What the Bible Says about X

Fred Clark wrote a helpful post about “concordanceism” a while back. Here is an excerpt:

If you’ve spent a lifetime hearing sermons and homilies — especially evangelical sermons — then you’ve no doubt encountered concordance-ism and its unfortunate byproducts. You’ve likely heard some preacher admit to it. Sometimes this is a sheepish confession acknowledging their last-minute, I-got-nothin’ sermon-prep from the night before. But sometimes it’s not a confession but a boast, with the preacher bragging that they “looked up every passage about X” to thereby claim that what they were preaching about X was comprehensive and authoritative.

That’s concordance-ism. And it doesn’t work.

But while concordance-ism is neither comprehensive nor authoritative, it’s always revealing. The “biblical” sermons and “biblical” arguments cobbled together by someone concordancing always plainly show just exactly which words that person looked up in search of authoritative prooftexts. And thus also, and more significantly, they show which words that person did not include. That latter, vastly longer list of words not included constitutes a list of thoughts not included — of thoughts precluded.

That’s what concordance-ism always reveals: the thoughts unthought, the boundaries of the concordancer’s language and imagination and literacy. It reveals what the concordancer regards as unthinkable, and thus what it is that they are incapable of seeing and incapable of understanding. This is something that person could not have told you about themselves because it is something they are, by definition, unable to know about themselves.

When that preacher or radio host tells you that they “looked up every single passage about X” what they’re really describing is all of the constraints and blinders and barriers they bring to the subject. They’re telling you how little they’ve thought about X and how little they’re able to think about it. They looked up X in a concordance, and only X, imagining that this is all the Bible had to say and all that there is to know about the subject.

No subject works like that.

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  • Of course the most constricting and limiting problem with concordance-ism is that, out of thousands of years of accumulated wisdom and knowledge, it excludes everything but the Christian bible.

  • Jeff Burns

    Most such evangelists and pastors are graduates of Bible colleges, sectarian religious colleges, or (more rarely) conservative denominational seminaries where they have done both a survey of every book of the Bible, and a topical survey of the same. They are familiarized with trusted, established commentators who adhere to conservative theological predispositions.

    They are mentored in a specific type of daily devotion and prayer life, and might well be refused ordination if they do not show evidence that that such devotions are bearing fruit in their lives.

    It is difficult to become a senior pastor in most conservative/Evangelical churches until one has served in lesser capacities for five to ten years. Usually this means specialized ministries with youth, the eldetly, music ministry, or special services.

    This implies–with notable exceptions–that few Evangelicals assume a pastorate much sooner than their early thirties, often not until nearly forty. Meanwhile, they live very close to their Scriptures and in prayer.

    Their theological paradigm assumes the “perspicacity of Scripture”, that the “plain sense is the main sense”, and that God intended Scripture to be understood “as readily by the ploughboy as by the scholar”.

    Contemporary mainline and progressive Protestants no longer bring such a value assumption to Scripture: they give a primacy to theology, particularly to cutting-edge theology, while conservatives mistrust particularly that particular extrabiblical means of teasing nuances from the Bible.

    Don’t be so self-righteous and haughty as to assume that conservatives don’t think about Scripture because they come to different conclusions than liberal Christians do. Their conclusions may be wrong, their methods faulty: argue for that, if you want.

    But: they are not a consequence of willful ignorance. Evangelicals have finely honed defenses of why their work and why progressive methods do not. Engage the real conversation if you want true dialogue to make progress.

  • John MacDonald

    I think, in terms of hermeneutics as cartography, the secondary literature, be it a concordance, or a professor’s lecture in class (or whatever), is helpful in orienting yourself on the primary text’s landscape, and thereby provides a good overview about what to expect on your interpretive trip, as well as a nice contrast for generating new ideas when those expected sites and locations don’t materialize on the primary text journey.

  • Clayton Gafne Jaymes

    Yeah, and typically those ones aren’t just looking up all the passages in a concordance on just ‘x’. They also look up things on y, and z’ and a, b, c’ as well.

    You do seem to take it upon yourself to assume that many ppl who have looked up ‘x’ who were practicers of those things have also concluded that the Scriptures are saying the same things that thosee said ‘preachers’ and ‘radio hosts’ have come to understand about Scripture even if they were doing it with the words you used against them (which are less true than you care to acknowledge)