Why I Don’t Quote The Bible, Or Kindling Needed For Tonight’s Witchhunt

Is this the message we are conveying when we "use" the Bible?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I hardly quote Scripture on this blog. And  now I’ll tell you why.

I typically shy way from this in light of how Scripture is used these days: as a weapon. We even call it a sword, and we certainly swing it to cut other people down. As I child I was trained to be an expert in proof-texting and taking things WAY out of context. It’s my knee jerk reaction to use the Bible to prove a point or slam truth down on the table. But really this fails to do justice to the deep and shattering truth we so strongly clutch. Scripture should be used to build up, however it is so frequently used to chop down. If I were to quote the Bible more – it would be for my purposes – and not for Scripture’s.

The Bible is often used disingenuously. We demand it is given the utmost respect, even higher than the American flag that we ceremonially burn when it’s retired, yet we manipulate it and twist it and abuse it like it works forus. I’ve seen the Bible used to justify all sorts of things – the least of which is love.

You want to know just how liberal I am? I don’t know what to make of the Bible – it’s far too complex a work to encapsulate it with terms like infallible and inerrant. It’s beyond quick classification for me. It’s a book spanning thousands of years with dozens of authors, many we know nothing about, that cuts across various regions, cultures and languages. What label do you throw on that?! I think when we throw such labels upon it, though seemingly lifting it up to a status just below God, we are actually betraying a profoundly beautiful and complex work that’s survived for thousands of years because of it’s power.

There are parts of the Bible I can’t even begin to understand, there are parts that seem to totally contradict my understanding of God and then there are parts that give me the shivers (the good kind). I think the reason I am following Jesus today is because a passage of Scripture struck a deep chord with my heart that finally allowed me to be genuinely interested in Jesus rather than simply using him for a ticket to heaven. So I don’t quote the Bible because I’ve thrown it out.

When I look at the Bible I see a sacred book. I see a recording, a history, of people grappling and struggling with God and screwing up every inch along the way (as they should, when you consider fumbling-in-the-dark-man and Holy-and-Perfect-God). I see a volume tracking the movements of God on this planet – not off in someone other dimension but here – in our midst. And when we focus on the ways in which God was here (and they are always good to remember) we can actually lose track of the ways God continues to move here. And that would be a shame.

Do you have a label for the Bible? If so, why? Do you agree it gets used and abused? What can we do to treat the Bible with more respect? 

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20 Responses to Why I Don’t Quote The Bible, Or Kindling Needed For Tonight’s Witchhunt

  1. Good thoughts here Charlie, although I may not agree with everything you have written. One thing I definitely agree with: the Bible is often used as a weapon to beat people into submission, than a letter from a loving God on how to honor and glorify Him. I was one of those “bible beaters” for more years than i care to think about. I will disagree with you in that I do believe the Bible is infallible (in its original languages) and without error. How to give it more respect? Don’t write or underline in it. Keep it on a shelf in its box or safely laying flat on a coffee table. Kidding. Just kidding. 🙂

  2. I can’t even come to terms with completely applying the Bible to MY life, let alone dictate how somebody else needs to apply it to theirs.

    It irks me that “inerrant and infallible” are more often batting tees for creationism than they are for “Jesus died to redeem sinners.” I DO believe the Bible is inerrant and infallible, because I DO believe it was inspired by God in some totally weird and difficult to understand way in that he did NOT puppetmaster the writers and their writing styles are completely preserved yet it is exactly what he intended to be written. At the same time I simply don’t know how that applies to scientific matter and history versus allegory and poetry versus prose. And all of that.

    So, no, I don’t really know which parts to take and wear on my forehead like an apothecary, which parts to use like a sword, which parts to draw me into wonder at the power and presence of God, and which parts to reflect on gently without being dogmatic. I just don’t know.

    And I simply can’t come to terms with the idea that a person must consciously and knowingly affirm that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible in order to be a Christian. And if you don’t have to consciously affirm that in order to become a Christian, why on earth is it so easy to call someone who discusses it a heretic?

    • I think another point I wanted to make in the post that you brought up is that the Bible isn’t as simple as we want it to be. As you say – you don’t which parts to do what with – and that’s because it’s the complex piece of literature that doesn’t fit many of our labels. That doesn’t mean we throw it out, it actually means we spend even more time wrestling with it and figuring it out. We cannot fear, as of course we’ll get it wrong at times, but as it turns out God has grace for those of us who do wrong.

      You also bring up a great point that usually when people bring up inerrancy it is to prove their very specific point. “see the bible says this thing (albeit it’s out of context) and the Bible is inerrant so therefore I am SOO right.” That’s exactly what I tend to not quote it here on the blog.

  3. David says:

    Wow, I guess that I find the fact that the Bible is not meaningful to you in so many ways sort of sad. The damage that religion causes is so deep. Sad. I believe that it comes from the false notion that we have a vicarious relationship with a powerless God that lives in the historical pages of an ancient book. Then we call it the will of God and start manufacturing doctrines and theories about how a seemingly disjointed few thousand pages all fit together. It is so very sad.

    If we don’t know God, the Bible will NEVER begin to make sense because it is spiritually discerned. If we never hear God, it will be impossible to sort out all the verses and decide on which on to act on right now. The Greek word is rhema and the timing is kiros. There are terms which require connecting with God with his word at a certain time.

    Amazingly the authenticity of the Bible has been challenged for 2,000 years and it is still pretty much here in it’s original form. Even when new manuscripts are found: still the same. In the last few hundred years we have many assaults on biblical scholarship. We have new theories on salvation, the end times, and new cults denying that Jesus was/is God. There is nothing new under the sun. As long as people that don’t know God, or don’t know him well, have a chance to get in there with their intellectual tin-snips, it is bound to happen.

    But for those that know God:

    Proverbs 2
    1 My son, if you receive my words,
    And treasure my commands within you,
    2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
    And apply your heart to understanding;
    3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
    And lift up your voice for understanding,
    4 If you seek her as silver,
    And search for her as for hidden treasures;
    5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD,
    And find the knowledge of God.

    I totally agree with you here:

    “And when we focus on the ways in which God was here (and they are always good to remember) we can actually lose track of the ways God continues to move here. And that would be a shame.”

    God is often doing a new thing, but beware, He never changes. In the final analysis, I think people believe whatever it is that fits what they want to do, slap some Bible on it, and never confer with God. You know how I know who these folks are? They have a long list of unanswered prayers.

    Thanks for being real.

    • I agree and disagree. I wouldn’t say the Bible isn’t meaningful to me – but I would say religion has definitely messed with my head. I do think we treat the Bible like a religious idol – but some would say we should.

      I’m interested in what you say about spiritual discernment for the scripture – this may cause you to question me but I would say I don’t have it – I think my religious experience sort of ran me into the ground so that Bible began to feel lifeless. The notable exception for me are the four gospels – those are still teaming with life for me.

      • David says:

        Well, that is the life part Charlie. Some of the Bible seems easy to discern at face value – or at an intellectual level.

        For example, it is easy to say, well, I have never seen God actually heal someone, and maybe there is a reason for that. So we dig in to the word, and try to find a proof text that says God doesn’t heal using believers any more – or worse, at all.

        I guess my point is this: it is easy to figure these things out, but it is only God that can give us discernment, that is the treasure we are after.

        I posted a remix of an older blog that is one of my stories about discernment. It’s nothing special, it is just that I don’t have to figure the entire Bible out, I just need to hear God as I go. It is much easier.

  4. theoldadam says:

    Great comments here.

    I sort of agree and disagee with everyone here.

    For me, the Bible is THE source in all matters of faith and life. It is God’s Word of Law and of Promise (the gospel).

    As Luther said it is the manger that the Christ child is laid in. It is a love and resuce story. It can be poorly interpreted and turned into a ‘how to’ book for Chrisrtian living.

    I do not believe it is without error or contradictions…but I don’t have to believe that it is. The text may not be exactly perfect, but the message is. It is the infallible Word of God.

    God can use pastors and preachers who are not perfect. He can use ordinary bread and wine for His perfect purposes, so why does the book itself need to be perfect?

    It’s fully a product of man…and of God. Like our Lord Himself was.

    My 2 cents.

    • That makes a lot of sense to me – it’s not free from error but the message is divine. That I am totally on board with. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone articulate it like that. And I also agree that God has this habit of using a rag tag team of misfits and drop outs – he uses anything he can get his hands on. Great response!

  5. Chris says:

    As hard as I try I can’t seem to formulate a response for you that might be helpful.

    Something along the lines of what David said, don’t “tin-snip” out the uncomfortable bits.

    Some people in the past have come at the bible with their magic highlighter and placed great emphasis in passages and verses that seemed to them most important and then subsequently bludgeon others. Often, I think unintentionally. My tendency is to give people the benefit of the doubt and not believe that they do so for malicious reasons.

    Other people today come at the bible with a magic Sharpie and simply strike out the parts they don’t like as well, refusing to engage the text meaningfully.

    And as you admit that you are liberal. I’m going to admit that I have a postmodern side because I think that we all come at the bible with certain biases initially that can’t be avoided.

    I don’t hold that the bible is simply a “conversation partner,” but I do think the bible has strangely a power of its own. I do think it is possible for God to speak to us by means of a text and to cut through all of our personal and cultural baggage in ways that I really can’t explain without sounding either like a fool or an arrogant so-and-so. I actually think God would be very inept if this weren’t possible.

    I could talk about verbal plenary inspiration, or I could talk about how the bible has survived when by rights it shouldn’t have, but there are plausible arguments against all of these things. I can only suggest that you stop, read, reflect, meditate on the words, pray, ask for guidance, interact with others whose lives seem to match their words and beliefs (I say “seem” because we can never be 100% certain, but this shouldn’t be a deterrent), ask for discernment, and listen for the Spirits prompting. Begin that journey of moving towards God (not that you haven’t already), be in community.

    I would say, worry less about how others use or misuse the bible, and worry more about how you are handling this text.

    Completely unhelpful, I’m sure.

    • I definitely agree that the Bible isn’t just a conversation partner – there are too many instances of it speaking to the audience 2000+ years ago yet also speaking directly to us today.

      and come on Chris that wasn’t unhelpful. I can’t spend too much time worrying about how others use the Bible – their life isn’t mine.

  6. David says:

    I would say, worry less about how others use or misuse the bible, and worry more about how you are handling this text.

    AMEN!

  7. theoldadam says:

    Here’s Luther on the subject:

    “All upright sacred books agree on one thing, that they all collectively preach and promote Christ. Likewise, the true criterion for criticizing all books is to see whether they promote Christ or not, since all scripture manifests Christ. Whatever does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if Peter and Paul should teach it. On the other hand, whatever preaches Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod should do it!” (LW 35:396)

  8. Amy says:

    Lately I’ve been thinking about why I don’t quote Scripture a lot on Backseat Writer, so it’s interesting that you should write this post, Charlie. I love Scripture obviously, but I have a terrible time remembering WHERE it’s located, like I know that Jesus says He is making all things new and I know it’s in Revelation (maybe 1:8?) But I don’t know. If I had a Bible here, I could find it or I could go on Bible Gateway if I really needed to…

    Then I think about how I read books and blogs and articles…I sometimes tend to skip over the verses to get to what the writer is saying unless the writer is talking about an actual piece of Scripture.

    So when I write I allude to it, quote it, and sometimes (not very often), I’ll give actual verse references (like when I’m talking about a particular character, passage, or simply making a point.) It allows readers to keep on reading–not stop and pause.

    But that’s just how I read things, so that’s how I write things. 🙂

    • I admit when someone lays out a piece of Scripture in a post I often skim the verse because I want hear their take on it and chances are I’ve heard the verse 30 times. I also appreciate when people just allude to the verse rather than quote it – it reads a lot better.

  9. Pingback: I Chose Christianity For It’s Personal Convenience, Or Can You Choose Your Belief? | Charlie's Church of Christ

  10. I agree with basically everything you said on here. Which, needless to say, is not popular in an Evangelical church.

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