The dangers of “concordance theology”

One of the problems of private interpretation of Scripture, along with the idea that the Holy Spirit alone is enough to keep us from error (compounded with the temptation to arrogantly assume that all the other people in the world who come to differing conclusions than us simply aren’t listening to God) is that our methods of interpretation can sometimes become truly odd indeed. This is especially the case if we aren’t learned scholars, knowledgeable in the Biblical languages, educated in the history and culture of the human authors, and well studied in theology and doctrine. The wheel we re-invent in our unwillingness to rely on the wisdom of the ages is all too often prone to be a rickety, even dangerous wheel.

Enter what I’ve dubbed “concordance theology”. This is when someone, attempting to plumb the depth of meaning in a particular verse or passage, seizes on a key word, looks it up in their trusty concordance or Bible app search function and, after hopscotching around the Bible, comes up with some way of stringing a bunch of verses together to arrive at some all too often novel meaning.

Let me demonstrate.

John 10:7 So Jesus said again, “I tell you the solemn truth, I am the door for the sheep.

Hhhhmmm… What does this mean? Jesus couldn’t be saying that He is a literal door! I know — let Scripture interpret Scripture! Let’s see where the concept of “door” first appears in the Bible.

Genesis 4:7 Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.”

Uh oh. That makes it sound like the door is a place where sin crouches. But wait — if that’s true, there needs to be at least one other verse to confirm that.

Proverbs 5:8 Keep yourself far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,

Oh, wow. Doors are associated in Scripture with sin, and we are warned not to go near them. Is Jesus warning us to stay away from Him? Apparently He is the door for sheep, but doors are not for people trying to avoid sin.

John 10:2 The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.

Now I get it! Shepherds are leaders, and only they are strong enough to actually get near enough to enter the door where sin is crouching. When Jesus said He is the door for sheep, He really meant that only shepherds should get close to Him. Got it.

I admit that it took me very little time to make this all up, and I made it as ridiculous as possible, but I’ve heard examples of “concordance theology” almost as absurd. Unfortunately, the people espousing their interpretations were serious, and were insisting their conclusions were obvious, sometimes to the point of exclaiming, “I can’t understand why no one else has ever seen this before!”

Exactly.

I thank God that He did not abandon me to living as an orphan with a Book, left to muddle my way through it on my own. Thank God for His Church, and for a glorious tradition of Saints far more learned and holy than I can ever hope to be!

After RZ: Resources for The Road Ahead

If you really want to comprehend and are committed to this NEVER happening again then you are in for a long road through a swampland of shame. Here …

After RZ: Resources for The Road Ahead

This blog post is well worth reading and saving. It describes and links to the best resources that I know of regarding sexual abuse and trauma.

A reminder for difficult times

I needed to hear this today:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:3-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Some thoughts today

A few Bible passages have been going through my mind this morning:

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭4:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.”
‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭18:22‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:11-13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Over the past years, I’ve grown increasingly disenchanted with self-proclaimed prophets who seemed to act more and more like fortune-tellers. I’ve had a few “prophetic words” spoken over me that struck me as ear-ticking and ego-flattering rather than a message that would help equip me or accomplish anything in keeping with the Ephesians passage I just quoted. And there’s been at least one “prophecy” about me that seems quite false in retrospect.

False prophecies do great damage to the Church. Attempts to explain them away do great damage to our credibility and to our witness. Claiming they really did happen, only not in the literal sense in which they were prophesied — that just makes us look like crazy people. (I’m reminded of a prophesied earthquake that never took place, only to have the “prophet” claim it actually did “in the heavenlies”.)

“What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written: ‘So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.’”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭3:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Where do we go from here?

“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭141:3‬ ‭NIV‬‬

May we walk in humble repentance.

Lord, have mercy.

American Civil Religion Part 2

Just in case my first post didn’t have the potential of stepping on enough toes…

In case anyone might think otherwise, let me hasten to emphasize that I’m thankful beyond words to live in the United States of America. Many are the privileges that I enjoy because of my citizenship, and I try not to take any of that for granted.

Oh, yeah — and I grew up during the civil rights era, wishing I could march along with Martin Luther King. Over the years since, I’ve engaged in some peaceful protests and civil disobedience (even went toe-to-toe with a sheriff over my constitutional rights) while also believing that sometimes freedom and justice demands a lot more than that. I wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the American soldiers who liberated Germany (including my mother!) from the Nazis… and I definitely wouldn’t exist without one special American soldier who was part of the occupation force in the 50’s.

But…

There is always a “but…”

I may have gotten a heavy dose of American Civil Religion in elementary school, but I also got a heavy dose of the Bible from my soldier-turned-pastor father. So I learned about the Apostle Paul, who insisted upon his rights as a Roman citizen. And I also learned about Jesus, who told His followers that His Kingdom was not of this world.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:36)

Decades of my life have been spent wrangling with the implications of that verse.

Jesus never preached political revolution or urged that His countrymen throw off the shackles of their Roman oppressors. He didn’t shout, “Rise up!” or “Freedom!” He didn’t urge his followers to remember the great military heroes of their past. He never said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” He never told his disciples, “After I rise, let your fight for independence begin!”

As an American, I don’t quite know what to make of all that. Enjoying the hard-won freedoms that I do, and owing my existence to brave Americans who fought and won against tyranny makes me wish I could ignore the questions and contradictions that haunt me.

Sometimes I tell myself that maybe my inability to see Christianity as a battle cry for independence and freedom, to see spiritual revival as political revolution, is because I’m not called to be a warrior.

But then again, none of Jesus’ disciples became warriors or freedom fighters either. They only seemed to defy the government when they were ordered to stop preaching. Even Paul, the Roman citizen, seemed stuck on the message of Christ, crucified and risen. He didn’t use his privilege to fight for religious freedom and national independence for the Jewish people, nor did he urge anyone else to do so.

The early church was full of martyrs who died preaching and praying, not fighting.

Then there are those extremely troubling beatitudes that Jesus preached. They seem not only completely at odds with the civil religion I was taught as a child, but with the entirety of American culture… and especially with the syncretism that has infected too many of our churches.

I don’t know what to do with all that.

Sometimes I don’t even know how to pray.

On days like that, I’m learning to rely yet again on the wisdom of those who have gone before me and on the treasures of the historic church. So I grab one of my prayer books to help me pray Biblically-informed prayers for my leaders, for my country, for the world… and for what truly ails me. I trust the Holy Spirit to intercede for me, as promised in the Bible.

And I become more willing to admit that I am not the one with the answers — and that, all too often, I’m not even asking the right questions.