Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Checking Our Pride, Devotional Readings and Private Worship

Let me start out by saying, I offer the following musings in a friendly tone. Discussion of the nature of the Bible (translation authority and text preservation) should be encouraged. Those who are not willing to discuss it perhaps don't know exactly what they are defending. I see the recent posting on Parablmania as a health examination of the topic.

There is a phrase used when someone is recommending a theological related work that is technical and difficult. The person will say something along the lines of, "This is not something you are going to use in your devotions". The message is that the rightful audience and use of the textbook or theological treatise is NOT the common Christian in private worship. The larger context, the person is saying that the heavy book should not be used to intimidate Christians who will not or can not appreciate the more detail nuanced expression of theology. Also, the speaker might be indicating that those who do have a grasp of the more technical aspects of the faith should not take themselves too seriously and become puffed up with pride. The turn of phrase is used as a light hearted way to keep our sinful tendencies in check.

Jeremy Pierce, recently mentioned his thoughts that paraphrases versions of the Bible are acceptable for use devotions. (Oh by the way, I wanted to link to Jeremy's blog, but I'm not sure what it is. Is he Parablemania?) He defined devotions as reading those books which have a passage or verse of the Bible and a short message to help the reader appreciate the text. I have used these types of books quite a bit. I have found them very helpful, even foundational to my early walk with Christ. I think a key element to the genre is that it is short enough to read through in a comfortable, single sitting. Often, perhaps even of this genre is warm in its emotional tone. It elicits an emotional response from the reader with a relevant issue or touching story. Often the writing is very personal in nature, addressing the reader directly.

Okay, there is a genre of literature out there designed for devotional reading. That is true, but I think the literature follows the practice of private worship. That is the Christian worshiping God alone in private prayer and private Bible reading. Private worship is something each Christian should do. The genre of literature follows the need to make this practice not to be burdensome (too long) and keep motivation of the Christian high. Thus the length and personal, emotional nature of the content. Jeremy Pierce is not the only one to tell me that paraphrase versions are acceptable for devotional reading. While in one sense I'm not totally against paraphrase versions of the Bible, I'm hesitant to agree that they are acceptable for devotional reading. Getting away from the concept of devotions being short and addressing personal needs, I propose that devotions should be really thought of as private worship. Our worship is something we do to honor God, not find self fulfillment. Often my motivation is false and self-seeking, however, the Holy Spirit is the true empowerment that allows me worship from the heart. I'm not saying that private worship should be boring, a trial, stuffy and impersonal. However if one focuses on self, he or she is not focusing on God. Worship should be when we hear from God, He speaks in His Word. In public worship it is in the public reading of the scriptures and preaching of the Word. In private worship we listen to God by reading, studying, listening, singing, memorizing, meditating on the Bible. He does speak to us. When He speaks, it is authoritative. Paraphrases are never considered authoritative, even by those who created them. One should know that the Living Bible was very important in my walk with the Lord early on, and I'm grateful for how God used it in my life. However, to me, the rightful place of a paraphrase is sort of like a commentary. It is a rewording of the Bible in vernacular in order to explain the text. It is not the Word of God. My conviction is that we should use a solid translation for private worship.
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