So, why has the bible become redundant to so many Christians today? Why has this fundamental text fallen out of favour with contemporary churches, bible study groups and individual Christians? Well, I don't have all the answers (despite my know-it-all ways)! However there is one very dominant charge being levelled at the bible today; the bible is too 'formal' and 'arduous' to read!
It seems that for some Christians the bible is no longer pertinent to spiritual development and authenticity. That's right, you heard me, the bible is now too much for us modern folk to digest, that we now need someone else to do it for us. Why read the bible, when we can read an opinion piece on biblical matters, which in any current Christian book store can vary greatly from moderate commentaries to radical doctrines.
Recently a friend of ours from Coffs Harbour experienced this precise stance within a local cell group. Our friend (who has been a hungry, studious and discerning Christian for over 40 years) was eager to engage with a collection of mature Christians on a deeper spiritual level. He wasn't necessarily looking for a traditional study structure, or for something particularly formal. He simply wanted to explore the word. There's nothing erroneous with that is there? Well unfortunately for our friend there was. Studying God's word at a bible study wasn't exactly what this cell group had in mind. And quoting from scripture, well forget about it. Apparently that was just pretentious. Seriously! For some Christians, God's word has become both redundant and ostentatious.
Shocking? Well for our friend it certainly was. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. He couldn't believe that a group of mature Christians deemed the bible too serious and formal to be worked into a bible study. So instead of referring to the bible, they relied on their feelings. Christianity for them was more instinctual than biblical.
So they chose to watch a faith themed DVD. Now while there is nothing wrong with watching a DVD or listening to an audio on topics such as Christian living and relationships (I do it all the time), it is problematic when these texts become a substitute for the bible.
Now to just re-affirm, I am notâ€"I repeat NOTâ€"saying that the bible is the only resource Christians should utilise during a bible study. That's just downright silly. Of course bible studies should embrace whatever materials they can to produce informative, engaging and spiritually enriching studies. You only have to visit your local Christian book store to realise that there are some seriously awesome materials at our disposal. Yet despite the plethora of written, visual and audio Christian materials available to contemporary churches and study groups, the relevance, validity and significance of the bible cannot be surpassed.
Why you ask? Well the bible is the bible. It is central to our belief system. If we are not engaging with this text, then we are not wholly engaging with God. Worship songs, daily devotionals, audio sermons, and Christian commentaries are all great resources, but they are often fused with bias, opinions and interpretations, however subtle they may be. There is no substitute for the bible.
So why do so many Christians struggle to read the bible? It's not as if you have to be studious to read it. You don't have to be a history buff or an avid reader. You don't have to understand the Hebrew or Greek language or understand the social, historical and cultural contexts in which the bible was produced. You don't even have to be an intellectual (thank God) to understand the many biblical books and verses produced thousands of years ago. The bible was written with us in mind. It was for man, and woman of course, alone.
There isn't a feeling, or experience that wasn't captured and explored in the bible. You're having family trouble or suffering from low self-esteem. The bible has the answers. You're worried about life after death or what purpose your life serves. The bible has the answers.
It was composed with us in mind, in terms that we could both understand and relate to.
Sure there are a stack of books and commentaries ready to give us an explanation or answer to these questions (I'm actually reading a fantastic one right now called When The Game is Over, It All Goes Back In The Box), but in reality the bible should always be our central source of biblical content and guidance. Every Christian resource we read or listen to should align with the bible. If it doesn't, then we need to sincerely question that material. If we don't, then we can jeopardise our faith. We are more susceptible to false teachings. We are more likely to put greater reliance and even faith in the words of man than of God. And most of all, we can seriously hinder our relationship with Christ.
It is only through reading and engaging with his words that we truly develop and strength our Christian walk with Him.
Alison Barkley lives in Newcastle and is a post graduate student at Macleay College in Sydney in book editing and publishing.
Alison Barkley's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/alison-barkley.html