The Word of God Lite

We live in an age where people seem to want everything to come in a lite version. Because of busyness, or laziness, or what have you, many people are seeking dumbed-down or radically curtailed versions of all sorts of things. Thus most things in life now have their own Reader’s Digest version it seems.

The question is whether this is always a good thing. Some things can and should be watered down. If I can get a bit off track for a moment, take beer for example. Lite beer is quite popular nowadays. However, in America a lite beer means being low in calories, while in Australia a lite beer means being low in alcohol.

I am not quite sure what that tells us about these two nations. Maybe Americans don’t mind getting drunk while losing weight. And perhaps Australians are eager to stay sober while getting fat. But this is an area where a lite version of events may not be a bad thing.

But one area where it may be a bad thing indeed is the Christian life. We really can’t have a discipleship-lite version of events, or a prayer-lite version, or a Scripture-lite version. Yet in all these areas and more we have exactly this taking place. We think we can get away with a stripped-down version of Christianity.

I don’t think it can work that way. There are no short-cuts to spirituality and the deeper life. Holiness and a close walk with God is the stuff of difficult decisions and major sacrifices, not cutting corners and seeking to take the easiest path.

So the Christian life just doesn’t work that way. And it is the same when it comes to the Word of God. We just can’t cut any corners here, or take any shortcuts. Simply read the 119th Psalm and see how important the Word is. But we live in a dumbed-down, take-the-easiest-path society.

So now we even have a chopped down version of Scripture. Of course I believe there already was a Reader’s Digest version of the Bible available years ago. But now we have another Bible-lite product. It is called The Story. Here is how, in part, one Christian site wrote it up:

“It’s on most people’s bucket list. But, unfortunately, many lose interest during the ‘begets’ in Genesis or the list of more than 600 laws in Leviticus. However, an innovative new Bible – The Story – is changing all that and helping thousands of people read the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation.

“‘Whether people are new to their faith or mature, reading the whole Bible is part of their “bucket list”,’ says Randy Frazee, creator of The Story Church-wide Experience and senior minister of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas where he teaches and leads in partnership with Max Lucado. ‘The Story is a tool to help them check that off their list.’

“Reading like a ‘novel’ and looking like a ‘trade fiction book,’ The Story consists of 31 chapters of carefully selected scripture. The Story helps readers understand God’s story from Genesis to Revelation and how their stories intersect with that of their creator. A quarter of the size of the Bible – and without the sub-headers or numbers – The Story is less intimidating than the entire Bible and offers transition summaries for those sections it omits.”

So what is a believer to make of all this? I have mixed feelings about it. There is no doubt at all that even in the churches we are suffering from biblical illiteracy big time. Thus anything to get Christians to actually start reading their Bibles can be a good thing.

But the question is, will they in fact be reading the Bible, the inspired and inerrant Word of God, or just a nice story, containing the biblical narrative? We know how much Scripture speaks to the life-transforming power of God’s Word. But can we say the same about a stripped-down rewritten story version of the Bible?

And with three-quarters of the Bible stripped away, the creators of The Story are effectively telling us that those parts are not so important, and they have determined for us those parts which are to be seen as important. That seems to give them a lot of power, while taking away power from us, the reader.

The real worry is that if believers get into The Story, they may simply stay there. That is, if the purpose is to get believers back to their Bibles, that is great. But if believers end up using The Story as a substitute for reading the Bible, then it may not be such a good thing after all.

Also, we have the clear warnings of Scripture about how we are not to add to or subtract from the Word of God (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18-19). And we are told that every word of God is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16). If we get a generation of weak and wishy-washy Christians dependent on a stripped down version of God’s Word, we may in fact be performing a disservice to the Christian community.

Of course to some extent similar sorts of concerns have been levelled against paraphrases, such as the Living Bible or The Message. The advice usually given about these much looser Bible translations is to enjoy them, but also to read a proper Bible translation along with them.

Perhaps similar advice can be given here. If the reader is looking for a quick overview of the biblical storyline, The Story might be a helpful tool. But it should never be seen as a substitute for the actual Word of God. A supplement, yes, but a replacement, no.

One further concern: the creators of this product think it is helpful because the church can “go through the Bible in less than a year”. But of course they already can do that now, with the entire Bible. If a person simply reads three chapters of the Bible a day, he can get through it in one year.

If we read four or five chapters a day, it is much less than a year. So this can be done already. And what does four chapters of Bible reading a day require? Maybe 20 minutes. If people who call themselves disciples of Christ cannot even find a lousy 20 minutes a day to read the Word of God, then they should seriously be questioning their own Christianity.

We spend far more time each day feeding our physical bodies. Why cannot any Christian spend at least 15 or 20 minutes a day feeding his soul and spirit? It seems to me the very thing we need to be doing today is encouraging believers to get back to radical discipleship, instead of making things even easier and less demanding for them.

To close, I must admit that I have not yet read The Story. It might turn out to be a pleasant surprise. But even if it does, I believe the concerns I raise above still hold. By all means, let us use various ways to get people into Scripture. That can only be a good thing. But let’s get people into the real Word of God, not just a lite version of it.

We already have far too much Christianity-lite. We don’t need to add any more to it. And for those who think I am being too harsh here, I encourage them to go back and read Psalm 119 in its entirety. That just might put a different perspective on things.

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25 Replies to “The Word of God Lite”

  1. I think their error is to refer to it as the Bible. It’s not the Bible, it’s an artistic rendering of certain parts of it.

    The danger is that some people will think that this is enough of the Bible, indeed better than the real thing, and go no further (as you’ve said).

    However, if might prove to be a good resource for people who are too intimidated by the real Bible, but can handle this.

    I purchased a kids’ Bible for my children, and they loved it. My 9 y/o son is now reading the ESV and is 1/2 way thought the NT, no less.

    But my main concern is about the way The Story is promoted. It should NOT be promoted as the Bible, but rather as something else… an artistic rendering of key parts of it, or something like that.

    Alister Cameron, Melbourne

  2. Thanks Alister

    Yes quite so. And we must bear in mind that while a kid’s Bible is certainly appropriate for kids, it is not for adults. Adult Christians need to move on and start acting like adults, which includes reading the whole Word of God as it was written.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. An interesting article which discusses similar issues at some points can be read at – if you are interested! (although it primarily looks at the topic of civil disobedience).

    The opening quote of the article is particularly pointed: “At the outset it is important to understand that the Bible is a very large book. This has implications. It means that more than man’s salvation is revealed within its pages. If this were not the case there would be no need for more than 90% its content”.

    God gave us His whole revelation with good reason.

    Isaac Overton, ACT

  4. Thanks Isaac

    Yes quite right. All of the Bible is there for a reason. Of concern was this remark in the article about The Story:

    “Unfortunately, they usually fall off the wagon in Leviticus,” Brown says. “When you’re reading the Old Testament, it can get pretty intense. When they stop, it creates a sense of guilt. They get de-motivated and they think, ‘I’ll never be able to do this.’ The Bible becomes a turnoff.”

    But that is just what we all need – we need to see our guilt to drive us to the saviour. If you strip down or eliminate the law, you are left with a truncated gospel. It makes no sense to talk about Jesus and his work unless we first know that we are lost and in need of a saviour.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. Well said Bill!

    Let’s just hope that ‘the Story’ wasn’t compiled in the same mode of thought as that quote in the review!

    Isaac Overton

  6. Bill, I think a lot of our culture is lost in the ‘speed of life’ and as a result desire the ‘speed of lite’. Is it the curse of an anti kingdom culture and its debt driven core? I suspect so! But your point is really valid. Our sound bite attention span and MSM diet motivates the need for an easier, quicker, convenient Bible read. So we can fit it in around our busy-ness. Surely better to take a big picture view of our family or individual lifestyle and re-align it with God’s speed and call. Then spend the necessary time in the full Bible text. A good opportunity for us to review our values and priorities as Christians. At the end of the day most of the shortcuts I have taken in my life have ended up longcuts anyway. e.g. as a mentor has often said to me, “If you are not prepared to do things right the first time, then you are prepared to do them over again.”
    Jamie Bowman

  7. It may have uses as an introduction. I remember a long time ago my young brother wanted a Bible not bible Stories and when I tried book stores asking for a bible for a 7 year old they offered me Bible Stories. Now they would ask which one I wanted.
    My biggest problem is that we are so spoiled. I worked with a language group where it was decided to only translate parts of the Bible. Here we have mature Christians quibbling about which is the best translation.
    However it sounds like a good idea for introducing people to the Bible just as we have Bible stories for children. I admit I don’t seem to finish the Bible in a year though some parts are over-read and others neglected.
    Katherine Fishley

  8. Bill,

    But the conservative evangelical view of the Bible is itself open to objection as being too superficial. You completely disregard the vast scholarship of higher criticism which casts strong doubts on traditionally accepted authorship, provides clear evidence of tampering with the original texts, and concludes than many of the scriptures are forgeries, e,g, several of the Epistles attributed to Paul.

    If Christians delve too deeply into the origins of the Bible they will encounter these scholarly criticisms and may reject the faith. Perhaps it’s a good thing that most Christians don’t understand too much about the Bible.

    Raymond Petersen, Gold Coast

  9. Thanks Raymond

    Sorry but I have to call your bluff. There are in fact thousands of world-class scholars who hold to a high view of Scripture. They have thoroughly, repeatedly and competently repudiated the tenets of higher criticism. Hundreds of academic titles have appeared rebutting the various criticisms by those who wish to trash Scripture. Indeed, some of these criticisms are now roundly discarded on all sides, such as the now widely discredited JEDP theory.

    So you are adding nothing to the debate here. All your comment does is tell us of your obvious theological bias, not the current state of play regarding this issue.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  10. Bill,

    Recently at church, to my utter shock, I heard a prominent pastor speak about a renown mega-church who are currently in the process of creating a Speed Bible. This pastor spoke in favour of this chopped and watered down version and he justified it by saying “we live in a fast pace society”… and therefore “many young people don’t have the time to read or don’t like to read”. He then adds ” careful thought, prayer and planning has gone into this project” …. One can only wonder where this so called ‘careful thought’, ‘prayer’ and ‘planning’ came from?? According to my knowledge the word of God already exists.

    Just like the Message Bible and the Living Bible and many others alike, are an excellent tool for new Christians. My main concern is, if mega-churches are going to encourage youth and young adults to take short cuts in their Christian walk by teaching them to read watered down version of the bible rather than the traditional versions. Then these churches are accountable of breeding a weak and powerless future generation of believers.

    Although we live in a fast pace society and technology is constantly evolving, we must always keep in mind that God’s word never changes.

    Panage Kontos

  11. Bill,

    your comment about the text being used as a supplement to and not a replacement of the Bible reaches to the heart of the issue. Problems arise when Christians rely on something other than the full, inspired Bible as the primary source of their spiritual nourishment, not to mention doctrine. If readers are using this book instead of the Bible they are really creating a ‘canon within the canonical Scriptures.’

    The quote from the link given

    “The Bible is not 100 unrelated stories,” Frazee says. “It’s more like a mural than an art gallery. The Bible is not like going to the Louvre in Paris. It’s more like going to the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is all these 300 characters, all woven into a tapestry or mural, whereas the Louvre has all these famous disconnected paintings.”

    raises the question – is the Bible already like the “Sistine Chapel” or does it require the author’s editing to make it a seamless tapestry?

    Of course, any of us can (and do) inadvertently ignore parts of Scripture in our reading and doctrine even if we have the complete Bible. The ‘Story’ just makes that possibilty a little easier. On the other hand, a little Scripture is better than none at all, especially if the part leads to a study of the whole.

    Samuel Ellemor

  12. Once the proper distinction is made between an actual translation and a paraphrase-summary, which this is, I would be careful not to assume based on size that it represents a reduced version of scriptural content. A comprehensive systematic theology, for instance, aims to express Scripture’s revelation as thematic integrated proposition, and usually achieves that in less space. Similarly, a narrative rendering aims to express divine revelation in the complementary form of diachronic motive. In this form, “detail” is validly assigned contingency upon the bigger picture, and ceded with discretion. As with systematic theology, a lot of interpretation is required, however this is still the case with a translation, even though interpretation is then more heavily offloaded to the [foreign-language] reader.

    Peter Grice

  13. Thanks Peter

    But absolutely no assumptions are being made here. The article itself which I link to tells us quite clearly that various parts of the Bible have been omitted, replaced with short summary statements.

    And of course you are mixing apples with oranges: a work of systematic theology never claims to be the Bible, or in any way or shape a version of it. This product specifically does claim to be a Bible.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  14. Bill, would that every systematic theology claimed to be a distillation of Scripture. But you are making assumptions, as you have said, you’re going on a promotion rather than a first-hand look. I agree it is going too far to present itself as a Bible, but as I said, once the distinction is made between this and straightforwardly translated scripture, I wouldn’t assume it is a reduction. Even implicit in the promotion is the fact that this is not a translation, but a summary-narrative. The validity and value of that category, in relation to complete translated scripture (the actual Bible), is important to understand, especially in light of alarming biblical illiteracy. Here is a collection of articles I’ve found helpful:

    I have not seen the content either. I am hoping it could be quite faithful and substantial, and represent a far better church-wide program than anything Rick Warren (for example) put out. I applaud the effort, at any rate, because telling people they’re lazy will only compel a relative minority to read the full Word, whereas this is slated to expose a majority (in some churches) to receive it, albeit in concise form, or in portion. It is not a substitute for the Bible, but then again, it is likely to be far more meaty than a year’s worth of sermons in a typical church, which would barely scratch the surface of the Word in comparison with this.

    Peter Grice

  15. Thanks again Peter

    But as I say, no assumptions are being made here. Those who have created this are calling it a Bible and they admit to how much has been taken out. I don’t think I need to belabour this point any more.

    As to whether it might serve some useful purposes, I have already stated that it might. But my great worry is how people will use this instead of God’s complete, inspired and inerrant Word. If that happens then this book will be a tragedy, not a blessing.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. Dear Bill

    I was brought up in a Christian home where we wouldn’t so much as put the Bible under another book or in a place of dishonour and I am grieved when I think about any disrespect being given to the written Word. Jesus is revealed throughout the Old and the New Testaments so every word is a treasure. We have precious little in this world to teach us about the nature of our Creator so let’s not strip away at His love letter to us no matter what we think is relevant, interesting or worthwhile. I say let God continue to speak to us through His Word and let us be disciplined (yes, I said disciplined) and committed in honouring and loving Him and just read it and enjoy it and meditate on Him day and night. That can’t be a bad thing.

    Deborah Lorkin, Perth

  17. As a youth leader to a bunch of 12-15 year olds, I would definitely consider giving them something like this. A lot of them would never read the Bible straight up (a lot come from non-Church backgrounds), but would probably try smaller stories. I think in the right framework it could be a great conversation starter: if Jesus healed a blind man, what else did he do? (for example).
    Christie Ewens

  18. Thanks Katherine and Christie

    As I hinted at above, baby Bibles are fine for babies, and kids Bibles are fine for kids, but adults should be using adult Bibles.

    One way to look at this would be to take some noted work of literature and radically axe into it. You don’t have to be a Tolkien purist to know how tacky and dishonouring and distorted an abridged version of his 3-volume The Lord of the Rings would be. If we would squirm at decimating his work, why are we so cavalier about chopping up God’s inspired word to us?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  19. Bill,

    But there’s an obvious problem with scholars taking a high view of scripture. Their studies can’t be objective, and won’t be regarded by others as objective. Those scholars who have “repudiated the tenets of higher criticism” all too often sound like apologists. So they fail a key test for objective scholarship. The same applies to those who clearly start from the opposite position of rejecting the divine authorship of scripture. But there is a huge middle ground of legitimate, independent, scholarly higher criticism which should be taken seriously and debated in an objective fashion. Why should not the Bible be capable of submission to objective scholarly investigation like any other historical text?

    Would you accept scholarship of the Koran or the Book of Mormon which adopted a high view of those texts from the outset?

    Raymond Petersen

  20. Thanks Raymond

    But I have to again call your bluff here. I don’t buy this notion that there is some group of independent, neutral, and totally objective thinkers somewhere in the middle who are somehow free of any bias or prejudice on this issue. Everyone has some presuppositions or slant on this. Having said that, there are plenty of scholars who argue for a high view of Scripture and seek for as much objectivity here as anyone else. These folk regularly and carefully interact with the critics, and they do indeed submit “to objective scholarly investigation”. Maybe you need to start reading some of these scholars, instead of dismissing them out of hand.

    As to claims of other sacred Scriptures, they too have to be investigated and assessed on their own merits. And all that of course has been done as well. It again seems that you really are not very conversant with the literature here, except for your own preferred sceptics and higher critics. But if your mind is already made up in this regard, then there will be little that I or anyone else can say to convince you otherwise.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  21. Excellent topic, Bill. When I was a kid going to lots of Christian kids camps we learned lots of our memory verses in King James English which have shaped my world view in ways I can’t begin to count. Now, I have a couple of other good versions of the Bible and the King James has started coming out again. It might be more difficult to grasp at times but there are amazing nuggets of revelation and hidden, surprising things in the KJV. I believe we are called to search, dig and ponder, not skim read and ‘do our quota’. How much is cut because some subjective writer decided that it wasn’t relevant or didn’t make for a nice, modern world view?
    Dee Graf

  22. Bucket list! You’re kidding me? To reduce God’s revalation to something you “tick off” makes me reach for one. Have we lost our bearings in a fog of so called “busyness”? My 11 year old finished the bible 2 years ago and now sees it as a regular part of his day to read 3 or 4 chapters. Spot on Bill if we cant put 20 minutes aside from watching TV, playstation, facebook and sleeping in we are fooling ourselves. If we can’t do it then we must get on our knees and ask the God of heaven and earth to move us. The world is in desperate need of a Church that can authentically communicate his Gospel. We must know it for ourselves first and no cut down version will do. How do we expect the world to believe that we have the answer when we can’t put down the remote for 20 minutes to feed our soul on it first? Lord help me in my own apathy and give me a vision of how great a gift your Bible is.

    Thanks for stirring me up Bill

    Pete Hall

  23. Thanks Pete

    Hey, I am glad you did get stirred up. You provide a much-needed perspective on all this. Bless you,

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  24. Thanks for the great website Bill. This topic certainly has stirred people up to declare their love for God’s Word, I’m impressed.
    This “Bible” looks like it might be very similar to what missionaries do when they are working with people groups who have no understanding at all of the Christian worldview. They tell the story of salvation from creation to Christ’s second coming in a series of stories so that the people can understand why they need to be saved.
    These stories are aimed at intelligent adults who have simply never heard them before. Might I suggest that there are many intelligent adults in the English speaking world who have also never heard the stories and who might be willing to read this “watered down Bible” but would never consider reading the real thing. It seems this could be a great evangelism tool in the “west” just as Bible storying is a great evangelism tool on the “mission field”.
    Bible storying is not a substitute for the whole Bible it is an introduction to draw people to Jesus. When people are introduced to him they then have the option to study God’s Word in depth as he draws them to himself.
    As a cop out for lazy Christians I think it is a bad idea but as an introduction to a Biblical worldview for not yet believers and new believers it could be a great replacement for the years of Sunday School they didn’t get.
    Kay Symons, Kenya

  25. One of the best decisions I believe I have ever made as a Christian was to read the Bible from cover to cover, going through each chapter using the (ESV) study notes. We have so much help available to understand the Bible, why do we need to dumb it down! I have found even the so-called “boring” parts like the genealogies to be quite interesting when reading a bit of background history behind them. When I finish the whole Bible, I plan to do it again using another commentary. It has been of such a great benefit in my relationship with God and in my understanding of who He is.

    Annette Nestor

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