I read an article today by Dan Cogan about why he is moving away from contemporary worship music. This post isn’t about my stance on contemporary worship music. But as I read the article, I found myself thinking that what Cogan addresses in regard to music is really just a small part of a bigger phenomenon. He says:
…contemporary songs engage our emotions more often, where the hymns engage our hearts by way of the mind.
I have found this generally to be true, not because hymns don’t engage the emotions, but because it takes a little more effort to get there. Hymns often require familiarity with a biblical text or doctrine in order for the singer to understand, let alone respond emotionally. And I think this is the crux of the matter. Our churches are becoming places where the whole of Christianity is being boiled down to personal emotional fulfillment. But our insatiable hunger for feel-goodery is not limited to our worship music. It has spilled over into the kind of preaching we respond to and the kind of Bible study we engage in.
And y’all know I’m a Bible study girl, so that’s where my mind is wandering.
We turn to the Bible when we need comfort, guidance, or encouragement. We open our Bibles when we need peace or advice, or healing. We reach for it when we’re emotionally unsettled and we desperately want it to make us feel better.
The God of the Bible can and most certainly does comfort, guide, and heal. But our primary motivation for turning to scripture should be to know Him. That, however, is increasingly un-motivating because it doesn’t bring the immediate emotional boost we’re craving. Our near-constant desire for emotional fulfillment has kept our Bibles on the shelves, to be opened only when we need to feel good.
If we are going to get serious about our faith, we need to stop needing the Bible so much.
We should be habitually reaching for the Bible at the times when we don’t need anything from it at all.
If emotional fulfillment and peace-seeking is our only motivation to open a Bible, then we are in danger. The danger is that we are more at risk for misinterpreting the scripture. Why is this?
1. Emotionally cluttered minds don’t think clearly. We all know this is true. We are more likely to read something into a passage that isn’t really there. Minds desperate for solutions tend to find them in manipulative ways. (Yes. Even in the Bible.)
2. When we have a specific need that we bring to our Bible time, we tend to jump around – reading small excerpts here and there – searching for an answer. The problem with this approach is that, without applying good study techniques to the larger passage, it becomes very easy to misinterpret the scripture. Misinterpretation may feel good now, but when it doesn’t pan out later, it only leads to more pain.
Imagine what would happen if our knowledge of God was based on careful study of the Bible carried out over many years. We’d know God pretty well. At that point, when a difficulty came that left us emotionally unsettled, we’d already have quite a bit of certainty about God’s loving care for us. Because of previous study, we would deeply understand several passages of scripture that would speak to our need.
When emotional difficulties come, God can powerfully minister to our hearts through well-studied passages in a way that Scripture hopping never can.
Even so, I feel the need to say this:
Bible literacy is a necessary pursuit notwithstanding any emotional benefits.
Here is what Jen Wilkin has to say about Bible literacy:
If it is true that the character and will of God are proclaimed in Scripture, then any serious attempt to become equipped for the work of discipleship must include a desire to build Bible literacy. Bible literacy stitches patchwork knowledge into a seamless garment of understanding.
And this has nothing to do with how it makes us feel.
Are you working toward Bible literacy or are you only looking for an emotional boost? Are you spending more of your Bible time searching out something you need or prayerfully studying? Commit to spending quality study time in the Word this week, and honor God by loving him with your mind as well as your heart.
If you are interested in participating in a local inductive study of Colossians, please join me beginning in March! Hop over to my facebook page for info.