“Got a verse for that?”
The Bible doesn’t just teach us what to think. It teaches us how. A hermeneutic that rejects any doctrine which can’t be prooftexted in as many words is one that doesn’t know how to think biblically.
The modern mind is like a Klingon disruptor—designed to atomize anything that it’s trained upon. This is nowhere more evident than in the glib comeback of evangelicals encountering biblical sexuality, and finding it out of keeping with their modern Western sensibilities:
Got a verse for that?
This question is frustrating in the same way as being asked if your mother knows you’re gay: it contains within it a presupposition which, though bogus, tends to look more legitimate the harder you try to dismantle it.
In this case, the presupposition is that we can and should atomize the text of Scripture into isolated prooftexts that summarize key doctrines, from which we can then read off the Cliff’s notes of God’s mind on any particular issue. When all you have is systematic theology, everything begins to look like a nail. (Well, you get the idea.)
For instance, should wives submit to their husbands? Well, there’s Ephesians 5:22, which literally says that, so while it seems like an odd stipulation, we’ll need to make it an article of faith. Can women preach in church? Well, there’s 1 Corinthians 14:34, so to paraphrase Mr. Incredible’s boss at the insurance company—speaking through clenched teeth—“the law requires that I say no.”
But how about women preaching to other women? Ah, well that’s not covered, so…must be fine.
This approach reflects an unwillingness to deal with both the Word and the world as God actually gave them to us. We have accrued a scientistic mindset that has deep-seated insecurities about qualitative measurements. So we idealize and abstract away the whole, until all that remains is tersely abbreviated parts. We take the living body and dissect it, carefully desiccating the members and arranging their preserves into systematic taxonomies with little connection to their natural relationships.
We learn a lot about the pieces of God’s dual revelation…but in the process we render it lifeless.
To vary the metaphor, if the church were a car design school, we would have gotten into the habit of learning and teaching using nothing but technical manuals. It’s a good and necessary thing to understand the components of a car, and how they fit together—but if all you ever do is look at the parts, you never actually see the shape of the car itself.
In the same way, evangelicalism has lost the concept of theological shape. We know all the components that go into a car…but we don’t know what a car looks like anymore. So if someone asks, “Can we make more use of space-saver tires by fitting them to at least a couple of wheels all the time?” some of us sense that maybe something isn’t great about that idea, but the manual doesn’t say not to use space-saver tires, and after all they can be fitted and driven on, so…it must be ok?
Of course, anyone just looking at a car on space-savers knows that something is wrong.
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