the Bible.  But it was re-thinking how I might help the Bible to be really more relevant to where people are today. How I might present it in a different style. “Knowledge does puff up”, and sometimes the people who know a lot of Bible are looking to hear someone else from the pulpit say what they know already.
    Over 40 years of ministry, these were often the people who became the biggest problem, unfortunately. My wife has seen it—when she read this piece, she agreed totally.  The NT principle is “That I may KNOW HIM (Phil. 3:10) and the power of HIS resurrection, and the fellowship of HIS sufferings.” If that were the goal, it goes beyond knowledge and leaves little room for arrogance.

  • Rick Chromey

    Bibliolatry and idolatry (whether John MacArthur, Joyce Meyers or Francis Chan) is the issue here.  And I have a bit of a different take:  at least this lady was passionate about biblical things and helping new believers to mature!  Okay, so she pushed John MacArthur too much, but that’s better than 99% of the stuff she could be pushing (and I’m no fan of JM).

    Was she critical and arrogant?  I don’t know, maybe.  But at least she was learning about God’s Word in a community of believers who could correct her (I hope).  Bible study (excessive or not) produces insights (inspired by the Holy Spirit).  Too many pastors only study Scripture for their own teaching points and so I suspect they probably do “hurl” when someone like this gal pushes their favorite Bible teacher.  BTW, that’s NOT a judgment on Brian here specifically, but a general observation of preachers.  

    If excessive Bible study produces arrogant Christians, then I’m in trouble.  I LOVE God’s Word and study it often for Truth and Insight, to teach and preach and write.  I hope I’m not arrogant in my dealings with others, but instead of rebuffing my enthusiasm for God’ Word (or even one of his teachers), I hope my pastor would mentor me to a better approach and temper my enthusiasm.

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      I would hope so too.

  • Chad Martens

    I agree Brian……its the whole faith without works is dead kinda thing. Great blog!

  • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

    Maybe. But my experience has been the exact opposite. SHOULD people who get fanatical about Bible study become more humble? Sure. I hope so. Does that actually happen? Not from what I’ve seen.

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

    I think humans in general are pretty arrogant and proud. I am proud of my humility.

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      I get that:)

  • http://www.GigahertzInc.com/ Nerdful

    TOo much excessive Bible study gives me a headache :)

    http://www.HolyBibleSearch.net

  • blood.wine6322

    Your entire rant about arrogance stemming from the study of God’s Word is arrogant.