Brothers and sisters, we have a big problem. A rather large portion of the western so-called “mainline” churches do not seem to be offering any substantial defense against the relativistic forces of post modernity. How quickly the “mainline” churches have become “sideline churches” while other, more robust Christian movements have emerged. I rejoice in the fact that whenever the church is in crisis, God always raises up better hearers of His Word. I rejoice that God always has “7,000 who have not bowed to Baal” who will remember the Apostolic faith and pass it faithfully along. But, I long to see the “people called Methodist” not become just another dead religious sect, as Wesley himself so wisely warned us. The solution to this problem is multifaceted and will take many decades to reverse
One of the many needed solutions is a revolution in our approach to “daily devotion.” To put it bluntly, the devotional reading guides which are widely used in the church will not get us to where we need to be as a church. The central problem with most (not all) daily devotionals is that they inadvertently teach us the wrong way to approach scripture. Devotionals generally cherry pick some verse from Scripture and use that as a jumping off place to say something vague and moralistic which we already knew to be true before we started the devotional. What they do not do is to teach us to follow a biblical argument in a particular passage and really understand what the passage is seeking to teach. The purpose of the devotional is often to “inspire” rather than to “teach.” The inadvertent result is that the Christian gospel which is presented in these devotionals is often so domesticated and small that it is no wonder that we are left empty. They also do not really help us to confront the serious intellectual challenges the church is facing.
Today the world is searching desperately for a world-view which is coherent, expansive and which makes sense of the world we live in. We need a faith which pushes us out into the world. We do not need one which pushes us further and further into an interior, privatized faith. Most moralistic devotionals (and sermons, too) actually obscure the gospel because they do not preach Christ as the center of Christian holiness. Rather, we are often given only tiny admonitions to rely upon our own meager efforts to live holy lives through our own strength. These devotionals do not help us to think theologically about the big challenges we are facing. The result is that most genuine seekers do not take Christianity as a serious option. It is difficult to do so when we are given such a light fare which is theologically tepid, intellectually weak and morally reductionistic.
In its place we need to read through entire books of the Bible. I recommend a good study Bible and a daily regime of Scripture reading, prayer and reflection on a full passage of Scripture. Read the whole Bible, and read it as the Word of God. The inspiration of God’s word is not to be confused with a pastor’s sermon or someone’s insight, however clever or inspirational. Many of the better devotional guides are accompanied by a plan which encourages the reader to not only read the “inspirational devotional thought” but also to read through the entire Bible each year. Start using those guides and never forget the power of reading Scripture and encountering it directly in our lives.
Asbury’s resourcing platform, known as Seedbed, will be releasing a host of biblical studies resources for the local church under the name, OneBook. The Epic of Eden Study is the first release and available now. From a comprehensive, seven year study of the Bible to Quarterly curricular studies to studies designed to introduce new Christians to the Bible, OneBook holds great promise to be part of the solution the church needs.
I would also recommend the Seedbed Daily Text as a daily exercise in engaging the Scriptures. It’s a free online resource written by J.D. Walt many people (including myself) are finding helpful on a daily basis.
Wesley, you may recall, famously said that he wanted to be a “man of One Book.” May we deeply delve into God’s Word, because “God will be found true, though every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).