Saturday, October 12, 2013

“But the Bible says…”



I have to say it.
If you claim to be a Bible scholar and refuse the practice of hermeneutics and exegesis, then please stop prescribing others’ beliefs and behaviors. Likewise, however, if you believe that others’ prejudicial proof-texting (eisegesis is the technical term) justifies abandoning scripture’s authority, please know: your current-drifting pseudo-theology isn’t helping either.
What got me so riled this morning? In the online “Join the Conversation” section of October 8, 2013’s Christianity Today—Alister McGrath’s new Lewis biography having been reviewed—C.S. Lewis’s relationship with Joy Davidman was labeled: Adulterous. In the booming business of speaking ill of the dead, there will, sadly, be no McGrath vs. Lewis debate on the subject. But my defensiveness on behalf of Davidman and Lewis is not what stirred my ire. Here’s my problem: as some asserted adultery while others contradicted, both sides denied the authority of scripture.
The paths are well-worn, but let me try to describe their arguments briefly.

First, there were (parts of some) scriptures quoted. Some regularly sew bits and pieces of unrelated passages into a banner of false doctrine. But here the misuse of even a single portion of scripture illuminates far-reaching consequences. This morning’s textus minimus was “…and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32b). I’m used to this scrap of scripture (nine of the twenty-nine words of the New American Standard translation of this verse—which is itself just a part of one sentence, to which the prior verse adds another sixteen words) being used to bludgeon abandoned wives into shame, or even into enduring further abuse as “their godly duty.” The public display of bad theology is unfortunately routine. But today, the person offering their opinion (in nine words from scripture, isolated from the canon, the New Testament, the gospels, Jesus’ teachings, or even their own sentence) demanded my agreement, “if we take scripture seriously.” I’m sure that it’s exactly because I take scripture so seriously that my hackles were raised, especially when I saw the immediate effect of those claims.

The practice of proof-texting our personal opinions creates mistrust in not only self-proclaimed Bible scholars, but in the scriptures themselves. The alternative viewpoint correctly identifies the faulty theology resulting from using only parts of parts of sentences (which are themselves only parts of paragraphs, etc.). Yet, in doing so, it also abandons scriptural authority in favor of personal preferences for a god who not only “shows grace to those who fail” (as I understand God’s word to teach) but, through hazily phrased divine opinions that “need to be interpreted,” wants us to “find happiness” (even if that means jettisoning our obligations in marriage).
There is a third, and absolutely essential course. Neither prejudicial proof-texting nor vague invocation “take scripture seriously.” Deepening our relationship with the God who communicates through His word requires us to merge these divergent paths, doing Theology-in-Community, practicing exegesis on the basis of sound hermeneutics, toward determining a clear answer to “What would Jesus have us do?”

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