A few weeks ago, I shared a link to an article I read. Beware the Instagram Bible in 2017 by Jen Wilkins. It was about all those decorative Bible verses that can be found on Instagram, reflecting on their strengths and their limitations. Since I read it, I’ve been thinking it over so I’m here to share my thoughts on a challenging, truthful but ultimately affirming article. One note before we start: I don’t really go on Instagram to get Bible verses, but I do use Pinterest. So for the sake of this article, I’ll be referring to the Pinterest Bible.
I’ll be honest, I love the Pinterest Bible verses. I love the inspiring images and the pretty lettering and the words of encouragement. It’s as if these pictures speak straight to my heart. But, although that can be a strength, that can be the Pinterest Bible’s biggest weakness as well. According to Jen Wilkins, it ‘comforts, but rarely convicts, emotes but rarely exhorts’ and holds forth ‘inspiration over intellect, devotion over doctrine’. These pictures include the inspirational, nice verses of the Bible stripped of their literary or historical context – with the challenging, thought-provoking verses scarcely present at all.
The Bible is described as our spiritual food, our daily bread. Pinterest Bible pictures are like strawberries. Strawberries taste delicious, they look pretty and in themselves they’re good for you. But, if you only ever ate strawberries, you’d become malnourished and weak. We need more than simply strawberries in our diet, we need food that sustains. The same goes for our spiritual diet. If our only source of spiritual food is those pretty picture verses, our Christian life is going to get weak. We also need something of substance, to give us not only inspiration, but also to challenge us, to equip us and to ground us in the truth.
The thing I’m thinking of here is expository Bible study. Reading whole chunks of the Bible, not just a verse here and there, and really seeking to understand what it means. Ask how it fits into the Bible as a whole, how it relates to the chapters around it and what it meant in its original context. Look for truths about God. Look for warnings, challenges, promises that help us to live for him. Listen to what the Bible itself is saying to us, rather than just placing your own meaning over the text. If the Pinterest Bible is like strawberries, than expository Bible study is something more substantial – it’s a steak dinner. It might not look as pretty, and at times it might be hard to chew through and digest, but it’s going to fill us up and satisfy our hunger. It’s going to nourish us and equip us for service.
I have a Facebook page where I post Bible verse pictures. One of my favourite things related to my ministry is getting on Pinterest and finding pictures relating to the Bible verses we’re studying – lots of beautiful fonts and decorations, so many pictures to choose from. Yet, I know I cannot leave it there. For every picture I post, I include a short reflection on the verse’s meaning. I don’t make it long, usually only a paragraph, but here is where I can pull out those important things like context and meaning.
Jen Wilkin’s article has challenged me to do that more. To read the chapter surrounding the verse before I write my reflection. To include truth about God and about us in my reflections, even if its hard to digest. The Pinterest Bible has value for the Christian life, as strawberries do for our physical diet. They awaken the emotions that God has given us, and direct them towards him. They provide quick encouragements and promises, maybe something we need to get through that day. But we cannot stay here. We must move on to the steak dinner of expository Bible study. Strawberries and steak dinners serve different purposes – they can both be part of our healthy spiritual food.