“Three doubts holding you back from sharing the gospel.”
“Three steps to start reading the Bible today.”
”Three truths every young person should know about social media.”
These are three examples from my list of articles I have written this year. Do you notice a trend? Yes, they all start with three, but I’m talking about something deeper. There is a tendency— for myself and many others— to write and read list-based, ”x-number of steps” style of articles. And there’s a reason they’re so popular: it works. One only has to look at Buzzfeed’s home page.
- “15 Products That Will Solve Problems You Didn’t Even Know You Had”
- “18 Wholesome Memes That May Make You Feel Less Alone”
- “17 Smoothie Bowls That Will Inspire You To Eat A Lil’ Healthier”
These articles aren’t jokes— they’re real— and I didn’t have to scroll very far on Buzzfeed’s homepage to find them.
To clarify, listicles are not wrong. This isn’t a holier-than-thou rant or pharisaical judging. Most importantly, I don’t want this to stop you from writing and reading encouraging articles written in a list format. It’s simply a reminder for myself, and I pray you’ll find some nuggets of insight along the way.
In the name of irony, here are five dangers for reading and writing Christian articles (like this one).
1. Our relationship with God cannot be mechanized.
In my attempts to turn a relationship into a list of advice to follow, am I turning Christianity into a ”check-the-box-off” religion? In the book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (yes, an ironic book to quote from), Tony Reinke includes an incredible quote:
”A hundred years ago no Christian would ever have thought of writing a book called ‘Three Easy Steps to Being Filled with the Spirit,’” said pastor Tim Keller. ”You see, on the one hand, we’ve been so affected by our technological society that we want to make everything a commodity. Let’s boil everything down to procedures. I want to be in control.”
I can’t take any relationship— especially with the Creator of the Universe— and boil it down into a list of numbered steps.
2. Our relationship with others cannot be controlled.
Do any of these relationship challenges sound familiar?
- Struggling to deal with friends at school
- Working through family issues
- Finding that elusive ”soul mate”
- Attempting to repair a broken relationship
Relational difficulties are real and inescapable, but what is my usual course of action? Read article after article promising to help me find and fix a relationship. There’s nothing wrong with gaining insight from wiser Christians, but relationships are complex things, refusing to submit to my desire for control. The more I search for answers, the more I procrastinate on what every relationship needs: genuine time, honest conversation, and humble vulnerability.
No article on “7 steps to a better relationship” will provide a shortcut around what I often want to avoid.
3. Our sins do not have DIY solutions.
How can I overcome the sin of ”fill-in-the-blank?” After struggling to worship in a joy-absent haze on Sunday, I spend the rest of the week frantically searching for advice on how to put out the constant fires.
“How can I defeat this sin? How can I overcome?”
Sanctification (being set apart) and transformation (growing into who I’m meant to be) is something I cannot do on my own. To defeat temptation, overcome sin, and draw closer to the Creator requires strength beyond myself.
No list of advice can replace being empowered by Jesus’ grace and Word.
4. The Bible is not a self-help guide.
There’s nothing wrong with searching the Bible to find answers for work, relationships, and school. But if all I’m doing is finding verses to solve life issues and moving on, I’m missing the point. I can’t run to the Bible to fix a problem and then push the Bible aside until the next problem rears its head.
5. “Christian” articles can become a distraction.
Don’t feel guilty about writing and reading list-based, ”x-number-of-steps” style of articles; I wrote this as a list for a reason, and I’m glad you took the time to read it.
But “Christian” articles can become a distraction from what is most important: spending time in the Word, with God, and with others. Nothing can offer quick shortcuts around what we must do, and often, what we want to avoid. What articles like this can do— with God’s grace— is direct others back to His glory and truth. Keep reading and writing, but tread carefully with your eyes on Jesus Christ.