There is a game popular in some Christian circles in which I have at times been known to indulge.

I have never heard a name for this game; but it could be called “Dueling Texts.”

In this game I establish my position on some contentious issue about the nature of God, life, or the human condition. Then I hunt through the Bible to find ammunition to support my conviction. In the same way, my opponent scours the Bible seeking passages that will back up his or her position. We put our texts up against each other, and the person who can amass the greatest number of biblical passages that appear to verify their position is the winner.

I have learned over the years that no one ever really wins at the game of dueling texts. No one wins because we are not actually doing what we say we are doing. We both say we are seeking to derive our position from Scripture and then simply offering texts to demonstrate that our beliefs have in fact emerged from an objective reading of the Bible.

We are not telling the truth. The truth is that our position is based upon our experience of life and precedes the choice of text. Our selection of texts is shaped by a belief we have previously determined is true and needs to be defended.

We have in fact both arrived at our convictions by virtue of either personal experience or some external authority in which we have decided to place our trust.

But, if a Bible text seems to contradict our experience or the word of some trusted authority, we will either ignore our experience, skip over the difficult text, or find a way to interpret it to fit with our preconception.

If someone suggests to me that the Bible recommends self-mutilation, which it clearly does, I will immediately rush to interpret Matthew 5:29,30 in a way that fits with my experience of what is good and healthy, rather than the words Jesus is actually reported to have said when he commanded his followers,

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away…. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away… (Matthew 5:29, 30)

I know in my heart that Jesus did not intend me to take these words literally. But, literally, the text tells me to tear out my eye and cut off my hand. So, I follow my heart rather than the actual words.

If someone tells me, on the basis of the Bible, that every person who has ever been divorced and remarried is actively and constantly committing adultery with their new spouse, I will argue that there has to be another way to read Jesus’ unequivocal statement that,

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Luke 16:18)

My experience of people who are divorced and remarried convinces me that they are not living in an adulterous relationship in their marriage after. There must be another way to understand this text, not because the text tells me there must be another way to understand it, but because my experience will not let me simply take it literally and condemn all divorced and remarried people for committing adultery.

No argument can be settled simply by hurling Scripture quotes across the great divide that separates opponents. Dealing with difficult issues from a faith perspective is a complex process that requires more than merely piling up isolated texts until the weight of words finally causes my opponent to topple over and accept the superiority of my position. We need to begin by being honest about how we arrived at our convictions and not pretend that we derived our beliefs simply from reading the Bible.