In February had a very disturbing conversation with 3 Mormon elders who would not look at the context of a particular passage of Scripture. Instead they wanted to standardize all definitions of the word “one” based on a traditional interpretation of John 17:20-21. This conversation occurred after a talk on Mormonism at our Wednesday Night Bible Study. These Mormon elders came ready for debate and refused to listen to deal with hermeneutical issues (the science of biblical interpretation) first, so that we could agree on how we go about explaining and interpreting a certain portions of scripture. American Christianity tends to want things made simple and handed to us in 3 minutes or less. Like our fast food we want fast food theology. This tendency will always fail us when we witness to other religions that may study their flacious traditions more that we study Scritpure. In sharing this short summary of my reflection over how I should handle scripture in my witnessing; I want to help you become a better witness of Jesus Chirst by rejecting what I call the Flat Bible Fallacy in reconginizing its error, understanding its consequences, and avoiding its trap (when used by others).
- Recognizing the Error of A Flat Bible. Now you may ask, “What is a FLAT BIBLE?” Good question. One needs to realize that when interpreting the Bible (or any piece of literature) in our witnessing, that the authorial intent of the passage controls the interpretation and meaning of the words, phrases, and sentences regardless of what the definition of the Words and meaning we might place on them. Realtors say “location, location, location” is what counts in determining which how to buy and understanding its future value. Bible students and witnesses must say the same thing when it comes to rightly interpreting any passage of scripture – “context, context, context” – because words have no meaning by themselves without the context of the author, occasion of writing, and recipients of the writing. So a Flat Bible is actually a mistaken personal interpretative perspective of misinterpreting words to always have the same definition regardless of context. Avoid the FLAT BIBLE PROBLEM in studying Scripture like you would avoid a “Flat World” perspective in the study of the science of astronomy.
- Understanding the Consequences of a Flat Bible. Many Christians have a hard time with witnessing to cults and Mormons today because that they follow the same hermeneutical (Interpretative) errors (like the "flat bible falacy") that these same cults (i.e. like Mormons) use in other areas of exegesis and in developing their theology. Many Christians hurt themselves seriously in their Christian walk and witness by making the Bible flat because of their personal emotions on an issue (Existential/Mystical Theology), their past beliefs, experiences, and tradition (Folk Theology), and current popular cultural beliefs or fads (Tabloid Theology). Aviod the Flat Bible Problem like you would avoid someone coughing in your face.
- Avoiding the Trap of a Flat Bible. A Flat Bible occurs because people mistakenly believe that people see the world and interpret the world, life, truth, justice, morals, meaning and beauty in the same exact way. This causes some to believe that words must always have one univocal meaining regardless of the context. For example, Mormons will try to make the word “one” mean the same thing in both John 10:30 and in John 17:20-21, because of their precommitment to this hermeneutical error. Do not fall into this trap, or it will really hurt your ability to live the Christian life and witness. Don’t let all meanings be based on your own understandings. Always start with emphasizing the author’s meaning of any particular text. Don't develop of a folk or tabloid theology because of your own prejudices. Avoid the Flat Bible Problem like you would a thumb-tac on the ground, so that your witness to unbelievers (like Mormons) will be unashamedly God-Centered. Remember, our goal in winessing is not to win the argument but to introduce people to God through Christ.