The article “Scripture In Mission: Three Major Priorities In Eradicating Bible Poverty” by the Lausanne Movement Scripture in Mission Multiplex Resource Team identifies how “Bible poverty” is due to several barriers that hinder people from connecting with the Bible. The barriers include “ignorance, indifference or contempt for the Scriptures, busyness of life, admiration of technology, being flooded with entertainment, the strangeness of the Scriptures relative to life in the 21st century, beliefs about what can be known, and the centrality and autonomy of the individual.”
If we’re going to deal with Bible poverty (i.e., help people connect with the Bible) we need to figure out how the barriers to Bible engagement might be bridged. So what are the bridges that help us span the difficulties that prevent us from connecting with the Bible? Here are three suggestions:
1. The bridge that moves “me” to “we”. Individualism is killing Bible engagement. There has to be a shift from reading/hearing the Bible primarily for personal benefit to reading/hearing the Bible primarily for the benefit of the community of faith. Form must follow function. For Bible reading/hearing to be more communal (and biblical) it needs to be family focused. That is, Bible engagement should centre on practices or methodologies that prioritize and cultivate family engagement with God’s Word. The Scriptures are very clear on this point – we should engage with God’s Word in ways that enable us to pass it from one generation to the next (cf. Deuteronomy 6:7, Psalm 78:1-8). What does this look like in practice? For some it may be home schooling with a curriculum that’s rooted in the Scriptures. For others it may involve regular discussions stimulated by intergenerational Bible reading/reflecting guides. And for others it may be family devotions in the evening.
2. The bridge that moves “screen” to “wean”. Screen based technologies like TV’s, smart phones and tablets radically compete with or hinder time spent reading, reflecting, remembering and responding to God’s Word. Technology isn’t neutral; it shapes and alters our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual environments. It also devours our free time, which in turn limits or negates engagement with God’s Word. How can we meaningfully hide the Word in our hearts or live according to the Bible (cf. Psalm 119:9-11) if it’s more important for us to be texting, checking Snapchat, or logging into Instagram? For Bible engagement to thrive we must significantly reduce screen time. Like a baby being weaned from milk to solids, we must be weaned from the screen to the scriptures. What does this look like in practice? For some it may mean deactivating Facebook, cancelling Netflix, or selling the game console. For others it may be monitoring how much time is spent each day using devices with screens. And for others it may be a spouse or friend who helps them prioritize time by reading and discussing the Scriptures together every day.
3. The bridge that moves “know” to “grow”. Bible commentators Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart say that “the single most serious problem people have with the Bible is not with lack of understanding … but obeying it – putting it into practice.” There are two forms of Bible poverty – when some people don’t have the Word, and when some people don’t live the Word (cf. Amos 8:11, Matthew 7:24-27). One happens when the Scriptures aren’t accessible and the other when the Scriptures aren’t acted on. Concerning the latter, the Bible clearly states, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” James 1:22. What does this look like in practice? It means we should receive God’s Word as a message from the Lord and not put off for tomorrow what we should do today.
A final thought: The difficulties encountered in building bridges over barriers are human, not divine. God isn’t curbed or contained by the obstructions that hinder people from connecting with His Word. Yes, we struggle to be linked to the Bible (which by extension is to be linked with the One who is the Word – Jesus Christ), but as we struggle, we should remember we can overcome the challenges through Christ who gives us strength (cf. Philippians 4:13).
© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5