My blogging friend Fajita, with his usual fine knack for getting to the point and nailing it with a single blow, named several reasons for people using the wrong interpretational “tool” (hermeneutic) in his comment to the previous post. The middle one was:
selfishness – using an inappropriate tool in order to arrive at a conclusion that fits a personal or organizational goal.
Guilty as charged.
I’ll bet you are, too.
We Christians have a tendency to proof-text … to lift a single passage of scripture out of its comfortable, contextual home and try to make it sit up, roll over, and speak; to make it say more – or less, or even something different – than it actually wants to say in order to prove our pet point.
Oh, we recognize that Satan can do and has done and will do the same thing. But that’s when scripture is mishandled by the hands of the enemy and twisted into a growling, snarling beast. Not when it’s in our loving hands.
So we do it under some misapprehension that when it’s done by those who love God and love scripture, it’s not wrong.
That, as a scholar like Fajita would recognize, is intellectually dishonest. It is disingenuous.
And it’s a fine line.
When someone asks a question about a matter on which scripture is abundantly clear, is it wrong to share with them that clarity without making them read an entire chapter or biblical book? I don’t think so. Jesus pulled a few words of psalm and prophecy out of the canon of that day to make His point – more than once, to be sure.
But, to say that something is mandated, permissible, or forbidden because scripture does not specifically mention it is dishonest. It’s pushing your agenda. It’s proof-texting at its worst.
Why not just be honest about it? Why not just say, scripture is silent and possibly indifferent on the subject? Why not enumerate your reasons for the way you believe on the subject and just say, “This is my preference. This is what draws me closer to God and what I do to keep my conscience clear before Him”?
To me, it’s clear that there were all kinds of questions upon which the church of century one could have easily split, and epistles were written to try to prevent it. Gentiles could eat meat sacrificed to idols with a clear conscience; the idols meant nothing to them now. Jews could not; those idols represented Satan and his hordes. The instruction was, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
It was not a hard-and-fast rule. Under certain circumstances, that would require being sensitive to the conscience of others. Under other circumstances, it would necessitate demonstrating your belief. In all circumstances, it would demand loving brothers and sisters in Christ and engaging in dialogue with each other in order to understand each other better and draw closer to God together.
There was never an instruction in scripture to be right about everything. Not then. Not now.
In a discourse that establishes God’s ability to judge perfectly and be right as opposed to man’s disqualification to do so, Paul writes the Romans, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” At the risk of proof-texting, I believe he encourages us to be humble with regard to our own judgment, and recognize God’s perfect judgment.
In fact, I believe that the whole of scripture has as a long-running subtext, from beginning to end, the recognition that we are not up to the task – and God alone is.
That’s why we need to back off of our microscopic inspection of other’s eyes in order to see clearly the log in our own. (Hey – there’s a blog title in that somewhere!) That’s why we need to be able to confess that we’ve been wrong and repent. That’s why we praise God for His perfect balance of righteousness and mercy expressed in His Son, Jesus.
That’s why there is no room in our methodology to retreat to separate camps of like-minded ones and loudly proclaim “Here’s what I think and I’m right about it because God says so. Look right here at this isolated verse! Look at it with my hermeneutic! See it my way, or go to hell!” Nor is there room to smugly observe the other camp, joke and judge: “They just don’t get it.”
That’s why there is all kinds of room in our methodology to say, “Here’s what I believe and why. What do you think? How does it read?”
That’s why, even though Jesus was the embodiment of God on this world who could have thundered the proclamation of His truth to all mankind simultaneously, He still left us the methodology of asking questions, telling stories, and reading scripture – together.
Call it a perfect example.
How do you read it?