Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Unbiblical"

Tony Jones wrote a good post today about euthanizing the euphemisms called Ending Christian Euphemisms: "Unbiblical"

What do people really mean when they use the word "unbiblical"? There are, of course, certain things that I might like to argue as being unbiblical (such as flying unicorns and cellular telephones) but hopefully I would not be so presumptuous as to even use the word against an idea or a person. I know that just about everything can be argued from scripture depending on how literal or allegorical one's approach may be or how one spins the context of a particular passage. What I'm really saying when I say that something is "unbiblical" is that I just don't like it, I just don't agree, and the burden is still on me to complete my argument. The Bible doesn't do the work for us, it doesn't usually argue itself (not every verse can be read at face value... there's always context to wrestle with). For example, if I say that the rapture is unbiblical, I have to argue why not... there is still a dialogue that must take place because throughout history (recent history) the rapture has been argued straight from scripture. It's really not about whether the idea is "biblical" or not that must be argued, it's whether or not the argument is exegetically valid. Using the word "unbiblical" is accusatory and it cuts off all dialogue. It's a lame attempt to claim the moral high ground.

Not too long ago I had a parent pull their kids out of my youth group because my teachings are apparently "unbiblical." What hurt most of all was losing the students with whom I'd built a good relationship, but what hurt almost equally was being misunderstood. Everything we do in our youth ministry and everything we teach is guided by my accountability to scripture. I'm simply trying to teach the Bible and I'm being called "unbiblical." The truth was that I wasn't literal enough for the parent and we disagreed on our interpretation. It wasn't that they were "biblical" and I wasn't... it was that they didn't like my approach... if they had been clear about that, especially with their kids, I'm sure it wouldn't have hurt quite as much and there may have been more civility in the whole situation.

To position your argument as the "biblical argument" is the fast track to ignorance. It does not welcome a counter-argument and it traps you into a false dichotomy. Thus you will never see your own bias (everyone has one), you will never see the lens you're using (everyone reads through the lens of their experience). You'll convince yourself that you see things simply as they are, uninfluenced by anything outside the text, and everyone else is being "deceived" by something outside the text.

What we need to do is delete the word "unbiblical" from our vocabulary. Everything can be argued from scripture... even slavery and killing gays... even the things that are so opposite of Jesus' message. What we must do is not show what is "biblical" and "unbiblical." Rather, we must show what is valid and invalid. We must recognize our own biases and expose the biases of others. From there we can have a more healthy and civil dialogue, one without arrogance and ignorance, and the true message of the Bible will not be shrouded in bad arguments and euphemisms.

2 comments:

SarahJoy said...

:D Yay.

Rudy said...

I can't help but lean the other direction on this one Wes. One must, if one is truly bound in his or her convictions, call things unbiblical or biblical. Being offensive is not always a negative thing. When David was being ridiculed, pelted with stones, rained with dirt, he advised his men to not kill Shimei. David's perspective was that God may have a message for me in all this chaos and negativity. When I get emails that imply that I am getting too liberal or "slippery" in my teaching I feel what you do. However, I find it comforting to know that Pharisees said the same kinds of things to Jesus, Paul, and the like. Athanasius was even called heretic by the church for a time! Now he is hailed as the architect and savior of the Christian Faith (with obvious power coming from the Holy Spirit). I don't want those words or accusations like "unbiblical" to go away. I want to make clear that there are distinctions in what I am saying the bible seems to say, and what someone else sees.

What MUST stop is the dismissive nature that comes with such terms. Is someone who is "unbiblical" in my view not worthy of dignity, charity, laughs, and my love? I see the people who hold signs that say, "God Hates Fags" as unbiblical in their understanding. I am not saying they are not loved by God, but they are by all accounts in my conviction from God Almighty not seeing the bible reasonably or with the Holy Spirit's guidance. If I believed that it "may" be biblical, then I have given at least in part confidence to their point of view.

Perhaps, as we see terms like "unbiblical" being thrown at us (and it does sting) we might take a moment to identify with our Lord and hold fast to what our Father has revealed to us. Be confident in your convictions. But be humble enough to see you may have something to learn from your neighbor. There are enemies of the gospel Wes. They are worthy of love, but they are not biblical.