Browsing Tag



not every verse in the Bible is about you


All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

If your religious experience was anything like mine, you might have had this verse memorized since the time you were about six years old. Verses like “And you know you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on the tablets of human hearts” were used to encourage fundamentalist and evangelical children to memorize as much Scripture as possible. You might have even gone to something like AWANAS, were you were rewarded with fake money and tiny plastic toys for every page of verses you could memorize.

The idea was that the more Scripture we had “written on our hearts,” the more easily we would be able to stand up to the wiles of the devil. After all, that’s how Jesus defeated the temptations he faced in the wilderness– he quoted Bible verses at Satan. It was all tied back to II Timothy 3:16– all Scripture is profitable. None of his words can return void. We couldn’t predict how these verses would protect us, or how we could eventually use them, but it was just a good idea to be prepared.

But, one of the results of this idea– that all Scripture is profitable– is that every single last verse in the Bible can be specifically applied to the circumstances of my life. I’ve owned Bibles that had lists of Bible verses for every occasion, divided up by category. I’ve heard preachers shout from the pulpit, over and over again, the words rumbling in the ceiling rafters, that “if my people who are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray…then I will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin, and heal their land,” and we never talked about how that verse shows up in the middle of II Chronicles and it might not apply to America becoming a theocracy. No, all Scripture is profitable.

Yesterday, Tamara left a comment highlighting this, and it’s what got me started thinking about this idea again:

I saw you speaking of two lies that get fed in too many faith circles here:

2) Every passage of Scripture has an easy application for the average person. (I don’t know why that stood out to me, but when you said the pastor made that passage about a crazy, abusive evil person to be about “problem people” it just made me shudder. Not every passage needs a quick and easy application.)

I’ve mentioned before that I’m in the middle of a two-year theology program. I’m almost finished with it, actually (although, I’m going to need your thoughts and prayers this Sunday, as we’re covering Egalitarianism in the lesson for our course on “Humanity & Sin,” and the video teachers have had “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Waye Grudem” up on the board all past seven lessons). The course has had its ups and downs (obviously), but if nothing else it’s given me to the tools to go do more research on my own. One of the classes was “Bibliology and Hermeneutics,” and  one of the things they emphasizes was how vitally important it is to keep context and genre in mind, and make sure that we’re not forcing something that isn’t about us to be about us.

One of the more frustrating examples, in my opinion, is the homeschool and “fundiegelical” (<–new favorite word) reference to “The Joshua Generation,” their word for millennials. Our parents were Aaron and Moses, leaving the “Egypt” of the God-forsaken public school, and now my generation– the first crop of adult homeschoolers– was supposed to go out and “take back America for Jesus.” It hasn’t worked out in quite the way they expected. But it was an idea that I grew up believing in– I was supposed to be like Joshua.

Except… Joshua was a violent warlord who conquered Palestine one bloody battle after another. Making his story of death and destruction some sort of noble narrative about getting involved in right-wing politics doesn’t quite fit.

But I see this happen pretty often in evangelicalism. We reduce many of the stories in the Old and New Testaments into metaphors and metanarratives that we’re supposed to somehow directly apply to our lives. And, in a way, that isn’t entirely wrong. Stories are there for us to learn from them. But the way it typically gets handled in evangelical contexts is to ignore where the story belongs, how the story is told, and to many times ignore why the story was recorded in the first place. We frequently bend and twist these Bible stories to fit into American evangelicalism and our political and religious ideals that have more to do with being Republican than they do with being a Christian.

I don’t think the Bible works that way, and forcing it to be all about us, “us” being conservative American evangelicals– I think it’s doing incredible damage to the value of Scripture and its ability to work in people’s lives in an organic way. When we insist that individual verses must have a specific application in a modern setting, that Romans 1 must be about LGBTQ people when Paul had absolutely zero examples of what gay and lesbian relationships look like today… we narrow the Bible. We limit it.


a good tree cannot bear bad fruit


A little while ago, I watched Matthew Vines deliver an hour-long message on all of the passages in the Bible typically use to condemn gay men and women. It was a beautiful message, and I highly encourage all of you to listen to it when you have the time. Hopefully it will be encouraging– and challenging. But, one of the things he said that’s really stuck with me is the way he talked about Matthew 7:15-20. I was practically raised on the Sermon on the Mount, so Matthew 7 is a passage I’ve heard before, many times. However, the way I’d grown up meant that there was only one possible understanding of what Jesus meant by “false prophets” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” A false prophet was many things, but it all essentially boiled down to someone who wasn’t a fundamentalist like we were. And they talked about good fruit and bad fruit, but they never really explained what it meant. I sort of made the connection between good fruit and the Fruits of the Spirit, but “fruit” usually meant “how many people you’ve convinced to pray the Sinner’s Prayer in front of you” . . . so, it was a bit of a tangle, for me.

However, Matthew Vines pointed out something, and it helped the light turn on for me. If the whole of the Law and the Prophets and Jesus’ ministry is Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, then it stands to reason that the difference between good fruit and bad fruit is love. If an interpretation of a passage, if a doctrine that you hold to, does not encourage you to love your neighbor as yourself, then it’s not good fruit.

St. Augustine put it a bit better:

“Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.”

On Christian Doctrine

This seems like a really good starting place. Love.

And, as I’m working through how I think, what I believe, and how I work with the Bible, figuring out how it should be a part of my life, there’s a few things that I’m reaching for. Yesterday we had an amazing discussion about sola scriptura and how we handle Scripture (seriously, you guys, it was spectacular), and some of you articulated some of the things I’ve been mulling over. There’s one comment in particular I’d like to share, since InsanityRanch put it so well:

First, both Jews and Protestants have what you might call a “democratic” tradition of Bible reading. That is, the Bible is not the sole province of an educated elite. At least in theory (and largely in practice) everyone is supposed to study the Bible . . .

That said, there are some interesting differences as well . . . . [One being that] Jews read Bible with commentary. When I first started reading the Torah, I read it with Rashi (11th c. genius commentator on the Bible and Talmud.) The idea that the text of the Bible is free-standing is profoundly unJewish. There are layers and layers of commentary, so interwoven that it’s impossible to read a Bible passage without also thinking of the various strands of commentary on that verse. One has a sense of the different ways the verse has been read through a long history. Reading in this way makes the text seem very much less cut and dried, less susceptible to a single, simple interpretation.

As a consequence of reading with commentary, Jews have read in community, and the currency of community was questioning. Any interpretation offered for a verse tended to evoke a challenge, with one reader arguing according to R. So-and-so’s commentary and another reader arguing according to R. somebody else. This process made it hard to hold calcified interpretations of textual meanings… though of course, not impossible.

I think the idea of reading in community is paramount, and I think this is something that has been lost– or perhaps never present, I’m not sure– in evangelicalism and some Protestant environments. We gather together in church on Sunday, sometimes we do Bible studies or small groups together, but that’s about all we get in community, and it’s somehow separate from how we read Scripture. It seems that there’s been a strong emphasis in evangelicalism on “reading the Bible for yourself” that the result has been a highly Individualistic approach to Scripture. Somehow, though, instead of this resulting in what InsanityRanch described above, it seems that the Modernism so entrenched in evangelical philosophy results in us putting consensus above all other goals. There’s only one right way to interpret a passage. And, in America, with our individualism and exceptionalism and the fact that the evangelical church is so politicized, we wind up with that “one right way” usually feeding into a really harmful and dangerous status quo.

Being willing to embrace the possibility of not knowing when it comes to our Bibles is discomfiting. But, understanding that the Christian faith is not supposed to exist in isolation, but in community,I think could be a really strong first step.

All of this has somehow led me to re-evaluating a deeply ingrained belief that I’ve grown up with, a belief that seems to be synonymous with Protestantism and evangelicalism alike: that Scripture is the final authority, that Scripture alone is all we need to live our faith. And regardless of how the Reformers originally meant this (since Luther himself believed that some parts of Scripture don’t need to be listened to coughcough James)– what it has come to mean in evangelicalism could be encapsulated in the phrase “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

In the theology course I’m taking, they present a concept called the “Stage of Truth,” which some of you are probably familiar with. Some traditions present this similarly to the Wesleyen Quadrilateral, except the Stage of Truth is more prioritized and hierarchal than that. In Protestant and evangelical sola scriptura traditions, the Stage of Truth looks a bit like this:

stage of truth

Scripture, of course, is at the head since it is the final authority in a Christian’s life. But I’m looking at the other elements on this “stage,” and I’m wondering about a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and I’m looking around at the world around me, and I’m wondering if something like Experience or Emotion doesn’t belong closer to the front.

Because in my lived experience, I’ve felt the horror of Deuteronomy 22 being the final authority in my life. I’ve felt the full, brutal weight of the fact that Scripture doesn’t have bodily autonomy or individual agency well articulated in its pages, and I know what that does to a person. I’ve spent most of my adult life (what little there is of it) struggling under “biblical patriarchy” and having to fight with all of the voices screaming at me that being on my own is rebellion against my father. I’ve been depressed and been told that I must “take every thought captive” and that “perfect love casts out fear” and that I’m just not loving God enough, that’s why I’m sick.

And all of these ideas have come from having a “high view of Scripture,” and believing that what it said had complete authority over my entire life. That I had to force myself into alignment with the “clear teaching of Scripture” because it was the only authority I had. If the Bible had something to say about an idea, well, that was what I had to believe. That was the opinion I had.

I didn’t know that all of that was heavily predicated on interpretation, on the fundamentalism I was raised in, that it wasn’t the Bible but an interpretation of the Bible– but thinking like that was actively discouraged by everyone I knew. Pastors and evangelists and missionaries and Sunday school teachers and professors and Bible study leaders and speakers and teachers all telling me that This is what the Bible says This is what the Bible says and somehow they all sounded the same so I believed it.

And it wasn’t until that I understood that my life matters and my experiences matter and what I feel about people matters that I started re-examining what the Bible so clearly says. When I placed my Bible in tension with my life, and the people I care about, and what I can reason to be true, what so many before me have observed to be true, some things became a lot more simple. It wasn’t until I’d set aside my “high view of Scripture” that loving my neighbor really became possible.


facts, and how beeing a know-it-all can be a good thing

There are a couple verses that IFB preachers start throwing around when their congregation has the audacity to do things like, y’know, ask questions. They usually revolve around having the “faith of a child,” and you can find them in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Basically, it goes something like this: “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (<— I just committed a huge crime right there, by using the, oh, horrors, English Standard Version instead of the God-Breathed, infallible, plenary-inspired Word of God, otherwise known as the Authorized Version, if you’re going to be fancy, the KJV if you’re not.)

Setting aside any honest practice of bibliology or hermeneutics, the typical IFB man interprets this verse as “unless you come to God with unquestioning-of-the-man-of-God, blind obedience, you’re a-gonna go to hell.” Not in so many words, of course, but when you couple the hammering of these verses with the fact that they’re usually hammered into the people asking questions, what you get is “shut up and color.”

The interesting thing to note that questioning the pastor’s interpretation of Scripture is almost always equal to questioning Scripture itself in the way it usually gets handled. So it’s not surprising that questioning the pastor at all can land you in a peck of trouble.

Take, for example, my encounter with one IFB pastor in Georgia.

I’d just finished my freshman year at a radically conservative Christian college, and that summer my parents packed my sister and I off to summer camp. It was the first time I’d get to be a “camp counselor,” although since most of the girls going were 16+, it seemed a little redundant. This camp was in the middle of a swamp, and if you’ve ever been in a swamp, in Georgia, in the middle of July, you’ll understand the level of torture this was. The mattresses had bed bugs, the showers were open-air, filled with mud and daddy-long-legs, and the “camp” involved going to chapel five times a day. Twice in the morning, once in the afternoon, and twice in the evening. Participation in sports was mandatory. As a maladroit girl, that was worse than sitting under five different “hacking preachers” daily. (If you don’t already know what a “hacking preacher” is, I’m sorry, you’re missing out on one of the funniest things you’ll ever hear, but it can’t be explained. It involves lots of gasping and spitting.)

Another mandatory event was to answer a Bible trivia question before you could get into the chow hall to eat. Usually, they were pretty simple. Name a disciple. Name a judge. Name a place.

The “name a place” is where I got tripped up. I was waiting in line in the sweltering, sauna-like heat with the sun pounding down, when the young man in front of me answered the “name a place” with Syracuse. The pastor who was guarding the entrance like St. Peter himself, told this young man that no, Syracuse, was most definitely not in the Bible.

“Wait a minute, yes it is.” I blurt out.

Unfortunately, I am one of those people who have trouble letting factual inaccuracies, no matter how minor, slide. I’m basically Ted from How I Met your Mother when it comes to this. I, just… can’t. It’s reflexive. Horrible, I know, but I’ve kinda given up on fixing it. If it means you can’t be my friend, well, I understand, and that’s ok. We all do annoying things. This is mine.

It also gets me into trouble occasionally. Like now.

The pastor leered down at me, smugly and obviously superior. “Now lookee here little lady, Syracuse is not in the Bible.” (I swear I’m only exaggerating for effect a little bit. But only a little.)

But, you see, I’d just finished my first semester at a radically conservative Bible college, and I’d just finished two semesters of New Testament surveys, including an overview of the missionary journeys of Paul. For some reason, my brain had latched onto the Syracuse bit in Acts 28:12 and connected it with the voyages of Sinbad and the Book of Peace. So yes, I knew it was in the Bible, and just as luck would have it, lunch immediately followed two rounds of church, so guess what I had with me?

You guessed it. My KJV Bible.

And guess what I also remembered, for the first time in my life?

A reference.

I whipped it open to Acts 28, where Paul cures diseases, snakebites, and stays in Alexandria for a bit, and point to the word “Syracuse” in verse 12.

“Huh,” and the pastor waved the young mad inside, who, sadly, did not appreciate my help. A girl had just stuck up for him, and that’s not exactly cool anywhere, but especially not there.

One of my girlfriends at the time also happened to be my pastor’s daughter, and she could barely restrain herself before we got inside. She grabbed my arm and physically hauled me out of the lunch line. Away from the fried chicken– so frustrating.

“What in the world do you think you were doing?” She hissed.


“You can’t correct a man of God like that.”

“Huh– wha, wait– why? He was wrong.”

“It doesn’t matter. He’s a man of God. You don’t get to do that, not to him.”

“But he was wrong.”

“That doesn’t matter. You’re more wrong. He made an honest mistake, but what you did, that was sin.”

“That’s so stupid! What if it’s not just some little silly little fact that barely matters at all, and it actually matters if he’s wrong?”

“Men of God can’t be wrong, don’t be ridiculous.”


And that last statement sums up a lot of what’s wrong with IFB preachers and the way they become the end-all-be-all of Scripture to their churches. I got into trouble with my pastor later, as the IFB-St. Peter and my friend both told him what I’d done. I ended up spending the next four days in the kitchen scrubbing pots and pans, but that was just fine with me.

I got to escape going to the church services, and got to hang out with all the other reprobates like me.

Photo by Ryk Neethling