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Bible Engagement Blog


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Finding Jesus in the Old Testament

To the Jews who were persecuting Him, Jesus said, “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me” John 5:39 (NIV). This should arrest our attention. From a Bible engagement perspective, what could be more important than this text? For in the phrase “that testify about me” we learn that Jesus is present throughout the Old Testament.

Most Christians probably agree that Jesus is central through the New Testament. They’ll also probably agree that He doesn’t seem to be in the Old Testament law or the history of Israel and is only occasionally found in the wisdom literature and the prophets.

Is there a disconnect? Jesus says the Scriptures testify about Him, yet the reality for many Christians is that He’s not plainly revealed in the Old Testament. That is, He seems to be veiled or hidden. Which may be why most Christians tend to mainly read/reflect on the last 20% of the Bible rather than the first 80%.

One of the reasons why we mainly connect with the New Testament is because we want to know Jesus through His Word. But only reading/reflecting on the New Testament to know Jesus through His Word is short-sighted. If we’re reading the Word to know Jesus, and He says in the New Testament that the Old Testament testifies about Him, then our Bible reading/reflecting should include the Old Testament.

All this to simply recognize that maybe, like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, we need to have our minds opened in order to find Jesus in the Old Testament (cf. Luke 24:45). I know I did. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. That is, I needed to be retrained in how to interpret and understand the Old Testament. And that’s why I’m putting a plug in for a helpful resource – David Murray’s excellent book, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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About Jesus and For Jesus

Jesus taught that He’s the central theme of the Old Testament. This is plainly revealed on the road to Emmaus when He began with Moses and the Prophets and explained to the disciples what the Old Testament said about Him (cf. Luke 24:27).

While it’s obvious from Luke 24:27 that the Old Testament is about Jesus, it should also be noted that Jesus (when He was physically living in Palestine) had to read and reflect on the Old Testament in order to grow and develop (e.g. Luke 2:40, 52).

How can this be? How can the Old Testament be both about Jesus and for Jesus?

The answer to this question is informed by the fact that Jesus has both a divine and human nature – is fully God and fully man. This is a mystery that’s difficult to understand. Jesus is simultaneously the Son of God and the Son of Man. Which is to say that He is One person with two distinct yet inseparable natures – what theologians call the hypostatic union.

Remarkably, the eternally existent omniscient Son of God is the One who gives us the Old Testament and He’s also the finite Son of Man who had to listen and learn (cf. Luke 2:46) in order to grow in His understanding of the Old Testament.

Most Christians are comfortable with the fact that the Old Testament is about Jesus, yet some are a tad uncomfortable with the fact that the Old Testament is for Jesus. That’s not uncommon. The tendency is to think of Jesus as God and mainly relate to Him as the Almighty who is “alive for ever and ever!” Revelation 1:18. But let’s not forget that Jesus was born of a woman (cf. Galatians 4:4-5), was taught the Old Testament by His parents, and grew up hearing the Old Testament being read and discussed in the synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16).

So just like Jesus is fully God and fully man, the Old Testament is fully about Jesus and fully for Jesus.

One more thought: While the theology about Jesus’ divine and human nature is intellectually fascinating, it’s nonetheless practical. Because the Old Testament is about Jesus, it should elevate the way we receive, read (or hear) and reflect on it. And because the Old Testament is for Jesus, it should elevate the way we respond to it. That is, because the Old Testament is for Jesus, it reminds us that Jesus became one of us so that we would model our lives on Him.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Engagement Barriers and Bridges

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


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In your mouth …

Some of my friends and family call me Mr. Bible Engagement. I’m not sure how I feel about that because even though I’m an advocate for Bible engagement in my daily work, I’m still maturing in my personal reading, reflecting, remembering and responding to God’s Word.

My knowledge about God’s Word is a case in point. I had never noticed (in the sense that something really “jumps” out at you), until recently, that the scriptures prioritize the importance of God’s Word being “in your mouth” and not departing “from your mouth” (cf. Isaiah 59:21).

Maybe it’s because we’re inclined to compartmentalize what we do and say, but I don’t usually hear Christians mentioning God’s Word in their everyday conversations. Is God’s Word in your mouth? When we speak the Word it’s an affirmation that God’s Word is true and real in our lives. It’s also an indication that we’re Spirit filled Christians and God’s covenant people.

Faith can never be a private affair. If you have faith in your heart it should also be in your mouth. “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” Romans 10:10 (NIV). Plainly stated, the evidence of your faith is the verbal confession of your salvation. “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” Luke 6:45 (NIV).

Taking another tack: The emphasis with some preaching and teaching, is to encourage Christians to diligently meditate on God’s Word and memorize it. What’s considered important is renewing the mind through daily Bible reading and reflection. But renewing the mind, while essential, isn’t the desired end. God commanded Joshua to meditate on the Word day and night so that it would always be on his lips (cf. Joshua 1:8).

So what does it look like for God’s Word to be in your mouth? A friend recently told me that every day as part of her reading and reflecting on God’s Word, she searches for a verse in the text that she writes on a serviette. At some point during the day she verbally shares this Scripture (why it’s meaningful or how it’s impacted her life) with someone, and then gives them the serviette.

Is my friends methodology unusual? Maybe. But what she does models the importance of having God’s Word in your mouth. So keep a serviette handy, or do whatever helps you to engage with the Bible in order to intentionally “speak words of wisdom” Psalm 49:3 (NIV).

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible-less or Bible-more?

Kenneth Briggs in his book, The Invisible Bestseller: Searching for the Bible in America, records his pilgrimage in search of biblical literacy. Remarkably, he says he found the most intimate familiarity with God’s Word, not in the hundreds of churches he visited, but in a prison!

The general decline of biblical literacy in the Western world is old news. But what’s new is that research conducted by Barna and LifeWay indicates that American Evangelical Christians have a failing grade when it comes to common knowledge about God’s Word.

There also seems to be a correlation between the size of a church and biblical literacy. Briggs says that the faith he finds in “mega-type churches” is a “Bible-less … alternative version of Christianity.” In other words, the larger the church the more likely it is for the Bible to be “a museum exhibit, hallowed as a treasure but enigmatic and untouched.”

I’m guessing, in the absence of similar research elsewhere, that the state of Bible literacy in other parts of the world is similar to the USA. That’s why I’m advocating for “Bible-more.” The Bible should be more than a lucky rabbit’s foot, more than a talisman to ward off evil, and more than a good book on a shelf in a home.

Why does this matter? Because when we’re Bible-less, the lies of the devil enslave us. But when we’re Bible-more, the truth sets us free!

In the subduction zone of nominal Christianity succumbing to the tectonic influences of postmodernity, Bible-less faith needs to be called out for the hollow sham that it is. Biblical illiteracy should never be tolerated in any church for any reason. To build a new generation of earthquake resistant Christians we must be Bible-more focused in every facet of everything we say and do.

Let’s give ourselves a kick in the pants! There should be no excuses for being Bible-less. We should be red-faced concerning our biblical ignorance … but then move on from our embarrassment by doing something about it … by determining to be Bible-more.

Will you help shake things up? The modern world was created because the Bible helped Western civilization discover how reading and thinking is grounded in the fact that truth is knowable. The postmodern world could likewise benefit if Christians became Bible-more … if Christians, through knowing and living out God’s Word, helped postmoderns discover the truth that sets them free.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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Reading the Bible Aloud

Reading the Bible aloud has been a Bible engagement practice since Old Testament (e.g. 2 Kings 23:2) and New Testament times (e.g. 1 Timothy 4:13), and continues today as a spiritual practice in every community of faith. But sadly, while reading the Bible aloud happens in most churches most every week, it isn’t always done well. So here’s a shout-out for reading the Bible aloud with the esteem and reverence it deserves.

There are several things we should take into consideration when reading the Bible aloud:

Christ should be the focus of all church worship and His Word should therefore be a centrepiece in the order of service. Scripture readings should be prayerfully and thoughtfully selected and interwoven throughout the service in a way that indicates that God’s Word is more important than what we say or sing about it.

A spiritual gravitas should accompany the public reading of Scripture. Every reader should take heed how they read. Adequate preparation and practice should, in every instance when Bible reading is part of the order of service, be a pre-requisite for the person(s) selected to do the reading(s). Readers should be mindful of correct pronunciation and enunciation.

An understanding of the genre of Scripture should inform the way the Bible is read. Poetry shouldn’t be read like prophecy or apocalyptic literature, a didactic passage shouldn’t be read like a genealogy, and a narrative discourse shouldn’t be read like a legal list of priestly duties.

Reading the Bible aloud requires a measure of performance. The emotional nature of the Scriptures should be communicated verbally. A lament should always be read with a sense of pathos, the miracles should always be read with wonder and awe, passages about God’s grace and mercy should be read with heartfelt appreciation, and accounts of sin should always be read with feelings that express grief or sorrow.

The aim of all public reading of the Word should be to draw the listener to Christ. We read the Scriptures to invite the community of faith to know and be known by the Word. And we should read in a way that expects and encourages God’s people to obey the Word.

Readings should be long enough to provide adequate context and understanding. When there are multiple readings in a church service, they should be integrated and connected with the other elements of the service. This requires planning, prayer and sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, while we read the Bible to one-another, we’re ultimately reading the Word to an audience of One. When we read the Bible aloud, we’re reading it to the King of kings. Let’s keep this in mind, the One who is the Word is the One who listens to us reading His Word. So when reading the Bible aloud, picture yourself before the holy One seated on the throne, then read to bring honour and glory to Him.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Engagement is Trinity Engagement

Bible engagement is Trinity engagement, nothing more and nothing less. All Bible engagement is connecting with the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So Bible engagement is Father engagement, Jesus engagement, and Holy Spirit engagement, because all three are one and one is all three. That’s not to say that the Father is the Son or the Holy Spirit, or the Son is the Father or the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit is the Son or the Father because they are three coexistent, co-eternal persons who are God.triquetra-with-shadow-512px

The individual members of the Trinity have different roles in Bible engagement. The Father initiates all things and is the ultimate source of the Word (John 1:1, Revelation 1:1). The Son is the agent through whom the Father reveals the Word (Matthew 11:27, Luke 24:45, John 1:3, 14). And the Holy Spirit is the agent through whom the Father teaches the Word (John 14:26, John 16:13-15, Ephesians 3:5, 2 Peter 1:21).

So when we engage with the Bible we are connecting with a loving heavenly Father, through the Son who reveals Him, by the Spirit who guides and teaches us about Him.

Knowing that Bible engagement is Trinity engagement is immensely practical. When we engage with the Bible we are not alone. The Father is watching over us, the Son is opening the Word to us, and the Spirit is helping us know and grow in the Word. With this in mind we can confidently, imaginatively and personally meet with God in and through His Word.

Bible engagement is never a solo affair. It’s highly relational and dynamic. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together to help us enter into the Word as parts of the big Story and then help us enact out the Word in our own lives. Simply stated, we are not alone when we engage with the Bible. The triune God is with us, opening our eyes to see and our ears to hear in ways in which we can grow in understanding, insight and faithful action.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5


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One Big Story

The Bible is one big Story of redemption, restoration and renewal through Christ Jesus. Yet regrettably, the Bible isn’t always read, heard, shared, taught or engaged as one big Story. Many people limit the Bible to being lessons in good behaviour, an arrangement of doctrines, a source book for wisdom, words or succour, interesting literature, something to be studied, or a guide for decision making.

The one big Story is full of stories. Seventy-five percent of the Bible is narrative and the remaining twenty-five percent is composed of poetic or didactic material. The narrative composition of the Bible should direct our engagement. Rather than majoring on the directives of the Bible, as many do, we should engage with the Bible in ways that ignite our hearts and minds to the one big Story. That is, we should chiefly interact with the Bible as the Story of God’s love for us; how Christ Jesus came to rescue us from sin and give us fullness of life.

Engaging with the Bible as one big Story about Christ Jesus and His love for us shouldn’t be one approach among many. It should be the only approach. Why? Because from the beginning to the end of the Bible, according to the Bible, Christ Jesus is the focus of the Story (cf. Luke 24:27). That’s not to say that He’s mentioned directly in every sub-story. He’s not. In many instances He’s “hidden.” But it is to say that all the stories, taken together, are one big Story about Christ Jesus and how He wants us to enter into and become a part of His Story.Gods-Story4-copy

So what is the storyline of the big Story that Christ Jesus wants us to enter into and become a part of? The Story begins with our creation and shortly thereafter our separation from God because of sin. What follows concerns God’s grace as He seeks to restore humanity to Himself. It’s the Story of brokenness and how we can be whole through faith in Christ Jesus.

At the heart of the Story is the incarnation and life of Christ Jesus. The Story reaches its climax when a great reversal occurs. Amazingly, humanity is given the opportunity to be reconciled to God through the sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection of Christ Jesus.

The Story is good news second to none! It’s about the greatest rescue plan in history – about God in the person of Christ Jesus who enters our world to save – about the Redeemer who ultimately makes everything right. And more. What makes it good news is that it’s a living Story concerning you and me. In Christ, all things are made new (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). The Story reveals how, through confession, repentance and belief in Christ Jesus, we can know salvation from the penalty of sin, fullness of life now, and the hope of eternal life to come.

The grand ending of the one big Story depicts creation renewed. The ending is really a fresh beginning; a magnificent turn-around. Everything will be new – a new heaven and a new earth in which there is no more pain, sorrow or death. And Christ Jesus will live with His people forever.

While the one big Story has a beginning and an end, it’s also a never ending Story. The paradox of the Story is that as we enter into it we discover that we’re living in the tension between the already and the not yet. That’s why we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” Matthew 6:10 (NIV). And as we pray this prayer we’re reminded that we owe allegiance, not to ourselves, but to the King. The purpose of our lives is to do what the King wants us to do: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8 (NIV). This is our kingdom work until the new heaven and the new earth are realized.

Unlike the story of those in the world without Christ Jesus, the one big Story transforms us so that we can do kingdom work, not in our own strength, but with the strength that comes from Christ Jesus. When we enter into the Story we are in fact committing ourselves, at His invitation and direction, to share and live-out the Story through the course of our lives.

So engage with the Bible as one big Story of redemption, restoration and renewal through Christ Jesus. And in so doing aim for your story to become His Story. For as Glenn Paauw from the Institute for Bible Reading says, “the Bible wants us to see our own lives as little parts of its own bigger, grander story.”

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5


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How are you reading the Bible?

How are you reading the Bible? Bible engagement isn’t about reading the Bible exclusively to gather facts, get guidance or learn how to be good. Satan loves it when people read the Bible for these reasons because as long as we’re reading the Bible to simply grow in knowledge, figure out what to do, or develop our morality, we’re not engaging with the Bible as we should.

God wants us to taste and see that He is good (Psalm 34:8a). The goal of Bible reading should be to encounter Christ Jesus and to engage with Him in ways that lead us to become increasingly more like Him.taste-and-see-that-the-lord_t_nv

John Piper, the pastor and theologian, says, “Bible reading that only collects facts, or relieves a guilty conscience, or gathers doctrinal arguments, or titillates aesthetic literary tastes, or feeds historical curiosities – this kind of Bible reading Satan is perfectly happy to leave alone. He has already won the battle.”

How are you reading the Bible? Do you read it focusing on the fact that it’s ultimately the Story about Christ Jesus and how he sacrificed His life in order to atone for your sin and reconcile you to God? If not, you’re not reading the Bible as God intended.

Here’s what Satan tries to hide from us: The overall Bible story centres on Jesus. It’s about His astronomical, unconditional, sacrificial, incomparable, transformational, and eternal love for us. A love that made the world right again by making it possible, through trust in Him, for our sin to be acquitted and our death sentence revoked. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” 1 John 4:10.

Christ’s love for us is why the Word we read has to be the Word we know. For this to happen we cannot rely on pastors, professors or prophets, but from spending time in the Word in order to encounter the presence of the living Word. Then, when we encounter the living Word we should ask Him to renew us through His written Word. For it’s only through encountering Christ Jesus personally and openly that our minds and hearts will be convicted and changed to live a life of love emulating Christ’s love.

So how are you reading the Bible? There are only two ways to read God’s Word. The right way and the wrong way. And the right way is to read the Word as the Word we know.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Communal Bible Engagement

Most Christians in the Western world engage with the Bible mainly by themselves. We read it privately during a “quiet time,” interpret it alone, and experience it personally in the sanctity of our home.

Which is good and fine. Or is it?

Private engagement with the Bible isn’t the biblical norm. In most instances when the Bible mentions engagement with God’s Word it’s in the context of community. God’s people experienced the Bible as “we,” more so than “me.” People would gather together, often in someone’s home, and the Bible would be read aloud while everyone listened. Then, having listened to the Word they interacted with it, processing, digesting and acting on it together.

Hearing with others, rather than reading independently, was the biblical reality because it was an oral culture with very few copies of the Scriptures available.

So how did we get to where the plural focus of Bible engagement became more singular?

With the advent of the printing press in the 15th Century, engagement with the Bible became book focused. Books facilitated the shift from the Bible mainly being heard in community to mainly being read individually.

While some things are gained through the process of change, some things are also lost. The printing press shifted Bible engagement from something that was about communal formation to something that was, according to the author Glenn Paauw, more about a “private me-and-God book.”

So why is the privatization of Bible engagement an issue?

Privatized Bible engagement is problematic because self-directed connections with the Bible often lead to self-oriented responses to the Bible. And mostly serving personal needs is the antithesis of biblical faith.

All that to simply say that communal Bible engagement needs to be renewed. So how do we do that?

Renewal begins when we recognize that the Bible is primarily addressed to the community of faith, speaks to our shared actions and beliefs, and invites the people of God to work together to make disciples of all people. Then, with this understanding as our foundation; we imagine, explore and experience the Bible together. Experiencing the Bible together can take countless forms. It may be small groups of students gathering together on campus lawns to read the Bible, or a family discussing the Scriptures during supper. Regardless of the form, the way we experience the Bible together should include listening, learning and living out the Bible as “us.” This requires humility, grace, and an openness to hear from God through what others say.

Shifting from private to communal Bible engagement isn’t easy. New postures of thinking and acting aren’t formed overnight. For communal Bible engagement to thrive, we must intentionally make it happen. And this takes fortitude, prayer, wisdom, unity and hard work.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5