He looked across the room at me as I explained my position on the issue. When I had finished, he said, “All I know is the Bible says, ‘Love one another’ and what you said isn’t loving.” I responded by mentioning other passages from the Bible and tied to explain my views through a bigger lens. He sat back in his chair with a scowl that indicated his mind was made up. He was right, and I was wrong, and he had a line from the Bible to prove it.
I wish I could say that this was the only time an event like this has happened in my ministry. Unfortunately, it is a regular occurrence. Someone has memorized one line from the Bible, and it becomes their guide into all Christian behavior. As believers, we must be cautious about buildings our entire belief system on a single verse or section of scripture.
This problem has been furthered by our modern tools like an app or program that will search for a particular word or topic and give us a list of places in the Bible with that concept. We can read down the list of verses, find one that we like, and it becomes our proof positive that our view is correct.
Theology is a process of thinking about God. It is an attempt to view all the teachings of the Bible as a whole. That means the words written by Moses have harmony with those spoken by Jesus and written by Paul. This requires reading the scripture in its historical and Biblical context.
Let me give you just one simple example. In Luke 15, Jesus is questioned about eating with tax collectors and sinners. He responds by telling a three-fold parable. The first part is about a shepherd searching for his lost sheep. The second is about a woman looking for her lost coin. The third we call the prodigal son, and it is about a boy who leaves home only to return after he has wasted his life and money. The third part of the parable is different from the first two. In it, the father does not go searching for his son. Instead, he looks down the road and waits patiently. So, which is it? Does our God search for us when we are lost, or does he wait for us to come home? Those are opposite images and yet that both appear to be true. To adequately answer that question, we must look at the overall context along with the bigger picture told in the entirety of God’s word.
The Bible contains a variety of passages addressing particular situations and people. We must be extremely cautious about building our entire view of faith on a single verse or passage. In fact, if you tend to quote one verse over and over, you might be completely wrong. Theology takes time to explain because it covers a large amount of material. It is not a process of throwing away single verses; instead, it is seeing them as part of a greater whole. Paul tells the Church leaders from Ephesus in the book of Acts (20:27), “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”
When given a choice between single verse answers and those based on theology, always choose the bigger picture. Get comfortable with tensions, paradoxes, and seeming contradictions. God is bigger than we think, and his word more complex than we wish to admit. It takes work to know the mind of Christ; that is why God gives us a lifetime to do it.