Slogans about scripture

There’s no way, of course, that I can hope to “treat” or do justice to scripture in a month’s worth of blogs.  I only hope to say a few important things.  (Then, there’s always March and April. . . .)

Recently, as I read a chapter in book about NC scripture’s chronology (dating and authorship of all the documents), it dawned on me that sharing some slogans might help to say something important, not to mention providing a style-break from some of the heaviness of late on this blog.  So, here are a few slogans, with comments.

“Sola scriptura”

Used as a rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century CE, this is for me the slogan of all slogans when it comes to thought about scripture.  Every “pat phrase” — even “God is good” — has its limitations, but I can accept the limitations inherent in “sola scriptura.”  It denotes a reliance on scripture for all of “faith and practice.”  The Roman Catholics demur, suggesting rightly that scripture itself does not itself articulate sola scriptura as a principle.  No protestants I’ve run across would deny the influence of Christian community, sibling accountability, etc., but the clear need of the times was — and is!! — to shuck the human concoctions of superimposed religion, returning to scripture as the primary source.

“Sola scriptura” has been pre-imprinted on our personal checks for a couple years now.  Sorta makes me wish I needed to write checks more than a couple times a month, so people could see this slogan more often.

“Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”

This is a slogan of the 19C American Restoration Movement.  Like other slogans such as “separation of church and state,” if the intent had been understood and acted upon, things would have turned out a lot better.  Had this slogan been more consistently applied to congregations’ internal concerns, there would have been fewer (like almost none) negative church splits.  If all in Christendom would refuse to make laws where God has made none, and if we all would speak clearly where God, through His apostles and prophets and others, has spoken clearly, “church” would be more unified and effective in this life.

“Responsible, contextual, and conversational”

A slogan of much more recent origin, this is the brainchild of a living scholar.  Although it may never be a well-known trifecta, it comes to my mind here because it speaks of a paradigm for Bible study (and reading, and investigation, and application).  Although these three terms have become part and parcel of who I am, I continue to feel the word “conversational” doesn’t really say — to the uninitiated reader, that is — what the coiner of the term intends.  I would prefer the elevation of the first two words, in a formula more along these lines:

Responsible, contextual Bible study . . .

. . . using an approach that “converses” intentionally with biblical and relevant, extra-biblical texts, with scholars, with various like-minded study partners, and, in absentia, with the authors of ancient texts, in order to exegete the meaning of their texts.

In any event, for me, “responsible” implies a scholarly approach — not necessarily in the academic sense, but in the sense of scientific approach, valid sources used appropriately, and reasoned conclusions (and non-conclusions).  “Contextual” demands that Bible students always  consider the literary context in interpreting a text.  It also implies a secondary awareness of historical context and other contexts and factors that may influence interpretation.

“The word of the Lord”

“Pastors” and preachers and other public readers and speakers are often heard — at least in some denominations and congregations — following a reading by saying “The word of the Lord.”  To which the congregation is conditioned to respond, “Thanks be to God.”

I had a number of patterns ingrained as a young person, but I’m thankful that I didn’t have as many of them as in some denominations.  On its surface, this “the Word of the Lord” saying certainly pays tribute to God, but it can become little more than an exercise for a pet-owner and its congregational parrot.  Surely, many do truly give thanks to God for this or that “word” read from the scriptures.

But when a “verse” is mercilessly ripped from its context and read with great ceremony as though the words themselves carried weight apart from their communicative context, the result can be “the word of us.”  In other words, it is quite possible that the reader is giving a message that is either incomplete, confused,  or mis-applied.  If it is not the Lord’s word that I convey — and merely using the words from Bibles does not constitute the “word of the Lord” — it may very well be “the word of me.”

Let’s give thanks for the bona fide, authentic messages of God, but take care when we use this slogan.

Brian Casey, 2/2/15


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