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The Reason Why I Tend Not to Casually Throw Out Biblical Quotations or References

by Carson T. Clark on January 13, 2013

Something I find endlessly fascinating is how our life experiences influence our spiritual outlook. I’m by no means a determinist, but it’s undeniable how much they impact us. Some Christians would never think of approaching a stranger to tell them about the Gospel because that’s essentially foreign to their reserved tradition. For others that’s their faith’s centerpiece because it’s what their tradition chiefly values. Some Christians have been taught to invest a great deal of time and energy serving the poor and less fortunate, which is said to be the heart of the Gospel. For others poverty is almost entirely off their radar because they’re faithfully raising families, coaching youth baseball, working jobs, and the like. Such examples could go on forever. One I find particularly interesting, however, has to do with our treatment of Scripture. Specifically, what its assumed prevalence should be in the way we communicate. Some Christians prefer the Bible’s influence to be subtle. Others think it ought to be overt. I find myself caught in the middle. I’m an odd evangelical in that I believe in Scripture’s centrality yet am cautious about how I communicate about it.11.What else is to be expected of a hardlining moderate?

A while back I was having a Facebook discussion with an Anglican priest regarding my recent blog post on women’s ordination. He initially seemed troubled, if not alarmed, that I’d thoroughly detailed my view(s) without quoting or referencing Scripture even once. This suggested to him my convictions were based less on Scripture and more on societal norms or personal preference. As we worked through things I learned he’d grown up within mainline Protestantism. His church background had a dearth of biblical saturation and, on the whole, seriously undervalued Scripture. The laity were rarely encouraged to read Scripture, which wasn’t surprising since so many of the clergy went through intensive seminary training with all sorts of teaching on the Higher Criticisms yet managed to graduate and get ordained without even having read the Bible in its entirety. No one would’ve said it as such, but the Bible was treated as helpful if ultimately superfluous–it certainly wasn’t an authoritative standard for doctrine and practice in any meaningful way.22.Thus, he has a passion for the restoration of Scripture’s centrality. Quite commendable, in my opinion. Because of his experiences, my post seemed to smack of that biblically vacuous culture.

Meanwhile, my experiences growing up within fundamentalist Pentecostalism could hardly have been more different. Scripture loomed large over everything. Not a Sunday went by in which we weren’t exhorted to do our daily devotions and quite often the pastor and Sunday School teachers encouraged Bible memorization. Virtually every conversation ranging from politics to the economy, football to the weather, contained biblical allusions, quotations, and references. Far from having a pastor who’d never read the whole Bible, it was almost unfathomable that a student in the youth group wouldn’t at least have been trying to maintain a good habit of Bible reading. The trouble is, our church did an extraordinarily poor job of teaching hermeneutics and basic christian theology. There was this overwhelming cultural expectation that virtually every thought be baptized by Scripture, i.e. proof-texted, but no one cared about reading it in an accurate, responsible way.33.People were constantly ignoring the genre, ripping phrases out of their literary and cultural-historical context, skewing ideas, misrepresenting themes, etc. While exhibiting a convincing veneer of submission to God’s Word, the plain reality is the Bible was haphazardly misused and abused.

I’m not gonna lie. As an evangelical Christian coming into the Anglican tradition this whole thing is a dynamic I naively failed to anticipate. Nevertheless, things are what they are. As one who’ll soon be ordained within the Anglican Church in North America, I find myself imperfectly trying to walk a tightrope. On the one hand, I’ve much sympathy for those who’ve spent a lifetime in the Church yet have rarely been exposed to the Bible and its life-giving, prophetic beauty. As far as I’m concerned that’s like trying to play basketball without the ball.44.I hold to prima scriptura and, having from such a young age had the Bible’s centrality so imbued within my spiritual DNA, I confess that I’ve difficulty being patient with those who neglect it. On the other hand, I’ve much empathy for those who’ve spent a lifetime in the Church yet have constantly been exposed to the Bible without its life-giving, prophetic beauty. That’s like trying to play with a deflated basketball. While I truly want to encourage people to be biblically saturated, I’m convinced mere exposure is inadequate and even harmful. Christians must be taught to honor God by interacting with the sacred biblical text in a responsible55.i.e. careful, discerning, and faithful manner. That’s why Scripture saturates my thinking, but I tend not to casually throw out quotations or references unless I’m prepared to thoroughly dig in.

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  • Fr. William Newby, SSC

    Here is another Anglican priest’s perspective: One of Anglicanism’s contributions to Catholicism is not having “sola” theology. 1-As for female ordination, scripture doesn’t ordain it: men and women are equal but different. We have separate Telos! 2-Ecclesiastical hIstory has failed to support the various attempts to force it. It is innovative and. unnecessary. Otherwise our Lord would have accomplished it during His ministry. 3-Finally we can observe in our own day it’s fruits–schism, anger, breakdown of efforts at unity, power without responsibility (viz. ECUSA). &c. When we look at Scripture, Reason, and Tradition in equal authority for Catholic polity the ordination of women fails on all counts. I love women [which shouldn’t even have to be said], and support their struggle to be equally employed (along with minorities which is a civil rights issue). But the One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church is NOT a human institution! It belongs to the Christ Who is Her founder and infallible Head.

    • Carson T. Clark

      I appreciate your sharing your thoughts, Fr. William. Yet this post isn’t about women’s ordination. I mentioned that merely to provide context and would prefer that we need detour down that contentious trail just now. Instead, let’s stick to the issue at hand: How we communicate about Scripture.

  • Pat

    Amen. I actually feel we do a disservice to the Bible when we callously throw out scripture with a “take two and call me in the morning” attitude. As though all of life is just that simple. Struggling with a hurt? “well the Bible says”; lose a loved one? “Well the Bible says”, etc., ad nauseum. There’s much to be said for listening and just being with people and allowing the Spirit to speak through us, whether that be with scripture or words influenced by Jesus.

    • Carson T. Clark

      I follow your amen with my own!

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  • cindy

    I am an Orthodox Christian from a Protestant background. It has taken much work to undo the habit of reading scripture “literally”. As my priest puts it, scripture is not a magic incantation and should not be treated as such. Scripture comes from human authorship but divine inspiration. Just because you read the footnotes doesn’t mean you understand the purpose of the writing.

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