I wrote in an earlier editorial (“Revival and Spiritual Pride,” June 2021) that we need to repent from our collective spiritual pride, ask God to fill us with his Holy Spirit, and “immerse ourselves in Scripture with humble hearts and eyes, without agendas.” But a reader wisely asked whether parsing Scripture more intensely will only feed that spiritual pride, as our denomination has often prided itself on theological precision. I agree that there are ways of reading Scripture that only feed our spiritual pride. I want to point out the dangers of domesticating Scripture to fit our ideological beliefs and agendas rather than humbly approaching Scripture to be transformed in our minds and hearts.
The authors of Redeeming How We Talk distinguish between sacred and demonic theologies: “With one, knowledge of Scripture and theology … is a gift from God as a way to serve and love others. For the other, knowledge becomes about control, power, and authority. The first is sacred theology. The second is demonic theology” (p. 131). I’ve quoted this passage before, but it is worth repeating. Instead of humbling us to our knees in prayer as a proper reading of Scripture would, domesticating Scripture becomes a stepping stool for spiritually and intellectually elevating ourselves over others.
How do we know if we have domesticated Scripture to feed our spiritual pride? There are at least three major signs that you may be in danger of it.
First, if you know many biblical parts better than you know the whole biblical narrative. Without knowing the entire biblical narrative and its trajectory, it is easy to manipulate bits and pieces (verses and passages) of Scripture, especially out of context, to fit whatever ideology or agenda you have. If you are always proof-texting your progressive social justice causes or your conservative traditional positions but could not equally justify them from the Bible’s overall narrative, then you might be in danger of domesticating Scripture.
Second, if Scripture never seems to disagree with your views. Because all of humanity is sinful, no individual, group, or tradition has gotten everything right. Therefore it should not be surprising, if we read all of Scripture and not just our favorite bits, that we would come across passages and teachings that push our intellectual and emotional comfort zones. Be careful if Scripture never makes you angry, confused, or uncomfortable. If you always feel right and smug from reading Scripture, you are in danger.
Last, if Scripture hasn’t surprised you in a long time. No sinful human being can exhaust all of the Bible’s truths and insights. If you haven’t learned anything new from the Bible in a long time, you might want to examine yourself. Are you reading the entirety of Scripture? Are you reading Scripture honestly, or simply explaining away anything that disrupts your status quo? Or are you reading it through a theological or ideological lens? Have you ever experienced culture shock from reading Scripture? If you only read Scripture as if it’s written primarily to you, your culture, and your time, then you will almost certainly misread Scripture at some point. You will domesticate it into a modern, Western book.
Remember that Satan memorized and used Scripture, too, when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11). We need a proper approach to Scripture to foster spiritual revival.