Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Faith vs Entertainment

There once was a day when people were able to listen to, or read, lengthy discourses on problems of the day. They understood what was being said or written and knew the difference between statements that were logical and coherent and those that were self-contradictory. Most people in North America have lost that capability.

Today we are bombarded with sound bites and visual images, most of which have no relevance to our lives. News has become entertainment, giving us the impression of being informed without giving us any useful information. Events in distant corners of the world are made known to us as soon as they happen, but no context is given to understand why or what it may mean. Local events are reported with the same lack of context or coherence, leaving us more and more estranged from our neighbours.

This is the thesis of Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. It was first published in 1985 and is still as illuminating as it was then.

Something similar has happened in Christian circles. Many people take a hop, skip and jump approach to Bible reading, trying to get to all the interesting bits without bothering to have to figure out the context. Reference Bibles reinforce that approach, making it easier for people to find those interesting bits. Most of them subtly offer their own analysis of what those bits mean, which is often not quite what you will find if you actually read the whole book.

Bible Story books for children do much the same thing, picking out the events that make the best stories. The lessons they draw from those stories don’t always coincide with what you will discover if you read the whole story in the Bible.

Expository preaching seems to have largely fallen out of favour, people’s attention spans having grown shorter than they used to be.

What can be done? May I suggest that we abandon all the so-called helps and go back to reading the Bible, the whole Bible. I realize that to most people that may seem like a recommendation to tedious drudgery. But people in past generations found the Bible interesting, engrossing, hard to put down.

Some of us still do. So, I guess our task is to talk about the Bible and how interesting and meaningful we find it to be.

Dumbing down the gospel

I think it is dawning on many people that evangelical Christianity has shallowed out over the past generation or two. I will be so bold as to suggest some causes which are not often mentioned by others.

Children’s Bible story books: Parents have felt inadequate to help their children understand what the Bible is all about, and these attractive, nicely illustrated books have seemed like a godsend. But are they? The writers pick some of the more dramatic accounts in the Bible and attempt to weave a stand alone moral teaching into each story. This requires the insertion of editorial comments that may miss the relationship of the event recorded in the Bible to the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. The writer’s comments are well-intended, but sometimes presume an ability to read God’s mind to draw conclusions that are not even hinted at in the Bible.

Study Bibles: People feel intimidated at trying to study and understand the Bible, so many turn to reference Bibles that promise to aid them in their study of the Bible. The problem is that these study Bibles really become a substitute for personal Bible study. The point of view of the compiler of the study Bible is not blatantly displayed, yet it affects how they see the relationship of one passage of the Bible to others. Their point of view leads them to link passages that really have no connection to each other, to miss other links, and to use one passage as the key to understanding other similar passages that really say something quite different. It is would be better to trust the Bible to interpret itself and not separate verses from their context.

The desire for Christian unity: The desire is good, but the approach leads to downplaying denominational differences in doctrine and practice. I think most of us will admit that not all the differences were inspired by God, but to just abandon them has in many cases led to abandoning clear Scriptural teachings. True spiritual unity cannot be achieved by a spirit of compromise, but only by obedience to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. The “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is not the same thing as deciding to make nice to each other in public.

The remedy to all of these things is to become like the Bereans and search the Scriptures daily and to obey its teachings.

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