YouVersion: A Discernment-Free Zone

One of the greatest assurances of regeneration that quickly pops up in the new believer’s life, continuing to grow in both depth and understanding, is a passion for God’s Word.  We love to know as much as we possibly can about God from the revelation of His written Word.

Reading Scripture, studying it, consuming it, is foundational to the Christian life.  The “abide in my Word” believer will approach Scripture in various ways.  Sometimes one may be consumed for weeks in the study of a single line of His Holy Writ, searching for understanding in the commentaries of worthy pastors, theologians, and scholars.  Other times we may approach Scripture just for the pure joy of its intake, reading it simply just to know what it plainly says.

Believers will also approach Scripture in the context of a devotional.  There’s an inherent danger, of course, in taking small portions of Scripture, using them as a superficial read, without a proper hermeneutical understanding, to instead pluck random promises from it for what often is merely a “feel good” moment.  We can easily turn devotional time into a legalistic chore that yields little edification from what should be feasting on the Word of Life.

The risk of such devotionals cannot be understated. It’s easy to walk away from a snippet of Scripture with a wrong understanding of its interpretation. If you’ve ever thought Philippians 4:13, when properly employed, empowers you to win that race, achieve that weight loss goal, or succeed at work, please, stop your devotional time and start reading bigger chunks of Scripture.  There’s a lot to the story that you’re obviously missing.

If you ask most any pastor they will acknowledge the supreme problem among their pews is rampant Biblical illiteracy. In an article on his website entitled The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy, Albert Mohler cited research from George Gallup and Jim Castelli. They remarked that “Americans revere the Bible – but, by and large, they don’t read it.   And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.”

The astute observations from Gallup’s research, which can be confirmed practically by any devoted believer from sitting in a Sunday School class observing the Biblical understanding of attendees, seems curious when consideration is given to the popular appeal of the digital Bible app, YouVersion. The YouVersion app has exceeded over 233 million installs on smartphones, tablets, and other devices.

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Obviously, the appeal of the app introduced in 2007 doesn’t seem to be combatting rampant Biblical illiteracy.  That level of illiteracy can only properly corrected by the pulpit, not by an app.

“The spiritual life of any congregation and its growth in grace will never exceed the high-water mark set by its pulpit.”    Steven Lawson

If the pulpit exhibits a general disregard for Scripture, much less an improper technique in teaching and preaching it, (2 Timothy 2:15) those in the pews are likely to follow the poor lead.  No app can take its place.

Still, devotionals are commonplace for the believer.  While our edification can never be fulfilled by the minimal Scripture intake consumed in devotional time, the effort towards its intake, even in small amounts, is helpful.  Devotionals, though, differ from Bible reading plans, which are typically of the “Read The Whole Bible in A Year” or topically focused endeavors not quite as conducive to a briefer devotional time.  But the two things – devotional readings and reading plans – are often intermingled, as they are on the YouVersion app.

(I recommend Prof. Horner’s Reading System, available on YouVersion, which is more than the quick, skimming devotional read most folks prefer.  It’s a Scripture intensive reading plan that gives a wide intake from throughout the Word.  Beyond Horner’s, I don’t use any devotional plan that uses a writer’s personal commentary.  I read through a chapter at a time of whatever book of Scripture I’m studying at the moment.  Right now, that’s Colossians.  So I read a chapter a day during my devotional time and will continue to do so until my study is completed. Thus, I’ll likely spend a month, daily reading and re-reading Colossians, one chapter at a time.)

Just as with every other aspect of the Christian life, devotional plans, in which an author writes their own brief commentary, can be fraught with error.  While there are some laudable ones – I’m thinking of Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, for example – the wrong plan by the wrong writer can easily, and rapidly, lead the undiscerning believer into a gross misunderstanding of God, His Word, and themselves.  As in all things, nobility of the Berean sort is called for.

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With the plethora of error bombarding believers at what seems to be a rapidly increasing clip, I should say it came as no surprise when an email touting a new Bible reading plan from YouVersion popped up in my inbox.  The broadcast email promoted their newest devotional plan written by author and pastrix Lisa Bevere, hardly someone you’d want to use as a basis for a devotional, much less as a source of sound biblical exegesis.

Bevere’s a false teacher with less than laudable associations.  The first big clue is the fact that she preaches.  Umm, no, women don’t do that. (1 Timothy 2:12) You can hop over to Charisma News and find some forty articles about, or by, her.  While such a media presence may be laudable in the circles of those who take Scripture much less than seriously, it’s indicative of the problem Bevere represents.  She’s hardly orthodox.

The latest Charisma News entry penned by her was about her own bemoaning her failure to make the list of 100 top female ministers in America, evidence again of her illegitimacy.  Despite this, the folks over at YouVersion chose to include her as an author of a new devotional series.  Maybe that’ll put her on the ignoble list next year, a list that, by the way, is thoroughly ignorable for those seeking sound biblical teaching.  (By the way, if someone has a link to that list, please email it to me … bud@pulpitandpen.org)

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But Bevere isn’t the only troublesome devotional writer to be found among the YouVersion options.  Want something from the unofficial Southern Baptist emissary to Rome, Rick Warren?  He’s there, with a devotional entitled “Hearing The Voice of God.”  How about something from the husky-voiced prosperity gospel hurler Joyce Meyer?  She’s there too with such things as the “Power Thoughts Devotional.”  (I’m having a powerful thought right now, just thinking about these charlatans … I’m thinking “Come Lord Jesus” … now that’s a power thought!)

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YouVersion is a discernment-free zone where potentially anyone self-identifying as Christian, especially those of celebrity status, can pen plans, edited, one presumes, for digital space only.  Content adherence to common sense Biblical interpretation, compliance with sound doctrine, or allegiance to orthodoxy is clearly not given editorial oversight.

You’ll find Joseph Prince, Hillsong Young & Free, and the long awaited devotional adaptation of Ben-Hur the movie.  Yeah, Ben-Hur is now a featured devotional plan, though it’s unclear if the soundtrack accompanies it.  There are devotional plans from celebrity Christian artists, like Chris Tomlin, Crowder, Matthew West, and Matt Maher.

Do we really need devotionals penned by those who are merely celebrity “Christians” or those who are well-known false teachers?  Shouldn’t we expect sound exegesis in our devotionals, too?

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There are plans under the categories of devotion, family, partial Bible, topical, whole Bible, and youth.  From titles ranging from “Forgiveness” and “Why Read The Bible?” to “Bible on Business” and “Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts”, there are devotionals for almost everything.

However, do we really need a devotional for every potential aspect of life that may confront us as a Christian?  The believer who is, as Christ defined a disciple, abiding in the Word, will likely find little need for hot-spot, emergency devotionals that target specific, surprise issues.  Discipleship isn’t an a la carte endeavor.  Devotionals, don’t you think, ought to be more prayer-rich, Scripture-centric worship occasions and less like an exercise equipment infomercial approach that targets stubborn belly or thighs?

The true believer is compelled to know the fullness of God in His Word for the sake of knowing God.  That, it seems, is the great worshipful benefit of a devotional, not an emotional giddy-up that helps you make it through the day as you check off a “done that” legalistic approach to your faith.

By way of disclaimer, I do use the YouVersion app. I use it, not for the devotionals, but as a tool to track my progress on the Horner Plan.   For that function, I’ve been very pleased. But I intentionally dismiss the multitudes of devotional plans offered on it authored by spurious, often theologically-illicit, authors.

Just be aware that YouVersion isn’t doing discernment work for you. Please be Berean in all things, including the source of your devotional plans.  But, you really don’t even need a devotional plan.  You just need the Word.  Read it.  Devour it.  After all, it’s what His disciples do …

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples”  John 8:31

 

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[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]

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