Every once in a while, questions will pop into my head that I find intriguing. This is one of them; Is devotional reading killing the church?
By “devotional reading” I mean the kind of reading you find in books like “Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul”, The Daily Bread, or Rejoice. This kind of reading usually has a scripture verse followed by an inspirational story (that may or may not be connected to the verse) or poem. Often time there is a lesson to the story like “Never give up” or “God is with you in the tough times” and so on. There is usually a prayer at the end to wrap the whole thing up with a pretty bow.
If you know me at all, you know that I don’t own any “Chicken soup for the…” books ( I don’t even like most soups). Nor do I read devotional materials of any kind. But many, many people do. So I might not be the best guy to ask and answer the question, but I have a hunch…
My hunch is that devotional reading, as well as things like “quite time”, reframe the Christian life in a way that blunts the sharp edge of everything that Jesus said and did. In doing so, it turns what Jesus intended to be a movement of grace and love, driven by the power of suffering love (ours as well as His), into good advice, comforting words, and an “everything will work out fine in the end” message.
When was the last time you opened up a devotional book and it said, “Unless you are willing to die like Jesus the world will remain as it is. So, what’s it going to be?” [And when I say “die like Jesus” I mean die confronting the evil and violence of a world that has gone off the rails.] I bet you’ve never read that in a devotional book, but Jesus said stuff like that all the time. If we read the gospels – not 1 isolated verse at a time with a clever story and a moral lesson, but the gospels – we would be different people. We would know that we are called to something that is firmly within our grasp and radically world shaping. It’s within our grasp, not because of who we are, but because of who Jesus is, and who his Father is and because of who the Holy Spirit is.
And this thing that we are called to – this small, seed shaped, leaven-in-the-bread, candle on a stand thing that we are called to – doesn’t involve us being something that we aren’t, but being fully what we are.
Devotional reading, in my view, doesn’t help with that. It helps people cope. But we weren’t created and called to cope! We were created for so much more. The more the Bible is used as 365 promises for a better tomorrow the more we lose sight of that “so much more”. We also come to live as if my comfort is God’s goal. Too often the message is “Thank you Jesus, for suffering for me…so that I don’t have to”. Only Jesus message is, “Come die with me and we’ll change the world.”
Something to think about! What say ye?