Proverbs 3:5 – Fundamentalist Version

Proverbs 3:5 – Fundamentalist Version December 29, 2012

The thought struck me today that, since fundamentalism tends to be about having the right doctrines and the right understanding of them, it represents a reversal of the classic memory verse, Proverbs 3:5. The original reads (here in the New Living Translation), “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.” For many fundamentalists, what it means to trust in the LORD is precisely to believe that you have understood and accepted the true doctrines. But that is, in fact, a form of reliance on one’s own human understanding.

So I created this image, to highlight the reversal. There are so many places where people today have grasped onto a verse, removed from its context, and have taken it to mean something other than it would have, understood in its own original literary, linguistic, historical, and cultural context. When that is combined with a doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, the result is that the meaning one reads into those verses is treated as divinely-revealed truth, rather than one’s own fallible human understanding. And so in the very act of doing so, the emphasis of this verse, on trusting in God rather than relying on one’s own human understanding, is inverted.

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  • The spiritual devotion of how much fundamentalist suck.

  • Brant Clements

    It occurs to me that the fundamentalist emphasis on right doctrine is also a reversal of the teaching that one is justified by grace through faith. Grace means that not even right doctrine makes us right with God.

  • So, looking at the issue more constructively, what do you propose is the right way to trust the Lord not leaning on one’s own understanding? In other words, how do you yourself practice this verse, and, specifically, who do you deem to be the Lord?

    • smijer

      That’s a fair point. Either the passage sets an impossible standard, or *someone’s* understanding of the Lord is pertnear perfectly correct. Maybe the Bibilicism of the fundamentalists does give them an inside track on the Lord.

      More likely the passage sets out an impossible standard on the order of breathe not with thine own lungs.

      • There is a lot of language of seeking in the Bible, as well as trusting. I understand the point about our own understanding – which of course is something we cannot get outside of, as Smijer points out – as (among other things) indicating the need to be humble, because any God worthy of the designation will transcend our understanding. And so I do not take it to mean “do not use your brain” – which is an impossibility – but to recognize the limitations we have. And the irony is that many fundamentalists will quote this verse believing that they are in fact doing without human reasoning, and are relying only on Scripture, and therefore they are absolutely correct because their thoughts are God’s thoughts. It is my contention that they have missed the point and misunderstood this verse.

        We should also keep in mind that the verse comes from Proverbs, part of the Wisdom literature, and so it never appeals to divine revelations or sacred texts. It expects people to seek God using their own wisdom, but – as this verse emphasizes – to recognize the limitations of their own understanding, that they seek to know one who passes knowledge, as another author would later say.

    • Marshall

      I was going to ask the same thing. And more generally, why is my experience of reading the Bible (or my experience of being told things by Authorities) more important/True than my experience of living my life? Is God real or is he just a literary fiction? Cf. that book by Machen you recommended.

  • Pseudonym

    James McGrath just quoted the New Living Translation. Did Allegorical Heck just metaphorically freeze over?