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Where is the Bible Needed Most?

In the introduction to the State of the Bible USA 2021 report, John Plake, Director of Ministry Intelligence at the American Bible Society, suggests that we might be asking, “Where is the Bible needed most?” He says, “It’s a good question.” So what’s the answer?

Drawing on the history of the American Bible Society and the church in America, Plake suggests the Bible is needed most “where it’s not available … where people are hurting … and where wisdom is in short supply.” He also submits that the data from the State of the Bible research indicates that the Bible is needed to help Americans face their “challenges with hope and resilience.”

Plake’s suggestions may be good PR, but they’re bad theology. While it’s true to say the Bible is needed where people don’t have access to the Bible, by people in pain and needing comfort, by people who lack knowledge, and by people seeking courage, these reasons are not the main reason people need it.

This is not a sidebar issue. What we believe the Bible is, directly relates to where it’s needed most.

Here’s my concern: Plake wittingly or unwittingly downgrades the Bible to something less than God intended it to be. The Bible is more than a therapy manual (moralistic therapeutic deism) and more than a sourcebook to glean understanding (Gnosticism). Providing succour for suffering, sorrow, or sickness is not the primary focus of the Bible. Countering ignorance or increasing what Plake calls the “short supply” of wisdom is also not the primary focus of the Bible. Nor is contact with the Bible (accessibility) the chief reason why the Bible is needed. Access to the Bible (Plake considers access a “human right”) is not a freedom that belongs to every person in the world, and it’s not a biblical injunction.

So what is the main reason people need the Bible, and where is the Bible needed most? Jesus is the reason, and where people don’t have Jesus is where the Bible is needed most.

Bible engagement is about Jesus engagement. People need to receive, read, reflect, and respond to the Bible to connect with Jesus. This is the principle belief and primary doctrine of Scripture engagement. The theme of the Bible, from the beginning to the end, is Jesus. He is the theme of the Bible because He’s what people need most.

In other words, wherever people don’t know Jesus as King and aren’t citizens in His kingdom is where the Bible is needed most. The main reason why people need the Bible is that they’re separated from God. Being healed, or finding answers to life’s questions, is secondary to being saved and sanctified. We must be unequivocal on this point: The Bible is needed most by people who don’t know Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life” John 14:6.

Practically this means atheists, agnostics, animists, nones (people who say they have no religious affiliation), fence-sitters (people who view Christian faith favourably but haven’t committed themselves to Jesus), secular, and religious people need the Bible most. That’s not to say that Christ-followers don’t need the Bible as much as those who don’t follow Christ. It’s simply a recognition that those who are furthest away from Christ are usually the ones who are furthest away from His Word, and therefore the ones who need the Bible the most.

[Note: I highly value the work and ministry of the ABS and the Bible societies worldwide and have many friends who serve in these agencies. This to say that this article is not a criticism of the ABS per se. It is, however, a brief review and critical analysis of the introduction to the State of the Bible USA 2021 report. As such, it’s consistent with our biblical responsibility not to believe everything we hear and to carefully weigh and examine what people tell us (1 John 4:1). Hopefully, I’ve done this tolerably.]

© Scripture Union Canada 2021

2 Corinthians 4:5


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How to Measure Bible Engagement

 

Since Bible engagement is crucial to the spiritual health and growth of individuals and communities (churches, schools, Bible agencies, ministries), it is helpful to understand “the conditions necessary for such growth to be sustained – to become permanent – and to continue” (Mark Forshaw, Global Scripture Impact).

Here’s how some key organisations/groups/agencies are measuring Bible engagement:

Barna Group – Collects data for the ABS State of the Bible study by using a four-part typology based on people’s view of and level of engagement with Scripture. A person is categorized/described as Bible engaged, Bible friendly, Bible neutral or Bible skeptic.

Biblica – Is initiating the development of a tool that will measure the Bible engagement elements of translation, access, literary form, reading holistically, context awareness, narrative understanding and story activation.

Canadian Bible Forum – A quantitative survey conducted by Angus Reid Strategies and a qualitative study conducted by The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada to measure why Canadians do or do not connect with the Bible. Findings reported in the Canadian Bible Engagement Study.

Center for Bible Engagement – Uses surveys to gather data from individuals to measure life transformation levels of weekly Bible engagement. It goes beyond simply usage statistics to consider attitudes and behaviors that significantly impact spiritual growth and a person’s relationship with God.

Global Scripture Impact (American Bible Society) – Seeks to measure Bible engagement by measuring the behavioural signs of ‘willingness’, ‘understanding’, and ‘action’ as indicators of people moving toward spiritual maturity/embodying Christ.

LifeWay Research – Conducts quantitative and qualitative research utilising question samples from the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA) and the Transformational Groups (TG) research projects.

REVEAL – Researches the role of Scripture engagement in catalyzing spiritual growth. A set of survey items is used to look at what motivates people to engage with Scripture and how people are affected by their exposure to Scripture.

Scripture Union Canada – Uses the quantitative Measure of Reading/Connecting with the Bible literacy gauge and a qualitative assessment of how people are connecting with, coming alive to, are investing in, being submitted to, are reliant on, are receiving from, and acting in line with Christ and His Word.

Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement – Conducts quantitative and qualitative research to measure frequency of interaction with the Bible, the extent to which a person has the Bible as a focal center in their spiritual life, the breadth of contexts whereby a person interacts with the Bible, kinds of interactions a person has with the Bible, and the views people have of the Bible. The tools used for the research are the Christian Life Survey, Christian Identity and Scripture Engagement Survey, Scripture Engagement Interviews, Scripture Engagement Field Interviews.

If you know about Bible engagement research that hasn’t been mentioned in this post, please share what you know.

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5


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International Day of the Bible

International-Day-of-the-Bible-Info-1

Celebrate the Bible! Today is the International Day of the Bible. You are invited to take a few minutes to share with others, face to face or screen to screen, how much the Bible means in your life.

You can read, sing, act out, draw, paint, organize a flash mob, or do whatever you like to creatively express your love for the Word of God. Do you have a favorite psalm or proverb? Or a life verse or special passage? Or a biblical text that’s carried you through tough times? Share the Scriptures with your friends and family. Let the world know how much the Bible means in your life.

The International Day of the Bible is sponsored by The National Bible Association. Organizations like The American Bible Society, YouVersion, Bible Gateway, Scripture Union, and Bibles for the World are encouraging participation within their own communities.

Use the links below to share and connect:

Hashtag: #BibleCelebration
Twitter: https://twitter.com/IntlDayofBible (@IntlDayofBible)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/internationaldayofthebible
Instagram: @IntlDayofBible
Website: www.internationaldayofthebible.com

 

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Engagement Defined

Bible engagement defined by agencies, forums, societies, centers and research groups has many shades of meaning. Here are some definitions:

Scripture engagement is an identity-forming, learning experience, rooted in the Scriptures and practiced throughout the history of the church, involving the whole person, in which the Word of God, mediated in culture, restores, renews and equips people-in-community, enabling them to embody Christ authentically in the world as His agents of reconciliation and social transformation. American Bible Society

Scripture engagement is encountering God through the Bible to become faithful followers of Jesus Christ. American Bible Society

Bible engagement includes action, whether people are intentionally and frequently engaged in using Scripture (either reading or hearing it read) and attitude, whether people believe the Bible to be the inspired and authoritative Word of God. Barna Group

An encounter with God/Jesus/Holy Spirit that is a motivated/inspired interaction with God’s Story that includes various media that involves an individual or communal activity/response/application that cultivates/results in transformation. Bible Research Summit (compilation of group definitions)

The Bible is well-engaged when a community: has access to a well-translated text in its natural literary forms, feasts on whole literary units read in context, understands the overall story and accepts the invitation to take up its own role in the great drama. Biblica

Bible engagement is the act of receiving what the Word of God has to say by reading or listening to the Bible, reflecting on the Scripture, and responding to the biblical truths in your daily life. Center for Bible Engagement, Back to the Bible

Scripture Engagement is encountering God’s Word in a life-changing way. Forum of Bible Agencies International

Bible engagement is peeling back the covers of God’s Word to discover the hopes and promises of the Bible and discovering what God has to say to you, no matter what your situation; that results in hearts changed, lives transformed and an unrelenting drive to be like Jesus to this broken world. Forum of Bible Agencies – North America

Bible engagement is allowing God, through His Word, to lead and change an individual’s life – one’s direction, thinking and actions. LifeWay Research

Scripture engagement is frequency of engagement in the spiritual practice of reflection on Scripture. REVEAL

Bible engagement is the process whereby people are connected with the Bible such that they have meaningful encounters with Jesus Christ and their lives are progressively transformed in Him. Scripture Union Canada

Bible engagement is the process of taking in and living out God’s Word for the purpose of knowing him better and experiencing him more. Scripture Union USA

Scripture engagement is a way of hearing and reading the Bible with an awareness that it is in the Scriptures that we primarily meet God. It is a marinating, mulling over, reflecting, dwelling on, pondering of the Scriptures, resulting in a transformative engagement with God. Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement

Scripture engagement is interaction with the biblical text in a way that provides sufficient opportunity for the text to speak for itself by the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling readers and listeners to hear the voice of God and discover for themselves the unique claim Jesus Christ is making upon them. Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement

Scripture engagement is facilitating life-changing encounters with God through His Word. Wycliffe Scripture Engagement Forum

Please make a comment to share your definition of Bible engagement.

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Working Definitions of Bible Engagement

In ongoing efforts to understand the nature and scope of Bible engagement, researchers and practitioners at the recent Bible Research Summit drafted the following three working definitions:

1. Bible engagement is encountering God/Jesus through a process/lifestyle of quality interaction in/with the Story as part of a lifestyle of living in and living out of the Story so that individuals and communities are transformed. [This is a cyclical process. That is, individuals and communities continuously reengage/encounter God/Jesus through a process/lifestyle of quality interaction in/with the Story as part of a lifestyle of living in and out of the Story].

2. Bible engagement occurs when the big Story of God/Jesus/humanity, motivated by its authority or its potential relevance (passion vs. scepticism), occasionally or through some habitual practice, which includes various media (e.g. reading, audio, groups, etc.) that contain Scripture content and an application of/resulting in a response to the Word which cultivates transformation in individuals and communities.

3. Bible engagement occurs when circumstances or posture inspired by the Holy Spirit combine to create desire to discover/explore the story of how God engages humanity through habitual seeking of the Word through various mediums (individual, group, audio, visual, written) resulting in transformation that is Christocentric/Christ-like.

Taken together, and simply stated, the three definitions identify Bible engagement as:

An encounter with God/Jesus

that is a motivated/inspired interaction with God’s Story

that includes various media

that involves an individual or communal activity/response/application

that cultivates/results in transformation

 

* The Bible Research Summit was hosted by the American Bible Society

* The goal of the Summit was to discuss the history, current practices and future needs of measuring Bible engagement

* The researchers and practitioners were:

Chris Armas – Code for the Kingdom

Lizette Beard – LifeWay Research

Steven Bird – Taylor University

Chad Causey – OneHope

Mark Forshaw – Global Scripture Impact

David Kinnaman – Barna Group

Nancy Lewis – REVEAL

Jason Malec – American Bible Society

Lawson Murray – Scripture Union

Pam Ovwigo – Center for Bible Engagement

Glenn Paauw – Biblica

Tyler Prieb – OneHope

Angela Rogers – Connection Media

 

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5


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State of the Bible in the USA

Weekly Bible reading is more likely among women, African-Americans, Southerners, and people from lower income households, than among men, Millenials, or people from the North East. This according to the State of the Bible 2015 report from the American Bible Society.

Some highlights from the report:

  • Four out of five Americans consider the Bible sacred or holy
  • 52% of adults describe the Bible as “inspired”
  • Most Americans believe everyone in the world should be free to own and read a Bible
  • Nine out of ten American homes have a Bible
  • 52% of adults read the Bible three to four times a year
  • Bible readers, on average, spend thirty minutes reading the Bible at each sitting
  • The most popular version of the Bible is the King James Version
  • 60% of Bible readers read the Bible to come closer to God
  • Bible reading increases when people realise how important it is for their faith journey
  • Busyness is the primary reason why people don’t read the Bible
  • Most Bible readers say their reading evokes feelings of peace, hope and being encouraged
  • Weekly Bible readers give a lot of thought to how the Bible applies to their lives
  • Printed Bibles are the preferred format for Bible reading
  • 50% of Bible readers use digital formats to read Bible content
  • Four out of ten adults believe the main message of the Bible is “God is love”
  • Americans believe the Bible strongly encourages forgiveness, generosity and serving the poor
  • Americans believe the Bible strongly discourages prostitution, homosexuality and pornography
  • One in three Americans believe morality is declining because Bible reading is declining
  • Donations to non-profit organizations increases with increased Bible reading

 

Download the full report: State of the Bible 2015

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5