There is no doubt in my mind that this post is going to offend some of you and if it does then I am truly sorry. Do what you normally do when you disagree with something I (or someone else) say…ignore it.
I am concerned that we (Christianity/the Church) have fostered what Kenda Creasy Dean so eloquently defines as a “do-good, feel-good spirituality that has little to do with the Triune God of Christian tradition and even less to do with loving Jesus enough to follow him into the world” (Almost Christian, p. 4). There is a lot to unpack and there is not “one-thing” that is causative for this pop-psychology “blue-skies-and-rainbows” type spirituality. Dean points to many factors but something that is foundational is our theology (or lack thereof) that shapes a pat-you-on-the-back approach to Christianity. Please do not misunderstand me as I am all about words of affirmation and encouragement as people who are in deep moments of despair need words immersed in grace and hope. That is not what I am talking about. I am speaking of the sermons, classes, youth talks, books and conversations all that funnel our spiritual formation into one idea: what makes me feel good for the day. Part of that funnel process is how we approach Scripture.
Reading on Facebook and looking at all of the daily devotional material it is doubtless that you have not come across the verse-of-the-day approach to spirituality. Verse-of-the-day approaches to spiritual formation seem to limit what God had in mind with Scripture. I receive verses of the day through Twitter (4 different groups), Facebook (3 different groups, numerous people) and e-mail. I tend not to read the verses of the fday because most of them are the same. They are designed to make you feel better about the day in a self-help, pick-you-up type of approach. Notice you will see verses like Genesis 50:20; Isaiah 40:31; Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 6:6-8; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 4:13; James 4:7, 10; 1 Peter 5:6-7; Romans 8:28; Jeremiah 29:11; and anything in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Don’t get me wrong because those verses are all amazing and life-changing. But all have a context located in Scripture but also a historical context. You don’t get that on a Twitter feed or on a status update. Two problems I see with this approach:
- This approach has the danger of taking verses out of context. Jeremiah 29:11 is my classic example: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Little do they realize that in context God is speaking to the people who will have to endure exile in Babylon for 70 years (29:10)! Then they will propser! That doesn’t sound so appealing on a coffee-cup does it?
- This approach has the danger of neglecting other verses in Scripture. I jokingly put on my facebook status these words: “Anti-coffee cup verse: ‘When a man or a woman has spots on the skin of the body, white spots, the priest shall look, and if the spots on the skin of the body are of a dull white, it is leukoderma that has broken out in the skin; he is clean’ (Lev. 13:38-39).” I wanted to make the point that nobody puts that as a daily bible verse (rightfully so) but does it deserve any less attention? Nobody “liked” that on my status nor did they comment on that. Furthermore, the verses that we may need to be paying attention to are often the verses that do not pop-up in our verse-of-the-day websites (Luke 13:3 anyone?).
The flip side of this discussion is that these things are not bad in-and-of-themselves. If they aide you in a daily walk with God then it is a good thing. But these things should never be ends to the goal of spiritual formation. Reading the bible in 90 days (or a year) has the same danger as the verse-of-the-day approach. We need to learn how to read Scripture and read it well. We should not neglect the “tough” parts of the bible just because we can’t understand them. There are books upon books that are written to teach you how to read the bible. Matter-of-fact there is a book called, How to read the bible for all its worth. Check it out sometime.
I hope this blog post has challeneged you and if I offended you…I am sorry and ignore it.