Why This Minister Hates These “Favorite” Christian Quote Verses – John 3:16 and Romans 8:28

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I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church (I know! Shocker, right?!).

Bible drills seemed like a constant part of the ebb and flow of our Sunday school life. For the most part, drills really just meant memorizing Bible verses the grown-ups told us were important and spitting them back out like parrots.

Frankly, I don’t really remember anyone helping us understand the meaning behind the verses.

And that means either nothing was taught about the meaning of the verses, or whatever may have been taught was so under emphasized it was not worth remembering.

The truth is, I wonder if Bible drills would have been helpful in any way whatsoever, even if the “meaning” had been taught.

What I’m getting at is that a lot of the “favorite” Bible drill verses are favorites for all the wrong reasons.

Church folks who love things like Bible drills tend to load these verses up with all kinds of baggage forcing them to carry around meanings they never intended – unhealthy theological meanings.

You? Oh, I know, you don’t think they mean those unhealthy things, but a lot of Christians do.

So, here is my first pass at “favorite” Christian verses that I hate because of the way people tend to (mis)understand them:

1) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” — John 3:16

One verse to rule them all.

If cardboard signs at sporting events and scrap pieces of wood nailed to trees on the side of the highway are any predictor (and, come on, let’s face it – of course they are!) the hands down favorite verse of many Christians is John 3:16.

If you learned any bible verses in Sunday school, this was probably the first one and if you only remember one verse from Sunday school, this is probably the one.

And that’s why I don’t like it. No sir, not at all.

John 3:16 has been elevated to the most-important-verse-of-all. As if all of Christian belief is summarized by it and it alone.

It’s just so naive.

In that one verse we have calls to the question of the divinity of Jesus, Christian exceptionalism and even the question of Hell – and frankly, most of us have a pretty good idea about how those who quote it all the time would answer those questions.

While it’s only a little better, I’d much rather the “one verse to rule them all” be the next verse: John 3:17 – “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.”

2) “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” —Romans 8:28

This one is so chock full of issues I barely know where to start.

Considering there are so many issues in Romans 8:28, I’ll focus on the overarching problem – certainty.

When folks quote this they tend to say it loaded with a bunch of theological perspectives (which we’ll get to) that they hold to strongly simply because they were told to, or want to, or believe in (blind faith).

The thing is, even scholars who spend their careers looking at these theological issues find it hard to say, with certainty, that they definitely have one “correct” understanding of Romans 8:28.

Let’s just look at one piece of the verse: “in all things God works for the good…”

Most folks who like to quote this scripture hear it as saying “all things are meant for good by God.”

But, this way of seeing the world elevates tragedy into blessing and dismisses human grief as an inability to understand God’s “larger plan” or the “mystery of God.”

From the holocaust, to Rwanda, to child abuse, to the 21,000 people who die every day due to hunger related causes, this take on the providence of God paints a picture of a God who creates death and suffering in order to achieve some greater good.

That’s no god.

It’s not even what the verse says.

It says, “in all things God works for the good.”

Perhaps what is being said is that in all things (even things humanity creates that are horrible and tragic) God is endeavoring to create something good.

And perhaps the reason God struggles to do so, is that the only tools he has available are us – God’s people.

In the next post in this three part series, I’ll be taking a look at Proverbs 3:5 and John 14:6.

There are many ways to look at these verses – some better than others. I do not claim to have the only correct perspective on them – simply a reasonable one.

So, keep in mind that just because you vehemently disagree with me, it doesn’t mean my thoughts aren’t reasonable, it just means they are different than yours – and let’s face it, we’re both fairly intelligent people.

Ultimately, that’s reason enough to stop quoting these verses: even reasonably intelligent people tend to disagree on what they mean.

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