I picked up my weekly reading material at the church today. It’s a magazine called the Lookout, which let me say, is often a wonderful read. It is the standard magazine for independent Christian Churches, along with its little brother “The Christian Standard.” Ministers and writers from Christian Churches and the independent Churches of Christ do most of the writing in these publications. It is often thoughtful, insightful, very deep and filled with (as we like to say in the ministry) “meat.”
If you’re a vegetarian, what would you use as a figure of speech? “That’s got a lot of …fiber… in it?” yeahhh, not sure veggies can substitute as well in a sentence…
At any rate, the Lookout has been running a 3 week series on the minor prophets. The minor prophets are the books of the Old Testament after Ezekiel, which would include Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. (Yes I did write those without looking.) They are called minor prophets simply because they are shorter books, not because they are less important. In fact, many of the Scriptures contained in these books are right smack in the middle of controversial topics such as those surrounding the return of Christ and the end of the world.
Which is why it strikes me as such a shame that we can so easily take these Scriptures and write boring articles about them. Now first, they weren’t ALL boring, but it’s not exactly a newsflash if I were to admit that occasionally a Bible study, a religious article, or a sermon is uh… boring. Ok, maybe more than occasionally. Don’t want to be sinful and lie you know. So without any earth-shattering surprise, today when I sat down to read one of the articles, it didn’t exactly grab me.
Church people will tell you that if you’re bored, then it’s your fault. Sometimes that’s true, but other times, perhaps many times, it’s actually the fault of the preacher, writer, teacher, or leader. And it’s not because they didn’t use the latest video projection system, or youtube video, or had the audacity to speak without background music.
It’s usually because, in an attempt to satisfy everyone and avoid any pitfalls or controversy or any rocking of the boat, they watered down the word of God to a couple of nice principles that everyone agrees with. Good principles no doubt, but as any media savvy person knows, if you want to get and keep someone’s attention, it never hurts to be provocative. The sad part is, the Bible is incredibly provocative. It’s a lightning rod on many issues, and yet the world has somehow gained the impression that studying the Bible is boring??? Whose fault is that really?
After years of preaching and teaching, the world around us is largely Biblical Illiterate, but hey, at least we avoided controversy right? Yeah, we’re going to get pats on the back in heaven… *shudder*
Ah, what do we expect? If a preacher isn’t extremely careful in presenting a controversial subject, or if he takes one side or the other too much, we reject the message and the messenger. Soon, he’s out of a job, or ineffective in his current one.
For instance, in the article in question, if the writer (who holds a doctorate) had taken a particular position, he would have undoubtedly faced disagreement and opposition by people in his church who would undoubtedly read it. If he had disagreed with me, I might have sent in a letter voicing my disagreement. An entire hornets nest could have been stirred up within the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.
So the writer simply wrote this, “While the apocalyptic visions have been debated at length, it is clear they gave hope for the future.” With one sentence he safely dismissed the controversy and focused on a principle everyone agrees with.
And once again the Bible was watered down to avoid any problems and once again, it wasn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been. Even if he had disagreed with me and got my opinions in an uproar, I would have still been pouring over every word and argument and point. In fact, whether I would have wanted to admit it or not, I would have even learned something. Instead, I didn’t finish.
Maybe it’s just me, but within a church or a group of churches, we need to preach and teach the whole counsel of God and start learning how to agree to disagree sometimes. Our constant worry over offending each other has produced a boring Bible with all the charged issues edited out. It’s sort of like avoiding confrontation with your teenager. In the end, it doesn’t do anyone any favors.
Preach and teach the whole thing. It will force you to learn. You will be challenged. It will spark debate, but hey, it won’t be boring!
WHY BIBLE LESSONS ARE BORING (A SHORT LIST in NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
A. Lack Of Preparation. Leads to over using the same “favorite” verses and ignoring parts of the Bible the teacher or preacher doesn’t understand. Also leads to misleading teaching and misrepresentation of the Word of God. A preacher or teacher of the Bible, should be a student of the Bible as well.
B. Fear of Controversy. As mentioned at length above, waters down the Bible and leaves people ill-equipped to face certain issues, and false-teachers which inevitably come later. Also, produces lessons which work wonders on insomnia, and should not be used when operating heavy machinery.
C. Lack of Good Questions. For Bible studies, questions that are “good” are questions that can be answered by people without a Theology Degree and without reading the teacher’s mind. In other words, opinion questions or questions that ask what everyone would think themselves. Such as: “What would be the first thing you would do if you saw something on the news that fulfilled one of the prophecies we are studying?” Anyone can answer that. It breaks the ice for further free-flowing discussion and it helps people get to know each other. For articles or sermons or other types of formats, we don’t ask enough questions. We should ask more provocative questions that “make people think” and apply the message directly to the listeners. It’s hard to sleep when things are coming right at you.
D. We Know Everything. Or we think we do. This particular attitude shows up all the time in people who have heard the same themes at church, who have never seen the controversial issues addressed and who have finally come to the conclusion that the Bible is just about X,Y,and Z and that’s it. This attitude is also displayed in preachers/teachers/groups who assume everyone believes as they do if they want to go to heaven. For them, there is no other truth except their own. Either attitude with either group eventually makes for some boring Bible study. At least there is no controversy.
E. We Study Something Besides The Bible. This includes all those tangents we run after that might predict the return of Jesus Christ including who might be the anti-christ, where the temple will be rebuilt, what red heifer was born where, whose name equals 666, etc… It also includes spending more time on other issues (good as they are) and merely using a few out-of-context phrases from the Bible to back up our theory on family counseling, marriage, parenting, dealing with psychological issues, etc… It’s all good, but when we preach the Bible only in light of today’s “issues,” we end up with a Bible that is just as exciting as any self-help parenting book. OK, but not for everyone.
F. King James Only. Alright I’m just kidding, but you guys are all nuts you know that right? 🙂
Just stirring a bit of controversy….