When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail so the saying goes. I wonder if when you’re holding a chainsaw does everything look like a tree?
I think what the saying is trying to get at is the design purpose of the tool you’re holding will affect the purpose of the one holding it after a while. Give a person a keyboard and an internet connection and it’s one small step before they start to imagine that their purpose is to correct every errant thought and post on every article there is. How ironic.
It works in reverse too. If you’re surrounded by nails, or tent pegs or stuff that just needs to be whacked into other stuff, everything becomes a hammer. This is the issue with camping. You go out into the middle of nowhere, away from all your tools to pitch a tent only to realize you have left your hammer at home. Unable to drive home to fetch the hammer, you’ll then completely ruin your torch smashing the tent peg into the ground which of course you will invariably rip your toe on when you arise at 3am needing to tinkle due to a lack of torchlight.
the point is, our surrounding context changes the way we use things, and the way we use things changes the way we view our context.
With this in mind, it has occurred to me more and more over my ministry journey that one of the deepest differences between people that is almost never discussed in churches is, people’s theology of the Bible. Even as I say it, you may be thinking ‘nonsense, we all see it as the word of God, revealed etc…..’ That’s not what I mean.
What I mean is that I have realized the two given people can believe precisely the same things presented in the bible, have even 100% commonality on their doctrinal beliefs, yet have a completely different understanding of bible reading/study and its purpose. By the way, this is one explanation (among others) as to why some people can commit to things/communities though they may not 100% agree on everything and others….can’t.
In any sub-group of people, person ‘a’ may see it as primarily a moral guidebook, person ‘b’ a tool for ‘leveling up’ their otherwise dull existence. Person ‘c’ may see it as a tool by which to convey to others how wise they are. Person ‘d’ can read out of superstitious interest, person ‘e’ to maintain control over the lives of others thru fear. Of course, not to be unrelentingly negative, there is of course person ‘f’ who sees the bible as the lifeblood of their relationship with God.
As much as I’d like to claim purity, I have resonated with each one of those motivations or at least temptations at some point over my life.
Anyway, the point is that all these people can objectively believe the same things but for completely different purposes. In his amazing book ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’ the late Eugene Peterson recounts how early on in his Christian walk he suddenly realized that he actually enjoyed debating atheists with texts from the Bible, not in a way to create dialogue but in a way to smack them back over the bowlers head for 6 runs. Plainly, one thing that started to disturb him was that his bible reading was starting to simply be all about re-loading his bazooka for the next skirmish.
I think this is the real risk with ‘going to war’ with the culture around us rather than seeking to love, serve and speak out the good news of the gospel; it’s not that it will damage the culture, it’s that it will damage us through changing how we read the sacred scriptures and for what purpose. For make no mistake, the purpose you bring to your engagement with scripture will affect your relationship with God like nothing else.
Let me pause here for a moment and say that I am not a complete theological pacifist. The church does have a prophetic role and when legislation as unbiblical as when the right for doctors to decline the performance of an abortion is removed or the keeping of children behind razor wire is passed, the rebuke from the pages of scripture should not be far behind. BUT, done with an awareness that….well….when you’re holding a hammer everything can look like a nail.
I think if you asked most Christians to “show me from the bible itself, what the bible is there for” the majority would answer with 2 Tim 3:16-17:
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a]may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
But that’s not the question that Paul is answering when he writes these words. He’s giving Timothy advice on How to Pastor. NOT the purpose of the bible. Let me also add that Paul is assuming that Timothy already knows what it is for.
It’s a massive difference between saying: “the bible exists because,” and “it’s God-breathed (and hence) useful for…..” The former is a statement of overarching purpose of which Timothy would already be aware, the latter is a statement of how to use it in your ministry. One is why, the other is how.
So what is the overarching purpose of the Word of God that Timothy would already apparently be aware of? simply this;
To know God better and deeper each day.
That’s what it’s for, that’s why you should read it. It’s not an ‘owners manual for life’ it’s a letter from a distant land telling you “something has been done for you and you don’t have to live like a slave anymore…but like a child”
That’s why you read the bible, any and every other insight is just a bonus.