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.

    14 replies to "A Theology of Me"

    • rick

      Good thoughts and concerns.

      Such an individualized approach leaves out the idea of “church” (not just the building or service, but the overall concept of a community of saints); not just in the present, but also looking at the wisdom and teachings of the church throughout history.

    • kwilson

      Lisa, what your reviewer was really saying (though I bet he would deny it once it is bluntly stated) was that the Text can not stand alone in delivering the appropriate message. That is just wrong, no matter how well intentioned it may be.

      Your comments on the contemporary reasons are quite correct.

      I am glad that you didn’t include a personal story. If you had included one, none of this would have come out and you would not have written this post.

    • Truth Sleuth

      I felt very engaged by this blog post, I think it is because you shared a personal story to start it off with 🙂

      Excellent thoughts!

    • Lisa Robinson

      Thanks for the comments. I should clarify that I am not opposed to introducing a sermon topic with a personal interest story. My commentary about it speaks to the fact that we need one at all. Naturally, a speaker will want to engage the audience with the topic. So it is far better to include it and engage than reject it on general principle.

    • Kerry

      Excellent post. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Jim

      I must confess, as I was reading your post one example sprung to my mind. I dislike prayer walks…. You know, when a group of christians gather together and parade around a campus or buildings asking God to bless everything in their sight and to pray with everyone and anyone they meet. I pray and have love for others but the whole processional thing seems to be more about the self-righteous warmth and feelings they get from this experience than for the actual people they may meet and pray for.

      I’m hoping this is not the case but the exception, but the idea of coming up to a stranger and asking them if they could be prayed for leaves me a bit edgy. First of all how do we know of any needs a stranger may have. Secondly, it puts someone who is not a believer under the impression that they are inferior and need our help. I believe that getting to know someone and building relationships is vital to having them actually listen to your testimony. It just seems that these people’s prayer walk is about their personal interest….it makes them feel good…..

    • J.R.

      I’m not new to the church but I am ignorant to the systematic of homiletics. Why do many find it necessary to lead off with a story prior to engaging the biblical text? Could it be that there has been a shift in secular culture of more entertainment, less reading, less thought, less content, and less analysis? And in some ways this trend has found its way into the church as well and has begun the “dumbing” down of the church. It seems as though we have become a sound bite society and if we are not quickly entertained, grabbed, or amused by a story our thoughts go elsewhere. I believe one essential reality for the church which dictates its strengths and weaknesses is the character of its preaching and teaching.

      Any thoughts?

    • Susan

      I think that you have touched on something very valid, Lisa. I think that a fairly good measure of how self-centered our theology is: are we sharing the gospel with those who are lost? If the mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel; how are we going to accomplish that if we are absorbed in self-focused theology? We don’t tend to open our mouth and share the truth about Jesus with nonbelievers unless we care enough about them…love them enough…to take that ‘risk’. It’s a matter of obeying a command of Christ….not a side-option for a believer. Evangelism is Christ-centered and other-centered, and often involves much self-sacrifice (time etc.).

    • ChrisM

      J.R., I’d agree that a cultural shift is a factor at play. The average U.S. household has its television on for 8 hours a day versus the second most country, Spain, of four hours. And after that, the number of hours drop off dramatically more on a percentage basis. The takeaway is that we are highly socialized in the U.S. to desire passive entertainment absent of any mind-processing requirements. And so I assert that this dynamic naturally flows into what people believe makes an optimal lesson or sermon.

      I’ve become more aware of this issue by observing how my church trains bible study teachers; they are instructed to spend at least half the lesson time on life application of the text (which is virtually all stories attempting to make that connection with the audience), which of course comes at the expense of teaching the text. Further, I think this “dumbing down” to which you refer is more so an attempt to keep the message to where a first time church attender will understand what is being taught. Thus the challenge for our clergy is to balance the lower knowledge base of the first time attender with that of a long-time congregant but yet without diluting the experience for either while meeting that balance.

      With this widespread desire for passive experiences permeating churches, I’d say the best we can do is to educate that the issue exists – thank you Lisa – and then for us all to do an introspective examination to see what areas of our own socialization redirect our church to attempt to meet “our needs” instead of focusing on glorifying our Lord.

    • Leslie Jebaraj

      Another great post, Lisa!

    • Greg

      I don’t recall Jesus ever using a personal example during his teachings, except when commenting on his relationship with the Father. I’m also pretty sure that, whenever Paul preached, the only personal information he shared was his testimony of how he became a Christian. What this tells me is that, even when we share personal stories, the focus should still be God. If we have life in Christ, our testimony to that fact should be enough of a personal touch. After all, if people are genuinely concerned with relationships, what greater relationship to hear about than one with God?

    • Gary Simmons

      Jesus used lots of examples that are easy to relate to. Oddly, they had so much more to do with farming than carpentry. They may not have been personal anecdotes (and we have no reason to believe he didn’t use those!), but he did use everyday images that were easily understood.

    • Greg

      It’s true that Jesus used everyday images that were easily understood, except by those blind to the truth (but that’s another matter). But, there’s a difference between that and frequent egocentric examples. While we have no reason to think he didn’t use personal anecdotes, we also have no reason to believe he did. In his case, though, even a personal anecdote would have been God-centered.

    • Bible Study

      The bible I have found to be a very personal book. There should be at least some things found in the scripture that we have faced. Jesus told us as he was, so are we in this world. He told us they would call us devils, this is one that I personally have encountered. The bible says, “he shall be called a Nazarene”. This one I faced while being persecuted in a baptist denomination, and I am in no way affiliated with the Nazarene Church. He told us they would speak evil against us falsely, which is another I have encountered. Whether or not we seek to make the bible personal is one thing, but if we are in Christ, we should have experiences with some degree of likeness to Jesus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.