Are We Guilty of Negative Suggestion?

My wife and I have four children and one on the way.  If truth be told, I’m not a great fan of vegetables.  My children all enjoy their vegetables.  Why?  In part because Melanie shared her enthusiasm, while I avoided expressing any complaints (and tried to set a consistent example too, of course).

Parenting isn’t a “choose your own adventure” book where you can go back and see what would have happened if you chose differently.  So I don’t know what would have happened if we had gone with a negative suggestion approach.  But I can guess.  “Here, dear little daughter, try these gross green things: they’re peas, you probably won’t like them.”

And yet I have been pondering how we may inadvertently do that in the church.  Take, for instance, the language of disciplines.  Or specifically, the “discipline of Bible reading.”

I’ve been involved in an online discussion that I sparked by linking to my post on Bible read through plans (see here).  In a nutshell I suggested in that short post that reading plans requiring the reader to read from multiple Bible books at the same time are not a good idea.

The responses to my apparently radical suggestion seem to have fallen in two categories.  On the one side there are people who have resonated with my post and shared through their comments about their delight in reading God’s Word and finding such “bitty” approaches annoying and unhelpful.  On the other side there are people who strongly resist any questioning of the value of such a discipline and insist that the majority would read less Bible without such external duty structures.

Here’s where the vegetable bit comes in.  What are we saying to new Christians?

Option A – “The Bible is such a delight to me, I can’t get enough of it.  You should dive in too.  Go for it.  Read it aggressively and relationally with a passion to hear the heart of the God who reveals Himself there.  There will be bits you don’t understand yet, but don’t worry, enjoy the Word and through it, enjoy the Lord!”


Option B – “Reading the Bible is an important discipline.  If you are not dutiful in this you will not grow as a Christian.  You won’t like it though.  It’s hard going and to be honest I haven’t got much of an appetite for it.  The only way to get it down is if you cut it into little pieces and force yourself to get it down every day – a bit like a combination of vegetables and Cod Liver Oil.  So good for you.  So hard to take.”

My fear is that we are discipling with an Option B approach.  Why?  Do we believe that is the most helpful approach to take?  Let’s pray that we will have the appetite ourselves, so that others will get infected too.  Bible reading.  Prayer.  Church.  Witnessing — Disciplines?  Duties?  Perhaps not the best language to use.

3 Responses to Are We Guilty of Negative Suggestion?

  1. Andrew DIPROSE January 23, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Amen Peter, I totally agree with you.

    Andrew Diprose
    M.A. (ICS) from Rome, ITALY

  2. Peter Mead January 24, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    I just read a blog post on the comma in Acts 5:18, hardly the place you’d expect to find a thought to fit with this post. But Bill Mounce concludes with a couple of paragraphs I’d like to quote here. The post is about the High Priest and his associates, the Sadducees and their jealous reaction against the ministry of the apostles. Let me share his final paragraphs here:

    Amazing, isn’t it. Miracles were being done everywhere. Peter’s shadow had healing power. And yet the religious rulers were filled not with awe and thankfulness, but with jealousy. The sad fact of life is that almost everything in this world is about power, and their power was threatened.

    I have been reading a fascinating book about the life of William Tennent (The Vision that Changed a Nation, by John F. Hansen). It was Tennent’s conviction that the ruling religious authorities had failed to understand the necessity of a new birth, and so formed his “Log College,” teaching students not only the rigors of a classical education but also teaching the necessity of passion and conviction and the work of the Holy Spirit and sin and conversion. Guess how the Sadducees of his day responded? With jealously and the wielding of social and financial power. Tennent had strong connections with the Great Awakening, and 60 (yes, sixty) of his students went on to found new colleges that would continue his dream.

    Hansen summarizes Tennent’s core belief by quoting the poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939): “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

    Some things never change, and there will always be religious authorities who want to fill pails and throw water on fires. The question is, what will you do?

    I suppose I’m saying a similar thing, not in reference to education (although we do start Cor Deo programme again today!), but in reference to discipleship…lighting fires or throwing water?


  3. Becky Douglass February 27, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    I have always loved that Yeats quote. If something captures my heart, you can’t stop me from pursuing it. It drives me to seek more and more. And my passion spills over to all around me. If someone tells me I have to do something, I spend my energy trying to get out of it and if I can’t, then I endure it with no benefit to myself – or anyone else.

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