Evangelicals & the Bible, Pt. 4

A month or two ago, I wrote about the relationship between a recurring comment and evangelical postures toward the Bible.

I’ve been struck by something else I’ve occasionally heard.  I wonder if it, too, reflects an inappropriate posture toward Scripture and how Christians ought to relate to other people.

While discussing biblical or theological concepts with evangelical folks, I occasionally hear a question put in this form: “Well, what would you say to someone who says that . . . ?”

For example, when teaching on election, I made a case from Scripture that God does indeed set his love upon distinct people from eternity past to pursue them and draw them into his love.  In the midst of my explanation, a student asked, “well, what would you say to someone who thinks that God chooses someone based on his foreknowledge that they will choose to be Christian?”

What struck me as odd isn’t the question but its form: “What would you say to someone . . . ?”

When I first began teaching, I would just respond to the question, thinking little about how it was asked.  But I began to suspect that students who framed questions this way were misconstruing their responsibility toward Scripture.

I wondered if students were imagining that their task with regard to Scripture was to convince others about its content.

I was struck that some students weren’t necessarily trying to understand notions in Scripture and integrate them with aspects of lives.  Their first concern was to know what to say in conversations or debates with others.

This was confirmed to me in a private conversation with a very anxious student whose assumptions about what the Bible said were being unsettled.  She visited my office quite regularly with loads of questions, but her spirit of inquiry wasn’t driven by the joy of discovery.  She seemed more burdened than excited to learn.  She remarked once that she was trying to be as equipped as possible to be ready to respond when people had questions about what she was saying.

That struck me as misguided and we had a conversation about the priority of being a faithful student before becoming a teacher.

After that I began to respond differently to questions put in this form.  I would first say that I didn’t know exactly what they should say to someone who had a certain sort of question.  It was their responsibility to grow in wisdom and to be sensitive to each situation.  I also suggested that they should consider this response: “I don’t know.  That’s a great question.”

While I couldn’t anticipate every interchange they would ever have, what could do was to give them some thoughts on better understanding the concept we were discussing.  The posture toward Scripture I find inappropriate is the assumption that one is responsible learn Bible content in order to tell others what it says.

Christians ought to engage Scripture in order to first understand, and then to give extended consideration with the further aim of strategic, glad obedience.

More on this tomorrow.

6 thoughts on “Evangelicals & the Bible, Pt. 4

  1. John Duffy

    My guess is that most of the folks you are referring to have been taught that the Great Commission trumps absolutely everything else in scripture. I was in such a group for almost 17 years and I understand the appeal of this message.

    How refreshing to consider that God just wants us to love him, love other people, “to act justly and walk humbly with our God”. (Mic 6:8) At the same time, I am haunted of the reality that so many don’t seem to consider Jesus at all. Super-evangelistic churches use this feeling to drive their people to preach the gospel to everyone they see, and I believe that the feeling they take advantage of is guilt.

    I am really in recovery from this mentality, praying for guidance both divine and human to make my way in a way that pleases God. “Find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph 5:10): quite a call, impossible unless the perfectly loving nature of the Lord is considered.

    1. timgombis

      I hear you, John, and I think you’re right. That felt responsibility leads to so many manipulative and coercive (i.e., non-Christian) ways of relating to people, which is utterly counterproductive.

      How much better to relate to others authentically, engaging in conversations that honor others, especially in conversations in which WE LEARN from others!

  2. Andrew T.

    How is this an ‘Evangelical’ issue? What your describing (of being a teacher before being a student) is true of most protestants (who take our call to defend the faith seriously).

    You could have just as easily labelled this “Protestants & the bible” or “Christians & the bible” ..

  3. Pingback: Recommended Reading: More of Tim Gombis on Evangelicals and the Bible | Everyone's Entitled to Joe's Opinion

  4. Laura

    I’m late to the party here, but have just been reading your series on Evangelicals and the Bible. I see your concern about “the assumption that one is responsible to learn Bible content in order to tell others what it says” especially when the purpose seems to be divisiveness and debate. I agree, but I have another possibility to offer. Having grown up in the evangelical world, left it, and finding myself in it again, I know that when I hold an interpretation that differs from the rest of the tribe, I need to express myself very carefully. I might be one of those students asking “What would you say to someone who says that.. [insert hot button issue]…” because I know that I am in danger of being accused within my tribe as “dabbling in dangerous ideas” if I differ with the party line interpretation. It’s not easy to differ from a community that has nurtured you from birth. It’s not easy, or sometimes even possible, to say, “Well, I don’t agree with this denomination’s view on [hot topic] any more, so I’ll just go to another one.” If you are participating fully in the life of the community, then it’s also not always possible to hide one’s differing opinions. Nor is it honest. People sometimes need a script for how to gently express a different opinion in a way that will not incur disapproval. I wouldn’t always assume that the question “how do you explain why you believe this,” is for the purpose of argument. In at least a small number of cases, it might be self-preservation.

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