Monday, March 12, 2018

Scripture Bombs

I do not like the habit many of us have (and I’m guilty of it at times) of inserting scriptural references as little proof bombs. Pixels are cheap: post the passage.

Whenever I see something like:

 God is a Pittsburgh Steelers Fan (Jude 3:16) 

I expect that if I take the time to look up Jude 3:16 (yes, I know) that it will be, if not a proof text (for there may not even be such an beastie as a proof text for most of our beloved doctrines) then at least scripture that is directly relevant, not obliquely relevant. And while not a proof, the reference will lend substantive support to the doctrine at hand.

This is why I generally ignore the “proof texts” for the great confessions (which I dearly love). It turns out, you see, that ~90% of the time when I look them up the references they list are wholly unsatisfying as proofs for the doctrines they allegedly prove. Instead I just take it upon myself to do the homework, not always successfully, of finding the scriptural support from scratch or I look to some other in-depth discourse.

Now some proponents are more circumspect, arguing that the references are not intended to be proof texts but as homework starting points. Fair enough. However it’s not hard to find claims of proof.

Let me give another example. And to show it is not due to bias, I’ll take a writer I admire making an argument I agree with. Here is James Dolezal writing on Divine Simplicity, his area of expertise, for which the evangelical community owes him a great debt. Here are the first two sentences of his 2013 article Why Simplicity Matters on the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals site:

It is a commonplace among many Christians that nothing that is not God accounts for God. He is not built up out of anything less than or prior to himself. Indeed, God’s being is not the consequent of any activity or reality that precedes him in any way. He gives to all, but receives from none (Acts 17:25-25 (sic); Rom. 11:35-36). 

Am I being unreasonable to expect that the passages will have something substantive to contribute to the topic of Divine Simplicity? Let’s examine the passages:

 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; (Acts17:25, NASB)  
 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:35-36, NASB

The first passage, from Paul’s speech at the Areopagus, is a message regarding God as the Creator.

The Romans passage comes at the end of a lengthy botany-metaphor-filled discourse on the remnant of Israel, and it is a closing praise regarding God’s mercy and grace.

Neither of these passages are part of a discussion where Paul is teaching on the simplicity of God. (Unless, of course, I am completely obtuse, which is always possible.) That doesn't mean that these passages can not be part of a comprehensive argument on Divine Simplicity. This is my minor criticism: including them in the text implies that they, in and of themselves, are more weighty than they actually are, in application to the subject being discussed.

You could, I suppose, argue that the passages referenced are only in support of second sentence: He gives to all, but receives from none. To that I would ask: what's the point? Why would the only scriptural references in an article on the hefty topic of Divine Simplicity be not about Simplicity but on a rather minor point?

Scripture bombs are a common practice. We should stop it. If the passage is clearly supportive, lay it out. If it is not, then the bomb is somewhat deceptive. The reader would be better served by a reference to further or more extensive work on the subject at hand.

I agree with Dolezal's argument it its entirety. I think the article is spectacular. I would have liked it a wee bit better with the scripture bombs.

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