Bible Engagement Blog: JumpIntoTheWord

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What Helps People Connect With the Bible?

Research indicates that the primary factors helping people connect with the Bible are:

  • being a committed Christian
  • accessibility and availability of a Bible
  • attending church
  • reading books that aid Bible reading

Simply stated, people are more likely to engage the Bible when they are committed to Christ, linked up with other people (go to church, attend a Bible study or youth group, speak to friends and family about what they read in the Bible) and use easy to read or contemporary versions of the Bible together with devotional books, reading guides, or commentaries.

Conversely, the main reasons why people don’t connect with the Bible are:

  • they are not relationally connected to the Christian community
  • they do not read books or don’t own a Bible
  • they say they are too busy or have other priorities

Slick advertising campaigns or just handing a stranger a Bible are unlikely to have much success in helping connect people with the Bible. Relationships are crucial. We must facilitate and nurture vertical (with God) and horizontal (with God’s people) relationships. For this to happen we must share the good news (evangelize), teach people how to live for Christ (make disciples), and foster authentic Christ centred communities of faith.

© Scripture Union Canada 2014


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Bible Engagement in a Digital Age

Technology writer, Richard Carr, suggests that books and book reading are in their “cultural twilight.” Some may disagree with Carr, but we can’t ignore the fact that innovation and change brought about by the digital revolution are reshaping the way people read.

In my lifetime I’ve moved from exclusively reading a printed page to reading text on a smart phone, laptop screen, e-reader or tablet. Cognitive neuroscientist, Maryanne Wolf, classifies this change as a shift from the reading brain to the digital brain. Like it or not, our new reading habits involve profound technological, cultural, behavioural, and even neurological changes.

Cellular phones, which increasingly provide Internet access, are now used by more than 75 percent of the world’s population. According to a June 2012 article in the Globe and Mail, Canadians are on track to achieving a wireless penetration rate that exceeds 100 percent by 2015. Hong Kong has surpassed this penetration rate – the Office of the Telecommunications Authority reports more than 13 million cell phones being used by the total population of 7.5 million people. That’s about 1.8 cell phones per person!

According to mathematician Vernor Vinge, and Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, we can expect the emergence of more and more sophisticated technologies separated by shorter and shorter time intervals. That to say that changes in the way we communicate and access information will continue to accelerate.

So how does the digital age influence Bible engagement? Consider the following:

  • the Bible is being read in multiple formats in an ever emerging variety of forms on a growing range of devices
  • availability and access to different Bible versions and translations are continuing to increase
  • greater access to audio Bibles and podcasts may help us become better “hearers” of the Word
  • sharing thoughts and insights about the Bible is increasing due to social networks like facebook and Linkedin
  • interactive software programs/systems, hypertext, blogs, posts and webinars uniquely facilitate biblical study and reflection
  • sharing favourite or meaningful verses is increasing due to texting and tweeting
  • the individual’s opportunity and capacity to understand and interpret the Scriptures will increase
  • missions could prosper because nations closed to the Gospel will find it more difficult to restrict the availability of biblical texts
  • the Scriptures are readily available in any language or translation to anyone on earth with a smart phone
  • Scripture memorization may decline because Google, Bible Gateway, You Version and such make it easy to look up a passage or text
  • people will become significantly less likely to buy printed copies of the Bible
  • reading Scripture within a contemplative framework may decline
  • sequential reading will decline due to the fact that reading on the web develops inclinations to skip around, dip and dabble, browse or scan information
  • tendencies to read the Bible in short fast bursts will increase
  • concentration and meditation on the Scriptures will suffer because of what Cory Doctorow has called “an ecosystem of interruption technologies” (animations, hyperlinks, live feeds, pop-ups and so on)
  • qualitative depth of reading will be sacrificed for reading geared to a quantitative scope
  • e-books may augment a predisposition to uncouple content from form which may lead to tendencies to view the Scriptures as something detached from their incarnational form – the textual equivalent of Cartesian dualism
  • the role of the local church in the transmission and interpretation of the Scriptures will decline

Without a doubt the positive and negative effects of the digital age represent a challenge for the Church. Hopefully we’ll do what’s necessary to curb the negative effect of technologies while simultaneously encouraging the use of emerging technologies that facilitate and advance engagement with the Bible.

Have your say. What would you add or subtract from the comments above.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Good News Bad News

In “Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them” Ed Stetzer (Lifeway Research) surveyed 1,000 unchurched young adults about the issues of church and spirituality. The study revealed that young adults are more open to issues of Bible engagement than older generations.

The Lifeway research findings for younger unchurched Canadians are as follows:

– 51% say they would be willing to study the Bible if a friend asked them

– 89% say they would be willing to talk to someone about Christian faith

– 32% would be willing to join a small group to study the Bible

While many un-churched young adults are prepared to study the Bible, they’re not too keen on the church:

– 41% believe the church is full of hypocrites

– 67% would not visit or join a church that does not welcome or affirm homosexual members

[Note: The main reason why younger un-churched Canadians won’t visit churches that don’t welcome homosexuals is because they consider it to be a justice issue. In contrast most churches view homosexuality as a moral/biblical issue]

In another recent study, Thom Rainer interviewed thousands of unchurched non-Christians and asked them what they really thought about Christians. One of Rainer’s seven key discoveries was that unchurched non-Christians would like to learn about the Bible from a Christian, but not in a church setting. Rainer cites someone who said, “The Bible really fascinates me, but I don’t want to go to a stuffy and legalistic church to learn about it. It would be nice if a Christian invited me to study the Bible in his home or at a place like Starbucks.” [Source: What Non-Christians Really Think About Christians]

The bottom line: Younger unchurched Canadians give thumbs up for Bible engagement and thumbs down for church engagement. That’s the good news bad news!

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Hemorrhaging Faith

According to Rick Hiemstra, Director of Research for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, young Canadian adults who have left the church by 25 years of age are unlikely to return.  Hiemstra’s comment is informed by the recent findings in Hemorrhaging Faith: Why and When Canadian Young Adults are Leaving, Staying and Returning to Church, a ground-breaking Canadian study of 2,049 young people between the ages of 18 and 34.

Other troubling revelations in the study include:

  • Two in three young adults who attended church weekly as a child don’t do so today
  • Three out of five young adults who stop attending church reject their Christian identity
  • More young adults checked out of church between grades 8 and 9 than between high school and post secondary education/careers

Why are most churched Canadian young adults leaving church? One of the significant findings of the study is the direct correlation between hemorrhaging faith and the spiritual disciplines of Christian parents. When mom and dad are seen by their children to read their Bibles, pray and go to church regularly, then the children will more than likely continue in the faith as adults. But when parents inconsistently or almost never read their Bibles, pray, or attend church, their children usually stop attending church just as soon as they can.

Parents, you are the most important spiritual influence in your children’s lives. Do your children see you regularly reading your Bible, praying and going to church? More is caught than taught. When you aren’t practicing basic spiritual disciplines your children ultimately view your Christian faith as inauthentic or hypocritical.

The study is a wake-up call. The disengagement and attrition of young adults from church and faith must be stopped. Something more than another book, purpose driven programs or parenting workshops is required. Sending our children to Christian schools or improving the youth ministry in local churches won’t make a huge difference. What’s needed is parents being spiritually responsible. We must do what we’re not doing. Regular Bible engagement and prayer coupled with faithful weekly church attendance should be normative for every Christian mom and dad.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Through Jesus and For Jesus

Why do you read the Bible? People mainly read it for their personal needs. A 2009 Canadian case study on Bible reading revealed that people read “for guidance, knowledge and direction” (28.2%), “for help, reassurance and comfort” (26.4%), “for understanding, answers and perspective on life” (21.5%), or to know/learn about God/Jesus (20.2%).

Check out a church bulletin or website and it’s obvious that many Bible study, life or small group meetings are “me” focused. Studies harness the Scriptures to address felt needs. Marriage groups spotlight husband and wife relationships, youth groups tackle adolescent issues, parenting groups deal with child rearing, recovery groups target substance abuse, and so on. In many small groups the Bible is mainly a manual of divine instruction.

Is it possible to read, reflect on and even revere the Bible yet completely miss the point of what it’s all about? Some people can quote sections of the Bible, sometimes in its original languages, yet they don’t know faith in Jesus Christ. There are ministers who recite Scriptures from a lectionary, something they’ve done for decades, but they don’t know the One who is the Word. And some theologians reduce the Bible to nothing more than a reference book to uphold their theological perspectives.

I used to think we needed a Bible reading revival. My thinking has been amended. Bible reading per se is not what transforms our lives. Jesus transforms lives. What we need is a Jesus revival! That’s not to say that transformation can happen independently from God’s Word – far from it! But it is to say that we can be “Bible-believing” or “Word-centered” yet miss the point if we’re not “Christ-centred”.

While it’s true that God’s Word is our source of guidance, comfort and understanding, let’s make sure we don’t limit it to these ends. Ultimately God’s given us His Word to lead us to Christ. So let’s read the Bible to know Jesus and make Him known!

© Scripture Union Canada 2012


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Revival

Revival is intimately linked to Bible engagement. The 19th Century Swiss Protestant theologian and church historian, Philip Schaff, wrote: “Every true progress in church history is conditioned by a new and deeper study of the Scriptures.” That is to say, every spiritual awakening has sprung from and been fuelled by God’s Word.

Revival is a breath of Heaven – a divine visitation bringing deep repentance, renewal and righteousness. Individuals, churches, communities and nations are in desperate need of revival. In a time of plenty we have so little. There’s no shortage of food and water, but spiritual emptiness, shallow enticements and energy sapping pursuits are robbing us of fullness of life.

We’re falling away from God. Someone once said, “As the church goes, so goes the nation.” Performance and program driven churches are generally the order of the day. Consumer motivated values inform what we do and why we do what we do. The majority of people attend church wanting to socialize and enjoy the entertainment. Prayer meetings are usually the poorest attended meetings in the church. Many Christians don’t read the Bible regularly and few live lives informed by a biblical worldview. As God said thousands of years ago: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me . . .” Isaiah 29:13 (NIV).

Revival is the need of the hour. The psalmist cries, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Psalm 85:6 (NIV).  If we share the heart cry of the psalmist we need to know that one of the preparatory conditions for revival is “a new and deeper study of the Scriptures”. The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the puritan revivals in the 17th century, the revival ministry of Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards and others in the 18th century, and the extraordinary awakenings in the 19th and 20th centuries were all marked by a return to the Word.

Revival changes everything. May a generation of Bible studying, Bible believing, Bible living men and women be raised up for the 21st century.

© Scripture Union Canada 2012


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Breathe Scripture

I wonder what 16th Century Protestants would think of today’s church if they could drop in for a visit. Sola Scriptura was the rallying cry during the Reformation and many fought and died for the Bible to be pre-eminent over church traditions or practices that were un-biblical or extra-biblical. In varying degrees it seems like something of the Sola Scriptura focus has been lost in the 21st Century Church. While the Church generally uses the Bible to provide an underpinning for teaching and life instruction, the Scriptures aren’t always the primary authority in directing all we say and do.                                                                              

So why should the Scriptures be interwoven into everything we say and do in the local church? The REVEAL study, conducted by Willow Creek Community Church (USA), suggests one exceptionally good reason – to nurture spiritual maturity.

In the REVEAL study book, MOVE: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, Hawkins and Parkinson say that embedding the Bible in everything is one of the top four practices of disciple-making churches. In fact the top five percent of churches in the REVEAL study who successfully nurtured spiritual maturity were churches who “breathed Scripture”. When churches breathe Scripture they’re asking, “What does the Bible have to say about that?” The answers to this question inform and direct every activity of the church.

Breathing Scripture . . . how many churches apply the Bible to everything they say and do? Looking at some of the things done, or not done in our churches, I wonder . . .

Is your church breathing Scripture? If not, maybe it’s time to take up the ancient rally cry of Sola Scriptura. David’s oft repeated proclamation was, “I have chosen your precepts” Psalm 119:173 (NIV). Pray that the church in our day will come to be known for its total allegiance to the Scriptures.

© Copyright Scripture Union Canada, 2012