I recently pushed back against a post on one of my socials that declared, “Homosexuality is a sin.” I often see things I disagree with online and just keep scrolling. At the same time, I am also a committed ally of the LGBTQ+ community, which means I can’t just say nothing in these situations. 

So, I offered a brief response that pushed back and affirmed the goodness and image of God-ness of our LGBTQ+ siblings. 

Unsurprisingly, several people replied by quoting the Bible at me. More than one trotted out the so-called “clobber passages,” which, in their minds, definitively prove that scripture condemns any expression of love and human sexuality outside the heterosexual experience. This happens a lot, not just regarding LGBTQ+ individuals and not just on social media. 

Many Christians seem to have numerous Bible verses at the ready, taken from here, there, and yonder, to prove they have the right beliefs. After all, the Bible says so, right? I have started to refer to this proof-texting and cherry-picking of random verses here and there as the “ransom note” approach to engaging scripture. 

Ransom notes in film and television are often composed of random letters cut out from magazines or books, cobbled together to create a message. They consist of a list of demands and threats of what will happen if they aren’t met. 

Many Christians have been instructed to approach the Bible in a frustratingly similar way. We have been taught that the Bible is an answer book. We comb through it, looking for a verse for every conceivable issue or situation. 

In this approach, the Bible is more akin to a magic 8 ball than a sacred text. Scripture is used to convey the demand and issue the threat. We piece together verses and construct a theology that can be easily weaponized. We then wield it, without restraint, against those who fall outside of the interpretation we have stitched together.

The problem with this “ransom note” approach is that it doesn’t care about or value the Bible for what it is. It cares about being right. 

One question I hear often is, “How do you reconcile the contradictions within the Bible?” My answer is often surprising: I don’t.

The Bible isn’t a book. It is a library, and like any library, it contains different kinds of literature. 

Have you ever walked into a library and noticed the various books representing a diverse collection of genres and perspectives? Have you ever become angry or decided that because all the books in the library don’t all say the same thing, libraries are meaningless and should be torn down? Of course not! 

The same is true of the Bible. It is a library of texts composed by two communities, the ancient Jewish community and early Jesus followers, spanning roughly one thousand years (roughly 1000 BCE—135 CE). 

Over that period, attitudes shifted and perspectives changed. That shouldn’t surprise us. 

It is a human reality. We learn and grow over time and with experience. 

That doesn’t mean, for example, that God changes as we do. It does mean our understanding of God shifts and grows with us. 

Another problem with the “ransom note” approach is that it ignores the contexts from which the biblical authors wrote. 

I am originally from the hills of Appalachia. Even though I haven’t lived there for more than twenty years, those mountains and that culture have and continue to shape me. From the words I choose—it’s a buggy and a pop, not a cart or a Coke—to my very sense of identity, I have been shaped by that place and culture. 

My friend Brad Davis, a Methodist minister, says we aren’t just from a place—we are also of a place. Who I am cannot be understood without the context of the place and the people who raised me. 

The same is true for those who wrote the Bible. Their various contexts shaped their perspectives and, as a result, the content of the texts they produced. 

Meaning is bound up in context. Taking the Bible seriously means not only focusing on the text, but also prioritizing the backgrounds that shaped the words, metaphors and images the authors chose. 

You can try to cut and paste from here, there, and everywhere to create a nice, neat theology. The problem is that the Bible, in context, doesn’t offer that as an option. 

The Bible isn’t concerned with neatness. It is concerned with the messiness of humans sorting out who God is, what God is like, what it means to be human, and how we flourish in the world. 

The Bible isn’t an answer book meant to satisfy all our questions or give us certainty. Scripture asks far more questions than it answers. 

The Bible collects examples of how our spiritual ancestors wrestled with their faith and experiences and invites us to do the same in our own time and place. 

The “ransom note” approach might make us feel right and certain, but it’s an unhelpful way to read the Bible. More than that, it too often creates harm and dehumanization, which is evidence that we have lost the plot. 

Taking the Bible seriously—in its context, as a diverse library—is the best way to honor the texts and the communities that produced them while making space for their continued impact on our lives today.

Editor’s Note: Good Faith Media is an exclusive media partner with Wild Goose Festival, which will take place July 11-14 in Union Grove, North Carolina. Josh Scott will return as co-creator for this year’s festival. 

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