One of my fondest memories of being a dad was telling my sons made up stories at bedtime. Of course we would also tell them some of the old time favorites, as well as about the great events documented in the Bible. However, while they were very young, sometimes I would just make up stories out of thin air. I did this by first allowing them to create their own “characters,” and once they described them I would incorporate them into extemporaneous stories. It was always a lot of fun. However, my sons are all grown up now. Consequently, they don’t ask me to tell them bedtime stories anymore. They are mature young men now, so thank heaven for the Lord’s grace. However, recently I saw an article about the importance of preaching from a “Christian narrative” in order reach a “post-literature” generation. In other words, if we want to effectively reach “the next generation” we have to do so through “stories” rather than teaching audiences the declarative statements found in throughout Scriptures. There are several problems with this assertion. However, the greatest is that it ignores the reality that Holy Spirit supernaturally honors God’s word whenever it is publically proclaimed. It is through God’s proclaimed word (i.e., preaching) that he affects change in the hearts and minds of those listening—both sinners and saints. Consequently, it is the scriptures, and not stories about Christians, that are what the Holy Spirit primarily uses to reach people with the gospel.
The reality is, however, that there is nothing new about this assertion. I heard this same old line two decades ago while I was involved in collegiate ministry. The problem with relying upon “stories” to reach people with the gospel is that it tends to produce what I refer to as “bedtime Christians.” What are bedtime Christians you ask? Well, they’re kind of an oxymoron; more specifically, they refer to themselves in one manner, but the way they live and what they believe actually contradicts their professions about themselves. In other words, they call themselves Christians, but the fact is that they don’t follow the Lord Jesus Christ at all. Below are some telltale characteristics of bedtime Christians.
- Bedtime Christians have Bibles but never read them or take them to church in order to learn what the Spirit of God is trying to say to them through the scriptures.
- Bedtime Christians think the Bible is full of myths, legends, and stories that didn’t really happen.
- Bedtime Christians think that the Bible has been translated too many times for it to be an accurate record of what originally happened or what was originally written.
- Bedtime Christians think the Bible is full of ancient stories and events; consequently it’s not really relevant to the modern world.
- Bedtime Christians never effectively learn how to use the scriptures in order to communicate the gospel.
- Bedtime Christians aren’t interested in Sunday school, home Bible study groups, or discipleship training.
- Bedtime Christians only read the Bible to make themselves feel better instead of learning the truth about God, the universal redemption that he has provided, and the human condition.
- Bedtime Christians think the Bible is basically an old book that provides a few good basic moral values.
Nevertheless, Paul encouraged Timothy, who lived in a largely oral and illiterate culture, that “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4.13). And in his last letter before he was executed for the cause of Christ, he also wrote to his beloved disciple, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2.15). And lest we forget, the context in which Paul and Timothy ministered in was entirely pagan and largely a world that depended upon word of mouth for the dissemination of information. In other words, in that day people mainly depended upon “sound bites” for the news—sound familiar? It seems that Paul’s exhortation about how to carry out ministry and how to effectively witness for Christ aptly applies to the world in which we now live. It seems that Paul’s admonition to Timothy was to educate others as to what God actually said in the scriptures, rather than dumbing them down by using “entertaining” summarized stories from God’s word. Paul didn’t recommend that Timothy develop his own “Cliff Notes” about the Bible, but to boldly and faithfully read, teach, and explain the scriptures to those who would listen. Moreover, this type of instructional focus was Paul’s primary ministry to the church. In his letter to the Colossians he wrote that “We proclaim him (i.e., Christ), admonishing every one and teaching everyone with all wisdom so that we might present everyone mature in Christ. To this end, I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col 1.28-29). Did you get that? Paul wrote that instructional teaching was not ancillary in his ministry, but rather that it was primary, systemic, and essential, in order to bring others to a comprehensive knowledge of the Lord and dynamic relationship with him. And it was this type of focus in Paul’s ministry that the Lord energized and blessed. The reason that the church has become ineffective in reaching people for Christ and producing mature believers is not that society has change. Instead it’s because we have abandoned a major focus that the Lord has ordained for proclaiming the gospel and bringing believers to maturity in him. The bottom line is that our churches are currently overrun with bedtime Christians because too many pastors and leaders have been giving them a steady diet of Christian-like “stories” instead of faithfully reading, teaching, and preaching the entire council of God’s holy word.
Copyright © February 7, 2018, The Lantern & Shield Times LLC. All Rights Reserved.