Thursday, February 7, 2013

"You keep quoting that verse; I do not think it means what you think it means."

Hopefully you read the title of this post in your mind in the voice of Inigo Montoya from "The Princess Bride."  He tells Vicini that his use of the word "inconceivable" demonstrates that he doesn't actually know what it means.  The same could be said in the arena of hermeneutics: people use Bible verses all the time to support ideas and actions that the verse never actually speaks to, demonstrating that those who use verses in such a way have actually no idea how to handle scripture.

The verse I am referring to is Micah 6.8: "He has told you O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

The people who are misquoting the verse quite significantly are these folks: the Micah Challenge.  What is the Micah Challenge?  It's a conglomeration of churches and ministries who purport to want to put an end to extreme poverty.  Never mind the fact that I'm starting to think that ending poverty is a biblically untenable idea, nevertheless these folks have set out to do just that, and they're misusing scripture in order to motivate others to do it.

Don't get me wrong: I have no qualms about helping the poor, feeding the hungry, and housing the homeless, and fighting poverty in general.  In fact, I'm all in favor of it, and such actions are definitely part of the mission of the church on earth, and I myself take part in the effort to provide for those in need whenever the opportunity presents itself.  But I don't do it to meet some kind of requirement.  I do it because mercy has been shown to me, and I am therefore motivated to show mercy to others.

According to their website Micah 6.8 is "at the heart" of the movement to wipe out extreme poverty. They go on to say the "Micah Challenge seeks transformational change in society, through the active involvement of the church with the poor and against the injustices of poverty.  It seeks to sensitize and engage Christians into greater political and practical involvement with the issues relating to poverty by highlighting biblical truths which prompt a compassion of heart and quickness of the hands and feet."  Really?  All that out of Micah 6.8?  I don't think so.  And political involvement?  Nope.  That doesn't work, and in fact, it goes against the heart of what God wants.  I can only hope and pray that Christians aren't put under a burden and duped into believing that they must end global poverty in order to be a Christian.  That would be a tragedy.

I find at least three problems with these folks' use of this verse as their motivation for attempting to end global poverty.

1. Nothing in this verse calls Christians to fight to wipe out global poverty.  Nothing.  The idea that this verse calls Christians to fight to wipe out global poverty is what we call eisegesis, or the process of forcing meaning into a text, as opposed to exegesis, which is taking meaning from a text.  In other words, the Micah Challenge folks cram the notion of wiping out global poverty into the text of Micah 6.8, when in actuality the verse does not speak to that subject.  You might be able to argue that a general application of Micah 6.8 is to care for the poor because God cares for the poor, but you can't say that this verse led you to start a campaign to wipe out extreme poverty, because that's not what the verse is talking about.

2. Context, context, context!  Whenever you read scripture, be sure to never read just one verse and attempt to determine its meaning.  In order to know what a verse means, you must know the bigger picture of how that verse contributes to the whole of the author's flow of thought.  A cursory glance at Micah 6 reveals that the Micah Challenge folks didn't bother to look at the rest of the chapter when they chose verse 8 as their motivation for wiping out global poverty.  The first six verses of the chapter talk about how kind and merciful he has been to his people - he has been totally above reproach.  They cannot accuse him of any unfairness or injustice.  Verse 6-8 ask what God wants in return for his mercy.  He doesn't want sacrifices, and he doesn't want vain worship.  Instead he wants his people to sincerely walk before him in humility, love, and fairness.  Verse 9-16 go on to talk about specific sins the people have committed and the consequences they will reap because of them at the hand of God.  Hmm, still nothing in there about God wanting his people to end poverty.  Moreover, if you personally don't fit the exact same circumstances of the people the book of Micah was written to, then these verses don't apply to you in the way they did to them.

3. The requirement of Micah 6.8 was given to a people living under a covenant of law.  In other words, they had to listen to and obey God in order to receive God's blessing.  God does not require me to do anything.  Actually, he does require me to do something, and that is to do nothing.  The website states: "[The] Micah Challenge calls us to ensure justice is done, to embrace mercy in our hearts, to be obedient to our Lord."  Quite honestly this sounds like something that would be in place to ensure that people are strictly following laws so as not to incur the wrath of God - which is what Old Covenant people would have had to do.  I don't live in that covenant.  I live in a covenant of grace, where all of my sins have been forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I definitely don't show enough mercy, compassion, humility, and fairness.  That's why I need a Savior!  If I am going to be judged by how well I kept Micah 6.8 to the letter, then I'm in trouble.  Actually, that's right, I was in trouble, but then Jesus took my punishment on the cross, because I don't love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with my God.  That's the whole point of the gospel.  The phrasing above which I took from their website reminds me of this video.  Todd Friel's response to this woman is brilliant in that it magnifies the glory of the gospel of grace.

To conclude (and sorry, but I have to say this), the use of Micah 6.8 by the Micah Challenge folks is, quite frankly, inconceivable.

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