Greg Johnson, founder of the St. Louis Center for Christian Study, has written a very pertinent series of chapters on the modern invention of "Quiet Time", and how the church has turned our devotion to God into an issue of guilt. Each day this week, I will quote a chapter and comment as necessary. Below begins the first part in the series of six entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt: The rare beauty of Weakness Christianity."
The Diagnosis: Quiet Time Guilt
I recently watched as a congregation I love was spiritually raped. A Christian ministry came into the church for a three-day program whose purpose was to encourage believers to pray more. During one of the breakout sessions, a man expressed his frustration with unanswered prayer. He had faithfully prayed with and for his daughter for years, and still she was not walking with God. He was broken, depressed, perhaps more than a little ashamed. How does God in his grace speak to this man? A bruised reed was crying out for help.
"You need to try harder. You need to pray more." That was the message he was given. I was enraged. Having known this church for many years, I was horrified. What I was hearing was what one seminary professor calls sola bootstrapa. Self-reliance—We pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps. The teachers who said such things surely meant well. The problem was not a lack of sincerity on their part. The diagnosis is far more severe. The problem was heresy. Any heresy wounds the soul.
When I look upon the evangelical world today, I see millions of sincere believers who are loaded down with false guilt by teachers who fail to grasp the basics of biblical prayer. To sharpen the point slightly, Christ's sheep have been lied to. They have been told that prayer is a work that we must perform in order to get God to bless us. As heresies go, this one is often subtle. Prayer has become a work rather than a grace. The result has been a loss of joy in prayer.
And prayer is not the only grace we've turned into a work. Personal Bible study has become a source of bondage as well. A whole generation of Christians has been told that God will bless them if they read their Bibles every day, as if the act of reading the Scriptures were some kind of magic talisman by which we gain power over God and secure his favor. This is not the religion of the Bible. This pervasive belief that God gives us grace as a reward for our devotional consistency is antithetical to the religion of Jesus Christ. Prayer and Bible study—what evangelicals for the past century have called the "quiet time"—have become dreaded precisely because they have been radically misunderstood.
It's ironic, but the Quiet Time has become the number one cause of defeat among Bible-believing Christians today. At one time or another, nearly every sincere believer feels a deep sense of failure and the accompanying feelings of guilt and shame because he or she has failed to set aside a separate time for Bible study and prayer. This condition is called Quiet Time Guilt. And it's a condition with many repercussions. The shame of Quiet Time Guilt manifests itself in even deeper inability to fruitfully and joyfully study Scripture. Prayer becomes a dread; Bible study a burden. The Christian suffering from Quiet Time Guilt then despairs of seeing God work in his or her life, until finally he or she simply gives up. He may continue outward and public Christian commitments like church attendance, but secretly he feels a hypocrite. What is the root of Quiet Time Guilt?
If you've attended church almost anywhere today, you will recognize this sort of "spiritual rape" goes on far more than one could expect. What I experienced with the church was similar; the elders had grasped hold of "daily devotionals" as the determining factor in how committed one was with God. This legalistic ethic normally filtered down to the youth within the church. Here is where I began noticing the unbiblical teaching being cashed out in the lives of my peers. As Youth in a deteriorating, pluralistic and relativistic culture what offers hype instead of hope, we were consistently barroged with failure and dissappointment. In other words, our hope in a God of promise was sinking fast. What advice were we given to combat this plague? "Sola bootstrapa." Remember the biblical passage, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."? It was as if Christ was replaced with "myself."
The need for God's grace was put on the backburner, and the idea that one could save himself from his own problems was embraced. The consquences were both an intellectual problem and attacked at the core of the soul. What caused this revolutionary wave of guilt to sweep the Church? Find out tomorrow in part two of the on-going series this week entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt: The rare beauty of Weakness Christianity."
Cross-Blogged at Apologia Christi