The Quoter Spiritual Conversational Style

If you’re just joining us, read Part I of the series as it introduces the topic of Spiritual Conversation Styles (SCSs). See also Part II – The Charismatic Spiritual Conversational Style.

People who use the Quoter SCS hinge any meaningful conversation about God to a particular view of biblical authority. The Quoter SCS simply cannot tolerate a spiritual or theological discussion unless the other party shares his or her own assumptions about how the Bible is to be viewed and, more important, how it’s to be used.

Most of the folks who use this SCS, particularly in the United States, demand a specific expression of biblical authority. It’s the expression that was formulated by American Calvinists in the last century and has been championed by those in modern fundamentalist circles.

The expression is rooted in the belief that the Bible possesses a journalistic type of accuracy concerning events and details. It also affirms that Scripture provides answers to any and every question that’s brought to bear on it. To the person who uses the Quoter SCS, such a view of the Bible is a sine qua non (a necessary element). In the eyes of the Quoter SCS, individuals who hold to more moderate views of biblical authority, such as those held by mainstream evangelicals (e.g., Carl F. H. Henry), neoevangelicals (e.g., F. F. Bruce), postconservative evangelicals (e.g., Stanley J. Grenz), and postmodern evangelicals (e.g., N. T. Wright), have departed from sound orthodoxy and are the targets of a prolonged “battle for the Bible” (to use Harold Lindsell’s phrase).

The Quoter SCS deems all spiritual discourse to be meaningless without an explicit verbal affirmation by his or her conversation partner that precisely matches his or her own. Without such an affirmation, the Quoter style’s level of comfort in discussing spiritual things becomes violated and proves inadequate to carry on a theological discussion. At best, Quoters simply lose interest in the topic. At worst, they benightedly conclude that their discussion partner is a heretic!

For the Quoter SCS, the only way to settle a theological dispute is by quoting Scripture. The mere act of Bible-quoting is thought to set defensible boundaries for theological discussions to take place. There’s no problem with quoting the Bible. The biblical authors themselves quoted Scripture in abundant measure. However, the Quoter SCS believes that theological disputes are settled by the simple quoting of Scripture and nothing more. Historical context is typically ignored. Instead, the art of “proof-texting” is employed to settle all disagreements.

(Another version of the Quoter is the person who appeals to the authority of a favorite theologian. Such naked assertions as “Calvin said,” “Luther said,” “Augustine said” to settle arguments are punctuated throughout their discussions.)

Let me illustrate how the Quoter SCS operates. Suppose that Steve uses the Quoter SCS, while Jack does not. Whenever Steve disagrees with Jack, he quotes a raft of Scriptures. Yet in his quoting, Steve gives no attention to context, historical setting, or the original meaning of Greek or Hebrew words. Rather, Steve appeals solely to a bundle of isolated texts that he believes buttress his position.

In the aftermath of his endless quoting, Steve retorts with something like “See, the Bible is clear about this. Here are the verses. Believe it or reject it!” (Granted, not everyone who uses this style is as curt as I’ve painted Steve, but you get the idea.) By his quoting, Steve has implicitly and explicitly conveyed a sense of finality to the issue. But to Jack, Steve’s quoting hasn’t settled anything at all. In fact, Jack is outraged by the mere notion that it has. Steve, on the other hand, concludes that Jack doesn’t want to listen to the Bible and ends the discussion there.

Jack finds Steve’s stylistic conventions to be shallow and unconvincing at best. He regards them to be strident, combative, and demeaning at worst. Jack’s complaint is that Steve is utilizing naive hermeneutics, isolated proof-texting, and is ignoring the “whole” of Scripture. To Jack, the aggressive penchant to simply quote the Bible as if that in itself settles the questions of the universe is silly. In addition, Jack feels that Steve is essentially hiding behind his quotes, fearing rigorous dialogue that may shatter his rigid theological framework.

In short, the Quoter SCS feels safe and secure under the arsenal of isolated proof texts that he’s managed to string together to defend his position. Any dialogue about what those texts actually mean by appealing to their historical setting and original rendering is shrugged off as irrelevant. To the practitioners of the Quoter SCS, nothing can be argued after the simple and direct appeal to a biblical reference has been made, even if that reference is isolated from the rest of the Bible.

Too often, the Quoter SCS finds himself caught in a parenthesis of disagreement, when the root problem beyond the controversy is subtly masquerading beneath the pious rhetoric of “faithfully defending the Word.”

See the next installment: The Pragmatic Spiritual Conversational Style

About Frank Viola

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  • http://thekingsfellowship.com Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

    I like this series. But what about the opposite of the Quoter Style? The style of appealing to broad, sweeping themes in Scripture without any reference to specific texts that may challenge a position? To me, that’s just as irritating as a ranting Quoter.

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