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.