2B. Three Deadly Scripture Reading Diseases Approach

➡ Average Reading Time: 3 minutes

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[ref]Winn Griffin, God’s Epic Adventure, 12-13.[/ref] 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[ref]Edward W. Goodrick, Is My Bible the Inspired Word of God? (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988), 86-88.[/ref] (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.

Three deadly Scripture reading diseases have infected the “cult of the individual.” They are: versitis, topicalitis, and systematitis.

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 Lenonard (Len) Sweet….[ref]Leonard I. Sweet, Out of the Question…Into the Mystery (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2004), 77.[/ref] 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.[ref]N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?,” Vox Evangelica, no. 21 (1991): 7-32.[/ref] 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[ref]Tending to break up into parts or break away from the main body.[/ref] use of Scripture. How did this happen?

A 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 the meaning of the text for, with, and participating within the body of Christ.

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Read Me First


Throughout these sessions, I have used the word ecclesia (singular) for the usual word church and ecclesiae (plural) to indicate a church in a particular geographic place, i.e., the ecclesiae at Corinth, meaning the whole of the many smaller ecclesia that met in homes in Corinth. This is to distinguish between the Institutional Church model (IC) and ecclesia that meet in cities and towns around the world. The ecclesiae written about by the authors of the Second Testament were not the same as what the “church” has become over the years of its existence. Usually, but not always, folks think of a church as a place where they go to a building and set in rows of pews and listen to music and sometimes sing and listen to sermons by a pastor or senior pastor. The ecclesiae of the Second Testament time did not invoke this model.


I have discovered over the years that if you want to try and change minds about something special, you have to venture out and reword it in order to grasp a foothold for a new refreshed understanding of the idea presented by the word. Such is the case between "church" and "ecclesia."


Happy Reading!

Read Me Second


Referenced verses in the text of this study are not used to prove some point of view. They are merely markers where the subject matter is referenced by other books and authors. To gain a larger view of each quote, a serious student of the Holy Writ would take the time to view the reference and see what the background is. The background provides tracks on which the meaning of a text rides. So knowing the context of a referenced passage would help the reader to gain a more thorough understanding of an author than just the words quoted and marked by a verse number that was not a part of the original author's text, which as you might remember was performed on the text in a random fashion many years later.


Happy Reading!

Read Me Third


The verses that are referenced in these sessions are not meant to prove a point. They are simply pointers to where the idea being written about may have a correlation. In order to see if they accomplish the thesis presented by the original author, a student should read, at a minimum, the chapter in which the verse is found as well as trying to ascertain what the original author may have meant to say to the original audience.


Of course, this is a lot of work but it is beneficial work. If one does not understand what the author meant when it was written and the audience could not have understood by what was written, then the words on the page can mean anything that a present reader may assign as a meaning, thus distorting what God was inspiring for the original writer to write to the original audience to hear.

A great and recent book by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird entitled The New Testament in Its World would be a wonderful addition to your reading helps.


Happy Reading!

Jesus Followers


There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.


(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)