The Culture of Meme Theology

Seldom a day goes by where when scrolling through social media, I do not come across some form of meme theology.  For those unfamiliar with the term, Merriam-Webster  defines meme as:

  • an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from one person to another in a culture

  • an amusing or interesting picture, video, etc., that is spread widely through the Internet

If you are on Facebook or Twitter, or even email among your acquaintances, you have probably seen a meme at some point in time.  Typically, it is a funny or inspirational saying.  More popular among professing Christians are the bible verse meme’s or Christian sounding quotes.  What makes these memes problematic is that they are often scriptures taken out of context, or inspirational sayings that have zero biblical basis.  But people love them and are quick to re-share them with their friends.  The popularity of memes reflects a couple of problems among the professing church which have been there long before social media, but give every indication of being on the rise: biblical ignorance due to lack of bible reading and study, and the practice of verse plucking.  When you take the two former problems and mix them with social media, you get meme theology.  This is a very serious problem.

Bible reading and study take time.  In our modern culture of immediate gratification, connectivity and over scheduling, many people believe they do not have time to read the bible, or more likely, have been conditioned to lack the patience for slow activities like studying their bibles.  These reasons alone cannot explain the famine of the Word.  I believe another major factor is the large number of people who are church goers but are not actually born again.  People who do not have the new nature and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit do not have the desire to study the Word nor do they have the ability to understand it.  So they avoid it altogether.

When there is a lack of biblical study and understanding, there is usually a tendency to verse pluck.  Verse plucking is when a person grabs a verse or two out of the chapter of the bible, and applies their own meaning to it instead of the meaning that it actually possesses in its context.   This is rampant among professing Christians.  It is also dangerous because people begin to make a god in their own image; a religion of their own making, that often is man-focused instead of God focused.  People, the bible is not about you. It is about God and His program. You cannot take any old verse and decide it has personal meaning for you or your particular situation.  That is what happens when you verse pluck and why it is crucial to be reading your bible verse by verse, day in and day out, to understand it correctly.

Here is an example that I came across just this morning from my own social media feed.  I do not know the lady who shared this picture, it was in my feed because one of my friends had interacted on the post.  The lady who shared it stated that God had been proving this (“for nothing is impossible with God”) to her all week in her training sessions at the gym as she prepared for a national competition.

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I presume that the inscription on the jewelry is taken from the verse in Matthew 19:26  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Friends, this verse is not about God aiding you in your gym workout, or in any other personal endeavor.  Above is a classic example of verse plucking.  When you do not know the context of the verse, when you have not read the surrounding verses, you can end up wrongly applying this as a personal inspirational saying.   The verse is part of the account of the Rich Young Ruler.  Matthew 19:16-26:

 And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The lesson is that an individual cannot be self-sufficient when it comes to obtaining eternal life.  John Macarthur in his commentary explains it this way:

Because God is able to change sinful hearts, it is possible for Him to save helpless men.  God can do what men cannot do.  The rich young ruler went away without eternal life because he sought it on the impossible basis of his own human resources and goodness.  Salvation is entirely a gracious and sovereign work of God, and the work of His human witnesses is simply to proclaim the full truth of the gospel as clearly and lovingly as possible and to rely on God to apply that truth to an unbeliever’s heart and bring him to recognize his spiritual bankruptcy and come to repentance and obedient faith.

Quite a difference, isn’t it?  This is why it is vital for believers to read and know the Word, rather than plucking verses and applying their own meaning, or building their theology from memes instead of the inspired Word of God.  My guess is that the lady who shared the picture wanted to convey her thankfulness to God for His good gifts to her.  Her health, abilities and opportunities.  That is a wonderful and appropriate thing to do.  Just not with this particular verse, that when used out of context, can convey a false idea of God to those with little understanding; that God is somehow a magic wish granter, or an ethereal rabbits foot.

We live in a most blessed time.  We have the entire Word of God in print, in our language.  Most of us, multiple copies.  We have the wonderful technology of the internet where not only can you find the whole bible, but many sound resources to help you study and understand it!  My exhortation to you today is this:  Please read your bible!  Love it, study it, apply it.  This is our great privilege!  You cannot know the One who saves you unless you read His Word written for you.  We draw closer to God, know Him better and His will for our lives by reading and studying His word.  There is no other way.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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