Monday, April 30, 2012

Why Sermons Need More Bible

I just finished a six-month promotional tour (sounds trendy, doesn't it?) of my book on Paul's Spirituality (IVP).  I spoke in churches, during conferences, at retreats--and I'm so grateful to God for the warm reception I received.  I continue to get affirming comments, emails, and letters about the book.  But one off-handed comment nearly floored me.  Even after hundreds of conversations, this single remark continues to rumble around in my head.

A few months ago after speaking at a church, a very well-dressed, middle-aged man asked me if the sessions had been recorded.  He explained how he had missed the event due to other obligations--half apologizing, half justifying--but wanted to know what I had said because he was intrigued by the subject. 

"I don't know if they recorded the talks.  I guess you'll have to check with the pastor."  He replied, "Well, if they didn't that's too bad.  I really want to know what you said."  (Of course, at this point, you know what I'm thinking.  I'm expecting him to ask if they still have copies of the book available at their bookstore.)  So, after an awkward bit of silence, I sheepishly held up the book and said, "you could get a copy.  I think they still have a few for sale."  To which he dismissively replied (without an ounce of shame), "Oh, I don't read."

Now, you might think the man was illiterate or had poor vision.  Neither was the case.  He explained that he read sports magazines every now and then.  But, he never could get into reading a book.  I'm a little ashamed of what I did next, but I couldn't help it.  I said, "Oh.  You don't read?" then motioned to the Bible he held in his hand, with a quizzical look on my face.  He replied by offering a nervous giggle and said something like, "Yeah.  For a group of people who rely upon a book, it sure makes being a Christian hard."

It's an amazing irony.  We live during an age when written information is more accessible than any other period of human history.  Same is true for the Bible.  It's everywhere.  More people have more access to multiple copies/versions of the Bible than ever before--not to mention all of the books/literature written to help readers make sense of Scripture.  And yet, despite the literary flood, our world is becoming more biblically illiterate every day.  The reason?  "I don't read."

Two observations:  for a writer, this is depressing--especially for a guy like me.  My target readership--evangelical Christians--don't read.  The guy said so without any embarassment at all.  Said it to the author, straight faced.  I really can't get over that.  But, then again, my heart is strangely warmed when I remember Christianity got its start during a time when nearly 80% of the population was illiterate.  The first Christ followers depended upon the public reading of the Scriptures in order to hear God's Word.  Then the light came on inside my head.

If there were ever a time when preachers need to spend more time (say, 10 minutes of their sermon?) reading the Scriptures to their listeners, it is now.  Rather than focus on the memorable illustration or the clever, real-life anecdote, perhaps it's time to read the Bible to Christians.  Why?  Not only because reading Scripture should be an important part of our worship, but for the more obvious reason.  Like the man said, "I don't read."


Travis Weil said...

The reading of scripture is the one thing I miss about attending mass at a Catholic church. Every service there were three different readings of scripture.

Chris and Hannah said...

I read this today and found it painfully accurate with your post: