The priority problem

Life in the Postmodern Shift

January 30, 2013 | Viewpoints | Number 3
By Troy Watson |

Fewer Christians are reading their Bibles today. Not exactly a news flash. The real question is, why are so many of us no longer reading our Bibles? I think there are three primary reasons:

1. It’s not a priority. Some may claim their neglect of Scripture is due to how busy they are, but we all know we make time for what we value. Whether they admit it or not, people don’t read their Bibles because they don’t think it’s important.

2. The Bible is a difficult, confusing and incongruous collection of books to navigate through, so people look to more accessible sources for spiritual guidance, or let their pastor or priest read the Bible and explain it to them.

3. The understanding of Scripture we grew up with stopped making sense and we have yet to find an approach to the Bible that enables us to engage it meaningfully.

I will respond to the second and third reasons in my next article. First up, Reason No. 1: the priority problem. So how should the church address the low priority of Scripture reading for many Christians today? First, we should evaluate why reading the Bible is a priority for those of us who do it. Regular Bible reading is a priority for me—besides being part of my job as a pastor—because:

A: I value my faith, my relationship with God and spiritual growth.

B: I’m convinced the Scriptures play a vital role in my faith, my relationship with God and spiritual growth.

Most Christians would affirm Point A. Why bother following the way of Jesus if you don’t? However, some Christians disagree with, or at least question, Point B. They are confident they can maintain a healthy faith and grow spiritually without the Bible.

Engaging Scripture is essential to my faith and spiritual development because:

  • I believe God relates to, and communicates with, human beings.
  • I believe the Bible is a product and conduit of God’s communication with humanity.
  • I believe God continues to speak to us through Scripture as a primary, but not exclusive, medium today.

Of course, these beliefs cannot be proven, but I can support them with reason, experience and tradition. These beliefs are not naïve, illogical, wish-upon-a-star fantasies that I have been brainwashed into since childhood and have given no real thought to since. It is not insignificant, for example, that billions of other people throughout history have had experiences that substantiate these very same beliefs.

However, I am hesitant to share with others the supportive rationalizations that, in my opinion, validate my beliefs about Scripture, because those kinds of conversations quickly turn into debates that rarely produce fruit in the kingdom of God, or anything good, really.

It is important for us to gently and humbly share with others our beliefs and our reasons for our beliefs when it is appropriate, but to argue or attempt to persuade others of the importance of Scripture is a fool’s errand. We cannot make the Bible a priority for others. We can only live in such a way that the priorities in our own lives become intriguing, inspiring and compelling to others.

The truth and power of Scripture has rarely, if ever, been demonstrated by persuasive arguments, but by the kind of character development and transformation it produces in people’s lives. A life bearing the fruit of the Spirit in good measure will always have influence in the lives of other people.

The best solution to this priority problem, if I can even frame it with such language, is for those of us who take the Bible seriously to live lives that create curiosity and hunger in others for the source of our hope, joy, peace, love, strength, wisdom, compassion, generosity and “God connection.” If regular Bible reading is partly responsible for all the goodness in our lives, people will want to know about it and try it. Antoine Saint-Exupéry is credited with saying, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

People prioritize what they value and desire. The task of the church and her leaders is not to get—or guilt—Christians into making Bible reading a priority, but to evoke within them a hunger for the God that Scripture points to, that opens us up and becomes a medium through which God speaks.

Troy Watson is pastor of the Quest Community in St. Catharines, Ont. This is part of the series, “The role of Scripture in the postmodern shift.

Further reading:
Shedding Sola Scriptura
Is the Bible Reliable?
Divinely Inspired
Scripture in the postmodern shift
The professionalization factor

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I have had the task and the privilege of leading Alpha courses over the past few years; I've been challenged as to how to support individuals who have come into faith, and yet struggle with on-going growth. While books on devotions are OK, they really don't support people in a significant growth in knowledge of God.
Our members asked to continue on in Bible studies and it has been my gain to lead one group through a year of studies, first in Luke, now in John. I see them growing and putting down roots in their life with God, and I find new understanding and insights from reading and studying with them. In turn, leading them has renewed my Bible reading to go beyond morning devotions, and from Stuart Murray, to a renewed focus on the Gospels.
We all need Bible reading- after 1 year or 40 with God- his Word speaks to our issues, gives us life in him and renews our understanding and love of God.
Thank you for this column....

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