You may have gathered that most of my blog material is following a theme. There is a thread or chain of thought or pathway if you will that I am going down which may eventually reach a conclusion of sorts. I guess that depends on whether the thread has an ultimate conclusion or I run out f material and energy. If that occurs I may have to resort to analyzing flower patterns or finding meaning in dissected marshmallows.
As a young Christian I would do topical searches on the bible to find all the words on a certain subject and write those references down thinking I was building an armory or arsenal of verses that I could use both defensively or proactively when the need arose to defend my faith or tackle the various cults I came across. As valiant as this may have been it didn’t always result on cohesive arguments or brilliant logic.
As years have past my focus has changed from picking out individual bible verses to larger themes or the meaning of context in which those verses exist. I am embarrassed to say that my former efforts however well meant were at times misguided and wrong. To continue I need to give some definitions which I will provide references for
Proof texting is the method by which a person appeals to a biblical text to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage they are citing. http://www.theopedia.com/
There are three main errors or fallacies common to proof texting which rather than me define I have copied and pasted from the internet.
The first of these errors is recognized by nearly everyone to be an error when someone else is guilty of it, but is, unfortunately tolerated by nearly everyone in formulating their own doctrinal position. It is the error of taking a passage of scripture out of its immediate context and setting it up, in opposition to its context, as proof of a doctrinal point.
The second of these errors is also commonly recognized, though seemingly somewhat less well-recognized than the first. It is the error of setting up a single passage of scripture, or several passages of scripture, as proof of a doctrinal point in opposition to the teachings of the remainder of the Bible. It is, in effect, to take one or a few scriptures out of their broader scriptural context and make a proof out of them.
The third of these errors is hardly discussed at all in other sources this author has read, yet in a way it may be the most divisive of the three. It is the error of carving the Bible up into a series of proof texts and insisting that, once a verse or passage has been identified as a proof text for a particular doctrine, it can serve no other purpose. Beyond simply taking some verses out of context, this error destroys the entire concept of context. It reduces Bible interpretation into simply a matter of deciding which pre-established doctrinal pigeon-hole each verse was intended to fill. Thus, for example, once a person arguing from this form of the Proof Text Fallacy has decided that Acts 2:37-41 is a proof text for the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, that person will ignore (and usually tell others to ignore) the apparent promise of receiving the Holy Spirit in verse 38, because that promise is not a part of the one and only purpose of the passage. Unfortunately, this error is quite common, though not always stated openly as the basis of the arguments in which it lies buried. http://www.angelfire.com/ks2/fallacies/falltext.htm#AH
I thought rather than demonstrate these three individually I would discuss them generally because all three make my point. I have known people over the years that have moved from one theological persuasion to another. the most extreme of which was a person who was converted through the charismatic movement and moved away from it because of the error they saw, to fundamentalism. What is ironic to me is that both extremes contain some serious hermeneutical and exegetical errors. To be fair no system is perfect all human thinking has it flaws and no one except God has all knowledge without limit.
What I am trying to say here is both positions hold to certain views regarding scripture that are diametrically opposed to the other. What is also ironic is both positions claim to take a literal view of scripture but come to different conclusion especially regarding the dynamic gifts (Apostolic gifts). However on most of the major themes such as salvation, the trinity, the person of Christ and the nature or being of God they would generally agree to a point. I have to admit that on the whole issue of apostolic gifts I am also much more in line with the fundamentalist position. Admittedly much of what is misinterpreted here by both sides are not necessarily salvation issues but points of view. I do think the argument against gifts and experientialism are far more compelling than for the continuation of gifts but I will leave that discussion for another time I am digressing once more.
What is apparent that I have alluded to is the literalness with which we can sometimes take certain passages of scripture but more importantly how we use those scriptures to build our doctrine and theology and even more serious how when taken out of context and used in an argument or debate to proof text a position how erroneous that can be be. This is where context is important in interpreting the bible.
Context: Context can be defined two ways 1) Discourse that surrounds a language unit and helps to determine its interpretation and 2) The set of facts or circumstances that surround a situation or event then there is what is known as contextualization whereby we place the meaning of something within a certain context such as racism or the word gay. Gay once meant to be happy or joyous in spirit but now is contextualized within the meaning of ones sexual orientation towards the same gender. From this we can see that context has its issues as well because one can hijack the definition of a word. So If I was to use a statement in isolation such as Jack has a gay marriage without referring to the context in which it was stated I run the risk of people assuming Jack is a homosexual. However if I then stated that 150 years ago Jacks mother reported that Jack has had a gay marriage or Jack has a gay marriage we would refer to the historical meaning of the word at the time and determine that Jack had a happy marriage. Context is vital to our understanding of not only biblical texts but every text in every language throughout all time. We may not always understand the cultural context that one text or another is written in but through investigation and research we can come to a more clear understanding.
This is true of the long running debate of predestination and election verses the idea that we have the free will to choose or reject the Grace of God. The two main contributors I will refer to as examples are John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius. Neither of these men came to their conclusions in isolation from the time they existed in,nor were their theological positions uniquely there own invention. John Calvin developed his Institutes of Religion and wrote his commentaries based on his reading and research from men such as Augustine and others that essentially held that God was sovereign in His choices regarding men and their election to salvation. Calvin also held to the the belief that man was incapable of pleasing God in his own strength because of his sinful nature. Calvin and others of this persuasion believed that man because of Adam’s sin was spiritually dead. Man according to Calvin and others could not and will not respond to the call of grace to repent of their sins unless God by His Holy Spirit enables them to come. God chooses whom He will to receive salvation and that call is irresistible. This irresistible grace is called unmerited because God’s choice in whom He calls is His choice not ours, it has nothing to do with whether you and I are morally more pure or ethical or that we displayed a more charitable spirit towards others. In fact down through history it can be noted that those who have received God;s grace are often the most unlikely candidates while at other times there are men and women who appear to have simply grown up in Christian families and lived fairly uneventful lives so far as the world is concerned but then became great people of God. There are also those such as Martin Luther who grew up in what we protestants would call the church of Rome and then had a life changing experience that caused him to stand against a whole religion and essentially change the course of History.
Then there are men like Jacobus Arminius who stood on the other side of the fence championing free will that men could choose or reject the Grace of God. Those who defend Arminius argue that some of his own ideas weren’t really that far removed from Calvin’s. Apparently Arminius believed in the sovereignty of God and also predestination and election. The problem we have though is that if Arminius did hold to these ideas how did he interpret their meaning? To understand Arminius we need to look also at where his thoughts and ideas stemmed from. Essentially Arminius was a follower of Pelagius. Admittedly Arminius was more moderate in his views where Pelagius denied predestination Arminius didn’t. However as mentioned above Arminius also advocated free will. Pelagius also held to the idea that man was not so fallen or morally corrupted that man could not respond to the gospel of their own free will and determination. Pelagius had accused Augustine of Manicheanism which is the idea that all material matter was evil but only that which was spiritual (non-material) was good. That wasn’t Augustine’s assertion at all but it began a long running debate between the two men.
My point here is that both Calvin and Arminius views have an historical context from which they emerged and developed their ideas and beliefs didn’t develop in an historical or theological vacuum. Neither men’s ideas were isolated from the history or the culture they lived in, time history and culture are determining factors as to how they came by their conclusions.
So how does this effect the way we view the bible? Quite simply if history and culture were not determining factors as to how the above men came by their conclusions, if context is irrelevant then how do we determine if something is right or wrong? How do we determine if we have correctly perceived a truth if its context is not important? I will let the post modern philosophers deconstruct that for a moment while we deal with the real world where words have specific meaning and words only have meaning when structured in statements and paragraphs and not a bunch of disembodied verses strung together.
Proof texting as is stated above is flawed because even if you can find an overwhelming amount of verses to support to your thesis it does not mean your conclusion is correct. If the premise is false all else that follows no matter how well developed and articulated is also false . Further to this if those verses are used in isolation to their context it changes their meaning and may well be meaningless. Context matters because it limits how we can interpret scripture correctly.
Interpreting scripture in context can at times be painful for us because it takes away our license to put emphasis on ideas in the bible that are simply not there. I would like the bible not to say how rotten and sinful humanity is, I would like the bible to say that all those I love and care about will be there in heaven and that I was able to change their hearts. I would love a little more license to do my own thing. However that is not what the bible does. The bible and more importantly God’s Spirit are constraining influences that limit what I may and may not do or what I can and cannot do. Contextually the bible leaves us without excuse and also limits what I am and am not able to do.
In the big picture it may be that some people have a view of God that doesn’t exist or they have tried to make God in their own image or worst of all they can only worship a god that fits their prescription of who and what god is that they are comfortable with. You only have to look at all the false religions that claim to be Christian that in the end only try to reinvent God.
I stated at the end of my last blog that in reality I can’t go back in time and change who I am or undo the past. This is true because everything I am or will be has been designed by God the creator. God has planned and predestined all things from eternity. I am simply blessed to be have been called and chosen by Him for no other reason than something in my life may be glorifying to Him. God will be glorified in the end the bible says so. I understand this because the context of the bible tells me this is true.