I was wrong.
Regardless of context, this is one of the most difficult statements for anyone to make. Whether you’re having a conversation at the church, at home, or even in the coffee shop, these three words come with such difficulty.
And yet, those committed to the authority of Scripture live with this possibility on a daily basis. We are called, each of us, to be submitted to God’s Word. As eighteenth-century Lutheran scholar Johann Albrecht Bengel has been quoted, each of us has the responsibility to “Apply yourself wholly to the text; apply the text wholly to yourself.” This is the task we face daily in our efforts to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2).
And in order to be transformed—in order to be conformed to Scripture—we must say those three words with far more regularity than any of us would desire. Each time we approach Scripture, we bring a load a theological baggage to the task of interpretation. And we have a responsibility to let the text speak and allow it to have an affect upon our theology.
And this is so difficult, isn’t it? Even as born-again, Bible-thumping Christians who champion sola scriptura, again and again we are tempted to bring our theology and our experiences and the mounds of books we’ve read to the exegetical task and interpret Scripture in such a way as to accord with our pre-conceived notions. This proclivity seems so evident when we see it in someone else (who clearly can’t conceive of their bias), but we are then challenged to consider the other theological arenas in which we may blind to our own (unnoticed) biases which we carry into the exegetical task.
It is much more natural, when faced with teaching that opposes our thought, to reject it outright—to declare that our views are inherently right and correct. It is far more difficult to acknowledge the possibility that we might actually be wrong. In my reading of God’s Word, I am perpetually amazed at the number of scribes and Pharisees whose interpretations of Scripture were shaken by the Incarnation of Christ. Over and over again, Jesus’s actions undermined their entire framework of understanding. And while it is common to read their reactions in the Gospels as absurd, as a theologian and student of God’s Word, I become fearful of the possibility that my interpretations—as well-intentioned as I believe them to be—as much study as I have committed to the task—could be wrong (or at least fallible).
And in my brief experience training men and women to rightly divide the Word of God, I’ve taught them to ask an important question when faced with a difficult text that doesn’t necessarily correspond with their pre-determined theological position.
Rather than asking them how they might redefine or re-interpret a verse in order to make it align more closely with their position, I challenge them to ask, “How has that verse or passage affected my theological views—how has it shaped what I had already believed?”
Why is that important?
Because if we’re genuinely submitted to the authority of God’s Word, our task is to conform our thought to his Word; not to conform his Word to our thought.
Is that uncomfortable?
Is that difficult?
Does that require us to consistently face the possibility that our theological framework may be out of alignment with Scripture?
But, if we genuinely prize God’s Word, we are given no other option.
Pastor at University Baptist Church, San Antonio.
Professor. PhD in Theology.
Runner. Cyclist. Roast Master at caffeinatedtheology.com.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.