Some things seem to just happen. No one in particular is to blame. Options increase, the past gets overshadowed by the present, and the next thing we know, conventional thinking shifts, and we’re heading down a new path as though it’s the one that’s always been.
For instance, there was a time when the primary influence on how we made a major purchase was the information we received from the manufacturer of a product or the provider of a service. Along the way, however, a wholesale suspicion of manufacturers and service providers now inclines people to put much more priority on the reviews they read about a product or service over the empirical data that is offered by its maker. Whether the person giving the review is objective, or even qualified to weigh in, is overshadowed by the reality that the opinions of strangers simply carry more clout these days. And the truth is, it’s a lot easier to arrive at a decision at the hands of secondary voices — who may or may not know what they’re talking about — than it is to do the gritty, personal research needed to make a well-thought through decision.
Obviously, people want to make wise purchases, and obviously there are exceptions to this trend. But I’m generalizing a bit in order to setup a point I think you might appreciate.
No Substitute for Personal Bible Time
With tweets, blog posts, predigested podcasts, and fingertip access each week to downloads of some of the most engaging Bible teachers in the world, it’s tempting to develop an on-going input of the Bible at the hands of others that overshadows, or even eclipses, input from personal time spent pouring over it on our own.
The drive-by options we have to phenomenal biblical insights can easily meet our need for spiritual satisfaction. Forget the possibility that much of it may be the equivalent of spiritual junk food — great insights and observations that feel good being consumed but can’t possibly provide a well-balanced biblical diet. Throw in some white noise from our preferred theological hot buttons, and the evangelical celebrity status of our favorite Bible teachers, and we shouldn’t be surprised that our primary connection to God becomes one or more steps removed from God himself.
It’s a path that easily lends itself to hunkering down in biblical camps and spending more time quibbling over the “wording” of God than we do in intimate fellowship with the Word of God — who happens to be a Person (John 1:14) that speaks to us through his divinely inspired Book (2 Timothy 3:16–17). There’s a place for theological camps, and there’s a place for quibbling over the accurate rendering of Scripture. But technology, with its unending stream of spiritual sound bites, has the capacity to supplant our higher calling to an intimate relationship with God acquired through personal time spent in his word.
Thinking in a New Language
It reminds me a bit of the challenge we have when we’re needing to communicate in a language that we weren’t born into. There was a time when, if I were going to take a prolonged trip to, say, Italy, I’d feel compelled to enmesh myself in the Italian language to the point I could actually “think” Italian (without having to mentally translate back and forth between English and Italian). Now, when I go to Italy, I don’t feel a need to have a grip on its language at all. I have apps on my phone and search-engine options that make it easy to get the gist of what I read or what is being said to me. I can even say something in English to my phone and have it translate that point in Italian (with my voice inflection) to the person I’m trying to communicate with. Why go to the enormous trouble of trying to learn a language when I can function just fine with my once-removed options?
But obviously I miss so much of the color and richness of that language and equally limit my ability to connect at a heart-felt level to the Italian speaking people I encounter along the way. Yet I perform adequately while there and feel quite proud of myself once I arrive home regarding how well I communicated to them in their language.
Overcoming BSL — Bible As a Second Language
Our limitless access to prepackaged devotional, inspirational, and theological insights from others can unwittingly give us a BSL — Bible as a Second Language — orientation on God. But intimacy with him is better reached via a firsthand relationship through his word than through someone else’s translation of it on our behalf. There’s a place for both — God has given us teachers (Ephesians 4:11). We simply must be careful becoming so co-dependent on the one that we fail to do due diligence with the other.
I would not venture to legalistically propose what this personal arrangement should look like or how often it should be practiced. But I am claiming here that our relationship with God is always better served when it’s primarily gained by our personal interaction with him through his word than impersonally through the second-hand offerings of his word by others — regardless of how wonderful they may be.
The impact of the gospel in our hearts and its grace-covered application in our lives will always be easier to enjoy when we resist the temptation to keep the Bible as our second language and instead insist on turning it into our native tongue.
More on Bible-centrality from Desiring God:
Beware: The Bible Is About to Threaten Your Smartphone Focus (post by John Piper)
How to Give the Bible Functional Authority in Your Speech and Writing (message by John Piper)
The Family: God’s Litmus Test of Applied Grace (post by Tim Kimmel)