The problem is, if I can be honest with you for a moment, is that I struggle to live up to the standards that I read about in Scripture and so can become quite fearful of reading the words contained therein. And because of this fear, I become unable to defend the word of God adequately enough. This then means that when I’m challenged by theological thinkers telling me what their own interpretation of what the Bible says, I’m not equipped to deal with the challenge or, indeed, affirm the point. Subsequently, I can find myself shrinking back from giving a bold confident statement because I’m unsure whether it’s filled with Biblical truth or has been filtered and diluted through fear and anxiety, becoming distorted in this process and ultimately unhelpful. So my answers to the Scriptural challenges turn into ‘nodding-head’ actions, or I even rush to ask another question rather than give a faithful answer. This becomes just another peg placed into the ground on a communal ‘journey’ where no answers are wrong and no answers are correct. It’s a place where finding another question to ask is more agreeable than together finding answers.
Here’s another thing that happens quite easily: I find it more desirable to read books about the Bible than to actually read the Bible. What happens then is I become emboldened by someone else’s view for a while, only to be equally pulled in sometimes the almost opposite direction by the next trendy Christian book or funky, popular communicator. I end up confused, thought-exhausted and less encouraged to go and read the Bible. Now, it seems, I need others to interpret for me using words that sound eloquent and deep. It’s like I’ve become excited about the idea of an idea without knowing what the original idea was or whether it was any good.
I don’t think I’m alone in all this. In fact, I know for certain I’m not. The power and influence of social media has shown me people knocked back and forth between competing ideas, ideologies, and theologies. I read the posts and see the nature of them change from one year to the next.
Statistics tell us that over 1 billion people are active in just a 24-hour period on Facebook alone – over 1 billion opinions which filter, and pressure, people into one camp or the next. Intense online arguments happen regularly, despite the fact that everyone knows that no-one ever really changes their mind based on a scrolling post that takes five minutes to reach the bottom of. In this online world, we really want to plant our flag, show people the colour of our real thoughts. We even sometimes hide behind a post we really mean, but we present it in a way that suggests we are playing the ‘devils advocate’ (unfortunate phrase!).
We are pressured by political correctness to say the right thing, but actually, more often than not, we don’t say anything knowing we are really against the popular Zeitgeist. We’re fearful of being hurt, fearful of being accused of something or, most markedly, fearful of rejection, especially from our friends, even if those friends have never shown any attitude towards to you to say they could or would!
We see this in the real world too.
Consider this: We have ever-widening circles of being able to share honestly with people. With those right at the centre of these friendship circles, we share openly and without restraint knowing that these people, maybe our partners or best friends, are very unlikely to reject us. But as we widen the circle we begin to hide more and more aspects of ourselves, until we reach the very outer circle where we share very little, but, through a desire to be accepted by the larger community, we simply give almost imperceptible nods of agreement to things we’re not actually sure about or even suggest nothing at all.
Once again we ask more questions than give answers.
This is the modern culturally accepted way of ‘doing things’. We place that peg I mentioned earlier, down once more on our mutual path of discovery which we find just leads us to a massive echo chamber of identical thoughts and statements.
I have run a number of groups over that last ten years of being part of the leadership team at Freedom Church and without question – and I say this without judgment, only as a fact to present to you – the thing that folks felt the most challenged with was reading their Bibles either regularly or even at all. So you see, I’m not just voicing my opinion on how we Christians approach our Holy Scripture – it’s something I’ve seen over and over again. Wonderfully honest, fantastic people have opened their hearts to me over the years to share what a struggle it is to read the Bible.
So where does this leave us as Christians, a group of people caught up in this landscape of shifting sands, where one decade to the next we find Biblical truth eroding in popular culture, yet we sometimes have no response because we don’t know enough to respond.
Explosions of self-help books are evident in the world seeking answers from other sources. Even within the Christian community, we have a plethora of books waiting to help us find the ‘real you’ in Christ. And amongst all of this, we rely less and less on the inspired word of God to guide us and direct us. We find ourselves in a world, both inside and outside the church, where the word of God has McNuggets of wisdom, but the larger meal of context seems so hard to stomach. We live in a world where the acceptance of the word of God as truth is refuted constantly and knowledge of Scripture is at its lowest point.
Before I publish part two of this short series and try to give an answer and a way forward for how we handle all this, please consider this verse from 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
“Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another – showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 MSG)