Three deadly Scripture reading diseases have infected the “cult of the individual.” They are: versitis, topicalitis, and systematitis.
I write about these insidious diseases in my book, God’s EPIC Adventure 1 where I say:
One of the primary reasons for not knowing the overarching Story of Scripture is the way readers have come to use Scripture. Individuals and the church have developed the malignant disease of versitis 2 (proof texting), which has grown to epidemic proportions. Readers take small fragments (verses) and quote them ad nauseam and usually out of context. Scripture is rarely read as a whole complete Story from beginning to end.
Most, if not all, of our reading of Scripture only reinforces a belief that the Bible is just a collection of little nuggets that one can choose from when a small portion is thought to be helpful. It’s like using the Bible as an encyclopedia of God’s knowledge. When you have a problem, just look up a reference and quote away. Readers of Scripture need to stop memorizing verses of Scripture and then quoting them as proof texts, brutally tearing them from their God-given context and ordering them in a human fashion, as if a reader could do a better job than the Spirit in putting the text together. If followers of Jesus are going to memorize, then they need to memorize the overarching Story and the myriad of stories therein, according to Len Sweet…. 3 The church and individual readers need to recover the whole Story of Scripture. It is my argument, therefore, that we will never reside in the biblical narrative and make it our way of life if we keep pulling single verses from their context and use them as proof texts to argue our own theological agenda.
In addition to versitis, readers have also developed topicalitis (a contagious and deadly Bible teaching disorder), and systematitis (the art of propositional gathering). Topicalitis is best seen in the form of topical preaching and teaching while systematitis is extended topicalitis in the form of Systematic Theologies. Westerners have developed a penchant for minutia. Is it possible that fragmented teaching produces a fragmented believer who is anemic, listless, and weak with no sense of vocation as a follower and experiencer of God?
These three epidemics are caused by foundationalism, which among Evangelicals has caused too “low” a view of Scripture. 4 Why? Evangelicals have come to believe in the authority of the book that we have made Scripture to be. Evangelicals believe that God somehow has given us the wrong sort of book and it is our job to turn it into the right sort of book by engaging in the fissiparous 5 use of Scripture. How did this happen?
Short passage, read out of context, often forms the bounty of Scriptural intake for Jesus followers and sadly this has bled over to pastors and teachers of Scripture as well. I once suggested to a pastor that: “topical sermonettes produce anemic Christianettes.” This was not an endearing statement to him! On any given Sunday, a lot of Jesus followers simply get hosed! Does this mean that God can’t speak directly to a reader of Scripture from a passage of Scripture? No! He often brings a personal word of inspiration or encouragement to a reader. But, we should not get that moment of personal inspiration confused with the meaning of the text. We shall say more about this idea anon. Our difficulty arises when we take these moments of personal inspiration and teach them as the meaning of the text for everyone. From such activity, the cults that plague the world are born.
To further aid and abet the “cult of the individual,” we have developed an anti-intellectualism and have come to believe that we don’t need scholarship by the action of not valuing the role of scholarship in wrestling with and sharing meaning of the text for, with, and participating within the body of Christ.
- Winn Griffin, God’s Epic Adventure, 12-13. ↩
- Edward W. Goodrick, Is My Bible the Inspired Word of God? (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988), 86-88. ↩
- Leonard I. Sweet, Out of the Question…Into the Mystery (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2004), 77. ↩
- N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?,” Vox Evangelica, no. 21 (1991): 7-32. ↩
- Tending to break up into parts or break away from a main body. ↩