Laying Yellow Bricks

In the very first post on this blog, we wrote the following:

Like all really great Christian parents, our troubleshooting/how-to guide was the Bible.  But the Bible isn’t a how-to manual.  It’s a collection of writings by authors pointing to the great Author, the one who made and owns everything.  And the Author has written a tapestry of stories weaved into the One Great Story….  Thus, we live our lives in that greater story, under the kingship of our humble savior.  And when we view ourselves apart from that story or treat the Bible like a DIY book instead of the story of the Life-Giver, we’ve missed the point altogether.  It’s like reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and using it as a guide to lay yellow bricks.

I wanted to circle back around on this, because I think this is an important thing to understand when you read our blog.  There has been a long tradition that Courtney and I both grew up in that is characterized by appealing to the Bible for the reasoning behind behaviors and decisions.  Sounds good, right?  The problem is when it becomes prooftexting–taking statements from longer passages to defend or justify a particular position.  It’s surprisingly easy to do.  Political smear campaigns are famous for taking one or two sentences a candidate says and turning it into a controversy without understanding the full content of what the candidate was saying.  Sound bites are particularly bad for this.

This happens all the time in Christian circles.  “Paul says that drunkenness is a sin, so all alcohol is evil” ignoring that elsewhere Paul says drinking wine can be good.  “Tattoos are evil, Leviticus says so” says the man with the trimmed beard.  My personal favorite: “The Bible says my body is a temple of the Lord” which is used to justify everything from dieting to eating only organic foods to not getting tattoos to not dying hair to getting enough sleep.  (It’s actually about not having sex with prostitutes, but hey–whatever).

This is particularly what I was referring to with the yellow bricks bit.  The diet/eating/exercise principle illustrates this well: what does the Bible have to say about how we should treat our bodies with eating and the such?  Actually, nothing much directly.  And beyond that, anything we learn is by inference.  And inference is fine.  But appealing to “our body is a temple” argument is not only textually irresponsible, it’s also incredibly ill-suited to the point being made.  Hence, reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a guide to laying yellow bricks.  That’s neither the point of the book nor even a good inference from it.  I’ll come back to this in the next post.

The antidote I was offered to this in recent years was to understand the context.  “Don’t just quote a verse.”  “Understand what the author is saying in their larger argument before just quoting a portion of it.”  And that’s certainly a step in the right direction.  To go back to the candidate idea, don’t just rip a sentence out of their speech; listen to the whole thing and understand how that statement fits into the logical flow of what he’s saying.  There have been examples on both Republican and Democratic sides where this has happened.

Take the “body is a temple of the Lord” example from above.  In the context, Paul is rebuking the Corinthians because apparently some of them were sleeping with prostitutes.  And Paul’s argument for why that was bad, to shorten this a ton, was that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and joining our bodies with a prostitute joins with them.  “Therefore honor God with your bodies”  How?  By not sleeping with prostitutes.  Nothing about diets or organic food or exercise or personal hygiene.  If you want to argue for those points, you gotta do it somewhere else.

But this doesn’t solve all of our questions about life and the Bible.  The Bible is chock full of diverse books and varied genres and multiple authors.  Just knowing the context of an author doesn’t fix our issues or give us a clear path to how to live each day or parent our kids.

So, if that’s not good enough, then what is?  And what in the world does that have to do with parenting?  I’ll be getting more into that on Friday.

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6 thoughts on “Laying Yellow Bricks

  1. Soooo what brought this on? I don’t mean to be argumentative but the entire 11th chapter of Leviticus is about food. Not that I follow that diet, because I am not under the law, but I do think it clearly shows that food is a biblical issue on multiple levels. Just sayin’ 🙂

    • Good point, Kathleen. I should’ve been far clearer with what I was trying to say.

      I fully agree that the Bible has quite a bit to say about food. It’s actually an important theme through the biblical story. I also agree that a lot of that discussion is old covenant law (like Leviticus 11), which we as Christians are not under.

      I was particularly (and unclearly) referring to current discussions I hear around exercise, organic food, weight, caloric intake, etc. The Bible doesn’t speak directly to those issues, so we have to argue from inference. Like I said in the post, inference is fine. But it has to be a legitimate inference. And I hear a great many appeals to”our body is a temple of the Lord” as a defense for, well, a whole bunch of stuff. And I don’t think that’s a valid implication of what Paul was actually arguing in 1 Corinthians. THAT’S what I was taking issue with.

      I’ll try to clear some of this up in tomorrow’s post, too. I still haven’t really gotten to how I think Christians SHOULD view the Bible when making decisions for everyday life.

      Thanks for the comment, Kathleen! Let me know if that didn’t help unmuddy the water a bit.

  2. Bill, I am not saying I disagree with you, but I don’t think you are not understanding people when they speak of their bodies as a Temple. I know you are refering to 1. Cor. 6, but that isn’t the only time Paul talkes about our bodies as a temple. (1. Cor.3. 16, here he isn’t talking about sexual sin). So I don’t think it is correct to say that they are pulling it out of context, when there are different places they could be pulling it from. (Unless you have asked them). Just putting that out there.

    • Becky, thanks for the comment! Since you’re not the only person who has said something about this, I’m going to spend some more time on it in a separate blog post in a few weeks.

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