I'm noticing an alarming trend in many churches today. Maybe the issue has always been around, or maybe I'm just more aware of it nowadays, but I'm seeing a progressive increase in what I call "soundbite Christianity".
What I mean by this is that I will often see people quoting a verse out of the Bible (sometimes completely out of context) but they won't spend the time to actually see where in the Bible the verse comes from. Nor will they take the time to read through the Bible book by book to see what it says as a whole. As a result, I've lost track of the times I've seen people rehash what another preacher has said only to say something different and contradictory the next week because they heard yet another online sermon by someone else.
I'm not sure what the root causes of this issue are, but I'm sure part of the blame can be placed on our increasingly technologically based culture and our continued bombardment by all types of media. The problem with the all the messages is that many of them are either advertisements or a rehashing of what someone else has said. In some cases, it's just noise, and it is getting more difficult to sort out the truth from the noise. Add to this a general increase in "busyness" in our culture, and a general, long term tiredness seems to set in. As a result, it's easier to just repeat what someone else has said rather than work things through on your own.
That said, we are also in an unprecendented era of communication. We can communicate all the way around the world in less than a second, have access to all sorts of video and audio online, etc. Along with that are ample resources to help someone along in their Bible studies, including numerous reference books, Bible study books, audio and video versions of the Bible, etc.
Yet soundbite Christianity (and along with it, Biblical illiteracy) still seems to be increasing.
In some cases, Bible studies that are focused on Scriptural books rather than the Bible itself add to this trend. Now don't get me wrong, there are many sound books out there that are great for increasing your understanding of the Word, how to apply it, etc. Those can be great starting points. But at some point, a believer needs to sit down with the Bible itself and read it on its own terms.
But what about many churches nowadays that read an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, a New Testament passage, and then a few verses out of a Gospel every Sunday? Isn't that a good starting point?
The sad fact is, those are the only pieces of Scripture most believers hear or read all week long. In many denominations the lectionary system is still in widespread use, and it either revolves on a one or a three year cycle. It's covers a decent amount of basic ground, but it's surprising how much information gets left out.
Many times I've also seen the weekly readings turned into soundbites. For example, a few weeks ago I noticed that the New Testament reading was taken from Acts 6-7. The only problem was large portions were skipped over in the reading. We read about how Stephen was chosen and prayed over. Then the reading skipped down to where he was stoned and Paul (Saul) stood by and watched. Completely removed from the reading was Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin and the message within it. In the end, it left several people confused as to why Stephen was actually stoned. I subsequently pulled out a Bible and explained to those gathered about the missing information in the readings.
Other times I've seen whole verses selectively dropped out of a Psalm. Very strange.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and bash on the lectionary system. In some skilled and gifted preacher's hands, there have been some amazing sermons given. The system has also been around for centuries, for what it is worth. But the sad part is that it is the same readings every year (or three years). And it is repeated over and over and over...
What Gets Lost
If our only exposure to the Word comes in soundbites, many things get lost.
Context gets lost. Meaning gets lost and replaced by the mood of the day. The interconnections between the books and verses of the Bible (via symbolism, quotations, fufilled prophecy, etc.) get distorted or go missing altogether.
Know what else suffers? Discernment. Our own understanding of God's character suffers. Your peace of mind suffers. Our one-on-one time with the Lord suffers. I find it funny that I know people who can spend hours reading 800 page novels/non-fiction books, but won't give up ten minutes of their day to read a single chapter out of the Bible on an even semi-regular basis. It's sad, but an ever increasing reality.
I know for many years I put off reading the Bible all the way through. I read a few books out of it, and some of those I read multiple times. Eventually, however, God led me off of the fence and I came to realize how foolish it was to have procrastinated on such a subject for so long. I've also come to realize that despite multiple readings, I'll never get to the bottom of the Word.