Bad things we do with Bible verses (Part I)

 

“I love you, but really you’re unimportant—it’s all about me.”

“In fact, you should love me so much that you hate everyone else by comparison.”

It’s easy to hear these perspectives in television or films.  We might, sadly enough, hear them in people’s homes or even our own.  But hopefully we recognize them for what they are: warped and twisted.

So while reading Kyle Idleman’s not a fan (a recent Christian publication that garnered some acclaim) I was dismayed and saddened to find these perspectives not only meekly hidden but openly espoused.

Here are two examples:

First, the author explains about being filled with the Holy Spirit: “The only way to be filled with the Spirit is to empty myself of me. . . . The more he fills me, the less room there is for me” (95).  Sure, God loves me, but the more of God there is in me (and the less of me), the better.

Second, the author describes the type of relationship that God wants with us: “Jesus isn’t just saying, ‘I want to be first place in your life.’  He is saying, ’I don’t even want there to be a second place.’ (page 59).  This means that if you follow Jesus “you’re so committed to him that by comparison, you hate everyone else.” (65).

Where does he get this stuff?

The Bible.  Or so he claims.

For reasons of space I’ll focus on his second idea, which Kyle takes from Luke 14: 26, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father or mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

But because he misunderstands the verses he uses to support his view, Kyle also misunderstands what it means to follow Jesus (and love God) .

As I discussed earlier, verses cannot be rightly understood when taken in isolation either to the book that contains them or to the remainder of, in this case, the New Testament.  So the meaning of Luke 14:26 is understood in light of the greater context of Luke and its parallel account in Matthew.  Let’s see how.

Matt 10:37-39 offers a slightly different rendering of the same idea: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Next, Luke 8:20-21 contextualizes Luke’s view of ‘family’: “And [Jesus] was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’  But he said to them, ‘My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’ “

So what does this mean?

One commentary puts it this way: “In antiquity the extended family meant everything. . . . But a surrogate family, what anthropologists call a fictive kin group, could serve many of the same functions as a biological family.  The Christian group acting as a surrogate family is for Luke the locus of the good news.” (page 335). 1

Concerning the passage immediately prior to Kyle’s verse—the story of inviting everyone and anyone to dine with you (Luke 14:15-24)—the same commentator notes that “Jesus’ call for inclusive table fellowship . . . is here made explicit and the price to be paid for it [(i.e., Luke 14:26)] is spelled out.” (369).

Taking this information together, we should read Luke 14:26 as follows:

As those who are “to love the Lord your God” with all their being and love their neighbours as themselves (as per Luke 10:27), Christians are to embrace each other even to the point of violating traditional norms of interaction (such as restricting table fellowship to those of the same class or family), even where such violations—in the culture of antiquity—could be perceived as hateful acts towards one’s own family.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Bruce J. Molina and Richard Rohrbaugh.  Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1992.

6 thoughts on “Bad things we do with Bible verses (Part I)

  1. “Second, the author describes the type of relationship that God wants with us: ‘Jesus isn’t just saying, “I want to be first place in your life.” He is saying, “I don’t even want there to be a second place.” (page 59). This means that if you follow Jesus ‘you’re so committed to him that by comparison, you hate everyone else.’ (65).”

    Oh my GOD! Seriously? I just burst out laughing when I read this… and I am still laughing… HA HA HA HA!! Yeah… that sounds just like Jesus… He would TOTALLY want me to HATE people… yeah, I can hear him now:
    “Mama moonbeam, baby, you gotta love me… You gotta love me so much. You so fine, Mama moonbeam… you such a good woman… but you gotta remember, you gotta LOVE me, baby… you gotta love me so much that you HATE everyone else… you know what I’m sayin’?”

    Yup. That is so Jesus… He is all over this whole idea of hating… We’ve had it wrong all these years!! It’s HATE thy neighbour as thyself!!

    NOT!

    I’m not laughing anymore… and I’m sorry if this is not the place for sarcasm… but really, that kinda shit makes me angry ’cause people are gonna buy it!! For reals!! And please… can’t we just let go of the WHOLE HATING THING?? What Senor Kyle is suggesting is what is called an abusive and addictive relationship… not a divine and loving and uplifting and empowering relationship. It’s crap. It’s crap and more crap.

    And then, there is this…

    Luke 14: 26, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father or mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

    I imagine this scripture, with the word “hate”, of course, solidifies Senor Kyle’s case… if I had more time, I would research the original Greek word that may have been used in this scripture and the possible translations… cause the God I know is not about hating at all… in any instance… under any circumstances… with anyone…

    And a big BOOYAH, to you Mr. Monteith! I do appreciate your insightful analysis and explanation of this particular scripture… it seems BANG ON! Maybe you could email your blog post to Senor Kyle himself… he might appreciate your position on this matter… he might learn a thing or two… or he might just decide you’re one of the people he needs to hate in order to remain committed to Jesus… whatever…

    Later.
    Mama Moonbeam

    • Hi Mama Moonbeam,

      I’m glad that my analysis of the passage resonated with you and yes, I agree Kyle’s is a rather sick perspective. And often when I encounter an understanding of the Bible that is as blatantly at odds both with the rest of Scripture and with “real life” my approach is to identify the general understandings that underpin the response. In other words, you can see clearly that there is a problem with how Kyle Idleman’s view, but he can’t.

      Why?

      Well, because I think that he (and much of evangelical Chrsitianity) has embrace a particular interpretive tendency. That tendency (or, in technical terms, hermeneutic), is to understand life in light of the Bible. What I mean is that the Bible has a status or priority over my lived existence. When there is a tension or discrepancy between what “works” or seems appropriate / possible in real life versus what the Bible appears to be meaning, the Bible always wins. Big problem.

      Now, of course, we could reverse this hermeneutic and go the other way: reading the Bible (always and only) in terms of life. This is what the liberal church tends to do. So we can paraphrase theologians such as Rudolf Bultmann or thinkers like Greta Vosper: “we know that the miraculous is impossible, so what really did happen?” This perspective is equally problematic because it assumes both that there can be nothing “new” within existence (as the miraculous) and that my understandings (or human understandings) are sufficient to know “what is.” I think that both of these notions are flawed.

      Instead, the approach I favour is to interweave both: to read the world in light of the Bible and the Bible in light of the world. I think that both are valuable sources of information about human existence (call them “informers”) and that both need to be taken seriously. And, of course, there is the question of just how good a reader of the Bible (and the world) I am! This is an extremely important consideration that is often ignored. For my money, I think that we become capable readers of the Bible through understanding something about exegesis, and become capable readers of the world to the extent that we become skilled at reading our own history (the events of our past and who we have been) and in narrating, acting, and recounting our own stories.

      There is much to be fleshed with this approach, and perhaps the time is right to post on this topic. Thanks for your reply (and this sure made me laugh: “Maybe you could email your blog post to Senor Kyle himself… he might appreciate your position on this matter… he might learn a thing or two… or he might just decide you’re one of the people he needs to hate in order to remain committed to Jesus.” Or maybe he’d hate especially much).

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