Grenade

Today I want to talk briefly about a practice that I’m going to call scripture bombing. If you’ve been around church for any length of time, you’re sure to have experienced it.

What typically happens is this. You’re debating some contentious issue or trying to decide how to proceed in the face of some particularly challenging circumstance, when a well-meaning brother or sister chimes in with a scripture verse. This is usually done in such a way as to make clear that, in the opinion of the person dropping it on you, said scripture unambiguously resolves the issue at hand or removes all shadow of doubt as to the best course of action to adopt.

(At this point, I was going to cite one or two example verses that are commonly used as scripture bombs. However, as I think about it, I realise that just about any scripture can be used in this way. It’s not about the specific content of the scripture used; it’s about how it’s used.)

If you’re unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of such a scripture bomb, you’re typically faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, something about the brash, black-and-white way in which the scripture has been presented shoved in your face doesn’t sit comfortably with you. On the other hand, if you question its applicability or interpretation, you’ll surely be labelled a doubter or a cynic. What to do?

The usual outcome is that you quietly and politely thank the scripture bomber and seek to extract yourself from the conversation as quickly as possible.

The victims of scripture bombs are often left feeling confused, disoriented, somewhat bewildered… and very, very wary of future interaction with potential bombers.

So what’s going on here? Let’s call it what it is: misuse of scripture. Unintentional and well-meaning misuse, perhaps, but misuse nonetheless. (Is abuse too strong a word? I think there are certainly cases where such misuse is egregious and recurrent enough to constitute flagrant abuse. But let’s stick with misuse for the time being.)

The casual use of scripture as a trump card to overrule any and all objections – or, to stick with the metaphor, as a grenade to blast any and all dissenting views into oblivion – is indicative of a certain view of scripture and of the Christian worldview with which I have become all too familiar in 28+ years as a charismatic believer.

Scripture bombs usually serve to:

– shut down any further debate on the issue in question;
– impose a narrow interpretation of scripture;
– suggest that anyone not subscribing to the bomber’s view is somehow lacking in faith and/or revelation.

Scripture bombing assumes that there is only one way to interpret any particular passage of scripture. It also assumes that unquestioned doctrinal uniformity is much more important than relational sensitivity or concern for the individual. After all, which is easier: to brashly declare “Cheer up: God works all things together for good to those who love Him!”, or to get down on your knees and weep with those who weep, without feeling the need to demonstrate your doctrinal superiority?

In my experience, serial scripture bombers are often the same people who live in Christian fantasy land. They are also typically those who uphold a literalist reading of scripture (see my series on understanding the Bible here, here, here and here). And they are the kind of people who are most likely to use phrases like “God said it; I believe it; that settles it”.

I realise this post might sound a bit edgy and angry, as I am often wont to sound if I’m not careful. So having sounded off at scripture bombers, what am I advocating for?

Scripture is a beautiful, God-given thing. It is intended to build up, to edify and to instruct. To use it to shut down discussion, back people into corners and score doctrinal brownie points is to fundamentally misconstrue its purpose. With this in mind, let me suggest the following:

– When someone is wrestling to understand difficult truths or negotiate tough circumstances, think twice before you quote scripture at them.

– If you do quote scripture, gently and humbly explain what you mean by it and why you interpret it the way you do.

– Think twice about who is teaching who. Rather than simply taking every opportunity to impose your personal, neatly packaged and all-worked-out worldview on those who wrestle to make sense of life in this world, consider that maybe God wants to open your eyes and your heart to new dimensions and depths of His person and ways through the struggles and trials of a brother or sister.

[ Image: Nelson Syozi ]