How to write about complex passages

One of the deficiencies in Christian books on money is the typically small set of verses used to back up the author’s claims. The Bible is a huge set of books. As with any large set of information, it is easy to cherry-pick a few things out of the whole in order to justify almost any argument. Think back to the most recent political debates. Each candidate will focus on the absolute worst actions and statements of their competitors and ignore the good, even while focusing on the best aspects of their own career. Social media does the same thing, serving up the most positive and most negative information to each individual, depending on their political preferences.

As Christians we must be dedicated to the truth and avoid this biased selection of verses. Scripture must be understood as a whole and all verses on a particular topic taken into account in order to form a coherent, Biblical view on that topic. Otherwise we run the risk of wealthy Christians writing “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” type books which inflame that desire, even while James tells us that anyone who desires to be rich falls into a snare and a trap.

This is the reasoning behind my plan of discussing every single verse on money and wealth. I’ve written on the About page my method of organizing these verses into a small set of fundamental principles.

Old plan

Originally I thought I would just sort each verse into the appropriate principle, and discuss it in that section. However, as I continue to catalogue all these verses, it’s become clear that this approach would not be faithful to the Biblical authors’ intentions. While there are a few isolated verses (think Proverbs) that can be treated in this way, much of the Bible’s teaching on money and wealth comes in large chunks that are pretty complex.

For example, chapters 8 and 9 of 2nd Corinthians is a huge chunk of text that is all about money. It is primarily about giving: Paul encourages the Corinthian church to give in order to support fellow Christians who are in need. But it also includes the statement that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” This verse is commonly misunderstood to mean that if we give X dollars, God will later send back to us 2X, 3X, or even more dollars. From later context (2 Cor. 9:10-11) it’s clear that the reaping Paul means is of righteousness and generosity. It is a harvest of Christlike character, not a material harvest, that the Corinthians can look forward to as a result of their giving.

My previous plan for discussing this section would have went something like this: break it up into two pieces. The first 2/3 or 3/4 of the passage is entirely about giving, so discuss it under either principle 4 (Give consistently) or 5 (Once in awhile, give extravagantly). Then take the last part of that section and put it with the discussion of the Prosperity Gospel. I believe principle 3 (Your mission is not my mission) is the most logical place to discuss the flaws of the Prosperity Gospel. Therefore put the last part under principle 3.

New plan

One problem here is that Paul’s original intention when writing this passage had nothing to do with Prosperity Gospel. That particular misunderstanding was not common back then. Early Christians would probably have laughed at the idea that becoming a Christian led to wealth. What Paul really intended with that last section of chapter 9 was to motivate the Corinthians to give by describing to them one of the benefits of giving, i.e., it helps produce Godly character.

So what’s the right way to deal with long complex sections like this in a way that is faithful to the original author’s intent? Discuss the entire thing in one place, under the section of the website dedicated to the primary motivating principle of the passage. (In this example, that would be under one of the principles related to giving.) I can then still reference the passage and discuss it briefly under relevant secondary principles, but make sure to include links back to the fuller discussion of the passage. (In this example, discuss it’s relevance for Prosperity Gospel under principle 3, but link or have a popup to where the passage is discussed as a whole.) This way the reader can easily find the fuller context of the passage, so that a secondary or incidental meaning is not misunderstood as the primary meaning.

This is kind of a dry post, but one of the purposes of this “Making of ” blog is to give me a place to think through the details and process of creating Stewardship.com. That will sometimes include some of the drier or more technical aspects of the writing process.

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