we’re a bunch of scheming swindlers

This has turned into a bit of a series.  Today, a simple quote given me by my good buddy, David Robinson (here and here).  And next post, more practical advice — but concerning how to overcome the American church’s infatuation with the individual.  Past posts in the series are here:
Tendencies of an American Church
Practical Advice for Incarnational Ministry — Part Moja
Practical Advice for Incarnational Ministry — Part Mbili

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
Danish Scholar



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8 responses to “we’re a bunch of scheming swindlers

  1. randy morgan


  2. I’ve become a Kierkegaard fan, and this is one of my favorite quotes. We can spend a lot of time talking about the Bible without ever living what the Bible says.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  3. (tim, apparently you missed the memo that today this blog post has a comment maximum limit of one word. of course everyone know that statements in parentheses aren’t totaled in word counts…)


  4. Christine

    I do see a lot of this (and have been guilty of much of it myself). We are called to not-a-little sacrifice of our belongings, our personal comforts, and our personal comfort zones, which quite a lot of effort goes into glossing over.

    And I think that that central message of living out sacrificial love for other people comes accross loud a clear to anyone who sits alone with the New Testament.

    We are mostly in the ditch of just not doing.

    But I think there is another pitfall that awaits us: doing anything for the sake of doing something. In our rush to help the poor or do evangelism, we can often do it very badly, even harmfully because we are not really acting like Christ.

    What if to “take any words in the New Testament”, I just read the parts about slavery and then forgot “everything except pledging [myself] to act accordingly”. When and where people actually have slaves (including slavery of many kinds) wouldn’t that and hasn’t that turned out disasterously?

    I guess it’s not scholarship that I feel is needed on it’s own. If we had all just been left alone with the Bible, as long as we remembered to see each passage as part of the whole before we rode out to stone everyone to death, we’d probably do okay (although some things might fly way over our heads if we knew nothing of, say, farming practices in Israel).

    But to simply read it, we would need to unlearn all the scholarship that has told us how to read it. We would need to be able to read it afresh. I think this is more difficult to do than we are willing to admit (perhaps because it means overturning so many of our previous assumptions about the Bible, God, and life in general).

    • christine, to be sure i believe there is a place for scholarly study. i have a bachelors and a masters degree in bible. so i’m not against knowledge and intellect. but i’m also not for balancing knowledge and obedience. knowledge is necessary, and the further we get in our relationship with God, probably the more necessary it becomes. but true obedience (or even attempts at it) will always be the more important of the two. granted, i’m assuming the individual has just enough knowledge (and common sense) to be obedient to God in at least the simplest of things.

      the more weight we place on knowledge, the further we remove the Bible (and a proper understanding of God) from common people. we bring in mediators other than Christ, and, goodness, some of those mediators are books — not even flesh and blood humans. i’m not saying there’s no place for “experts,” but i am saying i’d rather the christians i know follow an expert follower of God and who is obedient and loves his fellow man — than an expert bible teacher. it just seems to me the two aren’t all that often the same.

  5. Christine

    Brett, I’m curious as to why you take every reference to knowledge as a reference to scholarly study and intellect? Is that the only means to or type of knowledge? Perhaps in some rare instances this is necessary (although maybe never if we managed to get pass our biases in other ways, which is always possible), but it isn’t the one I am most concerned with here.

    • well, our whole premise for all this was our primary reason for study — to add knowledge or to encourage obedience. and if you are studying the bible for knowledge, intellect and scholarly study are the natural fruit of that.

      but i think i’m confused, then, as to what you mean by knowledge. if you mean understanding the text, then i’m right there with you. i’m studying the bible now with a lot of non-Christians and (non-devout) Muslims, who have very little foundation of bible knowledge. and we use a group form of the 3-column study. and it’s working great. i don’t facilitate or lead the meetings, and i don’t share anything more than anyone else. but we’re coming to understand texts together. and as we understand them, we’re talking about what those texts would require of us in our lives. and we’re holding one another accountable to it.

      the christians studying with us are doing the same thing. they’re not studying the bible FOR knowledge, but for obedience. but every person there is adding knowledge.

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