Thinking Out Loud

October 8, 2010

Checking Primary Sources

Are you easily intimidated spiritually?  It’s easy to do.  The other person seems more passionate about his or her faith.  (“A fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do!”)  Or they are more versed on the nuances of Greek or church history or some finer point of doctrine.  (The present Evangelical culture places a premium on education.)   Or they have lived through some life experience which gives them church cred.  (This is essentially a modern incarnation of what in the previous generation called “testimony oneupsmanship.”)

Despite working in vocational Christian service for a couple of decades, I still know the feeling of spiritual intimidation.   Furthermore, because I try to render my own comments in an offhand or less threatening manner, I am probably more often intimidated than intimidating.

But this week something happened which made me wonder if I haven’t been underestimating myself.

I was in a discussion with an older man who was reiterating some party-line doctrine about a particular topic, and I was mentioning to him a couple of authors who are refuting that position.    I haven’t actually read their books, but I’ve been in discussions both in-person and online with people who suggest an alternative reading of the texts.    I think their view is at least worthy of serious consideration.

And he shared with me what he has always believed, which is what his church believes.   And then he had to leave.

About 30 seconds later, it hit me that while I had quoted or alluded to several scripture verses and mentioned a few chapters, he hadn’t mentioned a single one.     While I’m not strong on chapter and verse numbers — another way to be spiritually intimidated (or intimidating)  — I did toss in a few, while he provided none.

There are two takeaways from this.

The first recalls the line, “Of all the major faith groups in the world, Christians are least acquainted with their own scriptures.”   Quoting verse numbers is intimidating sometimes, and often needlessly so; but we will speak most authoritatively when we speak with the backing of God’s word, especially when we can reference books and chapters.   The force of our arguments is not the force of our own words, but the force of scripture.

The second is, we need to be able to say, “This is what the Bible says;” instead of “This is what I’ve always believed;” or “This is what our church teaches.” We need to check primary sources, in this case the one primary source as the source for what we have come to understand on any given issue.    (“Study to show yourself…rightly dividing the Word…;” “…sharper than a double-edged sword…;” “All scripture is inspired…and powerful for…rebuking…correcting…;” etc.) Too many people are living a second-hand faith quoting second-hand doctrines.

Let me take it further and suggest that any discussion that person most likely to appear victorious in any theological discussion will be the one who, proof-texting aside, has an argument backed by scripture.

We need to, as did the Bereans, search the scriptures.   And if we’re deficient in the area of remembering numeric references — despite being able to recite credit card, PIN, or computer passwords effortlessly — we need to work harder at developing this area of Biblical knowledge; chapters at the very least.

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2 Comments »

  1. Our only authority is the Word of God. While we do not seek to intimidate it is true that the Word will offend some people. I do not see that as a reason for not quoting the source for it is only the source that gives it authority.

    Everyone is able to memorise Scripture, including its address. It is only a matter of self discipline and dependence on the One who enables us. It is His will, so He will enable.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — October 8, 2010 @ 5:19 pm

  2. “A fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do!”

    I’ve never heard that one before, and having had to wear the label more than once, I LOVE it! Same could be said for “reading the Bible more”.

    Being in the process of transcribing Bible lessons from the early 1900’s onto my website, I’ve been doing them at the same time. Every lesson has scripture to memorize. At first I bulked (they can’t expect me to memorize ALL THAT!), but it’s getting easier, the more I do.

    Comment by Laura — October 10, 2010 @ 5:38 am


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