What is Wrong with Sound-Byte Theology?
Christians used to complain about the three second attention span created by the media. Now it appears the media has employed us to create the content to dumb-down our society.
With the invention of social media has come the increase in video consumption and the decrease of the written word. In fact, the written word has been mostly relegated to a tweet or a meme. People scroll for word bytes, that is, pithy sayings to humor them, or worse, to inform them.
Christians, convinced that God’s Word or important Christian quotes belong in this genre of communication pull their content from its context. The result can be troublesome.
This week someone posted a meme-styled Bible passage, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name…” This is John 1:12. The passage is obviously biblical. We want the world to hear and see the Word of God, so what is wrong with this seemingly ministerial gesture posted on Facebook?
First, there is the confusion of key terms: “But”; “received”; and “believe.” “But” tells us something about the preceding context. Anyone who reads her Bible knows how important this disjunctive conjunction is to contextual meaning. The meme reader has no means for understanding context. Next, who receives Him? Who is Him? How can I believe in His name when the meme does not tell me the name? What does it mean to believe in His name, whoever He may be?
Second, there is the missing next verse, John 1:13, “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” This verse by itself in a meme would be even more confusing!
Theologically, separating these two verses is disastrous. Without verse 13, one might be inclined to think that receiving Jesus, if the meme reader is clever enough to figure out He is the “Him,” is something he obtains by his own free will choice. Proof texts help theologians made their interpretative case for a doctrinal position, but proof texts alone are of the devil (see some devilish proof text uses in Matthew 4 and Luke 4).
Verse 13 is crucial to understanding verse 12. Together they mean, “God, not man, causes one to receive Christ, by the regeneration worked by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who gives God’s elect, faith to believe in Jesus for salvation.
Without explanation, isolated Bible passages are easy prey for Bible twisters. Ironically, the most disputed passages in Scripture are typically the ones showing up in memes. 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 may be the most common of all.
What about quotes from famous Christians past and present? Isolated quotes have been around for a long time. Sermons have been filled with them to somehow add some kind of credibility to one’s Bible interpretation. Our response wintles, “Oh, Spurgeon said it so it must be true.”
Today, we cantillate on quote after quote and disconnected Bible verse after verse. This sporadic spray of wisdom does not support the reasonable mulling and testing of a writer or preacher’s idea.
We might be better off just scrolling on by these 3 second word-bytes. These are some big ideas in the Bible, and God has given us 66 books to comprise one book. Let us pray that God would help us to get the whole truth in the medium He has chosen to give it.
February 14, 2022