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.