Tag Archives: Bible interpretation

Mission statements can obscure

5 Apr

Our church mission is “Joyfully to love all, serve all, and to share Jesus Christ with the world.”

A friend who belongs to a Methodist church mentioned her church’s guiding mission in the context of a discussion about homosexuality and a church association to which her church belongs.  This local group of churches had united to serve the community, but differing policies and doctrine threatened to derail some of their momentum.

I got to thinking about the importance and difficulty of choosing words.  Words carry not only verbal descriptive meanings, but also emotional messages, both positive and negative. Just like one’s tone of voice and delivery can alter the explicit meaning of a word, so can culture and the times add layers that color and influence communication.

God does not ignore such obstacles but takes them into account.  He responds by calling us FIRST to think, ponder, and invest time in understanding HIS divine words to us.  In turn, we are to be truthful in how we use words, especially the WORD of God.  Recall Paul’s exhortation to his protégé Timothy: “…Rightfully handle the word of truth!” in 2 Tim 2:15.

Mission statements matter – every word counts.  The verbs my friend’s church chose demand examination.  Let’s just look at the first one, to love:

Since it’s a church that is using this term, does it not make sense to turn first to the Bible to see God’s use?  Besides, should we begin with man’s definition, that is culture’s use, we’d immediately step into a morass.  We can’t assume consensus even within one country. What I consider ‘loving’ probably doesn’t match your personal view.  My ‘love’ might tap into the American ideal of pursuing happiness.  Translated, this has come to signify ‘allowing one freedom to do whatever one pleases, regardless of the consequences’ as long as it doesn’t impinge on my happiness.  But if I’m an alcoholic or drug addict, how loving is it to let me abuse substances and die?

God doesn’t leave us to wonder about what HE says is love.  Here is His standard:  You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  And your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:30-31  God cares not just about people’s temporary physical desires and needs, but their eternal soul’s condition.   Is it loving to clothe, feed and house someone for just their fleeting years on earth?

For a flesh and blood case of love in action, I’ll mention ‘Uncle Paul’.  He shows clearly how he himself loves in his letter to the Corinthians.

  • 1 Cor 10:33 I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

It is quite possible that my friend’s church had this kind of love in view when they crafted their mission statement.  But in giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’ll tell you that I have grown cautious in making assumptions about the meaning of terms. Just because a church uses the word ‘love’ or a colleague talks about ‘God’ or even mentions that they ‘pray’, I stop now and ask them what they mean.  More often than I would have imagined, that person’s usage does not match mine.

When it comes to terms, logical Joes and Janes seek clarity above all.

Dodging arguments – Appeals to Authority

17 Dec

I was listening to a radio discussion about correct Bible interpretation.  One of the three men dismissed the entire conversation with this comment:

“There’s something wrong about 3 white guys talking about how to understand the Bible!”

3 men

What struck me was the following thought:  What does the identity of the one(s) advancing the argument have to do with the force of the argument? What about examining the reasons for one’s interpretation of the Bible?   This dodge is simply a reverse of a common fallacy, Appeal to Authority.

Appeals to authority work like this: in lieu of reasoning with care, the advancer of a point of view avoids giving any support for his assertion by informing his audience that So-and-So believes it.  The assumption is:

So-and-So is a well-known authority

Whatever he believes must be right

He shares or has endorsed my point of view

Therefore, my assertion is correct

Back to the three gentlemen discussing the Bible.  The one I quoted tried to weaken the entire discussion by dismissing it before it got off the ground.  In essence he was saying:

  • We can’t possibly come up with a sound and full-orbed understanding of God’s Word due to our gender and race.  Our viewpoint as men is one-sided and incomplete, a priori.

That’s absurd!  That’s akin to claiming that women are incapable of researching and writing with any degree of accuracy about war or likewise men have nothing credible to say about rape.  Dismissing one’s ideas due to one’s identity is faulty!

This reverse of the Fallacy of the Appeal to Authority can sometimes be an example of the Genetic Fallacy.

Genetic Fallacy - red fish This red fish announces that since he is red, he is irrelevant.  The implication is that nothing he might advance has merit because of what he is.

I often hear people marginalize a point of view by this derisory comment:

  • You only say that because you’re a _________!

My experience has been that many of us resort to fallacies when we don’t have a watertight argument OR worse, we have NO facts or evidence for what we believe.   Yet, we desperately want to discredit the other guy’s argument.  So the fight instinct kicks in and we clobber our opponent with a sound byte and then fall back on fallacies because we are bereft of reasons.

What’s the solution?

My advice to this logical gal (me!) is

  • don’t articulate an opinion until I have done a bit of research
  • and when asked my views, resist the temptation to respond by instead asking some clarifying questions  IN ORDER to gain some information

Easier said than done!