We Can Do Better

I propose modeling an obedient stance of standing under Scripture to learn from it rather than using Scripture to say what we want it to say.

As a lifelong member of the Christian Reformed Church, I grew up hearing two very different narratives. One emphasized how the CRC and the Reformed tradition has much to offer the greater Christian community with our understanding of Scripture. A phrase I often heard went something like this: “We are very strong in the intellect but may need some growth in the heart.”

At the same time I heard another narrative more subtly voiced through modeling. This voice told me that Scripture can be used to prove things. We were great at finding proof texts. When the denomination discussed an issue, the different “sides” found texts to support their arguments. When we received brochures from denominational agencies, they often included Bible verses related to its message.

Recently I was asked to teach a curriculum that consisted of Bible verses used as proof texts and followed by questions. In one example, participants are asked to read from a parable in Luke 14. Jesus says that if someone wants to build a tower, “Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost?” The curriculum’s follow-up question is, “Does Jesus want us to plan?” Now, I am not against planning, but what if we read James 4:13-14 instead? (“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.”) Does God want us to plan? 

We should never take texts out of context, and we need to be very careful when using verses as proof texts. Even when we use proof texts well, we are modeling a dangerous use of Scripture. 

I know I am asking us to change something that has been ingrained in us for generations, but we can do better. I propose that instead of using proof texts in our educational publications, we teach others to use Scripture the way it was intended. I propose modeling an obedient stance of standing under Scripture to learn from it rather than using Scripture to say what we want it to say. I’m aiming high here, but I also propose we have an honest discussion about the proper use of Scripture in our literature, devotions, and educational materials. In too many of our publications we either take texts out of context or suggest that this is the proper use of Scripture.

We can do better.

About the Author

Dan Walcott taught high school Bible for 40 years at Illiana Christian, Holland Christian, and Hillcrest in Jos, Nigeria. He is currently the pastor of Bethany CRC in Holland, Mich.

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Comments

The CRCNA does "proof texting" in its political advocacy as well.  The phases become bumper sticker styled mantras, e.g.,

"welcome the stranger"

"do justice"

"let justice roll down like waters"

And then there are extra biblical mantras like:

"immigrants are a blessing and not a burden."

Of course there is truth in all of these bumber sticker mantras, but when used as "proof texts," they are problematic as well.  The problem is that politics loves the pithy (which is what proof texting is).  So how can the CRC avoid this and do political advocacy at the same time?

Micah 6:8 might the most plasticized and adulterated scripture passage in use in the CRC today - it is used as a verse to support whatever worldly vision of justice happens to be du jour. 

This author makes a good warning, but let us never be afraid to reference Scripture properly and frequently.  II Timothy 3:16-17 - "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."

Jesus also was not afraid to wield Scripture, and provided us with the example of doing just that. 

The old saying goes: "A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text."  Another important saying: "Analogia Scripturae" (meaning: Scripture is to be explained by Scripture).

Would that we would all be willing and desirous of sitting under the Word, and not allow ourselves to search out teachers who will twist scripture to scratch our "itching ears", as in II Timothy 4:3. 

We can't be so "all or nothing".  Is it not OK to simply quote a scripture to support our position?  Sure it is - if it is done correctly.  When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, he used individual verses to combat the temptations of the devil.  Sometimes, verses are so plainly obvious that if one only had that single verse, one could understand what it is saying - others take more time to understand, and need to be understood in light of the overall message of scripture.  There is not a catch-all approach - it takes wisdom and serious study.  I have seen issues like the women-in-office one, where if one simply appeals to 1 Timothy 2, that person is immediately dismissed as not understanding the overall over-arching theme of scripture, which apparently when understood, causes us to interpret 1 Timothy 2 vastly differently.  However, we must be careful that when we try and use the "overall" teaching of the scripture that we don't regulate individual texts to nonsense - which is what many people tend to do.

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