Day: 4 August 2010

problems with proof-texting (2)

In the previous post, I tried to signal a vexing tendency within certain approaches to biblical studies, namely: proof-texting as a methodological tool for systematic theology.  Admittedly, that post was rather general in scope and intentionally left open for discussion; it was not meant to be either comprehensive or conclusive in sorting out the problem(s) raised.  In this post, I want to look at an example of how this tendency plays itself out, and my focus here deals with a specific issue within this article by the always entertaining, Jack Kinsella.

A while back (here), I examined the work of Kinsella where it appeared as though he flat-out lifted material from other places and presented it as his own thoughts (i.e. he plagiarised).  Whether or not he did something similar in this article is not my concern.*  Moreover, my concern is not to deal with the entire argument of the article; there are too many issues, and it would take all day to address them.  My concern here is how Kinsella’s proof-texted theology becomes disrupted when he proof-texts in order to support something he believes to be true.

For the sake of theological context, Kinsella is a strong proponent of Dispensationalism.  He adheres strongly to the belief in the so-called ‘rapture’ of the saints, which he believes will be secretive, based on what he terms ‘the Doctrine of Immanency.’  Moreover, Kinsella believes that this ‘rapture’ will be prior to the so-called ‘great seven-year tribulation’, where Jews and Gentiles who are not a part of the believing church will be tested and given the opportunity to confess Christ as Lord.  Connected with this is Kinsella’s belief that this ‘tribulation’ period precedes the so-called ‘Millennial Kingdom,’ which will consist of those who were ‘raptured’ and those Jews and Gentiles who repented and confessed Christ as Lord during the ‘tribulation’.  The rest (i.e. the unrepentant) are basically screwed.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is legitimacy to this proof-texted theological system.  Accordingly, those who are ‘raptured’ are those who have repented of their evil ways and have confessed Christ as Lord.  Those who belong to this category are those who live between Pentecost and Christ’s secret coming–i.e. the ‘rapture’ of the saints.  Because not everyone during this period has so repented and confessed, the time between the ‘rapture’ and the ‘Millennial Kingdom’ represents an opportunity for them to change their future fate.  (This is the ‘tribulation’ period, for those keeping score).  Thus, it is during this seven-year interval that those ‘left behind’ are able to repent and thus become a part of God’s people–i.e. the Church.  Those who continue unrepentant during this period will get their just fruits when Christ comes to judge the righteous and the sinner.  (The more detailed version of this argument, as given by Kinsella, can be seen here).

Here’s my concern with Kinsella’s argument, which is found near the end of the article, where he says this:

But the Bible says that those living when all the signs of His return begin to come to pass, we are to look up, and lift our heads, for our redemption draws near (Luke 21:28) [emphasis original]

With this Kinsella means that the beginning of the ‘signs’ points to the imminence of the expected ‘rapture’, which precedes the tribulation period.  Notice, this verse only applies to those believers in the so-called ‘Church Age.’  He justifies this by saying (and please ignore the historical smugness of his claim):

We watch the signs of the times because they are evidence that the Bible is true, that Bible prophecy is being fulfilled in this generation and therefore, there is no time to waste.  If we can see the signs of the coming Tribulation, and there is an interval in between, then it means that the Rapture is even closer.

Where Kinsella’s proof-texted theology becomes disrupted is when he proof-texts something else he adamantly believes to be true that is connected with his other beliefs.  This belief and textual support appear right in between the two quotations just given.  He says:

But the Bible also says that the Lord will wait until the last possible moment to Rapture His Church for the sake of the last repentant sinner.  “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2nd Peter 3:9) [emphasis original; and so is the ‘2nd’ bit, which is odd]

If his statement is valid, and if the passage he cites justifies his statement, then a problem emerges with regard to the sequence of eschatological events.  If Christ is truly patient towards humanity and desires all to come to repentance, and if Christ will truly wait until ‘the last possible moment . . . for the sake of the last repentant sinner’; that in itself should raise questions about the need for a so-called seven-year tribulation period.

Moreover, if the tribulation period is meant to give an opportunity of repentance for those Jews and Gentile who rejected Christ during the so-called ‘Church Age’, and if such a repentance during that period entitles them to become a part of God’s people–i.e. the Church; that in itself should raise questions about the need for a so-called ‘rapture’ prior to the so-called ‘tribulation’ period.

However, and this is the final point, things go really pear-shaped with the last line in Kinsella’s article:

And once we’re gone, there’s no second chance for those who are left behind.

Hang on a minute.  If that’s true, then this creates a contradiction for Kinsella’s theological beliefs regarding the nature and purpose of the tribulation period. If he believes (as he does) that, following the ‘rapture’, the ‘tribulation’ period is an opportunity for Jews and Gentiles to repent and confess Christ as Lord; that in itself constitutes a ‘second chance.’  However, he explicitly states that once believers are ‘raptured’, there is no second chance.  If that is the case, Mr Kinsella; then who is truly a part of the ‘Millennial Kingdom’?

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* Honestly, and I apologise if this sounds rude, I’ve nearly given up on him saying anything original.

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problems with proof-texting (1)

In very general terms, ‘proof-texting’ is the practice of taking a verse or passage of Scripture (usually out of context) and employing it for the sake of justifying a particular theological (and sometimes ethical) claim or belief.  For example:

Give, and it will be given to you.  They will pour out into your lap a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over.  For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return (Luke 6.38)

I cannot begin to think of how many times I have heard this passage used by ministers when it comes to giving/tithing in the church.  It also tends to be a favourite passage for captial campaigns, where money needs to be raised in order to fund a new building project; and it is implicitly foundational for the so-called ‘Prosperity Gospel’ (aka: ‘Health and Wealth Gospel’, unscriptural, false doctrine, skubalon–take your pick).

However, there is a problem: this passage in Luke’s Gospel is not about money (at all); it’s about showing mercy to others (period).  It speaks to giving/tithing, campaigning and prospering if and only if it is ripped from its original context and if one relies solely on the (slightly) ambiguous terms and ideas in the passage.  (I should point out that the terms and ideas are only ambiguous if viewed out of context; in context, they make perfect sense).

There is another type of proof-texting that is not so easily dismantled, primarily because it depends on the cumulative weight argument.  Just recently, while listening to an overly smug evangelist* give his reasons for adopting a particular view of creation, I heard an example of this type of proof-texting:

Woe to you who make your neighbors drink (Habakkuk 2.15a)

Anyone want to take a free stab at how this verse was being used?  The guy emphatically believed that this particular verse was evidence that drinking alcohol was evil.  To support this idea, he (not surprisingly) appeals to other (proof-)texts that say the same thing: e.g. Proverbs 20.1; 23.29-31; Isaiah 28.7; Luke 1.15.  (This is an example of the cumulative weight argument, which generally works best on those ill-informed or less read on the Scriptures).

While he might be able to make a general case from the verses he quotes, although it might prove difficult in view of the metaphoric and figurative language of the context, his specific argument–i.e. drinking is evil–cannot be supported by any of the texts he includes (especially Luke 1.15).**  At best, from these passages the guy could make a case for the evil of drunkeness; but that was not his argument.

Less recently, I heard a conservative Chrisitian Seminary*** praise and advocate this type of proof-texting (i.e. the cumulative weight version) for its usefulness in doing systematic theology.  Three problems are endemic to this approach; the first two are interrelated.  First, in order for this to work an extremely ‘high view’ of Scripture must be presupposed.  Second, the primary means for sustaining this presupposition is proof-texting, a method that can only work if a ‘high view’ is presupposed.  The final problem I put in the form of a question: what would happen to the systematised theology if proof-texting was methodologically disallowed?

More to the point: is our systematic theology founded on what the text and context demands, or is it determined by proof-texted readings of particular ideas in Scripture that we wish to turn into a systematised theology, thus giving it the appeal of consistent coherence?  Or, to be overly blunt: is our systematic theology nothing more than a proof-texted theology?  If it is, then I think that’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed (and remedied).

(Part two of this post).

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* I’ll leave the dude unnamed primarily because I don’t see the need for giving him any more attention than he truly thinks he deserves.
** The passage in Luke pertains more to a ceremonial vow for a particular type of role than a universal principle applicable to all people.
*** Also left unnamed, but for different reasons.