Pitfalls in Bible Study #2 – Goldilocks Theology

The more ideas you have about scripture the harder it can become to really listen to scripture. The failure to listen usually happens when you are out to make a point. So you grab a concordance or a site like biblegateway and start plugging words in the search box hoping to find a verse that confirms what you already knew. So you read past maybe even a couple dozen perfectly good verses until you get to the one that is just right.

I think of this as Goldilocks theology…this verse is too soft. This verse is too hard. This verse is just right! We don’t take time ask why the other verses didn’t suit our liking or to wonder if they might actually have something to offer that might better round out our theology than just our hand picked set of proof texts. We don’t wonder if the real problem might be our taste in the firmness of these textual mattresses rather than the texts that are problematic. The truth is, understood correctly there ideally are no problematic verses in the sense that they are all true. The are only problematic from our perspective in that they might be difficult to understand or challenge what we thought.

When we are looking harder for confirmation than transformation we can run into problems.We should want to be informed by as many related texts as possible to get the fullest possible view of what God is trying to tell us.

Confirmation is important. It is important to know what you believe and why. It is important to realize there are scriptures that advance a particular doctrine or set of beliefs. The problem is when we bypass the verses that seem to disprove our thinking in favor of cherry picked verses that at least on the surface agree with our side of the debate. When we do that we become the standard because our selection criteria is no longer what does the Bible say about it, rather, which verses agree with me?

So the next time you settle on a text and think it is too hard or too soft to suit you, why not rest there a while and see if there is something to be learned from those verses that make you least comfortable.


About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

11 Responses to Pitfalls in Bible Study #2 – Goldilocks Theology

  1. Lauren Claire says:

    I love the term “Goldilocks Theology.” You are exactly right- people do tend to do this with Scripture.

  2. landsway says:

    I could not agree more. I have said the same thing almost word for word. It is not enough to say we know what we believe; we have to know why we believe it. So many bypass any verse that does not back up their own personal doctrine; but those are likely the verses they need to read. We should let God’s word be what sets our doctrine. Way too many read the Bible only trying to find scripture that backs up what they want to believe.

  3. jamesbrett says:

    good points, matt. let’s be informed by scripture as a whole, rather than choosing to inform scripture by our own ideas and church doctrines. and let’s begin / continue reading for obedience and transformation, and not to prove our predetermined beliefs. personally, i feel much more comfortable with teachers / preachers teaching out of what God has been teaching them, rather than choosing a topic and then determining the best way to convince others to believe it.

    on a side note, “goldilocks theology” is only slightly better than “little red riding hood theology” — in which we dress up like old ladies, in order to eat small children.

  4. K. Rex Butts says:

    Now you’re medlin’…I love it.

    It does seem that if a person has a belief and they must run to a condcordance and spend an exhaustive amount of time trying to find something to say why their belief is right…that is probably a good indicator that no matter how biblical their belief might actually be, their belief has been based on someone or somthing other than Bible (i.e., something they heard from an interpreter of Bible).

    Grace and peace,


  5. Could you take couple steps back, please?

    You’re in my face.

    And my toes hurt.

  6. Steve says:

    I believe that I will be borrowing the term “Goldilocks Theology” sometime soon. Thanks!

  7. Dennis Threadgill says:

    Could it be that “proof-texting” has made it so we can’t see the forest for the trees? When we break “THE WORD” into little pieces and take them out of context, aren’t we destroying the message?

  8. Dennis Threadgill says:

    MONDAY, MARCH 29, 2010
    Thoughts on Scripture
    Conservative Christians usually tend to approach the Biblical textanalytically. We break it down into chapters, paragraphs, verses, sentences, clauses, phrases, words, prefixes, roots, suffixes, jots and titles. In doing so do we strip the Word of God of all mystery? Is it important on how we approach the Biblical text? Do we approach the text to try to “prove” a point, doctrine, or oppinion? Or do we approach the text holistically? Do often as believers try to say that the word of God can be easily understood? Do we commodify the Bible to other modern products, its easy! Fast! Convenient!? Is it??? Is there passages that bother, confuse or concern you? Should we approach the text with a missional approach? What you are and suppose to be and do? Should we drop proof texting? Should we focus on the big story, always moving toward our place in its ongoing trajectory? Do we value marginalized readers and readings? Do we think of the Bible as a book of answers and questions? Does we allow the text to motivate us to go deeper becoming students, seekers and learners?

    What do you think?
    Share your thoughts.
    posted by preacherman @ 10:34:00 AM

    • mattdabbs says:

      That’s a lot of questions.

      “Should we drop proof texting? Should we focus on the big story…?”

      Sounds like a pretty strong either or. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Should we drop proof texting? Can you give me an example where proof texting is ever the correct way to interpret a particular text? If you can then keep it. I would say there is no example where it is the best form of interpretation or reading the Bible. So yes, drop it.

      Should we focus on the big story…? Yes but not in exclusion of understanding the details when that is necessary. We have to have a well rounded approach to studying scripture that forms themes in light of the details and understands the details in light of the themes. That means you have to know when to zoom out and when to zoom in.

  9. Good advice.
    Sometimes we go overboard in pulling the Scripture out of context to make a point, win an argument/debate or develop a lesson. Let us take the time to go deeper, study/understand the context and make the applications.

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