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Soundbite Theology December 4, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Language, Learning, Morality, Religion, Religion, Philosophy, and Science.

Tonight, a good friend of mine was complimenting me on my speaking voice after I did some narration for my church’s Living Christmas Tree. (Note: The link is to a tree similar to what my church does. That’s not my church, or our tree.) In accepting his compliment, I acknowleged that I felt that God had blessed me with a voice for public speaking, and felt compelled to put forth my best effort.

He responded by saying “Collossians 3:23… Whatever you do, do it as you would do it unto the Lord and not for men.”

In spite of the fact that I have been active in the Baptist church all of my life (including my time “in utero”), there are times that someone quoting scripture rubs me the wrong way. “Why?” you might ask, since what my friend said seemed completely valid, and perfectly in-context.


The best way for me to describe my negative reaction, is to introduce you to the term that comes to mind, which is the title of this blog: Soundbite theology. It drives me absolutely nutty.

Rote, Rote, Rote Your Quote
Let me be clear about this. I love the Bible. I love reading and studying it, and love teaching it on Sunday mornings. I find it endlessly facinating, on many different levels. Regardless of how many times I’ve taught a specific book, each time I teach it again, God reveals something new.

Regardless of how much I’ve studied the Bible, I’ve never been much of one to commit individual verses to memory. Sure, I remember Romans 3:23 and 8:28, John 3:16, 1st Corinthians 13, the 23rd Psalm, Genesis 1:1, and long stretches of Luke 1, but I’ve always had this inner struggle with intentionally memorizing one verse (along with its reference, of course) here, and another there.

As a Southern Baptist, I’ve felt a nagging guilt about this, since so many of my Christian brothers and sisters have dozens of verses seemingly at their fingertips, ready for quotation and instant application. In spite of this, the ready quotation of a given verse rarely stuns me with its applicability, and frequently makes me stop and want to say, “That’s an interesting quote. What do the preceeding and subsequent verses say?”

A Pretext Without a Context…
One of my former pastors was fond of saying, “A prooftext is a pretext without a context.” What he meant was, if we have an already formed thought process when we go into reading scripture, and ignore the surrounding context, we’ve set ourselves up for what’s generally known as “prooftexting.”

Prooftexting is one of the many ways that people can take a series of words or ideas, and use them to “prove” something that the text doesn’t necessarily say. Comedy shows have frequently used this, to great comedic effect, as it can make it look like the President is talking about something completely out of character, or inconsistent with stated policy.

In contrast, news programs are always looking for ways to summarize a story for the reader. A quality news organization will look for a way to capture the essence of the story, typically in a sentence or two, without losing too much of the true meaning of what happened. This is always a judgement call, and generally reflects the bias of the story’s author or editor. In recent years, the end result is generally known as a “soundbite.”

Sounds Bite
Unfortunately, if an author or editor isn’t careful in choosing their soundbite, they may (intentionally or unintentionally) cause the reader to infer something quite different from what they would gather from reading the entire transcript of what happens. Likewise, when we choose to be a “script-slinger” (think of a gunslinger that pulls the trigger on his or her scripture-quotation gun with a hair-trigger response), we run the risk of “sound biting” the quoted scripture. Unless the both of us know the context of the scripture well, both the speaker and the hearer are at risk of reading an inaccurate meaning into the text.

Yes, it’s good to know the Bible, and if you study it regularly, you’ll have to consciously work to not find yourself remembering various verses. Even so, use caution when quoting from God’s Word. When we do, we are putting ourselves in the position of being God’s editor. I don’t know about you, but my credentials just don’t measure up.


1. t - December 4, 2006

I have a friend who is a gay, 6 foot 4, overweight, battle drag queen, designer who was raised “in the church”. By age 7 he was preaching “the word of god”…by 16 he was ousted from the church for being gay and not choosing to be ashamed of that fact (20 years later he is almost shame free). My favorite thing to watch him do is go head to head with a preachy, quoting, bible thumping, self righteous psuedo Christian. He is the most well versed I’ve ever met, is not self righteous and can apply a more pagan and Buddhist perception to the teachings of the book. Additionally, he has used his IQ to study that same book in other translations such as Greek and the original language, Aramaic….personally, I only appreciate the bible quoters when they are battling it out.

if someone had said to me, “Whatever you do, do it as you would do it unto the Lord and not for men.””
I would have let him know that when i make eye contact, speak to you, bow to you I am acknowledging the god in you. so I speak as i would to “the lord” always as i believe”the lord” is what we all are emanations of….even when we are annoying like flies.

2. Mia - December 4, 2006

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:15-17

Smiling at you Timothy… I imagine tone of voice and eye contact have a lot to do with delivery. Which is what makes me wonder about the grace gift extended by this compliment. As I read the scripture quoted I thought you to be so blessed to have others around you who are inspired by the Holy Spirit to give you such a high compliment.

God’s word does not return void Timothy =o) whether inspired by the stirring of His spirit or through the gift of memorization. Personally, I’m awed that He looks down from heaven and takes very personal notice of his children. As I’m also sure you give Him a lot to be proud of as he fulfills his promises through you – His child, vessel, and work of art.

3. Tim - December 5, 2006

T, at the risk of “soundbiting scripture” myself, I would agree with you to the extent that we are all, perhaps in ways that we’ll never understand, made in God’s image. What I admire most about your friend is that he appears committed to understanding what is written, and not be satisfied with a superficial understanding.

Mia, first, thank you for the affirmation, and yes, my friend’s tone and delivery were completely and utterly complimentary, and in no way intended to be critical or harsh toward me.

Perhaps I should clarify something. I have no doubt that my friend was encouraging me to continue to give God my best effort, and this is the spirit in which I received it. What nagged at me later was not so much the scripture he quoted or the relevance of the verse–it was the reminder that in quoting scripture, we can (unfortunately) twist it around to mean many different things.

I frequently ask: during the Crusades, when scripture was used to justify all sorts of atrocities, did His Word return void? Did it return void in Salem, when innocent lives were lost in the restless pursuit of witches, and people all-too-often quoted scripture in their justification? In more recent years, Klansmen have used scripture to justify enslaving others and abortion clinics have been bombed, and scripture has, often times, been put forth as their justification.

This is where I struggle with how to interpret Isaiah saying that God’s Word “will not return void.” I cannot imagine Him being glorified in the above-mentioned events. – Tim

4. Mia - December 5, 2006

Tim – Isaiah 55 is titled “An Invitation to the Thirsty” perhaps to better understand it, it is wise to read Isaiah 54:1-10 and then the awesome promise in verses 13 and 14.

I agree with you the examples you shared do not bring glory to God. But I encourage you to read the part of verse 16 where it is written: And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc; this is a declarative statement that points out that He is the one in control of all things. Just as in Romans 9 which it titled “God’s Sovereign Choice” .

Ultimately both in Isaiah and in Romans scripture shows us that God is in control. Yes, we have free will which He gave to us in order for us to learn to choose Him above all else. We both know this isn’t possible in and of ourselves. We can read all the scripture we want, we can seek to do our very best. But all of it is in vain if we leave Him out of our daily walk. Our Christian beliefs are to be based on walking in faith, on not resting in the comfort of what appears to fit our lives, but rather to seek to grow into whom He has created us to be.

You once told me that we are God’s workmanship. I took that nugget of information and sought to find out what it meant between Him and I. What I’ve learned since then is that superficial understanding of God’s word lacks depth. Sometimes we fail to understand and seek to know out of our need to see what is so clear in a different light. Perhaps because something inside of us needs to justify something that isn’t acceptable to God. Truly, no matter what language we read God’s word in – it does not change. And what does God love above all else Timothy? Obedience that’s what – again something that isn’t possible when we leave him out of the equation.

Ok… I’ve taken enough room in your blog to share. So I’ll leave you with this verse from Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

5. Steve Thomas - March 4, 2007

Bollocks! To say that my “God” isn’t big enough is the words of the unwise; mere prattle! God, if you will, is merely the unexplained. I am weary of all the anectodotes defending the existence of God. There is absolutely no rational basis to believe in some anthropomorphic omnipotent being, absolutely none.

6. Tim - January 23, 2008

[Blogger’s Note: In cruising back through some old postings, I realized that there were a couple of comments here that I hadn’t responded to. I apologize for not being on-the-ball. – Tim]


Well said.


It’s not my desire to try to convince you of God’s existence. Granted, the post above assumes the existence of a preeminent, omnipotent creator, but the premise of what I wrote (that the Bible is frequently used in prooftext form, frequently when people are reciting individual verses) isn’t dependent on being a theist to be a valid proposition.

As for my “mere prattle,” it’s good for both of us to remember that individuals smarter than either of us have held the same positions as the other, and provided logically sound reasons for doing so. To suggest that every theist in history, regardless of education or study, has “no rational basis” for their belief is just as questionable as me suggesting that no rational person could ever be an atheist/Atheist. There is far too much evidence to the contrary for either position. – Tim

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