Recently, John Piper wrote an article about using the discussion of our personal struggles as a jumping off point into evangelism. Surely, this is a good thing. And, it is explicitly Biblical. Peter writes:
But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Pet 3:14-15).
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
Now, 1 Pet 3:15 is a verse repeatedly butchered by evangelists and apologists who tell us that Christians must have a carefully constructed defense of the Christian faith. They use it as a leaping off point into apologetics and informed Gospel presentations. However, 1 Pet 3:15 is not about that. It is explicitly about the topic John Piper was writing about.
Ironically, John Piper does not quote the one passage in the Bible which actually addressed the topic he was talking about.
Instead, he says that (1) we are to let our light shine to the world (Matt 5:16, 1 Pet 2:12), (2) warns against “false perfectionism” (he quotes no Biblical verses), and (3) says “Paul did it” when speaking about his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7-9).
Piper, like those who misapply 1 Pet 3:15, misapplies the verses he actually quotes. Matt 5:16 and 1 Pet 2:12 are about our good works being a testimony to an unbelieving world. They have nothing to do with our suffering being a testimony, though if we do good through suffering this tangentially can be considered a similar concept.
His application of 2 Cor 12:7-9 likewise leaves a lot to be desired. Paul speaks about how God uses our suffering as a means of glorifying Himself and making us stronger in the faith. Paul says that he will “boast” about his weaknesses, but it is not clear that this means he boasts to strangers about it. Rather, he is boasting to the Corinthians themselves in which he just spent the last seven chapters of the letter defending his ministry. Hence, his preaching the Gospel for free, enduring persecutions and sufferings, and being caught up in the third heaven are all proofs of his Apostleship vis a vis the Super Apostles who are harming the faith of the Corinthians. We have no sense of Paul endorsing the boasting of suffering as an evangelistic technique.
So, in closing, my point is that we should be careful to quote Scriptures to prove ideas that they are not actually talking about. I have noticed that all sorts of groups push doctrines with cherry-picked Scriptures, and many false doctrines arise from Scriptures that do not actually address the subject matter they present. Even when a man like Piper or an apologist quotes a Scripture out of context to prove something true, it does not make it right.
It is bad exegesis. And, bad exegesis is something to be avoided so we may safeguard orthodoxy.