A Christian living in the first century under Roman rule could read the letters of Paul and the other Apostles and get a pretty good idea of what he should do to live his life, interact with his government, and engage his culture. The New Testament, after all, was written during his lifetime. It’s possible he was even in the mind of the writers as they wrote. For him, the distinction I’m about to make between Bible-based and Bible-limited would have been nothing at all.

However, for an American Christian living in the decaying post-Christian West under a somewhat federated, somewhat republican form of government, the New Testament does not always directly translate to his situation. There is no Caesar, for example. There are many denominations. There are no Apostles. There is no living memory of Jesus. There are institutions designed to take children away from their parents and indoctrinate or mutilate them.

In our time, it becomes very important to distinguish between Bible-based and Bible-limited, the terms I’m going to use to clarify the concept I want to write about here. A Bible-based Christian appeals to Scripture as the foundation of his doctrine and worldview. It’s God-breathed, inspired, and inerrant in all it teaches. It is the final court of appeal. But the Bible-based theologian does not think the Bible is the sum total of all human knowledge or even all spiritual knowledge. He knows that it says almost nothing about living under a form of government where anyone can run for office and anyone can campaign and vote for someone. It doesn’t say anything directly about transgenderism because the concept would have been an absurd insult to the authors. And yet, the Bible-based Christian knows that Scripture still has something to say about these things.

The Bible-limited Christian, on the other hand, thinks that when the Bible doesn’t talk about something, there’s no real Christian position on the issue. Among the liberal, nominal Christians, this includes baby murder, transgenderism, government, patriarchalism, and anything else Scripture doesn’t explicitly talk about.

Even among conservative Christians who seem to really believe in Jesus this same thing can happen. It’s a severe misreading of Scripture and a catastrophic misunderstanding of what Scripture is for. Two examples come to mind.

First, when it comes to the shape of the family, the Bible-limited Christian is a complementarian. He believes that what the Bible says about women’s roles in the church is arbitrary (despite Paul appealing to human nature and history). We obey those very specific instances because Scripture says them, but don’t dare to try and understand the implications. Families can be any shape we can think of. Some have no fathers. Some have step-dads. Some marriages intentionally have no children because the parents are too busy with work. There’s no right or wrong decisions when it comes to family formation except that sex outside of marriage is frowned upon (and only frowned upon; there’s no gravity to it because we wouldn’t want anyone to feel guilty). Complementarianism is a weak position on sexuality, and it can’t answer any of the challenges of the modern world, which is why complementarians so often abandon what little Scripture they originally affirmed and eventually become egalitarians. They have no worldview of human sexuality. Just a few isolated rules. They are Bible-limited, and the Bible’s authors presumed those who read their words would have a basic grasp of human nature.

Second, when it comes culture and politics, the Bible-limited Christian is “Gospel-centered”. Anything that isn’t about the Gospel’s message or spread is unimportant at best, often distracting, and contrary to the Gospel at worst. Want to go to a school board meeting because the teacher’s are force-feeding kids gay sexual content? That’s because you don’t trust God and you don’t have control over your anger. Think you should run for local office to push back against the Diversity/Equity/Inclusion religion? You’re wrong for not focusing on the Gospel; you won’t save anyone with your political work and it would be better to become a missionary.

For Bible-limited Christians, they have to pretend that Christianity was always supposed to exist as a minor annoyance to a Total State like the Roman Imperium. They have absolutely no theological substance when Caesar repents and turns to Christ. They are like Jonah before a repentant Nineveh; it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. The Bible doesn’t talk about how to handle victory and so we can’t have any idea how to handle it. They don’t know how to handle a form of government where regular people can influence the outcome because the Bible was written to Christians under Caesar. And so they have nothing to say. What happens when Christian obedience leads to a King Darius telling his people to worship the One True God? They have absolutely nothing to say and are as likely to be grieved by the development as to be thankful.

When your theology leads you to reject the family as God designed it, to reject human nature, to mourn at the conversion of the world, to demand your side lose every battle, and to have nothing to say about the most important issues of the time you live, your theology is a failure. It’s Loser Christianity. The biggest problem with Loser Christianity is that many of those who embrace the faulty theology behind it genuinely want to lose and be irrelevant because they’re afraid of the alternative. They’re afraid of a Christianity that really goes out and makes disciples of all nations. They’re afraid of their rulers repenting and coming to Christ.

One of the healthiest trends in the church right now is that so many people now view Loser Christianity and the faulty Bible-limited theology that spawns it with disgust. There’s a lot of frustration with seminaries and Christian leadership that is seen as wanting to fail and play the loyal opposition to hell. More of this would be better, but it’s a start.