CliffsNotes Religion

Those who have gone to college are likely familiar with CliffsNotes, a series of ‘study guides’ that summarize many of the popular books that are assigned to read in those college years; they are intended “as a supplement to their reading,” but as you probably know [maybe from firsthand experience?], many students substitute CliffsNotes for any reading of the assigned book. Why? It’s just easier! Many of the students who default to CliffsNotes will tell you (1) they just don’t have the time to read the entire book, and/or (2) they can’t comprehend the book fully without the help of the CliffsNotes study guide.

      I am sure there are more than a few college professors who know their students will default to CliffsNotes, and will then tailor their exams to try to adjust for those who didn’t actually read the assigned book, and some have quite a disdain for CliffsNotes because they perceive it to be something that encourages laziness, and that students will simply forgo reading the actual books altogether, and miss out on potentially inspiring literature. There is no doubt CliffsNotes are popular, with about 2 million sold per year; their impact is still debated, however.

      This habit of looking for shortcuts is one not confined to college reading assignments, though; it seems this is also the habit of many when it comes to religious/spiritual matters. Many would rather someone just gave them a brief summary of what the Bible is all about than have to pick it up and actually see for themselves. Many just want the ten-second sound bite of God’s word and the history of God’s dealings with mankind, and have little interest in putting forth the effort to actually learn the truth, examine the details of God’s plan for man’s salvation, and seriously consider all God has said about sin, salvation, and eternity. For many, that is simply too much effort, and they are unwilling to do the hard work required to actually have true faith.

      CliffsNotes Faith. It is discouraging to hear so often, in the midst of a personal Bible study, that an individual really has no basis for their beliefs other than it is what their parents believed or what their preacher told them. Many have never actually read the Bible. This might be called ‘secondhand faith,’ but it is actually no faith at all. According to God, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).  Faith does not come by osmosis, and neither does it come by inheritance through one’s bloodline or genetic makeup. Faith is not something that is obtained by a supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit on some preselected individuals God chose for salvation, without their interest or effort. [There is not ONE example of such within Scripture.] Though some desire an ‘easy’ faith that requires little or no effort at all, such a ‘faith’ is foreign to the Scriptures, for God requires effort on our part, if only for the fact it demonstrates a desire within our hearts. You see, God wants us to want Him!

      True faith requires us to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God,” which means “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). We will not meet the definition of “diligent” if we are relying on someone else’s hard work and study of God’s word to tell us what we are to believe; we will most likely be incapable of “rightly dividing the word of truth” if we know just a few verses. I might be able to spout off John 3:16 or quick to cite Jesus when He said, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1) to silence anyone who points out my sin, but I am deceiving only myself if I think that means I have true faith.

      And it is no better than relying on CliffsNotes when we go to a creed book written by uninspired men as a defense of our ‘faith.’ Phillip Schaaf defined a creed as a “form of words, setting forth with authority certain articles of belief which are regarded by the framers as necessary for salvation.” [Schaaf, Creeds of Christendom.] First, I would question the ‘authority’ by which these creeds are set forth, but also notice that a creed will contain certain articles of belief,’ which means it will not contain the whole of what the Scriptures say; it necessarily omits the parts the men who wrote the creed felt were unnecessary. And yet millions are trusting that these CliffsNotes of faith — creeds — will bring eternal reward!

      CliffsNotes of Discipleship. Just as creed-based ‘faith’ or beliefs based on family traditions is insufficient, so also is a life claiming to be one that follows the teachings of Jesus, but which seeks to do as little as possible. It seems many are interested in what might be called ‘CliffsNotes discipleship’ where one seeks to learn the bare minimum, worship the bare minimum, and do the bare minimum. Such attitudes are demonstrated by those who attend the worship assembly only on Easter and Christmas, who always volunteer ‘someone else’ for work that needs to be done, or who ask, “Where does the Bible say I have to be there Sunday night and Wednesday night?” Again, it seems as if some want to know, “Just how little can I do and still get to heaven? Just tell me what I have to do. Don’t major in minors.”

      Frankly, I cannot comprehend this form of ‘discipleship,’ for it does not follow the example of our Lord. It was Jesus who said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master” (Matt. 10:24, 25). Jesus did not seek to do as little as possible for our salvation, but went to the extreme in giving His very body and life that we might have the hope of forgiveness and eternal life with Him in heaven! And we dare ask, “How little can I do”?

      We need to be as Saul, and ask, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10); we should be as Isaiah and say, “Here am I! Send me” (Isa. 6:8); we should be as Paul when he told his brethren, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15), or when he said, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). This should be the desire of the disciple — to do the most for the Lord, and not seek to do as little as he thinks he can and still get to heaven. True discipleship is presenting “your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1), and loving “the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).

      When it comes to our worship, are we honestly seeking to do our best and do the most? God is seeking those who are willing to “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23, 24), and those who would say, “Let us go into the house of the Lord (Psa, 122:1), rather than those who would say, “Oh, what a weariness!” (Mal. 1:13).

      When it comes to our study of God’s word, we should be as the psalmist, who wrote, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psa. 119:97), or, “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” (Psa. 19:10).

            Instead of seeking to do the bare minimum in our discipleship, we should be seeking to “excel still more” (1 Thess. 4:1); instead of loving only those who love us or loving our brethren ‘enough,’ we should be seeking to “excel still more” (1 Thess. 4:9, 10). In all things, we should be “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). — Steven Harper