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Bible Engagement Blog


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Healthy Bible Engagement

A lover who is separated from the beloved doesn’t let a love letter just sit on the kitchen table unopened for days on end with the ever-growing pile of junk mail, but instead quickly and eagerly opens it upon its arrival, reading and rereading it until the ink is nearly worn off from use. Scripture is a love letter from our Divine Bridegroom … we too should eagerly and often read the Scriptures and hear there the voice of our Beloved speaking to us. Tim Gray, “Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina.”

Bible engagement isn’t something we master overnight. “Exposure to the contents of Scripture does not necessarily lead to a transforming encounter with God’s Word,” says professor of theology J. Todd Billings. The Bible reveals while it hides and hides while it reveals. To engage the Bible successfully with our hearts, heads and hands requires much more than reading the Scriptures, listening to sermons, or memorizing some verses.

It can be a challenge to engage with the Bible. In fact, the reality for some Christians may look like this: Commit to reading the Bible every day. Do okay for a while. Fail. Try again. Do okay for a while. Fail again. Try again. Do okay for a while. Fail again. Give up.

Maybe one of the reasons why some people fail in their efforts to read, reflect, remember and respond to God’s Word is because they think it’s about them; about what they need to do to please God, how they can get Him in their lives, or how to be right with Him. That’s getting it back to front. Bible engagement isn’t about our prosperity, safety or gratification.

For others, it may be that when all is said and done, Bible engagement doesn’t really matter. In their heart of hearts, some Christians secretly wonder if reading the Bible makes a difference. They look around and see nice people who aren’t Christians and Christians who aren’t nice people, and say to themselves, “Why should I read the Bible?”

When I took to the streets and asked people why they don’t engage with the Bible, most people responded, “Because I don’t have enough time.” On the surface, this may be true. Our lives are often frenetic. On the other hand, we’re rarely too busy to surf the internet, watch television, or meet someone for a cup of tea or coffee. The truth is we think we have better things to do and we prioritize our time accordingly.

The more fundamental reason why people fail to connect with the Bible is sin. Some people shy away from reading the Bible because they’re sustaining their lives in their own strength. Our independent spirits don’t want to confess the need to be dependent on God. Pride, lack of obedience, an unwillingness to submit, and a skewed view of God result in us not doing what we should be doing.

Here’s the bottom line: Bible engagement thrives when it’s about Jesus, not when it’s about us. “He must become greater; I must become less” John 3:30. To engage fruitfully with the Bible we must look to Christ, and not ourselves. Author and pastor Eugene Peterson says, “One of the most urgent tasks facing the Christian community today is to counter self-sovereignty by reasserting what it means to live these Holy Scriptures from the inside out, instead of using them for our sincere and devout but still self-sovereign purposes.”

So Scripture is given to us to reveal Christ. Christ is the theme, purpose and interpretive key to Bible engagement. He is the motive, the means and the message. Yes, Bible engagement is challenging, but it isn’t complicated. Quite simply, if our relationship with Christ is healthy, our Bible engagement will be healthy.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Authority of the Bible

Bible engagement rests on the belief that there should be an unswerving acknowledgement and commitment to the centrality and authority of the Bible.

The Bible is authoritative because all authority belongs to God and is of God. In the Old Testament, the Father exercises authority through the creation of all that is, through His dealings with His people, and through many significant events. In the New Testament, Christ exercises and claims all authority (cf. Matthew 28:18).

Furthermore, the Bible is authoritative because God speaks and sustains His Word. Bible engagement rests on the understanding that the Spirit gives life to the Word and does so by enabling the reader or listener to hear the Word and live it out.

As the Anglican theologian, N. T. Wright says, It is enormously important that we see the role of scripture not simply as being to provide true information about, or even an accurate running commentary upon, the work of God in salvation and new creation, but as taking an active part within that ongoing purpose.”

A central insight of the Reformation is that God is the absolute authority. If God is the absolute authority then the Bible can’t contend for that authority. How then, if the authority of the Bible cannot be considered absolute, should its authority be understood? The answer to this question, according to Wright, is that the authority of Scripture is “delegated or mediated … from that which God himself possesses.” So when we use the phrase “the authority of the Bible,” it can only make sense if it’s a shorthand for “the authority of … God exercised … through Scripture.”

So what? Why is the authority of the Bible important? For many reasons. One reason is that the purpose or goal of authority is to bring us to a place of liberty – to set us free so that we come to know fullness of life in Christ Jesus (cf. John 10:10). God expresses His authority through judging and condemning sin in the world in a way that will save and sanctify people. His intent is to redeem and remake the world, through the sovereign exercise of His power and love, so that we can be fully human.

Scripture texts like Romans 15:4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, and Hebrews 4:12 indicate that the Bible is an integral component in God’s plan, i.e., it’s part of the means by which God directs the process of salvation and sanctification. Wright says that the Bible “is designed to function through human beings, through the church, through people who, living still by the Spirit, have their life moulded by this Spirit-inspired book.”

In recognizing that the Bible is designed to function through us, then the exercise of God’s authority to make us fully human is not an end in itself. God saves and sanctifies us for a purpose. Our purpose is to do what Jesus did (cf. John 20:21). We are to go into the world to speak and enact His will. The Great Commandment (cf. Matthew 22:37-39) and the Great Commission (cf. Matthew 28:19-20), in particular, serve to direct us to these ends.

All told, Bible engagement can only happen when we submit our authority to God’s authority. It’s hypocrisy to affirm the authority of the Scriptures but functionally disobey them in our everyday lives. We cannot and must not usurp God’s authority by replacing it with self-sovereignty. Bible engagement can’t happen if we do not surrender our inclination to control God. Quite simply, when we engage with the Word we cannot and should not try to fit God into our preconceived ideas of what He should be like or what He should do.

The Bible is not an end in itself. God is God – we must receive His Word as people under His authority and act on it in ways that bring honour and glory to Him. That’s not to say that coming under the authority of God and His Word is a fait accompli for most of us. Oxford academic director Ida Glaser observes that “In fact, none of us starts by accepting God’s revelation in Christ or in the Bible … we need God to lead us to this understanding and he leads us all in different ways.”

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Helping the 95%

Many Christians don’t engage with the Bible because they don’t know how to. According to Dr. Phil Collins, Center for Scripture Engagement, Taylor University, “Ninety-five percent of Christians say they have never been taught how to engage Scripture.”

That’s an alarming statistic. Alarming because it indicates a dramatic failure by teachers and pastors to equip Christians at the most basic level of spiritual formation.

In fairness to teachers and pastors, they usually know a few reading-based approaches to Scripture engagement and sometimes share these approaches with their congregations. Unfortunately, many pastors know very little about non-reading or minimum reading-based approaches. This is significant because most Christians, even in literate societies, need to be taught non-reading or minimum reading-based approaches to Scripture engagement.

Helping the 95% begins with the recognition that everyone is unique and engage with the Bible in diverse ways. That’s because our brains are wired differently. Right-brain dominant thinkers prefer to engage with the Bible in more creative and artistic ways and left-brain dominant thinkers prefer to engage with the Bible in more analytical and methodical ways.

Simply telling the 95% they should engage with the Bible through reading based methods alone is grossly inadequate. Bible engagement is effective when it’s geared to a person’s governing learning style. If the 95% are going to engage Scripture well they must be taught approaches utilizing visual, auditory, reading/writing or kinesthetic styles of learning.

If you know how to do it, the rudimentary principles and practices of how to engage Scripture can be taught in a 3-hour workshop. However, this isn’t happening because most pastors and teachers don’t know how to teach others how to engage Scripture.

To address this problem, Scripture Union published Bible Engagement Basics, a handbook that equips individuals and communities with biblical strategies, approaches, tools, and principles to engage with the Bible. If pastors and teachers read Chapter 2 of Bible Engagement Basics, they will be equipped with enough content to teach the 95% how to become Bible engagers.

Most of the 95% are oral preference learners. Oral preference learners learn by listening, talking, seeing, and doing. Interactive practical workshops are therefore the ideal environment for teaching the 95% how to engage Scripture.

Learning how to engage Scripture isn’t enough in and of itself. Bible engagement needs to be cultivated. This is challenging and requires ongoing individual support and encouragement. If, for example, there are several people in a congregation who thrive in an environment where they can engage with the Bible through dramatizing Scripture, then opportunities for doing this need to be created, resourced and sustained.

Helping the 95% is a massive undertaking and will never be accomplished if we don’t help each other. If someone knows how to engage the Bible through journaling, he/she should teach others. If someone knows how to engage the Bible using the Ignatian Method, he/she should teach others. Every one of us needs to play a part, even a small part, in helping someone else engage Scripture.

Will you help the 95%? The challenge facing the church isn’t Bible accessibility or distribution. The 95% have the Bible in multiple printed and online formats. The challenge is Bible engagement. The 95% need someone to teach them how to engage Scripture in a way that works well for them.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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The Abide Bible

Finally, a Bible engagement Bible! For years, I’ve wondered why there isn’t a Bible that incorporates suggestions to actively equip people, in a variety of ways, to connect with the Word and the One who is the Word. To say I’m excited is an understatement! I recently received that Bible in a green cloth-bound hardcover. A gift from my friend Phil Collins, the General Editor. It’s called The Abide Bible, and it was beautifully presented along with a journal and pen.

For as long as I can remember, pastors have been urging their congregations, “To study the Bible.” Bible publishers have supported this injunction with a proliferation of study Bibles. Now I love to study the Bible, as we should (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15), but Bible study shouldn’t be the only way Christians interact with the Bible. We should employ more than our intellect to meet with God in and through His Word (e.g. Joshua 1:8, Psalm 119:11, James 1:22). Our heads, hearts and bodies should engage with the Scriptures. Study without reflection or reflection without application results in a Bible engagement malfunction. To connect adequately with the Bible we must read, reflect, and respond to God’s Word.

The practice of reading the Bible is different from what’s required to reflect or respond to the Bible. To engage fully with the Bible we must learn a range of Bible engagement practices. Most Christians say they’ve never been taught how to engage with the Bible. If you’re one of those Christians, then The Abide Bible may be the best Bible for you. That’s because The Abide Bible, as it says on the inside front cover, has “prompts or sidebars designed to help you engage passages and deepen your understanding and experience of God’s Word.”

To assist people in experiencing God’s Word The Abide Bible incorporates five Bible engagement practices: contemplation, journaling, picture it, praying Scripture and engaging through art. To incorporate these five practices in a Bible, in my view, is revolutionary!

A study Bible, by virtue of its name, says, “This is for students.” The Abide Bible, by virtue of its name, says, “This is for people who want to sojourn with the Lord using a variety of senses and connections.”

The Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement contributors who collaborated on the development of the materials for The Abide Bible have, through the prompts and sidebars, made the Bible more accessible to more people. No two people will engage with the Bible in the same way. There are multiple learning styles and multiple intelligences. The Abide Bible makes it easier for spatial and linguistic learners to engage with the Scriptures. If words, feelings, pictures, sanctified imagination, conversations or images help you read/hear the Word and meet with God, then I strongly recommend The Abide Bible for consideration.

Am I a little bit biased when it comes to endorsing The Abide Bible? Yes. I’m unashamedly a Bible engagement guy who has written a book and teaches Bible engagement classes to help people connect with God through contemplating, journaling, picturing, praying, engaging art and other practices as a means to dwell in the Word. I also became a fan of The Abide Bible when I opened the presentation page and saw Psalm 119:105 – it’s the theme text for Scripture Union Canada, the agency where I serve as President. All that to say that you should check it out for yourself at https://www.thomasnelsonbibles.com/abidebible/

The Abide Bible, Thomas Nelson, 2020.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Engagement After COVID-19

I’ve recently been thinking about what happens after COVID-19. When the lockdown ends, how should churches and ministries help people connect with Jesus and His Word? Here are five brief thoughts about Bible engagement after COVID-19:

1. Building trust with people.

The pandemic has stirred up nervousness and anxiety. People are more concerned than usual about what they can or can’t do and who they can or can’t trust. Innate suspicions about the Bible may therefore increase. The big challenge on the backend of the virus will be to earn the trust of not-yet Christians. This won’t happen overnight. It will be mainly through building relational trust that we’ll get opportunities to share the Word.

2. Reconfiguring the presentation of the Bible.

Both community and technology need to be prioritized. After COVID-19, people will be looking to personalize truth through online means. The ways in which we invite participation and interaction with the Bible will be critical to successful connections being made. We must invite people to engage their character, identity and imagination with the Bible. As author Thomas Hohstadt suggests, to do this “We must risk transcending the environment we’re in … turning our backs on the pious paraphrases of the past … separating the mutable from the immutable.”

3. Interactive communities.

Interactivity will be highly valued after the pandemic, but with some social distancing. After COVID-19, we’ll be living in a new age of connectivity where we’ll network online in relationally interdependent frameworks in which there is a participatory flow of imaginative reason and metaphor. Strategies or approaches to Bible engagement after the pandemic should thus facilitate the means to invite and cultivate ways for individuals to interact with the Bible and each other as virtual communities.

4. New media or technology.

People need to get up close and personal with the Bible when they use new media or technology. We must continue exploring and creating innovative online ways to connect people with the Bible. Flexible use of time and space is required that will reach people anywhere, at any time, and every way. High-tech advancements are not an option, they’re a necessity. We must upgrade the technology harnessed to connect people during COVID-19 to facilitate easier, faster, immersive connections.

5. “To infinity … and beyond.”

Buzz Lightyear’s classic line, “To infinity … and beyond” reminds us that there are no limits. As germophobes and risk-averse people retreat to the safety of their homes, we must find ways to connect them effectively with the Scriptures. In the changed world after COVID-19 we’ll need to be smarter at how we engage people with the Bible. How can we enhance connectivity with God’s Story through virtual reality or other means? What methods will connect people living in an uncertain world with the certainty of the Word? While we don’t have all the answers, God will reveal them to us. So let’s explore every option for connecting people with Jesus and His Story.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible More

Through the grace of God, we’re privileged to live in the era of Bible More. The Bible is more accessible and freely available today in more formats than ever before. Thanks to the great work of many Bible agencies and organizations, virtually everyone everywhere can read, hear and see the Scriptures in multiple ways.

Remarkably, the obstacles impeding engagement with God’s Word have been practically eliminated through the development of creative Bible resources. Isaiah 29:18 has come true. Now the deaf can “hear” and the blind can “see” the Word.

Yes, there are still small groups of people who don’t have a printed Bible in their heart language, but translators are in the process of completing the task. And yes, there are people living in countries where it’s illegal to own or read the Bible, but agencies like Open Doors find ways to distribute God’s Word despite ideological or religious barriers.

So why is Bible More noteworthy? It’s significant because it testifies to how Christians value everyone everywhere. If Christians didn’t share the Bible freely with all people, it would be culpable negligence. Christians do everything in their power to make the Bible accessible and available because it’s the only Word that connects people with the One who is the Word. That is, Christians connect people with the Bible because they want all people to know God and become part of His family.

Little wonder then that there are so many Christians involved in Bible More. Everywhere you look you’ll find Christians participating in Bible translation, Bible distribution, Bible literacy, Bible teaching, Bible study, or some form of Bible engagement.

That’s not to say that more can’t be done. Even though more people are able to connect with Jesus and His Story than ever before, many more people need to connect with Jesus and His Story. To help make these connections, check out these links:

YouVersion (also known as Bible.com or the Bible App) is an online and mobile Bible platform published for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and many other operating systems; it also supports a variety of other platforms. https://www.youversion.com/the-bible-app/

The Bible Project specializes in visual storytelling and illustrated videos. https://thebibleproject.com/explore/

Biblica provides programs and tools in print, digital, and audio formats that help people go deeper in God’s Word. https://www.biblica.com/resources/

Forum of Bible Agencies International promotes collaboration and cooperation amongst Bible Agencies with a shared vision of working together to maximize the access and impact of God’s word. https://forum-intl.org/

BibleStudyTools.com is the largest free online Bible website for verse search and in-depth studies. https://www.biblestudytools.com/

Lifewords helps people share the Bible’s life words and discover the good news that changes the world. https://www.lifewords.global/

BibleGateway.com is a website designed to allow easy reading, listening, studying, searching, and sharing of the Bible in many different versions and translations, including English, French, Spanish, and other languages. https://www.biblegateway.com/

Wycliffe focuses on Bible translation around the world. http://www.wycliffe.net/en/

Bible.is (Faith Comes by Hearing) provides free access to God’s Word through Audio Bibles in every translated language. http://www.bible.is/

Bible Society provides free Bible apps and Bible study resources. https://www.unitedbiblesocieties.org/

Scripture Union specializes in Bible reading guides for all ages that help people read, reflect, remember and respond to God’s Word. http://scriptureunion.ca/Bible

Bible League provides Scriptures and training worldwide so people prepared by the Holy Spirit will be brought into a relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. https://bibleleague.ca/

Additional links could and should be added to the list above. Please comment and share links to the Bible that you’ve found helpful.

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Consumerism and Bible Engagement

Consumerism is a huge stumbling block to Bible engagement. It’s a stumbling block because the perspectives, values, and attitudes that inform the essence of consumerism (selfishness, self-centredness, and entitlement) are the antithesis of the perspectives, values, and attitudes that connect us with Jesus and His Story.

Consumerism is the dominant worldview of the Western world. It can be defined as having the right to explicit, implicit, technological, personal, interpersonal, and situational expectations being met. For consumerists, the protection or promotion of their interests is paramount.

When people live to consume rather than consume to survive, they become what they consume. When people become what they consume, they’re constantly seeking something newer, better, or more.

And herein lies the problem. Bible engagement is a hit or miss affair in a consumer culture because it only gets traction when it’s seen to be newer, better, or more, i.e. what people want.

So how do we deal with consumerism among God’s people? Here are two suggestions:

Teach God’s people to be counter-cultural

God’s Word exists for us to meet Jesus in and through it. Meeting with Jesus should never be a hurried affair. Bible engagement occurs best when there’s long obedience and humble deference to the Word over many years.

Because Bible engagement isn’t instant, it’s counter-intuitive to consumer-oriented people. Consumers want everything now. Yet the composition of the Bible is designed to slow the reader/listener down. That’s why we must tell people that connecting with God’s Word isn’t like a fast-food restaurant. Bible engagement doesn’t jive with a give me an “instant fix” attitude. The Bible has to be engaged on God’s terms, not ours.

Taking the Bible on God’s terms doesn’t come naturally to a consumerist. That’s because the hold that consumerism has on people isn’t outward but inward. The consumerist’s perspectives, values, and attitudes are rooted in pampering the flesh, pleasing the eyes, and feeding the desire for position and power. So along with teaching a biblical worldview and urging people to come out of the world (cf. John 15:19, 1 John 2:15-16), we must pray for a Spirit-directed, gospel-shaped, radical reorienting and renewing of the consumerists heart and mind (cf. Romans 12:2).

Stay true to God’s Word

In the belief that it has to provide an on-demand type experience, the church is increasingly responding to consumer culture by adapting and accommodating its message and methods. Author and journalist G. Jeffrey MacDonald says, “I’m concerned with the fact that churches are growing in many cases by serving up something that people seem to want, but something that’s not holding fast to the calling of the Gospel.”

Note MacDonald’s concern about churches “not holding fast to the calling of the Gospel.” Consumerism is corrupting the soul of the church. Tragically, the church is becoming more inclined to worship self-indulgence rather than Jesus! Little wonder that author C. S. Lewis commenting on Christmas and consumerism asked, “Can it really be my duty to buy masses of junk every winter?”

So where to from here? Quite simply, we must stop giving people what they want, and inspire them to “hold on to what is good” 1 Thessalonians 5:21.

The best things in life aren’t things! We must challenge the values of consumerism and biblically rectify situations where it’s gained a foothold in the church. A good way to do this is to preach and teach all of God’s Word (rather than the selected pieces we think people want to hear).

And finally, if people are going to “hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), we must encourage and equip each other with the practical tools to personally and communally read, reflect, remember and respond to God’s Word.

Much more could be said. What are your thoughts on consumerism and Bible engagement?

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Professionalism and Bible Engagement

Why are there so many people sitting in church services Sunday after Sunday who never, or rarely, read (hear, listen, connect), reflect, remember, and respond to God’s Word?

In a previous article, Unleashing the Bible in the Church, three obstacles to Bible engagement were identified – pastors that don’t get it, people who don’t want it, and principalities that oppose it. Since writing that article I’ve been thinking about another significant obstacle to Bible engagement …

I used to be a pastor in a local church. Despite my best efforts I simply couldn’t get everyone into God’s Word. With the advantage of hindsight, I now realize I was part of the problem. What made me part of the problem was that I did most of the preaching and teaching. When the pastor is the main person interpreting and commenting on the Word, it communicates the idea that the Word should be handled by professionals.

When someone knows better or is more competent with something, we tend to let them get on with it. It’s not surprising then that so many people hand off the responsibility for reading/listening and interpreting the Bible to the people who have seminary degrees or denominational ordination.

Here’s the problem. When one person talks about the Bible nearly every week, instead of everyone talking about it, it subtly conditions people not to read the Bible for themselves.

To address this stumbling block we’ve got to change the paradigm. A more organic form of church meetings is required. The preaching and teaching of the Word shouldn’t be mainly tied to a pulpit. Every Christian should be invited and encouraged to participate in the services of the church. Every Christian should function as a priest (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). And for this to happen adequately we need to be liberated from a largely clergy dominated and professionally oriented system that in part, has taken the Word captive.

Francis Chan, an ex megachurch pastor who re-evaluated his theology and practice of church gatherings, and started We Are Church, says, “For us, we want to devote ourselves to thinking deeply not about the pastor’s words but the inspired Word of God – that is how we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching. We don’t want to draw people to how we explain Scripture. Rather, we double down on the belief that if you have the Spirit of God in you, you are able to read Scripture yourself, and as a body we can wrestle with Scripture together.”

“Wrestle with Scripture together.” That’s brilliant! Imagine what might happen to the spiritual temperature in your local church if everyone got to grapple with the Word.

Everyone grapple with the Word?

For those committed to the program-driven routine of “churchianity” the thought of everyone grappling with the Word is sacrilegious. They’re right. The idea that every Christian can “wrestle with Scripture together” isn’t religious, BUT it is biblical! (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26, 29-32, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 10:24-25).

Nowhere in the New Testament is there a precedent for a church meeting to be exclusively controlled by a pastor. Nor is there any biblical support for the modern-day pulpit and pulpiteers who dominate many churches today. Instead, congregational participation should be the norm. In fact, the major thrust in the Scriptures centers on every person in the church being actively involved in reading and reflecting on God’s Word (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26).

Mennonite theologian and ethicist John Howard Yoder says, “There are few more reliable constants running through all human society than the special place every human community makes for the professional religionist … But if we were to ask whether any of the N. T. literature makes the assumption listed … then the answer from the biblical material is a resounding negation …”

Forgive me for stepping on sacred corns. But if the right practice is going to emerge from error, we must be honest enough to confront the truth. If the Bible is the sole rule for our faith and practice, surely we must ask whether or not the Scriptures have been manipulated to support clerical professionalism in its present form (mainly one person interpreting the Bible and preaching to a passive audience). And if the Scriptures have been manipulated, then as author Frank Viola suggests, “The brittle wineskin of church practice and the tattered garment of ecclesiastical forms needs to be changed, not just modified.”

Do you agree or disagree? From the preponderance of biblical evidence it seems to me that if Bible engagement is going to take off, one of the things we need to do is desacralize the preaching and teaching of God’s Word in the local church by inviting and including a broader segment of God’s people (those gifted in preaching, teaching, sharing words of wisdom/knowledge, or prophecy) to share a word from the Word when we meet together.

Your thoughts?

Recommended Reading:

Mark Frees – Is the One-Pastor System Scriptural, Truth According to Scripture.

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bad News – Good News

According to Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London, “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years.” [The Guardian, March 2018].

Is Christianity in Europe as a default, as a norm, gone? Research seems to support Bullivant’s conclusion. Data from the European Social Survey 2014-16 indicates that “the new default setting is ‘no religion’, and the few who are religious see themselves as swimming against the tide.”

German theologian, Evi Rodemann, seems to concur. In response to a Pew Research survey, she says, “German Protestants have to a huge degree lost their Christian identity and Christian history is often just a cultural decoration.” Church planting expert Dietrich Schindler adds, “German Protestantism is anemic at best, irrelevant at least.” [Joel Forster, Evangelical Focus, February 28, 2019]

From the mountain-top to the valley. In the 19th Century, the church in the UK was the hub for the greatest missionary advance the world has ever seen. Now, according to statistician Peter Brierley, 95% of UK children and young people don’t go to church [UK Church Statistics 2, 2010-2020, Tonbridge: ADBC Publishers, 2014]. It’s a similar story in Germany. Five-hundred years after the reformation, Christian faith has been pushed to the margins (Evangelicals account for 2% of Christians in Germany).

Christian faith in North America is also in free-fall. According to the Pew Research Center, the growth of the religiously unaffiliated in Canada and the USA has gone from about 4% in the 1970s to more than 20% in 2010. In Canada, religious disaffiliation for those born in 1987-1995 is 30%. The trends reveal that every successive generation of North Americans is more secular than the previous generation.

What’s collapsed in the UK and Germany, and is collapsing in North America, is cultural-historic Protestantism. Cultural historic Protestantism is religion focused on hard work, thrift, and efficiency, i.e. it places an emphasis on religious duty and using God-given resources at each individual’s disposal. Rodemann describes it as “reason (not Christ) alone, my work (not grace) alone, my self-reliance (not faith) alone, and my philosophy of life (not Scripture) alone.”

That’s the bad news.

But the bad news may be good news.

The purpose of writing the jumpintotheword blog is tied to sola scriptura. The collapse of cultural historic Protestantism is therefore good news because religion (institutional traditional systems) is the enemy of Bible engagement (see my previous article The Scourge of Bible Engagement). And it’s good news because the disintegration of cultural historic Protestantism means the Christian slate is being wiped clean.

With the Christian slate being wiped clean, cultural-historic Protestantism can be replaced with something new. The million-dollar question is, “What will be the nature and purpose of the church that replaces cultural-historic Protestantism?”

Biblical scholar Richard Halverson says, “When the Greeks got the Gospel, they turned it into a philosophy; when the Romans got it, they turned it into a government; when the Europeans got it, they turned it into a culture; and when the Americans got it, they turned it into a business.”

Missional culture guru JR Woodward says, “We are called to incarnate the Good News, not to overcontextualize it.”

Incarnating the Gospel: With the decline of cultural historic Protestantism, there are unprecedented opportunities to get back to God’s Word – back to reimagining the church – back to the church as a spiritual organism – back to embodying and proclaiming Jesus Christ.

Yes, the bad news may be good news. With the spiritual vacuum that now exists in Europe and is growing in North America, opportunities to re-imagine and reform the church abound. But as we take advantage of the opportunities, we must make sure we don’t overcontextualize the Gospel.

To guard against overcontextualizing the Gospel, we must safeguard the way in which we connect with the Bible. We must make sure we don’t read God’s Word in ways that adapt it to our culture. We must be careful not to read God’s Word in ways that interpret our existing church practices back into the text. And we must get back to reading its essence – back to understanding the Gospel, not in the milieu of the shifting sands of postmodernity, but in the framework of the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ.

All this to say that a new season of Bible engagement is needed for the changing times. A season where we break free from the subtle entrapment of deeply entrenched unbiblical traditions. A season where we biblically re-evaluate what the meetings of the church should look like in order to express Jesus Christ in all His fullness. And a season where we practically, and not just intellectually, believe that the Word of God shows us how to truly worship and live for Jesus Christ alone.

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Strengthening Bible Engagement

For the Christian, God’s Word is our life-blood. Yet, even though it’s indispensable for our health and vitality, many of us find it difficult to engage with the Bible.

Strengthening Bible engagement. Why do so many of us struggle to connect with God’s Word? Why do we not do what we know we should do? We know the Scriptures are words of life. We know we find direction and comfort in its pages. And we know it’s potent and trans-formative. Yet we sometimes don’t engage with it and don’t always do what’s best for us.

Are you in a Bible engagement slump? Is the Spirit nudging you to engage more effectively? Here are five uncomplicated ways to strengthen your connections with the Bible:

Confession

Being in right-standing with God is crucial for Bible engagement. To connect with God’s Word you’ve got to remove hindrances. Possibly the biggest obstacle to engagement with God’s Word is un-confessed sin. Are you living your own way and denying God the right to rule your life? This is sin. To receive God’s Word you’ve got to “throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage” so that “our gardener, God,” can “landscape you with the Word” James 1:21 (MSG).

Accountability

Who do you answer to? One of the reasons why our Bible engagement sometimes comes to a grinding halt is because we’re not accountable to others. Bible engagement is always better when we do it together. We need Bible engagement buddies. “Two are better than one” Ecclesiastes 4:9. So find someone who will journey with you, and at least weekly, chat with you about your Bible reading and reflections. I find this happens best when we both use the same reading guide. No matter how you navigate the details of who and when, the goal is having a friend to help you up if you fall down (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:10).

Journaling

Effective Bible engagement requires note taking. When we put pen to paper it often jogs our hearts and minds in ways that form and transform us. Journaling doesn’t have to be all-embracing. Aim to capture the essence of your daily encounters with Jesus in His Word. How much or how little you journal isn’t important. Most of the time I jot down only one or two sentences. So it doesn’t  have to be a detailed diary of everything you hear God saying to you. What is essential is that you do it.

Praying

Praying the Scriptures will revolutionise your engagement with God’s Word.  Pray as you read and read as you pray. The two go together. Prayer comes alive when it’s infused with the Word and the Word comes alive when it’s accompanied by prayer. Are you prayers dry, lacking content, or the same old things you’ve always prayed? The Bible, while not a prayer book per se, provides the content for our prayers. As you read God’s Word use the words, phrases or themes of the passage to guide, shape, and give language to your conversations with God. This is done by praying a Scripture text word for word as your own prayer, by personalising a text, or by turning your thoughts and feelings about a topic or theme of a Scripture passage into prayer.

Obeying

Obeying God’s Word may seem like a foregone conclusion, but most of the time we don’t act on what we know. Transformation, not information, is the aim of Bible engagement. When we obey God’s Word it comes alive to us and we come alive to it! Bible engagement is more than talking, it’s acting. But, we often get sidetracked from doing it, don’t we? So every time we read God’s Word we must intentionally ask ourselves, “What does God want me to do with His Word today?” And then, we must ask Him to help us do what He’s directing us to do.

There you have it. Don’t be backward in coming forward! Implement these five simple tweaks, trust the Lord, do nothing in your own strength, and see your Bible engagement reach new heights.

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5