Why We Should Stop “Using” the Bible:
What if There’s a Better Way to Approach our Sacred Texts?
I’ve been thinking about the Bible a lot lately. That’s not a new thing. Studying and wrestling with the Bible has occupied the majority of my life. I love the Bible. It’s a sacred and irreplaceable source of inspiration, meaning, and hope for me. The difference is that the past couple of weeks I haven’t been thinking about specific texts, but the Bible as a whole, as a library of texts. What is the Bible? How does it function in the life of the Church and our own individual lives?
A week ago I gave a sermon at GracePointe Church about this very topic. We posted a graphic that recapped the main ideas of the sermon, a couple of which were definitely provocative: the Bible isn’t the Word of God, nor is it inerrant or infallible. I’ll dig more into these ideas in upcoming posts, but for now I mention them to simply say those statements on the graphic caused it to go viral. Last I heard there had been more than 450, 000 views of that post across our social media channels. As a result, we’ve been inundated all week by two kinds of messages. The majority have been hateful and judgmental. We’ve had scripture after scripture quoted at us, like we hadn’t read them or thought of them before. Marcus Borg was surely right when he said, “Conflict about how to see and read the Bible is the single greatest issue dividing Christians.”
The second kind of response has been encouraging. People who still long for faith, community, and a reclaiming of the Bible that honors the head and the heart have found a place in which they can bring their full humanity.
Many of the first, negative, responses asked a similar question. They asked (more like demanded), “How do you use the Bible?” This would often be followed by more Bible verses that, according to the poster, proved that we are heretics, not ‘real’ Christians, and not a ‘real’ church.
I’m stuck on this language. How do I ‘use’ the Bible? Maybe using the Bible is the problem. I was taught to approach the Bible this way. Whether the “Roman Road” (an approach to the letter to the Romans that ignores any and all context to patch together a ‘how to go to heaven when you die’ guide) or randomly memorizing specific verses and keeping them on standby just in case I needed them to bring them out to correct, shame, or otherwise make someone feel less-than spiritually.
I want to propose we stop using the Bible. Instead, let’s actually take it seriously. Let’s learn about the context and history of a passage. Let’s stop using the Bible in an attempt to prove our rightness and their wrongness. Let’s stop worshipping the idea of what we wish the Bible was, and instead embrace it in all its complexity and creativity.
Using the Bible has been the problem. We have proof-texted our way into genocide, white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, and a system that covers for and props up the powerful at the expense of the powerless.
Using the Bible has allowed it to be weaponized, a source of wounding instead of healing.
Using the Bible has allowed us to feel holier-than-thou, and in the process we have twisted and bent the text in ways that our spiritual ancestors would not recognize.
So, please, can we just stop? Can we take the Bible seriously enough to engage it more thoughtfully, thoroughly, and compassionately? We’ve turned the Bible into a Frankenstein’s monster and sent it to do our bidding against those we hate, fear, and want to exclude, and it’s time we just stop.
I love the Bible.
I suspect I always will.
But enough is enough. It’s time to stop quoting it AT people and start embodying the best of it as we love, serve, and work for a better, more equitable world.