Para-Church organizations regularly abuse the Bible. It is easy to do when one has an agenda. If the program is about “winning souls for Jesus,” then the whole of Scripture becomes nothing but proof-texts for evangelism. We all know how pre-millennial dispensational sensationalism changes the entire Bible to teach about the “Rapture” and “The Great Tribulation.” Bible abuse is all too common among people who claim a high regard for it. Why is that?
Abuse And Agenda
First, there is the importance of the agenda. An author trying to sell a book often gives into the temptation to claim failure to read it and adopt the program provided is a sin.
Second, the agenda of a ministry founder sells well if a passage of Scripture can be used for the title. It is a good slogan for a T-shirt. I see them often.
Third, people will feel more comfortable if the Bible is used to appeal to prejudices. Many people claim the Bible can be used to prove anything. But that is only true if one wants to prove anything. When people want proof they will find it. This is the reason it is easy to pick some arguments from Scripture apart. Ideas that call the conclusion into question are dismissed until a critic asks them.
Fourth, the proof is often not proof. A recent gathering in Colorado of people who “prove the Bible” gives a good example of this.
A Sick Example
Representative Lauren Boebert, one of the speakers, joked about praying Psalm 109 against President Joe Biden. Specifically, she quotes the 8th verse, “May his days be few, may another take his place of leadership.” The context of this “joke” is the psalmist laments the attitudes of his enemies. The 8th verse is their desire for his death.
I once scolded a member of my congregation on Facebook for using this “joke” against President Obama. She realized how bad it was and publicly apologized while thanking me for pointing out the problem. At least, she read the text.
A progressive friend made the same “joke” about President Trump. I responded with the same rebuke. Unfortunately, it was not met with the same gratitude.
The Pressure to Abuse
I started ministry in a conservative/fundamentalist denomination. We were told, “Boys (and it was always males) use as much scripture as you can.” The reason given, “because you will know you got that much right.” As Ambassador Spock would say, “That is not logical.” Unless you thought the Bible was univocal and inerrant.
When it came to interpretive methods, we assumed a position of “biblical authoritarianism.” That is to say one could make the claim a critic of our teaching was arguing with the Bible. It was a good way of getting out of any conflicting and better argument.
The preachers feel the pressure to use as many passages of scripture possible. The preacher or teacher uses the Bible to mine it for texts that could help any argument. The “high regard” for the Bible becomes the reason to abuse it. The pressure never ends.
Avoiding The Problem
Seminarians learn much about the Bible in mainline oriented schools. They immediately understand their home churches would not like hearing what they are learning. Many students decide not to become pastors for that reason. It is a difficult choice. And I do not condemn people taking that route. But the churches need what we are taught even if they do not want it.
Another way to avoid the problem is to ignore what we are taught. Preach and teach what the people want to hear. Do not rock the boat because too many ministries depend on the financial support that could be lost. This issue is a matter of conscience and integrity. Church leaders only exercise authority based on our integrity. As Martin Luther said, ignoring conscience is neither safe nor open to us.
“High regard” for the Bible must be replaced with a high regard for understanding the Bible as a collection of documents from people struggling to come to terms with faith and the divine. The people writing and rewriting the texts intend for readers to know the revelation from God will continue. It will not continue forever. Humans grappling with life and attaching meanings to it will never finalize the struggle. Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out the game of language is a game of meaning without settled meaning. Yet, we experience new meanings. How does this happen? We communicate in community.
The canon of Scripture may be settled. But our interpretive experience never settles. Humans desire to know. Therefore, humans will learn. Does this mean God still reveals? Yes. Does it mean we always get it? I believe we will eventually. We can start looking at revelation as communication. In doing so, we realize the full meaning of communion.