Good Biblical Words: A Series Introduction

Good Biblical Words: A Series Introduction July 3, 2018

God has convicted me of the need to write a different set of blog posts for a while. I’m going to call this series “Good Biblical Words” because the Bible has many good words in it, but understanding how they fit together is not self-evident. The second century bishop Irenaeus wrote that the Bible is like a mosaic of jewels that is supposed to form the image of a king, but they are often rearranged to make the shape of a fox.

It matters how aspects of Christian doctrine are prioritized and arranged. How we describe the relationship between concepts like mercy, salvation, reconciliation, holiness, sin, heaven, and hell can make the difference between the mosaic of a king and the mosaic of a fox. A Christianity that overly emphases the afterlife will result in a nihilistic political worldview. A Christianity that hyperbolizes the sinfulness of humanity can be incorporated into a white supremacist dehumanization of non-white people. A Christianity that does not articulate love as the goal of holiness will create Christians who love rules more than they love people. These three tendencies combined have created a toxic Christianity that looks more like the religious authorities who had Jesus crucified than Jesus himself.

2 Timothy 3:16 says that “all scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.” That does not mean that everything in the Bible is a scientific or historical fact. Nor does it mean that everything in the Bible is a command given universally to all of humanity. It means that everything in scripture has a purpose and should not be summarily cast aside just because somebody has abused it. As my friend Chris Green has argued, it’s possible that God’s purpose in retaining some of the Bible verses that seem to misrepresent his nature is to stir up a protest in us.

Notice the nature of the appeal that 2 Timothy 3:16 makes for scripture: it doesn’t say “God wrote it; shut up and obey it.” It says these words are inspiring and useful to your growth. It appeals on the basis of pragmatism, not authority. It’s true that there are verses, mostly in the Old Testament, where God gives a “because I said so” command, often having to do with details about the protocols of animal sacrifice. But a New Testament-shaped interpretive approach to scripture is to ask what is useful to discipleship.

Consequently, the credibility of Christians’ interpretations of scripture should be measured by 2 Timothy 3:16. Are they focused on what is useful for discipleship or are they focused on cultivating ideological identities that are substitutes for discipleship? Whether or not you have a traditional understanding of gender and sexuality, the fact that “biblical” is the ubiquitous shorthand for the ideological identity marker of opposing homosexuality should be scandalous to Christians on every side of that issue. People who use “biblical” as an ideological identity marker whether or not they’re talking about sexuality reveal that they are not using the Bible the way 2 Timothy 3:16 says to use it.

The tragedy with the abuse of the word “biblical” as an ideological identity marker is that millions of people now have an unnecessarily negative view of the Bible as a result. While I have evolved a lot since my Southern Baptist upbringing, one advantage that it gave me is I know the Bible pretty well. Dozens of scriptures have inspired me throughout my life and have shaped my identity. It saddens me greatly that so many Christians and non-Christians alike have been alienated from the Bible and will miss out on the blessings I have received from it.

God really convicted me that I need to spend a season sharing the beauty of good biblical words, like mercy (Matthew 9:13), truth (John 1:5), freedom (John 3:8), solidarity (Matthew 25:40), glory (2 Corinthians 3:17-18), sin (Colossians 2:13), Satan (Matthew 4), divine wrath (Mark 3:1-5), fear (Acts 9:31, 1 John 4:18), hell (Matthew 10:28), atonement (Hebrews 10:19-22), heaven (Revelation 22:1-5), holiness (Galatians 5:19-23), faith (Romans 3:21-26), hope (Psalm 119:81), love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7), reconciliation (Ephesians 2:14-16), revolution (1 Corinthians 1:28-29), salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10), and justice (Micah 4, Micah 6:8).

I haven’t yet finalized the order for covering these good biblical words. Also there may be other blog posts that come up in the midst of the series. You’ll notice that some of them are words you’re not used to thinking of as good, like divine wrath, Satan, and fear, but we need a good understanding of these words to have a complete gospel. Also the actual words “revolution” and “solidarity” do not appear in the Bible but they do capture concepts that are legitimately biblical.

I am convinced that it’s possible to have a Christianity that is entirely biblical and entirely responsive to the concerns and critiques of post-colonialism, intersectional feminism, critical race theory, and queer theory. We do not need to ditch the Bible as a primary source of our spiritual identity to have an intersectional, justice-seeking Christianity. Nor is the reading of scripture which I propose utterly discontinuous with the historical Christian tradition. I would rather contend that the biblical interpretive tradition needs to be rescued from the distorting influences of colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy as well as other deeper, more long-standing distortions like Augustine’s neo-Platonist understanding of the body. I hope that this series will offer a helpful resource for your discipleship, whether or not you agree with all my conclusions.

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