While speaking before a group I mentioned that the debate around homosexuality will present some complicated issues for the church. A man in the back of the room disagreed.
“There’s nothing complicated about it,” he said. “My Bible says homosexuality is a sin. Period. End of story.”
But for the people around him, it was not “end of story.” It was, however, the end of their conversation with him.
This tactic–using the Bible as the ultimate vanquishing weapon–rarely produces the desired effect. It often accomplishes just the opposite. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, when using “because the Bible says so” with those who do not accept the total authority of scripture, the argument is a non-starter. Why would they give any special credence to a source they consider elusive or dubious?
Then, for many, attempts to shut down a debate with “because the Bible says so” sound too much like an exasperated parent shouting, “Because I said so!” It seems demeaning.
I realize some people are drawn to “end of story” Bible defenses out of a longing for firm ground during a time of cultural shifting sands. “We have to stand up for God and his Word,” they say. They crave some black and white in a world that seems increasingly gray.
Perhaps it’s not too dissimilar, though, from Jesus’ time with the religious establishment. The Pharisees attempted to shut down Jesus with references to scriptural law, such as keeping the Sabbath holy. Rather than accepting their “end of story” proof-texting approach, Jesus engaged the conversation with other scripturally sound ways to look at the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:1-13)
So, what’s a more effective way to find God’s truth in divisive issues, such as a church’s stance on homosexuality?
1. Remember the goal. The real goal should be to help people grow in relationship with the Lord. Winning a doctrinal argument at the expense of driving someone away from God is not a win.
2. Use fearless conversation. Allow give and take. People want to be involved in the conversation, especially with sensitive issues.
3. Let scripture speak. Absolutely, include applicable scripture in the discussion. But also allow others to include additional scripture and their perspectives on context and interpretation. Accommodate a robust biblical exploration of the issue–even if it makes the issue more complicated than a simple proof text.
4. Invite questions. Create an environment where people know it’s safe to ask difficult questions. And ask some good questions yourself, such as, “What does this scripture mean to you?” Use the occasion to direct some of the questions to God. Including God takes the conversation to a higher level.
5. Exercise humility. Sometimes it’s best to say, “I have questions too. I don’t have all the answers. Only God does.” Posturing absolute certainty on difficult issues often undermines a person’s credibility.
One more thing. Can we refrain from saying, “MY Bible says”? What do they mean by “my” Bible? Are they trying to distinguish their unique copy from my flawed copy? It sounds like the schoolyard bully who taunts, “MY dad is tougher than your dad.” I assume they’re getting ready to use a Bible passage to beat me up, rather than to bring understanding and relationship with our Father.
Great post Thom. I often struggle with that phrase myself. Those who use it seem to be oblivious of how so many believers have miss used it. It rarely helps to bring people together. Just creates more divisiveness.
Thanks Thom. This is an exact conversation I had with a couple recently. I always pray during the conversation, “Lord, give me your words and hold back mine.”
Stay the Course!
I once had a bumper sticker from an Evangelical book store, which read ‘god says it, I believe it and that settles it’. Some thought it funny, others did not , so I removed it, lest I be stoned as it says in the bible 🙂
Great article Thom. This is a tough subject. I think what I’d like to see is “make the main thing the main thing.” By that I mean, the Bible, and especially Jesus, had a lot more to say about the poor than about homosexuality so let’s use the Bible to push for more fairness and equality ( reminds me of the current Pope’s comments ). I may be wrong but my current approach on homosexuality is to think, pray and vote my conscience, but let God intervene if He doesn’t like the trend, rather than becoming an activist against the movement to allow gay marriage ( for example ). God did intervene once before. Its unfortunate that the gay community, to some extent, isn’t satisfied with legalizing civil unions with all the benefits of marriage. I once thought that individual Christians could decide to call their marriage something else ( Christian Union? ) just to distinguish it from the “marriage” word. I mean, the original scriptures used what, Hebrew or Greek, not the English word marriage which has become a fighting word.
Great post and I’ve long felt that it’s pointless to argue about the veracity of the Bible with people for whom it is not authoritative. For those individuals, your conversation must take a different tack if you are truly desirous of a conversation with them versus just writing them off as some sort of godless demon.
And great point about remembering the goal. If the ultimate goal is drawing someone to Christ, then that HAS to be your endgame. I don’t mean compromising one’s principles or taking an “anything goes” approach to winning people. But, my goodness, if our ways of dealing with people don’t reflect the character of Christ, then we are offering nothing that will be appealing. People will remember and be impacted by those who loved them and talked with them even when they couldn’t agree. Conversely, they’ll also remember and be impacted (though negatively) by those who just want to argue, bash, shame, etc.
Well said, my friend!
We need to listen to others very carefully when we engage in conversations about God. Our words should create a bridge to God’s love, not a road block that turns people away. To me, Fearless Conversation means that you should be listening at least as much as you are talking!
When I hear that phrase, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it,” I am tempted to respond by wearing a very wry smile and saying, “I couldn’t agree with you more, brother. ‘Let anyone who curses his mother or father be put to death,’ says God in Leviticus. Which child do you want to start with?” I am so bad, but if you want to use scripture to beat up on people we all are going to be pretty bruised or dead! Of course, I did that once and asked the person what she did with the clear message of that scripture and she said, “God hasn’t given me the understanding yet of what that means.” I just sighed and gave up.
Brian, I have learned the hard way that you can’t get anywhere with people whose only argument is “But I’m right!”
I have read all the comments so far, but I still feel that on the point of a particular public sin, it needs to be put out there as a sin. The age of “sex” is here and it needs to be dealt with firm words from God (Romans 1). I have seen too much of the Word of God watered down as to make it useless.
If you are going to quote Romans 1, don’t stop until you read Romans 2:1.
“I assume they’re getting ready to use a Bible passage to beat me up…”
Having been not only beaten up this morning, but actually condemned to hell by someone claiming “the bible says…”, I can only offer a resounding “thank you!” for this article!
Obviously it takes having the Spirit of God inside a person to really change them so quoting scripture to the world is like throwing your pearls before swine. The bible is God’s word to us, not the world. They can’t hear it until God opens their eyes first. You can reason with the world about their behavior like saying to someone who is gay, “You do understand your lifestyle is a choice of self extinction.” No matter, just a waste of breath. People are going to do what they want. For the most part, the only time the world will ever bother giving an ear is when they made a mess of their lives to the point of no return. And even in this, when they’ve gotten to the point they see no chance they could ever remotely fix their own situation; Yes, when their personal gods (they, themselves or our god awful government can’t or won’t do a thing for them), maybe then, they might ask, what are you doing to have such a good life and so few if any problems? They you can say, “Let me introduce you to the One who is keeping my life good! Oh and not because I earned anything by being good. Although following God’s ways has its own good rewards. Oh, and God’s Spirit in me is doing a world of good.
Very wise words. Coercive, authoritarian demands don’t change hearts, however, the convincing and conviction of the Holy Spirit does. The Spirit works through truth shared in loving humility.
Good word, Steve.
Great post Thom. I think point #1 is the most important. It’s similar to another point someone once made about being an argument – you can either focus on being right, in which case you’ll win the argument, but lose the person, or you can focus on the relationship, in which case, being right won’t matter, finding the truth will and it may require you to change too.
The entire problem with everything today is obeying rule of law. The Bible itself was written by and mostly to Jews, especially in the Old Testament. But the idea of worshipping God and being a Christian mean you reverence the Levitical law as well as the other things Jesus made clear in the entire Bible. No where in the Bible is it ever not clear what is right and what is wrong, what God abhors and what He honors, and what should or shouldn’t be done. We should respect everyone without judging them but also admonish those and shake the dust off our feet of those who question the authority of the words of God. People are making the Bible personal to them when they say “my Bible”, and are pointing out that the people they are saying it to apparently either have different things written in them (such as a Bible version which is rewritten to slant towards one group or another) or they are ignoring the things those people actually have in their Bible. Taking the Word of God as absolute without reading things into them that are just not there is what the role and purpose of a true Christian is without judging anyone (and that alone belongs to God).
Very true…Much of what the Bible says is basically showing us we can’t do it!!!! We fail at every turn. In Christ, my life is hidden. The truth of the word stands – but can only be discerned by one that is spiritual. Once again – we must not try to usurp the Holy Spirit – we leave these things to Him and preach Jesus. Even in this post – just because the Bible says it – doesn’t mean people will believe it, I believe the letter does kill – but the Spirit gives life.
Having heard “Because the Bible says so” as an answer to genuine, well-meaning questions my entire life and being shut down time and time again, this post resonates with me. The Bible isn’t the end-all be-all answer to every question on the planet, but rather the means by which God reveals who He is and leads us into a relationship with Him. I’ll never forget the time I watched a Josh McDowell video in which he asked the audience what seemed like simple questions: “Why shouldn’t we steal?” “Why shouldn’t we commit adultery?” and so on through the 10 commandments. When it came to it, no one in the audience could reason further than “Because the Bible says so.” But then Josh pointed even higher than the Bible to who God is and His character, pointing out that it’s wrong to steal because God gives, and it’s wrong to commit adultery because God is faithful, it’s wrong to lie because God is truth, etc. It completely changed the way I viewed God and His Word and what it means to be made in the image of God. With that being said, the gay community needs to know that they too are made in the image of God, loved by Him, and that they too can have a relationship with Him. Instead of saying “Here’s what the Bible says about homosexuality,” why not say “Here’s what the Bible says about who God is, and who you are, how God feels about you, and what He’s done for you”? The same Gospel message applies to straight people and people in the LGBTQ community. Jesus doesn’t just save us from certain sins, he saves SINNERS!
So true. Excellent.
Here’s my stance. Many accuse Dones of departing from the faith and true doctrine. There’s one part of true doctrine that I’ve learned and it’s very simple – I can’t make anyone behave a certain way. I can’t make believers behave – let alone unbelievers! Here’s the truth – a believer has the Holy Spirit living in them – He leads and guides believers into all truth. Now some may grieve or quench the Holy Spirit – but it doesn’t mean that He’s up and gone. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in the lives of people, because He’s certainly continually doing one on us. Selah……
Been a follower of Jesus the Christ for 56 years. Was 6 when I made this call. Have read the Bible many times and study it regularly. The older I become the less I know. The more I realize how little I know the humbler I become. The humbler I become the wiser The Lord allows me to be. Learned long ago that the Bible was not a weapon with which to conquer or destroy others. Discovered it was a grace to me. Figured out Jesus wants me to be true to him but seldom if ever do things “In His Name.” When I error in my judgement, as I am prone to do, I can mess other lives up pretty badly and they think it’s His fault. Not shy about sharing faith, just careful. Not embarrassed about my love for Scripture and the joy it brings. But, it torments too, doesn’t it? It demands such…introspection. That hurts so, so much. Not my job to use Scripture to torment others. Life torments enough just as it is. My job, I figure, is to personally love God with my everything and others more than myself. Taking the beam out of my eye is not an event. Seems to be taking a life time. It’s more a process. Everyone can be an enemy. So I chose to love them. When my time for the grave comes it will not be my choices, my theology, my wisdom, my flaws, my triumphs, my failures, wins or losses I hope to be remembered for. It is simply that I love God…and you.