"I Think" vs "The Bible Says"
Which premise is better?
I’m continuing my on-going engagement with some of the comments and feedback from this here video of me sitting down with a stranger (who is a non-affirming theologian) to discuss matters of LGBTQ inclusion. So far I’ve tackled the notion that people don’t think I’m actually a Christian, as well as why many conservative Christians believe that “progressive Christianity” is an oxymoron.
Today I’ll be addressing why it is that I start so many of my sentences with, “I feel like,” or, “Well, for me.”
Turns out that really rubs people the wrong way. So let’s talk about it!
The Bible Says…
People love clear answers. People love certainty.
And, if you haven’t noticed, Christians (specifically the conservative, evangelical types), especially love when their answers of certainty come from the Bible.
For many years of my life, one of the most common phrases I’d use to begin a sentence was, “The Bible says.” And I’m not just talking contexts where such a disclaimer made sense—like during a Bible study or when preaching—no, I’d take any and all opportunities to buttress my ideas and arguments with the unassailable backing of the Word of the Lord.
Random Person: Hey Colby, where’s your recycling? I’m done with my soda.
Colby: The Bible says the earth will be destroyed and a new heaven and new earth will replace this fading world. So we don’t recycle around here.
Random Person: Hey Colby, I lost my notes for Algebra, can I borrow yours to study for our exam tomorrow?
Colby: The Bible says seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all things shall be added unto you.
Random Person: Excuse me sir, do you know the way to get to the Olive Garden from here?
Colby: The Bible says Jesus is the Way, and no one gets to the Father but through him.
Random Person: Okay, right, but I’m craving all you can eat bread sticks… so… do you know…
Colby: The Bible says man cannot live on bread alone.
Random Person: Sure, gotcha. For the sake of argument, though, let’s say I just wanted to know if you, kind sir, knew how I might get to the Olive Garden?
Colby: The Bible says the way is narrow, and few find it.
For me, the Bible had all the answers. My thoughts and feelings and opinions were irrelevant. All that mattered was what the Bible said.
Claiming to Know What the Bible/God Says Feels Good
As obnoxious as I’m sure some people found me to be, there also existed many groups of people who found comfort in my answers about what “the Bible says.” For those folks, the fact that I knew what the Bible said, and therefore could tell them with some degree of certainty what “God” said, and by extension, what the “right answer was,” provided much needed security.
Plus, I’m not gonna lie, it felt good.
There’s a special kind of intoxication when people come to you for answers because they know you’ll have one. On top of that, for even more juice, imagine meeting their needs through the giving of an answer AND doing so with the full backing of something as powerful as the Bible.
But a couple things happened when I shifted away from my conservative, evangelical faith as it relates to how I think and talk about answers and certainty and the Bible.
In short, nowadays instead of starting a sentence with, “The Bible says,” I’m much more likely to begin with, “Well, for me,” or, “I feel like,” or, “I think that.”
Even when (especially when?) I’m talking about matters of the Bible.
Turns out, people notice when you start talking that way.
(above screen shots are comments from the aforementioned YouTube Video)
Four Thoughts for Those Put Off by How I Talk
If I could sit down people like Mika or Diana, folks who not only noticed how I often I spoke that way but saw it as a bad thing, here are four things I might say to them.
1) It makes sense to me that you’d not only notice this, but be put off by it.
Remember, I was all-the-way in the evangelical world for many years. I know it inside and out. And one of the highest values and goals within that religion is to not only believe the right things, but believe them with absolute certainty. Questioning whether or not something might be true, or expressing doubts about certain doctrines will cause people to be concerned about your faith. They’ll fear for your salvation.
We are trained, then, as pastors and leaders, to speak with boldness and conviction and clarity. To teach people what is true! Show them what faith and belief are supposed to look (and sound) like!
As a result, a majority of pulpits have become the place where questions go to die. Where curiosity is unwelcome. Where not knowing the answer is a sign of weakness.
As congregants, most Christians then become accustomed to hearing a pastor talk a certain way including (but not limited to) phrases like, “God said” or “the Bible says” and so on.
My point is, I can totally understand why so many people picked up on how often I would not only be slow to respond, but when I did it would almost always be positioned as my own thoughts or feelings. Such speech certainly sounds foreign.
Not only that, I can understand why a conservative evangelical would be put off by it, because their religious systems have trained them to elevate certainty and uniformity, and devalue unknowing and opinions.
These types of Christians want their pastors to tell them what is true and what they need to believe.
I won’t do that (at least, not nearly as much as I used to). And that must seem odd to some people.
2) I don’t know everything. So me telling you what I think or feel about something is me being upfront and honest with you about my limitations.
I spent years believing I knew what was True. Years convinced I was not only super smart, but that people would be wise to listen to me. And as I mentioned above, this sort of setup works really well for a lot of people in a lot of Christian contexts.
But y’all, let’s be real, I’m not that smart. I don’t know that many things. I’m a walking cliche in that, the older I get, and the more I learn, the more I discover I don’t really know.
Therefore, when I’m in positions like this video, knowing that people will be watching and listening, it’s important to me that I not pretend to know more than I do. It’s important to me that I am honest about my own fallibility.
So yeah, I start a lot of sentences with, “for me,” or, “I think,” because these are just my thoughts, y’all!
Take ‘em. Leave ‘em. Whatevs.
But I’m done pretending like I know Truth well enough, or I know God well enough, to be its spokesperson.
3) Even when someone says, “God said,” or, “The Bible says,” they still mean, “here’s what I think,” and “my opinion is.”
Unless you’re fluent in Hebrew and Greek, don’t come at me with, “the Bible says.”
You don’t know what the Bible says. You know what other people have told you the Bible says… and remember, even all those people couldn’t agree. (see: thousands of denominations, dozens of different interpretations of the Bible, etc).
Which is fine, by the way. I’m not disparaging you in this! (And, to be clear, most of the time I don’t know what the Bible says either! I’m not fluent in ancient languages).
But my point is, if you think someone saying “God said” or “The Bible says” is an objective claim to truth, whereas me saying, “I think,” or, “my opinion” is a subjective (and therefore lesser) claim, then you haven’t thought long enough about it.
Both are subjective choices rooted in opinions.
I’m just being honest and clear about it.
What we often miss is that the person saying, “the Bible says,” is still making one particular claim of interpretation out of many. The Bible doesn’t “say” anything. Rather, the Bible is a collection of written down manuscripts, passed along through multiple languages over the course of 2000 years. And each attempt at translating the original material is an interpretive endeavor. So when you grab some random verse off the internet and copy/paste it as though that is what “God said,” you’re really just choosing one-of-many ideas about what possibly someone thought and wrote 2000 years ago.
In other words, it is also an opinion.
Next time you hear someone start their sentence with “the Bible says” or “God says” just know what they mean is, “here is the version of this ancient manuscript that I am currently attached to.”
Or, in short, “here’s what I think the Bible says.”
Which isn’t any different from when I say, “I think,” or, “Well, for me…”
This is simply my way of being transparent about what is really going on, rather than deceive listeners with the notion that I have the definitive answer on what God has “actually” said.
4) Feelings aren’t bad or scary.
Finally, it’s not uncommon in conservative evangelicalism to have a sort of allergy to feelings. To believe that feelings are not only inferior to thoughts, but they are not be trusted.
You can see in some of the comments how folks didn’t dig my occasional reference to how I felt.
(p.s. It’s Colby, not Cory. Thanks.)
And I get it. I remember those days, back when the church told us that “the heart is wicked above all else” (-somewhere in the Bible, I don’t feel like looking it up).
As a result we tried to sever our emotions from our rational side, believing that capital T Truth can only be discerned through our minds.
Of course, we now have research into human psychology that suggests that more often then not we end up feeling things first, and then we provide the rationalization on the back end to support our feels. But we can save that stuff for another day.
For now it’s enough to name that, just as I get why people would be so put off by how I don’t talk like a typical pastor (with faux clarity and conviction), I also get why people would find it unsettling just how much I say, “I feel like.”
But friends, hear me out on this: It’s okay to name your feelings. In fact, it’s good.
They’re not always right, of course. But neither are they always wrong or worthy of our mistrust.
Many Christians I know would do well to put their Bibles down for a while, stop trying to get all the “right answers,” and instead do the work of getting curious about their emotional landscape. You can possess all the Bible knowledge you can muster, but if you’re severed from your emotions then you’ll never get close to the thing you say you seek so much: Truth.
Wanna Talk About This?
We can talk more about this idea of “the Bible says” versus “I think…”
Curious about Progressive Christianity?
I wrote The Shift as a survival guide for those who’ve left conservative Christianity and are on the search, or already on the journey, toward a more progressive faith.
It has really helped a lot of people feel seen, normalized, and loved.