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Ten Ways We Hinder Bible Engagement

Tragically, we’re prone to reducing the Bible to something manageable, comfortable, or palatable. When we reduce the Bible to something less than it’s meant to be, we handicap Bible engagement.

Here are ten ways we hinder Bible engagement:

Marginalizing – We shut down the Bible when it’s treated as something insignificant or trivial. Pagans do this all the time, but so do Christians. When we say we’re Bible-believing but don’t open it to read it, we’re side-lining it. And when we open it to read it but don’t obey it, we’re not giving it the worthy response it deserves.

Sanitizing – When we connect with the things we like in the Bible but not the things we dislike, we strip the Bible of its efficacy. Are we worried that people will pull back from God if we reveal His whole character? If we feel we have to clean up the Bible by avoiding difficult, controversial, or distasteful passages, we’ve stepped out of line.

Romanticizing – Treating the Bible in an idealized way, as a heroic tale or a book about flawless heroes should be anathema. On one level, the Bible is a love letter; but it’s also a record of humanity’s sin, selfishness, guilt, shame, tragedy, deviancy, darkness and despair. When we engage with the Bible we must engage with it warts and all!

Trivializing – There are occasions (e.g. teaching the Bible to children) when we use approaches designed to make Bible engagement fun. While fun in and of itself isn’t wrong, we should never be amused spectators or reduce the Bible to our carnal level. When the Bible is equated with feel-good preaching or entertaining story-telling, we’ve missed the mark.

Moralizing – The Bible is the doorway to redemption and reconciliation in Christ Jesus. If we diminish it to a niggling petition for ethical change, we close it down. The Bible should never be used to impose control, make demands, get people to conform, or make others feel guilty. It’s not a narrative on issues of right and wrong or a book of moral stories. And it’s never more important to be good than to know Jesus.

Legalizing – While the Bible contains statutes, precepts and commands, it’s not a book of rules per se. Nor is it the means to teach behaviour modification as the be-all and end-all of Christian living. The Bible should never be manipulated to keep people in little boxes. We lock the Bible down if we don’t understand that biblical law only makes sense within the context of faith alone, in Christ alone, through grace alone (cf. Romans 10:4, Galatians 6:2, Ephesians 2:8-9).

Sensationalizing – While the Bible is sensational (extraordinary), it shouldn’t be sensationalized (embellished or overstated). Presenting the Bible in ways designed to provoke interest and excitement at the expense of accuracy is always wrong and always impedes meaningful encounters with the One who is the Word, Jesus Christ.

Minimalizing – Do you snack on a Bible verse a day? Do you only consult the Scriptures for guidance or directions when things go wrong? Do you select just a few favourite passages to the exclusion of others? If you’re doing these things, you’re getting in the way of the Bible fully having its way with you.

Categorizing – Sometimes we treat the Bible like a school textbook, a history of the Jewish nation, or a book of outstanding literature. The Bible is more than information, more than spiritual sayings, more than tips for better living, and more than a storehouse of doctrines or propositions. Pigeonholing the Bible as anything other than the Book of books makes a mockery of the fact that the Bible is God’s living, active, unfettered Word.

Liberalizing – When the Bible is considered fable-laden or false, when it’s treated as something that doesn’t reconcile with modern thinking, or when reason is considered to be the final authority for interpreting which teachings are correct and which are not, then the ultimate shut down of the Bible has occurred. When this happens, Bible engagement is a misnomer.

Sometimes our reductionist approaches are unintended; sometimes they’re due to inexperience, and sometimes they’re intentional. Are you helping or hampering Bible engagement? If you’re doing any of the things mentioned above, you’re reducing the Bible to something less than God intends it to be.

© Scripture Union Canada 2021

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Connecting Children with the Bible

Story is the fundamental instrument of children’s thoughts. They dwell in stories all the time, inside their own heads. It’s what helps them know who they are and why they’re here – their building-blocks for life and living.

By God’s design, most of the Bible is narrative in character – making it a spiritual playground for children. As the Story of stories, the Bible invites children to enter in and enjoy it. As children enter in, they soon realize that the Story wants them to meet the Storyteller!

No two children enter God’s Story in the same way. They enter arbitrarily – making unique connections that uniquely join their lives to His life. If we try to make children fit in with how we think they should become part of the Story, we do them an injustice. God’s Story must speak for itself.

While we should never tell children how their stories should connect with God’s Story, we should ask questions that help engage their imaginations. By entering God’s Story with their imaginations, children make links to their experiences. When the Bible connects with their experiences, it has meaning and value.

German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” When we connect children with the Bible, the aim should never be solely Bible knowledge. Transformation, not information, is the goal. When information is the goal of a child’s interaction with the Bible it results in death, but when transformation is the goal, it results in life.

There’s something in every child that seeks relevance. Children want to be raised-up – set on the path to being all they’re meant to be. Spiritually, they’re looking for redemption, desire deliverance, and want to see what falls being restored. As Christian educator Dorothy Furnish says, “Only if the Bible has meaning now will children look forward with expectation to the discovery of Bible meanings in the future.”

Sometimes our efforts to help children find meaning in the Bible, while well-intentioned, are counterproductive. The Bible study method that equates Bible characters with superheroes is a good example. How can children find meaning in their lives when they’re taught that men and women of the Bible are like Superman or Wonder Woman? Scripture Union’s children’s ministry specialist Wendy Strachan aptly says, “The Bible comes alive to children when we help them to realise that the people in its pages are people like them. Not heroes. Ordinary people.”

Furthermore. Since every child connects with the Bible distinctively, they likewise respond to the Bible distinctively. We should never expect children to react to God’s Story in set ways. Rather, our task is to invite children to engage with the Story in ways that encourage and respect their interaction – however unexpected their questions, comments, or responses may be. By inspiring discussions and valuing children’s responses, we pave the way for a lifetime of Bible engagement.

Along with verbal responses, multi-sensory reactions to God’s Story should be encouraged. Children should have opportunities to connect with the Story through journaling, singing, acting, Godly Play, drawing, painting, writing, reflecting, and celebrating. Helping children connect with the Bible using all their senses enables them to engage their hearts, heads, and hands.

The Nike slogan, “Just do it!” should be the visible outcome of children interacting with the Bible. Children should respond to the Scriptures by helping others, caring for creation, doing what is fair and just, being compassionate, and interrelating with the world in a way that points people to Jesus.

This can’t and won’t happen if the Bible isn’t the window through which children view the world. It’s only when the Bible takes root (in a child’s life), that it produces fruit. In other words, when children are besotted with the Storyteller, they’ll live out His Story.

Finally, while children will connect with the Bible on their own, they’re far more likely to connect with the Bible when they do it with others. Bible engagement happens best in the context of community. Children need their parents and a faith community to “impress” the Scriptures on them (cf. Deuteronomy 6:7). Loving relationships are a big part of connecting children with the Bible. When we appreciate the biblical insights and contributions of children, their connections with the Story and the Storyteller are enriched.

© Scripture Union Canada 2021

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Parenting and Bible Engagement

Children who experience Bible engagement as a regular slice of family life are more likely to love and live for Jesus through adulthood than children who don’t. This isn’t conjecture, it’s fact.

If you take parents from any denomination, with the same levels of faith and frequency of attendance, the parents who prioritize Bible engagement in their homes are the ones who are more likely to see their children committing themselves to Jesus and staying connected with a community of faith.

Bible engagement makes all the difference. When parents, together with their children, read, reflect, and respond to the Bible, it provides a rock-solid foundation for faith (cf. Matthew 7:24-27). But when Bible engagement is neglected in the home, children are more likely to turn their back on Jesus and leave the church.

For parents concerned about the spiritual wellbeing of their children, the answer is simple: Make Bible engagement part of daily life. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Generate regular discussions about the Word. Families who frequently talk about the Scriptures open the door for Jesus to enter in
  • Create and maintain a “sacred space” in the home. This is a designated place where a member of the family can sit and quietly read/listen to God’s Word
  • Make sure your children see you reading/listening to the Bible. This communicates non-verbally that contemplating or studying God’s Word is one of your daily priorities and core values
  • Make the Scriptures visible. For example, handwritten verses on sticky notes on the fridge door, or send verses as text messages to older children who have phones
  • Memorize Scripture. Make it a monthly challenge for the whole family (maybe practice together each night after supper)
  • Watch Bible videos/films together
  • Have Bible comics or graphic adaptations of the Bible sitting on a coffee table where they’re more likely to be picked up and read
  • Look for unplanned opportunities (teachable moments) to share biblical insights with your children  

For churches concerned about the spiritual wellbeing of children, the answer is also simple: Equip parents with Bible engagement strategies and tools. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Train parents in basic Bible engagement practices, i.e., how to interpret, teach, apply, and pray the Scriptures
  • Provide Bible reading guides suitable for families and different age groups
  • Invite families to share testimonies with the congregation about how they meet with God as a direct result of the Bible engagement that happens in their homes
  • Publicly champion the role of parents as the primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives
  • Practically encourage and build parents confidence so they can thrive in leading family Bible engagement

Parents and churches need to work together. Bible engagement is the single most important spiritual discipline in the faith development of our children. So we can’t let Bible engagement fall through the cracks. If family Bible engagement isn’t happening in the home, everything possible should be done to make it a priority.

Recommended Resource:

© Scripture Union Canada 2021

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Faith-Based Bible Engagement

Faith unlocks the door to Bible engagement. To connect with the Bible we need a dynamic, personal relationship with God through the transforming and indwelling power of Jesus. Nothing else will suffice. Bible engagement only happens when there’s an active trust in Jesus and the belief that what He says is true.

The necessity of faith can’t be minimized. To approach God’s Word we must be persuaded that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1.

In the absence of faith, all attempts to understand the Bible properly will fail. The Bible is only alive to those who are alive to Jesus. Without faith, confusion reigns. Without faith, any critical explanation or interpretation of the Bible (exegesis) is faulty. And without faith, Bible engagement is reduced to nothing more than historical, textual, source, form, or literary criticism.

As my colleague, Annabel Robinson aptly said, “Faith is not a matter of being able to check all the right boxes. It’s a matter of relationship, of continuous love and obedience and discipleship, which might take different forms for different people.”

With the above in mind, here are twelve characteristics of faith-based Bible engagement:

  1. It acknowledges the primary role of the Holy Spirit, functioning through the text and the reader, to interpret the text.
  2. Prayer and humility are the desired posture for reading/listening, studying, and interpreting the Scriptures.
  3. Exegesis is not a solitary affair. It’s done in the context of the community of faith. That is, it’s the practice of the church and for the church.
  4. Present-day exegesis links with and continues an ancient dynamic conversation. We appreciate being part of a long line of faithful Bible engagers.
  5. While interpretations must be true to God’s intended meaning for a text, explanations are not identical.
  6. Faithful people experience fresh encounters with the Scriptures and apply them in new ways. These encounters with the Scriptures are not strictly the Scriptures themselves speaking to us, but the Holy Spirit speaking to us in and through the Scriptures.
  7. Sanctified imagination, i.e. imagination inspired by the Holy Spirit and informed by the text, is used to engage with the text.
  8. The Holy Spirit works through the text to form and reform us. The reader/listener anticipates and longs for transformation as she/he engages with the text.
  9. The Old Testament resonates with and prefigures the story of Jesus even though the writers of the Old Testament books and first readers dimly conceived Jesus.
  10. From Genesis to Revelation there’s continuity and connectivity in the meta-narrative. Connections between the testaments, when correctly traced and interpreted, tell the story of Jesus.
  11. Exegesis focuses on the Scriptures as testimony principally about Jesus. Every page of the Bible (albeit some very faintly), are witnesses to Christ.
  12. Every story fits into the larger Story. The witnesses to Christ, distinctively and with integrity, “talk to each other.” In so doing they create one big (complex yet cohesive) Story.

 

Because faith is about what we hope for and things we don’t see (cf. Hebrews 11:1), it’s tied to our longings and desires. This means faith-based Bible engagement flows from the heart (cf. Proverbs 4:23), not the head. To connect with the Bible and have the Bible connect with us, we must focus on who we love – the living truth, Jesus Christ.

Focusing Bible engagement on who we love interweaves exegesis with worship. Faith-based Bible engagement is keenly aware that we’re accountable to the Word. We cannot stand apart from the Word. It demands a response. What happens in our hearts and heads must move to our hands. We enter the world of the text, not to become brainiacs, but to be involved in the world we live in. For it’s only when we engage with the Bible obediently and practically (cf. James 2:26), and therein attribute worthiness and honour to Jesus, that faith is proved true.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Naming the Book

Sometime during the Middle Ages, the collection of 66 books that we generally refer to as the Bible was named biblia sacra (holy books). When the King James Version was compiled in 1611, the publishers named it The Holy Bible. Since then there have been hundreds of different titles for the Book of books.

Publishers have been very creative in naming the Book. Broadly speaking, an English Bible is named by translation (e.g. NIV, ESV, NKJV), type (e.g. Matthew Henry Study Bible, Gospel Transformation Bible), audience (e.g. Baby’s First Bible, The Action Bible), or event (e.g. Family Devotional Bible, Preaching Bible). A possible fifth category of names for the Book could be those that are unusual (e.g. Waterproof Bible, Klingon Bible).

Why does the Book have so many different names? Maybe because its compilation includes so many different genres of literature. Maybe because it’s a book that’s unlike any other book. Or maybe because, with so many different people involved in its publication, there are a variety of opinions as to what the title should be.

The essence of a book is often the main factor that informs the naming of a book. Many English translations of the Book use the word Bible in the title because it comes from the Greek word biblos (βίβλος) meaning book. Biblos is used about 10 times in the New Testament. The first writer to refer to the Old and New Testaments together as the Bible was Chrysostom in 223 AD when he called the two testaments ta biblia (the books).

A good title for a book usually provides a hint about the story. When the publishers of the KJV used the word holy in the title they obviously wanted to communicate to potential readers that the story is sacred, sanctified and hallowed. Another meaning for holy is “set apart.” The KJV title, therefore, indicates that the Book is unlike any other book because the author is God (who is set apart from us).

Book titles frequently include keywords describing the most important thing, person or idea in the book. If I were naming the Book, I wouldn’t use the word holy or study in the title (two of the most commonly used words) because the fact that the Book is holy and should be studied aren’t the most important things about it. The most important thing about the Book is that, from beginning to end, it’s all about a person – Jesus Christ. For this reason, my favourite title for the Book, of all existing titles, is The Jesus Bible.

What’s your favourite title for the Book? The title you choose says something about who you are. If your favourite title is the Justice Bible, I suspect you’re passionate about setting things right. If it’s The Message, you probably value God’s Word in an easily understood format. Or if it’s The Sportsman’s Bible, you’re more than likely an outdoor enthusiast who likes fishing or hunting.

George Eliot said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” While the title of the Book is important, what’s more important is that we don’t prejudge the worth or value of the Book by its name. When all is said and done, what really counts is engaging with the Book. For unlike any other book, when you open the Book, regardless of its title, it wants you to engage with it so that it can engage with you!

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Sola Scriptura or Solo Scriptura?

“All Scripture is God-breathed …” 2 Timothy 3:16. The inspiration of Scripture should never be a matter of dispute among Christians, but are the Scriptures the only source for theology?

Some Christians (mainly Catholics) insist that both Scripture and church tradition, as given by the Holy Spirit, are the source for theology. Others (mainly Anabaptists and Quakers) insist that Scripture, and the Holy Spirit speaking new revelation to the individual, are the source for theology. Yet another group of Christians (mainly Evangelicals) insist that the Bible alone, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit, is the source for theology.

Each group of Christians cites the work of the Holy Spirit to legitimize their position, yet each of the views is problematic. When it’s assumed that God is the author of both Scripture and tradition equally, what happens when tradition clashes with or contradicts what the Bible says? When it’s assumed that an internal voice along with Scripture is authoritative, what happens when the internal voice says something the Bible doesn’t say? And when it’s assumed that there’s no authority other than the Bible, what happens when there’s disagreement about what the Bible says?

In considering the last question, it’s helpful to know that Protestant reformers made a distinction between the principles of “sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone) and “nuda Scriptura” (bare Scripture). “Sola Scriptura” has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as the Christian’s supreme authority in all spiritual matters. “Nuda Scriptura” is the idea that the Bible is the Christian’s only theological authority in all spiritual matters. The best transliteration for “nuda Scriptura” today is “solo Scriptura” (just me and my Bible).

The distinction between “sola Scriptura” and “solo Scriptura” is important. The two are not the same and shouldn’t be equated. The emphasis in “sola Scriptura” is on theology being ultimately subject to the Scriptures. The emphasis in “solo Scriptura” is narrower. It gives prominence to personal interpretation removed from the Church.

“Solo Scriptura” naturally appeals to people who are suspicious of authority or individualistically inclined. The revivalist preacher Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) captured the essence of “solo Scriptura” when he said, “I have endeavored to read the Scriptures as though no one had read them before me, and I am as much on my guard against reading them today, through the medium of my own views yesterday, or a week ago, as I am against being influenced by any foreign name, authority, or system whatever.”

People are in error if they outright reject the theological insights of others in favour of their own interpretations. They’re also dangerous and divisive. Dangerous because “solo Scriptura” subjects theology to the whims and frailty of subjectivism, and divisive because “solo Scriptura” has no court of appeal for theological disagreements.

“Sola Scriptura”, on the other hand, depends on a communal reading of the Scriptures. It does this by interacting with the theological insights and understanding of Christians past and present. No man or woman is an island to himself or herself. “Sola scriptura” recognizes that while Scripture is the final authority to judge Christian doctrine and practice, it’s not the only resource for theology. That is, “sola Scriptura” identifies that the core convictions of the Church, as long as they don’t compete with or supplement the Scriptures, are essential resources for biblical interpretation, theological reflection, and interdenominational dialogue.

So what happens when there’s disagreement about what the Bible says? While there are no easy answers, it’s naïve to think that just me and my Bible is more than enough. We need one another. We need, with the Scriptures as the primary authority, to tap into the exegetical insights, doctrinal clarity, and pastoral perceptions of Christians through the ages.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Whole Book Reading

For several months, my daily Bible reading plan has been to read a whole book of the Bible in one sitting. It’s been illuminating and rewarding.

There are many benefits to whole book reading:

  • You read like a writer
  • The themes and sub-themes come into focus
  • The structure and genre of the writing is more evident
  • The ebb and flow of different emotions (in both the text and the reader) are more pronounced
  • The rhythm and pattern of the message/story is more noticeable
  • The development of the writer’s theology is more obvious
  • It opens your heart and expands your understanding
  • It’s easier to see how the Scriptures are all about Jesus
  • You read more

Now that’s well and good, but how does one find enough time to read a whole book in one sitting? Actually, it’s quite easy. You read the short books on the days when you don’t have much time and the long books on the days when you have more time.

Saturday or Sunday afternoon is when I read the longer books like Isaiah or Luke. From Monday to Friday, I mainly read shorter books. On a hectic day when I’m time-challenged, I read one of the ten books that take me less than 5 minutes – Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Haggai, 2 Thessalonians, Titus, Philemon, 2 John, 3 John, or Jude.

Here’s a rough guide (our reading speeds are different) for how long it takes to read each book of the Bible:

15 minutes or less – Ruth, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude

30 minutes or less – Esther, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Hosea, Amos, Galatians, Ephesians

1 hour or less – Ezra, Nehemiah, Ecclesiastes, Daniel, Zechariah, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Hebrews

2 hours or less – Leviticus, Joshua, Judges, 2 Samuel , 1 Chronicles, Job, Proverbs, Mark, John, Revelation

3 hours or less – Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, 1 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Matthew, Luke, Acts

4 hours or less – Genesis, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel

5 hours or less – Psalms

Take control of your time. If you commit to an average of 12 minutes every day, you’ll read the whole Bible in 1 year. Do you have 5 minutes in your day? Read Haggai or Jude. Do you have 15 minutes? Read Ruth or James. Do you have an hour? Dive into Nehemiah or Romans.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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The Key to Interpreting the Bible

How can two astute people read the same passage of Scripture and arrive at two different interpretations?

The short answer is because people usually tend to use one of four ways to interpret the Bible – the literal, moral, anagogical or allegorical approach. The literal approach looks for the plain meaning of the text, the moral approach draws ethical lessons from the text, the anagogical approach searches for a mystical meaning in the text, and the allegorical approach looks for a second level or typological meaning in the text.

Decades ago, when I first learned about these four ways to interpret the Bible my blood pressure went up! I had many questions: What was the right approach? Could two or more approaches be right? If two or more approaches are right, what happens when the interpretations clash? How can a literal approach be used with poetic literature? How can an anagogical approach be a valid way to interpret didactic material? And so on.

My questions increased my level of frustration. As I thought about the matter, I became convinced that a Bible text, rightly read in its context, could only have one intended and definite meaning.  There was no way a text could have different, conflicting, or ethereal meanings.

Despite my hermeneutical concerns, I gradually developed a method of interpretation that applied literary, historical, theological, grammatical, contextual, translation, and supernatural considerations to my reading/hearing and preaching/teaching of the Bible. I felt like I was making progress, but I still wondered if I was missing something. Then the Scriptures themselves revealed the right way to interpret the Bible.

The right way to interpret the Bible isn’t a literal, moral, anagogical or allegorical approach. The right way to interpret the Bible isn’t tied to an approach, it’s tied to a person. Jesus is the hermeneutical key to the Bible.

To correctly handle God’s Word (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15) we must engage with it as the message, from beginning to end, about Jesus. This is essential. A Christocentric outlook is vital to understanding every page of the Bible. Any effort to determine the meaning of a text divorced from a Christocentric outlook leads to a distortion of its meaning.

This isn’t my opinion, it’s grounded in the Scriptures themselves. Jesus is the hermeneutical key to the Bible because He claims to be the subject of the Bible (cf. Luke 24:25-27). Because Jesus claims to be the subject of the Bible, the only adequate way to interpret the Bible is to consider every passage of scripture in the context of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and future return of Jesus. As the Australian Evangelical theologian Graeme Goldsworthy says, “All biblical texts testify in some way to Jesus Christ. This makes him the center of biblical revelation and the fixed reference point for understanding everything else in the Bible.”

So what are some practical and theological implications?

  • To properly understand the Bible, saving faith in Jesus, coupled with the empowerment of the Spirit, is required
  • “We affirm that the Person and work of Jesus Christ are the central focus of the whole Bible” – Article III, Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics
  • Jesus is the only one who can mediate the Word of God to us (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6)
  • The person and work of Jesus must, directly and indirectly, inform our interpretation of a text
  • The meaning of a text is always linked to how God reveals Himself in and through Jesus
  • The main interpretive question is, “How does this passage attest to Christ?”
  • The Gospels are the methodological starting point for interpreting the Scriptures because this is where Jesus is seen most clearly
  • If an interpretation intentionally denies or ignores the person and/or work of Jesus, it’s a false interpretation
  • When we study, preach, or teach the Bible we should always link our studies, preaching, or teaching to Jesus
  • The application of the Bible to our daily lives must be connected to Jesus

The long and the short of it is this, Jesus is the linchpin to correctly understanding everything in the Bible. As Goldsworthy aptly says, “No Bible passage yields its true significance without reference to Jesus Christ in his gospel.”

Recommended reading:

Goldsworthy, Graeme., Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Engagement Preaching

There are approximately 37 million churches in the world and 34,000 (Christian) denominations. If every church has only 1 service a week (most churches have more than 1 service), about 2 billion sermons are preached every year!

That’s a lot of sermonizing, and it means the Bible is the most talked-about book in the world!

Which gets me to wondering, how are preachers preaching, and what are they preaching?

The researcher, Ed Stetzer, addressed this question, in part, in a June 2009 article in Christianity Today. Analyzing 450 randomly selected sermons by different North American preachers, he found that pastors organized and delivered their sermons in diverse ways. He also discovered that Matthew was the most preached book, Genesis the most preached Old Testament book, and Luke, John, Acts, and Romans the most likely books for preachers to use for their main text. More than 70 percent of sermons are a commentary on New Testament texts.

Stetzer’s research indicates that preaching, while Bible-based, isn’t based on the whole Bible. This is troubling, particularly in the light of Paul’s words to Timothy that “all Scripture … is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16.

Note the phrase “all Scripture … is useful for teaching.” The text suggests that certainly all 39 books of the Old Testament, and by extension, the 66 books in both Testaments, are profitable for training and instruction. Why are all the books useful for teaching? Because when preachers preach from the whole Bible it provides us with the full range of meaningful encounters that we need to know and grow in Christ (cf. Luke 24:13-35).

Preaching from the entire Bible isn’t optional, it’s essential. To grow in spiritual maturity, people must feed on the whole counsel of God. So here’s a shout-out for preaching that connects us with every chapter and genre of Scripture in both Testaments.

That’s not to say that it’s feasible for a preacher to preach from every passage of Scripture, but it is to say that good preaching should engage the listeners, with breadth and depth, in the major acts of the whole Bible.

Thus the aim of every preacher should be to connect the listener with Jesus and His Word. Not some of the Word, all of the Word. For we grow in maturity in our relationships with Jesus through engaging with His Word in its entirety.

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Correctly Handling the Word of Truth

One of the last things Paul told Timothy was, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” 2 Timothy 2:15.

Note the phrase “correctly handles the word of truth.” The Greek word for “handles” is orthotomeō. It only appears once in the New Testament. Strong’s Concordance defines orthotomeō like this: to cut straight, to proceed on straight paths, hold a straight course, to handle aright, to teach the truth directly and correctly. Visually, we should picture it as a clear and unobstructed pathway, i.e. no impeding obstacles.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were no obstacles to correctly handling the word of truth? Unfortunately, many obstacles need to be overcome. Maybe the biggest is the misguided notion that everyone’s opinion should be valued. But truth isn’t subjective, it’s objectively knowable. We do not have the liberty to make the Scriptures mean whatever we want them to mean.

So how do we handle the word of truth fittingly and appropriately? Here are five foundational guidelines:

  1. We should begin with understanding the master plan. When we study Scripture, we must determine where it fits into God’s plan. Every verse of Scripture must be understood in the context of its passage, every passage in the context of the chapter, every chapter in the context of the book, every book in the context of the Testament, and the Testament in the context of the whole Bible.
  2. We must be governed by the overarching principle of Scriptura sui interpres (Scripture interprets itself). Remember that God’s Word is living and active (cf. Hebrews 4:12). Throughout the Bible we see Scripture quoting Scripture. Scripture itself is the best theology professor to teach truth. When we carefully contemplate and consider different accounts of Scripture, the Scriptures will enable us to understand and correctly handle the word of truth.
  3. We must do it in community. When we handle truth, we must consider and interact with the writings/teachings of theologians past and present (insofar as they agree with Scripture). There is no new truth. God has revealed truth to Christians down through the ages. As a guiding principle, if we think we have a new interpretation, we’re probably wrong.
  4. We must look for Jesus. The theme of the Bible from beginning to end, though sometimes hidden or obscure, is Jesus (cf. John 5:39). Jesus is Truth (cf. John 14:6). Bible engagement is more than saying the Bible is true, it’s saying that our faith is in the living truth, Jesus Christ. To rightly comprehend and apprehend the truth, we must engage with Scripture the Emmaus Road way (cf. Luke 24:13-35), i.e. open the Scriptures to see Jesus (cf. Luke 24:27).
  5. We must ask God to illuminate the Scriptures. To correctly handle the word of truth we need insight and understanding from the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:26). It’s only when the Holy Spirit shines His light on a text, that we’re able to properly analyze, accurately explain, and rightly apply the Scriptures.

 

There’s much more that could be said. Please add your comments.

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5