Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Very Misused Scripture

Reading all of the blogs this week either defending or attacking Emergent folks, I heard a certain scripture quoted a lot. I am pretty sure most of the people using it as a sword to stab at others were unaware of its context, or even its reference.

"Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." They usually use the KJV, so it translates as "enmity". Using this scripture, certain folks would accuse Emergents of trying to be friends with the world, and therefore enemies of God.

It seems that they forget that Jesus was described by the Pharisees (the spokespeople for God in his day) as being a friend to the world. Jesus was described as "a friend of harlots, tax collectors, and sinners".

Did Jesus befriend the world but then later tell us not to? Were his behavior and attitude something he did not want us to emulate? Is there a contradiction here?

I don't believe so, and I think the way this scripture has been used is a textbook example of prooftexting (using a scripture to defend a point that contradicts its context).

The scripture that is referenced comes out of James 4:4. When you look at the rest of the chapter and, indeed, the entire book of James you get a different view. It becomes apparent that, to James, "the world" is a value system of self indulgence, judgment, pride, and grasping. Bigger, better, more, faster. These are all values that James refers to as "worldly", yet much of the Western church has embraced. James was never stating that this was an injunction to stay away from non-Christians; or worse, to use the dislike of someone from outside the faith as proof that you are on the right path. This attitude is in complete contradiction to the mission of Jesus.

Here is a little more context to that scripture:

1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

4You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?[a] 6But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."[b]

Read the book of James. I think it is clear that James was speaking out against the world as a system of thinking. He spends so much time talking about how to deal graciously and helpfully with each other. I believe he would be disturbed to find how many Christians use his words to encourage antagonism from unbelievers.


Carrie said...

NIce entry! I do so love the book of James. It is my favorite book in the Bible. Befriending and truly caring for people seems to me to be the only way to show people the love of Jesus. That carries weight. Judging and/or simply trying to sell the story of Jesus through brief evangelism lacks something deep (unless you are Billy Graham or someone with a true gift from God for that kind of thing).

Mystical Seeker said...

I also love the book of James.

Another way of looking at the issue, from the perspective of people like Crossan and Borg, is to look beyond James per se, and to consider the general context of Jesus and Paul in response to what "the world" meant to them. "The world" was the prevailing domination system of the Roman Empire, which itself was part of a global system of empires taht competed for power and domination over others. So I would suggest that "the world" represents the prevailing domination system of empire. Jesus's Kingdom of God stood in contrast to the worldly Kingdom of Caesar.

SocietyVs said...

I really like the book of James - it lines up very nicely with Matthew.

I think what you are describing is beautiful irony. One group claims another group is 'such and such' yet they fail to realize how they fit that very scripture - and they teach it as part of the gospel.

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