People who have even a cursory knowledge of the legal system will be familiar with the concept of proof. In my mind, proof is the indisputable culmination of evidence against a defendant determining guilt or innocence.
At other times, we think of proof as a synonym for evidence. Proof is necessary to believe something is true.
Yet, I can’t help but think that there is a certain mindset behind the inclination to use proof-texts in Christian circles. It’s the presupposition that one must employ a particular verse to create, sustain or strengthen an argument. There is little thought of whether or not the verse is true in context. In fact, the context may completely militate against the verse being used in support of the argument the person is making.
Let me illustrate my point. Let’s assume for a moment that someone employs “do not be drunk with wine .. but be filled by the Spirit” to argue against alcohol usage. Take the verse as a stand-alone. Is it saying you should not drink alcohol, no matter what amount? How about if we compare that to the entire breadth of the New Testament? Did Jesus turn the wine into water? Does Paul tell Timothy to drink a little soda for his stomach?
Or, how about the broader context of the Bible? What about Jesus sharing the last supper with His disciples? What about Luke 7:34 (proof-texting now)?
How about the cultural and era context? How would a first century middle-eastern person view Paul’s words from Ephesians 5:18? And how about church history? Does any of this come in to play?
I am not trying to be argumentative over drinking. I am simply illustrating the neglect of the vast breadth of Scripture in favor of supporting presuppositions by myopically applying verses.
It is a sad state. Some people greatly admire those who can employ a verse for this issue or a verse for that issue and even give you the address. They appear to be defenders of the faith.
This very approach has overtaken many a conservative Lutheran, too. They employ the Lutheran confessions quoting chapter and verse in an attempt to prove the correctness of their argument.
I don’t admire proof-texters. Being good at something that makes you sound like an arrogant a-hole is not something to be proud of .
Instead, I admire those who could distill understanding. People like Martin Luther who could boil down theological assertions into two camps: Theologians of Glory and Theologians of the Cross. And, if I had to bet, I believe Martin Luther would put proof-texters in the category of Theologians of Glory. Anyone who gets their worth and meaning from throwing out Scripture verses to justify their argument is engaged in self-idolatry. Is that really admirable?
Finally, the practice of proof texting obfuscates the depth of God’s word and inoculates the self from ever having to question one’s own understanding. It leaves the individual in a state of superficial faith. I would rather have a conversation with a pastor who questioned God’s very existence in the depth of soul-struggle than engage in a debate over communion with an evangelical know-it-all. The pastor in this scenario is challenged to his presuppositional roots, and would put everything on the table. The evangelical would try to hide his roots, scalp and all, preferring the safety of what “he knows” to the threat of what he’s hiding.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus is absolutely dangerous to our ontology. Ask Peter. Ask Paul. They walked away transformed. But, they had to die ontologically, first. That is Christ’s work. He is all about death and resurrection. Ultimately, the defense the proof-texter puts up is not against someone arguing against his/her position. The defense is against the radical nature of the Gospel. It is a defense of the self against Jesus.
Please, Lord, set us free from behaviors and approaches which cloud the proclamation of Christ Crucified for the redemption of the world.