Something very sad is happening in contemporary Christianity. People are just not giving the Bible the attention it deserves. Research shows that the number of Christians who read the Bible on a daily or even regular basis is dropping at an alarming rate. Nowadays, it seems, many view Scripture not as a book to read regularly but as a text book that one dips into when wishing to remind oneself of the basis of the faith, or when seeking an answer to some perplexing spiritual issue. However we look at it there is little doubt that the Bible is not being viewed by many of today’s Christians with the same degree of importance as it once was.
There are a number of reasons for this. Liberal Christianity – which puts it own views above God’s views – has attacked the authority and sufficiency of the Bible causing many to believe that whilst the Bible is a good book, even a great book, it is not necessarily God’s book, in the sense that He is its Author. Whatever degree of inspiration may be claimed for the Bible (they say) it is no higher than that which can be claimed for other sacred works such as Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno.
But before we spend too long focusing on what is happening in liberal Christianity we must not overlook the fact that something sinister is going on in many of our evangelical/charismatic churches too. In a lot of these communities (thankfully not all) the Christian life is portrayed as less a matter of assimilating truth from the Bible than experiencing a spiritual high. The leaders of such churches, albeit unwittingly, may be conveying the message that the Christian life is more about experiencing something than learning something.
Duncan Leighton, a minister in New Zealand writing in Evangelism Today (August 2000 edition) spoke for all who have a concern about this when he wrote:
There are many who feel that church has become an irrelevance. Music dominates. Sentimental jingles have replaced largely doctrinal-teaching hymns which prepare people for the uncertainties of life. The messages are often pick and mix affairs with the Bible treated like a Promise Box full of goodies with everything nice inside. Much of the resulting doctrine is built upon little more than clever observations and personal experience rather than upon the timeless revelations of God.
Pastors and Christian leaders who do not hold up to their congregations the importance of getting into the Bible for themselves may one day be in the position of pastoring communities who are charismatically sophisticated but biblically illiterate. Whilst I am all for genuine spiritual encounters I have no hesitation in saying that faith and certainty are anchored more to historical and biblical fact than they are to ecstatic spiritual experiences.
Another reason why regular reading of the Bible is dropping amongst today’s community of Christians may be due to the fact that people in general don’t read as much as they once did. Publishers tell us that bulky books are going out of fashion because people, especially the younger generation, have neither the time nor inclination to read them. Thin paperbacks are therefore the order of the day and, as a result, there is a good deal of literary slimming going on. The Bible is a bulky book. It has about 773,000 words, 1,189 chapters and 66 books. What a book! For this reason many people find the thought of ploughing through it from start to finish somewhat daunting.
However, I think the real reason for this drop-off in Bible reading turns on how the Bible is viewed. One’s convictions on the character and nature of the book makes an enormous difference in one’s approach to it. If one believes, for example, that the Old Testament is nothing more than a fragmentary record of a group of unimportant Semetic tribes, and the New Testament nothing more than the record of a good man named Jesus of Nazareth (and some of His chief disciples) whose main message was that we should love our neighbours as ourselves, then the Bible deserves no exceptional respect. But if a man or woman believes, on the other hand, that, though the Bible was written over a period of fifteen hundred years by about forty penmen, but was actually authored by God, and is His one and only published work, then he or she will come to the book in a completely different frame of mind.