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Osama, Twitter and the Battle for the Bible


The Twiterverse was ringing this week with the news of Osama bin Laden’s death and I am interested to see how the Bible was used by Christians to explain what was going on . In 140 characters Christians tried to summarise what they felt about the event. Some used the Bible as support, I am giving a lecture next week on what social media is doing to our faith and one area I am intrigued by is what Twitter is doing to our Bible.

Perhaps you are familiar with the old adage that says: To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We may extend that truism: To a person with a pencil, everything looks like a sentence. To a person with a TV camera, everything looks like an image. To a person with a computer, everything looks like data.

Neil Postman

Is it fair to say that to a tweeter the Bible looks like a series of disconnected tweets? Bible verses are plucked out of context and used to support our arguments – I found myself taking part in i and wanted to take a step back to see what is going on. Christianity Today published a fascinating article listing the different Bible passages that were tweeted around the announcement of Bin Laden’s death. I have turned the relevant ones into a slide for the lecture:

click on the image to see a larger version


As I reflected on the verses uses. I found myself asking when we tweet a text, how often are we cherry picking the Bible to back up our own personal opinions rather than allowing the Bible to transform our thinking. If you think that the assassination of bin Laden was justified you tweet verses that support your view of celebration, if you are pacifist or believe that bin Laden’s execution was not justice but revenge you tweet another verse. If we are not careful Bible verses become bumper stickers – ways of publicly labeling our beliefs. Or worse we end up not trying to seek God’s will but rather draw on the Bible’s authority to back our own positions- we turn the word of God into a mascot for our politics. This morning I have been reading a book by an evangelical that encourages increasing concealed gun ownership, waterboarding as an acceptable way to treat prisoners and opposition to the environmental movement are all biblical positions for Christians to take. Opposite views are dismissed with a few choice proof texts, no serious thinkers that take contrary positions are quoted.

Ironically a theology of scripture that takes seriously the proof text for biblical inspiration, ie “All Scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”2 Timothy 3:16 must mean that we allow the whole of the Bible to speak into these issues. Recognizing the Canon as grand narrative rather than random arrangement of tweets / quotations will force us to see why some things may have been acceptable once and are no longer so, why God allows things to happen that he doesn’t like and why some parts of the Bible are descriptive rather than prescriptive. Here is a working list of ways we can avoid misusing the Bible in social media and further afield:

  • We must avoid offering proof texts rather than letting the grand narrative of the Bible direct us.
  • Let the original context of a passage direct its meaning for today.
  • Be aware of our own cultural, political and economic biases when we come to scripture.
  • Don’t avoid difficult texts that challenge your own position.
  • Exploring the Bible with a posture that opens up a discussion rather than closes it down is a mark that we are seeking to humbly submit to scripture rather than use scripture to bully others.

What would you add to my list?

13 thoughts on “Osama, Twitter and the Battle for the Bible”

  1. I’ve been using Matthew 10:28 this week.

    “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

    Takes the emphasis away from whether it was right or wrong to assassinate bin Laden and brings it back to the wrath and mercy of God and our ultimate destinies.

    1. thanks peter – my list of verses – is taken from those that were tweeted this week… I am interested in how we change the nature of the biblical dialogue on twitter. Not sure how to delve in CSS though – all the best mate

  2. How about
    Avoid using the Bible just to win a theological argument and be right. Tweet verses prayerfully and humbly

  3. Thanks Krish, to add to your list:
    don’t change the text of Scripture to fit in with your theology, let the text of Scripture inform and reform your theology.

  4. Great post Krish. We could certainly do with more prophetic voices yourself on how to use the Bible in an open and humble way! Very much appreciated. Hard to avoid our own biases coming in somewhat but the least we can do is recognise our own views and allow the whole of scripture to challenge us, hopefully pushing us back to humble trust in God.

  5. Perhaps we would do better if we started by remembering that the bible confronts and condemns us – and the extent to which it validates us is the extent to which it reforms and conforms us to the likeness of Christ.

    Isn’t the problem is less that we pick verses to support our own personal opinions and more that our personal opinions are out of line with God’s?

    If we did, do you think our twitter followers would RT: @me blah # No man tweets as this man tweeted….?

  6. Perhaps we would do better if we started by remembering that the bible confronts and condemns us – and the extent to which it validates us is the extent to which it reforms and conforms us to the likeness of Christ.

    Isn’t the problem less that we pick verses to support our own personal opinions and more that our personal opinions are out of line with God’s?

    If we sorted that better, maybe our twitter followers would RT: @me blah # No man tweets as this man tweeted….?

  7. Very late comment, I know, but I don’t think this is Twitter’s fault.

    The damage (and I think I really mean that!) was done centuries ago – first by the person(s) who first divided the text up into chapters and verses (handy for reference, but not the way the text was constructed); then by the Authorised (King James) version that printed each verse as a separate paragraph on its own. Both of these have been arbitrarily imposed on the text of the Bible and really affect the way we read it, and often the way preachers and congregations approach it.

    All Twitter does is make it easy to transmit this electronically.

  8. Thanks Kris, I’ve found this article really helpfuland insightful. I often get frustrated with Christians who just throw out Bible verses without thinking and use the Bible to back up their position rather than learning from scripture themselves. Often we judge people as unbiblical saying that they don’t listen to scripture when actually we simply mean they don’t agree with out interpretation of scripture. Really helpful article!

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