Recently, I had the opportunity to deliver a 15-minute sermon at a preaching lab that is part of a Student Fellowship that I am affiliated with on campus. Once a month, 2 students are given the opportunity to preach, encourage fellow students and get critiqued by an alumnus with several years preaching experience. So in November, I got a chance. While I was preparing the message, I thought about the fact that I wasn’t using some type of personal story in the introduction. There was so much in the text to deal with (I was using 2 Chronicles 20:1-12), I only had 15 minutes and I wanted to make sure I covered the points I was wishing to draw out in the text. All I needed to do was set up the context, or so I thought. Of course, the one critique I received from Kevin (the evaluator), is that he would have appreciated a better introduction with some type of story. Another classmate, encouraged me with the same point indicating that while he and I were people that didn’t necessarily need that type of introduction, most people need to hear some type of personal connection in order to engage with the topic.
Flash forward to the this past week. This came across my radar a few days ago – a personalized Bible where you can insert your name into the text where personal pronouns are present. Here is the caption
Have you ever inserted your name as you read the Bible to make it more personal? Now you can experience the reality of God’s love and promises in a way you never thought possible. In the Personal Promise Bible, you will read your first name personalized in over 5,000 places throughout the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs, over 7,000 places throughout the complete Old and New Testaments.
Why the need to do this? Why is it that we can only experience the promises of God’s love by personalizing the Bible? Why is the Biblical text only relevant unless there is a personal interest?
I hate to say this, but I’m afraid that we have engaged in a form of Christianity that is only meaningful as long as we are personally impacted by it. We have accommodated me-centered theology because we long for the personal touch. That desire in our souls for a personal touch from God for Him to fill every nook and crevice has translated into rampant subjectivism that focuses how we are impacted by the Bible, by theology and by the learning process. I think its why Bible study is only meaningful if it makes a personal impact on us, why learning can create this imaginary disconnect from our head and heart. Who wants to just let the Bible say what is says? Who wants dry intellectual learning, boring systematic theology books and commentaries that will assist in arriving at reasoned understanding of the Biblical text when you can have life application versions that get right to that personal impact? We want love, we want feelings, we want joy, we want God.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should not be impacted personally by God and learning about Him. I am not saying that faith should involve a lack of emotions. God did reach down to make himself known, to reconcile lost people to Himself, to make those who were spiritually dead alive in Christ and incorporated into His family. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit ought to infuse every believer with the reality of the presence of God. It should inspire awe in every believer that God invites us to participate in His plan and program. That truth most assuredly will evoke a range of emotions and automatically captivate personal interests.
But that is just it: it is His plan and program and the central focus is Christ, not us. I’m afraid that quest to personalize Christianity has pried it away from the central focus. God has condescended to reveal Himself to humanity, with the ultimate revelation in Christ. He has provided a means to communicate His message to His people. The Bible expresses His heart, His story, His plan. Learning what the Biblical text is saying is learning about Him. And there is a danger in jumping too fast to the personal impact such as the personalized Bible. We’ll miss the significance of collective nature of God’s promises delivered specifically to Israel and God’s program established in the church.
We can’t bypass learning about God that is centered in His revelation to get to a personal impact nor should we insist that there be some personal connection in order for us to participate in the learning process. We have to learn about God about Him on His terms. This entails understanding how God revealed Himself progressively by understanding the layout of the Bible, understanding the major themes and correlations. We must understand proper Bible study methods to derive the meaning of the text as the author intended it. Bypassing the investigative process to get directly to personal application and engaging only if it means something to us not only circumvents learning about what God has provided, but, I dare say, is a rather selfish thing to do.
Take Michael’s example in this post about the husband or boyfriend that did not care to know anything about the woman, but just wanted to love her. Now suppose that same woman, in expressing her love for this man, wrote him letters so that he could get to know her better. She describes her past, her passions and plans. She lets him know all about her. What if he just read the letters in a way he wanted that assured maintaining his same level of feelings about the girl? He might skim over the confusing information, reject the difficult information, and maybe impose his own meaning of what she intended. He is only interested in hearing what will make him tingle. He just wants to love her and feel good about the relationship. Would that not be selfish on his part? He has made the relationship all about him.
Friends, I’m afraid that this is exactly what we do with the insistence of personal interests – we maintain a self-focused interest in an eternal program that is not about us although we do have the immense privilege to participate in it. It is a program that should motivate learning as much as we can, loving as much as we can, and serving as much as we can, whether we are personally impacted by it or not.
As one who takes great care in understanding what God has communicated on His terms, I have discovered the beautiful thing is just how personal God really is.