Originally called, “Back to the Bible”, I decided to abandon that as a title for this article because it is too tame for the dire spiritual situation of today. “They don’t read their Bibles anymore.”; this was the exasperated cry from a young adults pastor concerning the undisciplined spiritual state of Christian youth.
Christian Today in fact ran an article on this topic a few years ago under the heading, “Only 20% Australian Christians read Bible daily, new campaign helps to form better habits.” The well meaning campaign was by the Bible Society, but no campaign, programme or course can heal a spiritual problem as deep as the one confronting us.
My conviction is that only a genuine revival will significantly alter the Bible reading habits of Australian Christians.
Culture versus Christ
The obvious cause of the malaise in scripture knowledge is the fast pace of modern technological society. Mobile phones, emails, Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix grab at our attention constantly. It would be easy to complain, especially as older Christians are inclined to do, that the crisis in Bible reading represents a lack of self-discipline, especially amongst the young.
Biblically however spiritual discipline isn’t a matter of strength will but is a fruit of the Spirit of God (2 Timothy chapter 1 verse 7). C.S. Lewis was on the right track in saying that despite all appearances the busy person is actually a person too lazy to deal with the profound issues of life.
This implies that at a level deeper than conscious awareness the Bible is actually being avoided by many contemporary Christians. This relates to what the scriptures call the heart.
In scripture the heart is a way of talking about the very centre of a person which moves their decision making; “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs chapter 4 verse 23).
Post-resurrection Jesus rebuked his disciples as “‘foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’” (Luke chapter 24 verse 25). They needed the “eyes of their hearts enlightened” (Ephesians chapter 1 verse18). Why? Because the heart is a storehouse of idols (Ezekiel chapter 14 verse 3).
Putting it most simply, the majority of Australian Christians have turned away from regular Bible reading because the desires of their hearts are in contradiction with the desires of God’s heart expressed for us in scripture. Can this really be true or am I being harsh and judgemental?
Failed Bible Reading
As Christians our problem isn’t our ignorance of the Bible but that at the level of lived experience it seems to have failed us! We are like the Pharisees of old, who though well acquainted with the story, were spoken to by Jesus as if they had not read the Scriptures! “you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” he said (Mark chapter 12 verse 24) he remarked.
These were men blinded by legalism, money and a longing for human praise; nothing has changed! We are “dull of hearing” (Hebrews chapter 5 verse 11) because we want the Bible to say what we want it to say rather than to hear God’s Word through it.
If we are interested there’s only one possible way out of this catastrophe.
Lord Heal Us
The easy physical availability of the Bible in Australia has confused us into assuming its spiritual message is just as available. This is to treat the Bible as a commodity, a dreadfully sinful assumption.
As in resurrection power Jesus “opened the minds” (Luke chapter 24 verse 45) of his slow hearted disciples to understand the Scriptures so only through a supernatural act of divine light shining into our souls can we ever hear the Lord through scripture. We need a miraculous inbreaking of the power of God’s kingdom to heal our natural inability to hear the Lord through scripture.
This can only happen if we go through two great shifts of mind. The first is a move from pride to humility (1 Peter chapter 5 verses 5-6). The second is a willingness to accept the opposition and hardships which will come upon us when we really do hear God speak to us; as the Bible itself says, “we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Acts chapter 14 verse 22).
If we are up to it one thing is sure, the Bible will never be approached as a boring and predictable book again. Do we really want such a dangerous change!
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
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