For the vast majority of us Christians, particularly here in the West, we have lived in an ignorance when it comes to the Bible and the way many people see outside of faith see the Bible: The Bible is dangerous. It is actually more appropriate to state that the West is ambivalent about the Bible, both wanting to celebrate much of what it contains, particularly the message about Jesus, but also finds a lot of stuff in there they deem dangerous. They see narratives about war and divine justification for widespread violence, maybe even genocide, and they are aware how Christians have fought religious wars like the Crusades. There are texts that can be used to justify slavery and have indeed been used to justify it. There are passages of Scriptures that speak against sexual intercourse between two men, and they are aware of how these texts have been used to treat lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as dangerous, disgusting, condemned to hell, etc. Most recently, it has been witnessed how government leaders can justify oppressive immigration policies under the premise of the rule of law being a government’s right based upon Romans 13. Consequently, many see the Bible as a dangerous.
And you know what: they are correct. The Bible is indeed dangerous. When we have our agendas, the Bible is a convenient book for us to pull out some passage, some story, some text that we can use to try to persuade people for our agenda. Sometimes the problem is a wrong interpretation, such as slavery never being treated as a necessary institution. Sometimes the problem is the right interpretation but used with the wrong motivation, such as the Bible’s views of sexuality being used to attack, exclude, threaten, and demean others in a sense of social superiority, with the motivations of either making ourselves feel superior or as a convenient trope to stir up the troops for political battles, rather than being a word of how we ourselves are to represents ourselves as part of God’s people in our sexual lives. Furthermore, the Old Testament records the story of God leading a people amidst a very dangerous socio-political world where war, disease, famine, etc. were common occurrences, and so Israel is a people who both must survive in this world and yet also be something holy in the midst of such a dangerous world. If we were to import the Old Testament in a 1-to-1 manner in a world where the forces of war, disease, famine, etc. are not the ever-present threat, although they still exist, what was intended to make Israel holy and rise above the danger just a bit to reflect God’s holiness would actually submerge us into living more dangerously in the world than is merited, thereby undercutting the love that God has for us and wants us to have. Jesus himself recognized that the Torah was written to a people with a hardened heart. For this, and many other reasons, the Bible is dangerous, very dangerous.
Consider nuclear power. Nuclear power has been used for very destructive purposes, such as the atomic bomb. We are even aware of instances where nuclear power plants have experience nuclear fallout, and radiation has spread everywhere. Despite these dangers, nuclear power provides a lot of benefits that far exceed the inputs in terms of the energy provided. Nuclear power has a much greater energy density than fossil fuels, which our world runs on. Compared to the power of oil and coal, nuclear power is a miracle. But at the same time, nuclear power used with wrong intentions or without the appropriate care can have disastrous consequences.
I would liken the power of the Bible in a similar fashion. We who follow Christ believe that if used correctly, the Bible can lead us into great personal and social power that is life-giving through the working of God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, much as nuclear materials of uranium can do the same with a physical power. But used inappropriately or with the wrong goals in mind, that power can be used towards dangerous ends.
Of course, I would suggest the metaphor falls short in that while power for both good and bad uses of nuclear materials comes from the exact same source, good and poor use of Scripture would not have the exact same source: God will act differently towards the faithful than he would to the faithless and careless. Nevertheless, the Scripture would still contain the same normative power in the eyes of many others whether the Bible is indeed being used consistent with God’s will or not. The metaphor also breaks down in another way. The danger of nuclear materials makes it highly regulated by governments, that only a few people who are appropriately credentialled can have access to and use it. But the Bible is not something that should simply go into the hands of a few elite users of it; the Scriptures shouldn’t be controlled by a magisterium: we have learned how that goes in church history. Despite being dangerous, the Scriptures should be diffused, while recognizing the risks that come with that.
But it is only when we recognize the danger that is the Bible and employ the Scriptures accordingly that we as the Church can begin to really understand and speak to a society that has seen the Church and her Scriptures as dangerous at worst, a mixed blessing at best. While sometimes the Church has historically been considered dangerous because the righteousness and holiness of God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit challenges the powers of the communities, societies, nations, empires, etc., this is different from being threatened when people who associate themselves with the Church marshall its power in threatening and harmful ways. The former is to suffer as a Christians because of one’s righteousness, whereas the latter is to be in conflict because of one’s unrighteousness, even if one self-righteously labels it righteousness. To speak to a skeptical and mistrustful society because the people of the Church has acted in very sketchy and damaging ways, the Church must recognize how this power has been used for intentions contrary to God’s own loving, redemptive purposes. Discipling the people to hear and read the Scriptures with care, to not be seduced by political, commercial, or even some religious uses of Scripture, to not employ the Bible principally as a rule book to decide the right and wrong arguments, morals, idea, etc. but to first and foremost to attune our hearts and minds to be open to hearing and understanding God and to be formed through that listening receptivity (even though God can still form us in the midst of our ignorance).
The Bible has a dangerous power, but the Church can take great care to make sure that power is used with the right care, so that the Church can be a more faithful witness to Christ rather than being the reasons the people blaspheme God.