“Is this statement biblical? Yes or no, and I want to hear a verse that supports your answer.” I waited as my Intro to Bible Study students processed the quote that I found on Facebook from a very well-known and popular pastor. It was part of a new whole class exercise that I call “InstaTheology.” The statement simply read, “God wouldn’t put you in it if He didn’t prepare you for it.” Students dug in and slowly began to unravel the statement. The greatest point of contention was the vague use of the word “it.” Some students assumed the “it” was a blessing or perhaps a beneficial challenge or opportunity. Others were concerned that “it” could refer to harmful situations not due to one’s choices but rather choices of others. They continued to wrestle through the instant, generalized, shallow theological point.
In a world of fast consumerism, often pastors and Christian thought leaders post statements that seem like Biblical truths without proper context. If the statement is clever or feels powerful or reinforces what someone else already believes, generally fire emojis appear in the comments. It has become easier to “like” a leader’s statement and take it as biblical than it is to open the Bible and see what’s actually there.
For the next several weeks, we are going to do a Bible study on the topic of racism. To prepare for this, I want to strongly encourage you to watch a conversation between Christine Caine and Dr. Anita Phillips called “Body Language: A Conversation on Race and Restoration in the Body of Christ” (the link is below). Then we’ll open the Bible and see what’s actually there. Last week, I wrote about a few accessible and reliable resources that every Christian should have at her disposal. This week, we’re going to look at some important questions that we will use to help us understand and live out God’s word. These questions come from Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays.
Step 1: What did the text mean to the original audience?
It’s helpful to know who the original audience was. Could it be the Israelites living in exile in the Old Testament? A church in a particular city in the New Testament? What might they be facing? A commentary or Bible dictionary can help us understand the history of the particular audience of a book.
Step 2: What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?
We have the recognize that while the Bible is active and living and speaks to every human experience, there are differences between the biblical audience and us today. Recognizing those difference can help us navigate the passage. We can utilize the tools I mentioned in last week’s post to help us answer this question.
Step 3: What is the theological principle?
A theological principle sounds like a fancy phrase, but it isn’t. It’s actually something that we do automatically as we read the Bible. After we understand a passage, in general, we will conclude some kind of lesson to live by. Hopefully, these lessons will actually become action, and our lives will be transformed. There are some guidelines to consider as we seek to form theological principles. According the Duvall and Hays, a theological principle is a statement that is biblically true. It needs to be reflected in the passage you’re studying. It must be timeless, meaning that it’s true for Christians in the year 220, 1320, and 2020. A theological principle is not bound by culture; if it isn’t true for Christians in Malawi, then it isn’t true for Christians in the United States. A theological principle must be supported by the rest of the Bible and relevant to both the biblical and current audience. This guidelines will help prevent us from developing bad theology and accidently inventing a cult.
Step 4: How should individual Christians today apply the theological principle in their lives?
Once we’ve done the work to understand the passage and draw out a theological principle, we are ready to come up with a movement step for our faith. We can start practicing what the Bible is teaching and watch our minds, hearts, and lives be transformed.
As my students dissected the statement “God wouldn’t put you in it if He didn’t prepare you for it,” they began to build off of each other’s ideas and used Scripture to support their thinking. Then we came to realization that there is too much unknown in the statement to really answer my question whether or not the statement was biblical. It was too “insta” without much substance. And then the clouds parted and the sun shone, gently illuminating in our wisdom our upturned faces, while angels sang—wait, no, that didn’t happen. (Though that does happen in most teachers’ daydreams when students have those “light bulb” moments.) It’s not enough to just follow and “like” a well known pastor or Christian speaker—we need to read and study the Bible for ourselves. This is particularly important today as Christians, regardless of denomination or political affiliation, ought to be prayerfully seeking God to see how they can partner with God to address the issue of racism in our churches and our communities.