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Bible Engagement Blog


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Cultivating Bible Engagement

Many pastors urge their congregations to read/hear the Bible personally. Bible reading plans or daily devotional books are freely available in many local churches. Every now and again churches have special events (e.g. Bible Sunday) to encourage individuals to get into the Word. Yet despite what’s being done to boost regular engagement with the Bible, most Christians only read/hear the Bible in a Sunday service.

So what can we do to ramp up Bible engagement?

To begin, we should recognize that 80% of people throughout the world are oral preference learners. That means, regardless of education or background, most people learn and absorb information, not through literate means, but through oral methods of storytelling, drama or song. The implications are critical: If most people aren’t wired to engage with the Bible through literate means, then urging them to mainly read or study the Bible will be counter-productive. However, when we use oral preference approaches to Bible engagement, like group discussions or acting out a Bible story, Bible engagement is strengthened.

Another consideration is self-discipline. It’s one of the 20% of skills that contributes 80% of results. In fact, self-discipline is a vital personal attribute needed for Bible engagement. It’s vital because self-discipline directs a person internally rather than externally. When Bible engagement is externally motivated, it’s more likely to fizzle out, but when it’s an internal motivation, it’s more likely to be sustained. Unfortunately, self-discipline is something of a Cinderella value today. People are generally inclined to go with the flow rather than developing habits that rule their lives. So we need to figure out how we can actively help each other cultivate Bible engagement habits.

We should also give communal Bible engagement our attention. The Scriptures emphasize Bible engagement as “we with the Word” more so than “me with the Word.” When people get together to focus on the Bible in small groups, be it a family at the kitchen table during supper or friends meeting together once a week in someone’s home, the relational dynamics enhance engagement with the Word.

Communal Bible engagement may be the best thing we can do to help people jump into the Word because it creates an ideal environment for oral preference learners and provides opportunities to develop Bible engagement habits.

Everything mentioned above is only well and good if it’s put into practice. People need opportunities to hear, talk about, act out and sing the Word together. That’s easier said than done. It takes effort to prepare and incorporate a Bible drama in a church service, to invite people into our homes for a Bible study, to ask an open-ended question to prompt discussion about the Word, or to corral the children to share a Bible story with them. But when we make the effort, people get to meet with Jesus in and through His Word.

What are you doing to cultivate Bible engagement? If you have some practical suggestions, please comment. Your input could make all the difference!

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Preach the Word

In many local churches today the preaching mainly emphasizes what’s positive, encouraging and inspiring. Heart-warming messages are the order of the day. Helping people deal with their felt needs is part of the regular Sunday diet. And enticing seekers to come and hear next week’s message is a big objective.

When uplifting messages are the mainstay of preaching; conviction, rebuke or correction are eliminated or downplayed. When rebuke or correction are absent from sermons, preachers have strayed from God’s command to challenge, warn or tell people they’re not living in obedience to God’s Word

Consider this instruction: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus … I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” 2 Timothy 4:1-4 (NIV).

Note the phrase “I give you this charge.” The Greek word for “charge” is diamarturomai. It was used when an official called on someone entering public office to work responsibly and seriously. Paul’s use of the word reminds us that God is watching what we do and listening to what we say. It also indicates that when we’re told to “preach the word,” it’s command language. It’s not optional. Every preacher, in favourable and unfavourable conditions, whether it’s convenient or inconvenient, whether it’s received or rejected, must show people in what ways their lives are wrong (cf. the Amplified Bible).

There are numerous preachers who are ignorant concerning God’s “charge.” Their ignorance is evident through how they limit their preaching to selected texts and specific themes. It’s a wretched state of affairs. Many preachers “have forsaken the right way and gone astray … they speak great swelling words of emptiness” 2 Peter 2:15,18 (NKJV).

Hollow words are commonplace. Critically review the content of the average sermon today and it’s evident that serious teaching is sadly lacking. Most preaching is light and fluffy – designed for consumers wired for the quick and easy. Where are the preachers with a backbone? Where are the modern-day Isaiah’s intensely proclaiming woe and judgement? Where are today’s Jonah’s preaching against wickedness? (cf. Jonah 1:2). Who, like Paul, are commanding people to repent (cf. Acts 17:30). While evil increasingly abounds, the courage to confront and expose depravity is unusual.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” Isaiah 5:20 (NIV). Are the prophet’s words true for today? I think they are. Some congregations never hear a message about Hell. Yet Jesus spoke about Hell more than He spoke about Heaven!

Preachers, are you proclaiming sin and judgement? Are you teaching people to fear God and live holy lives? If not, by omission you’re a false teacher enticing people to follow a fictitious Jesus.

Not speaking about negative things is an unspoken rule in some local churches and denominations. Yet all of God’s Word must be preached – even the parts of the Bible that are offensive to society at large.

Tragically, as the voices of the LGBTQ+ community grow louder, the voices of some preachers grow quieter. Why is the pulpit silent on matters of purity? The Bible isn’t ambiguous concerning homosexuality. Romans 1:18-32 clearly condemns perversion and warns of God’s wrath as a penalty for everyone who exchanges natural relations for unnatural ones.

The sexual confusion, abuse and defilement we see around us today may be due in part to preachers not preaching the Word. Are preachers scared? Do they feel intimidated by popular culture? Why are most preachers virtually inaudible on sexual purity despite the fact that pornography and lust are epidemics?

Preachers, preach the Word. It should be anathema to feed people spiritual junk food and catchy ideas that tickle their ears (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3-4). But that’s what’s happening.

Renewal and restoration is desperately needed. Up until the mid 20th Century most Evangelical preachers confidently confronted and exposed sin. Holiness went hand in hand with being a Christian. And luke-warm Christians were uncomfortable because messages were firm and convicting.

Nowadays people are rarely pierced by the preacher’s message. At the conclusion of a service, they smile and say, “Thank you for the message Pastor” or “I enjoyed the sermon” or “I’m looking forward to what you’re going to say next week.”

I know when I’ve preached the Word. It’s when someone says, “I felt convicted” or “You made me feel uncomfortable,” or “Your message was negative!”

A woman recently approached me after a service and said, “May I make a comment?” Of course,” I replied. “I notice your message didn’t use inclusive language,” she said. “What do you mean?” I asked. With some intensity, she continued, “Well you spoke about men and women in a way that made no provision for other sexual identities and relationships. Everyone is part of God’s family and their sexuality should be embraced and accepted.” After a brief pause, I said, “Thank you for sharing your opinion. I appreciate you taking the time to speak to me. But the Bible clearly teaches us that there are only two genders – male and female.” The discussion continued for another five minutes, and then her parting shot, “You’re wrong. You should be more sensitive and understanding …”

That’s what happens when we preach the Word. People can and will take offence. In fact to those who are perishing “we are the smell of death” 2 Corinthians 2:15 (NIV). I didn’t know that being “the smell of death” was part of the job description when I started preaching. But it will be if we’re faithfully preaching the whole canon of Scripture!

Another thing I didn’t know when I started preaching is that two of the three commands in 2 Timothy 4:2 concerning preaching, are negative. Timothy was exhorted to elegcho (convict, prove wrong and thus shame a person) and to epitimao (charge, rebuke). In other words, preachers must major on corrective preaching, and as they do they should temper it with parakaleo (encourage and comfort).

Sugar-coated preaching is dangerous. As someone once said, “It is better to speak the truth that hurts and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills.”

So live up to God’s charge to boldly correct, rebuke and encourage people to abstain from sinful desires and live righteously. Because when we don’t preach the Word (all of the Word) the outcome is want and spiritual poverty (cf. Proverbs 11:24).

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Re-reading the Bible

Once, while doing some street outreach, I asked a lady if she read the Bible. “Yes,” she said, “Many years ago, I read it from cover to cover.” “Do you still read it?” I asked. With a face registering surprise she said, “Why would I do that? I’ve read it once and that’s enough!”

The lady asked a great question. Why, having read the Bible, should anyone read it again? Surely once is enough? Or is it?

I’ve read through the Bible dozens of times. Each time I read it, I’m changed. So when I re-read it, I’m not the same person as when I last read it. That is, each time I re-read the Bible I’m reading it from a new perspective.

Have you read through the Bible? If you have, you need to continue re-reading it.

Remarkably, because the Bible “is alive and active” (cf. Hebrews 4:12), every time it’s read, the reading is never quite the same as the previous reading. That’s because the Bible is like an onion. When we re-read it, we peel back a layer. Then, as we peel back a layer, new insights are discovered, new depths are plumbed, and new vistas revealed.

“It is the glory of God that hides the word, and the glory of the King that seeks for the word” Proverbs 25:2 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English).

Reading the Bible once is not enough. Nor is it enough to read it seven times or seventy-seven times. I know from first-hand experience. It’s only when we re-read the Word again and again that it opens up to us. In fact, the Bible reveals its secrets only to those committed to a lifetime of re-reading.

There are other reasons for re-reading the Bible …

  • Faith needs to be constantly strengthened by the Word (cf. Romans 10:17)
  • Understanding needs to be continually cultivated through reflection on the Word (cf. Psalm 119:130)
  • Spiritual maturity mainly comes through a life-time of interacting with the Word (cf. Hebrews 5:13-14)
  • Fruitfulness flows out of ongoing engagement with the Word (cf. Psalm 1:2-3)
  • Growth in reverence and obedience requires reading and reflection on the Word throughout one’s life (cf. Deuteronomy 17:19)

While these are all good reasons for re-reading the Bible, the main reason for re-reading the Bible should be to connect and stay connected, with Jesus. For re-reading the Bible is an out-and-out necessity for the ongoing health and growth of our relationships with Him.

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Hand-Copying Scripture

“Apply yourself totally to the text; apply the text totally to yourself” – Motto in the 1734 edition of the Greek New Testament.

One of God’s special requirements for the kings of Israel was that they would hand-copy Scripture.

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. Deuteronomy 17:18-20.

Why did God want the kings to make copies of His Word? So it would be repeatedly read, continuously learned, and carefully obeyed.

It wasn’t only kings who hand-copied the Word. For the bigger chunk of human history, hand-copying Scripture was the way the Bible was passed on from generation to generation by literate people. Today the Scriptures are available in printed or electronic forms. So hand-copying Scripture isn’t usually done to pass the Bible on in a written form. But it is done to help us draw closer to Jesus.

The method for hand-copying Scripture is straightforward:

  • Begin with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the Word
  • Select a text, preferably a whole book that’s copied over several days or weeks
  • Write slowly and carefully. Check and double-check each word or phrase before writing it down
  • Savour every word as you write it. Aim not to get the writing done, but to connect with Jesus
  • Remember that you’re copying the living Word
  • Read what you’ve written, and listen to hear from God
  • Pray back to God, word for word, thought by thought, or thematically, the Scriptures that you’ve written down

When a king hand-copied Scripture he benefitted through growth in humility and reverence, hearing the Holy Spirit speak to him through the Word, enjoying good health (cf. Proverbs 4:20-22) and long life, renewing of his mind, and drawing closer to God.

The same benefits are available to us when we hand-copy Scripture.

Other advantages to hand-copying Scripture include:

  • Fosters a deeper appreciation for God’s Word
  • Quietens the mind and soul
  • Enables one to slow down and reflect on the Word
  • Facilitates a deeper contemplation of the Word
  • Connects us to the desires of the heart
  • Aids in memorization of the Word
  • Creates opportunities for inspiration
  • Invites responsibility and accountability
  • Provides occasions for creative penmanship and calligraphy
  • Helps us not become proud or arrogant
  • Personalizes the Word
  • Brings details and nuances to light that are often missed when the Scriptures are only read
  • Reminds us that while the Word has a physical beginning and end, spiritually it has no boundaries

It’s interesting to note that the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in the brain is engaged by handwriting. The benefit of engaging the RAS is that this part of the brain helps us pay attention and retain information.

When we interact and invest ourselves in the Word through hand-copying Scripture, it has life-changing and lasting significance. In a world that seems to be more and more frenetic; hand-copying Scripture helps us be still and know that God is God (cf. Psalm 46:10), deepens our faith, and enables us to leave a legacy for generations to come.

If hand-copying Scripture was good for kings, it’s good for us. That’s because we’re kings too (Revelation 1:6)! So as we reign with Jesus (cf. Romans 5:17), let’s copy the Scriptures and thereby make sure we’re repeatedly reading, continuously learning, and carefully obeying the Word.

[Check out The Saint John’s Bible – a handwritten illuminated Bible]

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Dramatizing Scripture

“I hear, I forget. I see, I remember. I do, I understand” – Ancient Proverb.

When God created us He adorned our lives with humour, pathos, fragility and strength. These unique traits provide brilliant opportunities for artistry and Scripture to come together. Little wonder that the prophets of old reinforced their message through dramatic form, that the incarnation is the greatest drama ever, or that communion is a vivid memorial of Jesus’ last supper with His disciples.

The concept of artistry and Scripture coming together came sharply into focus for me when I came to faith in Christ during a time of revival on the university campuses in South Africa. Within months of discovering Jesus I was involved in a street drama group that performed fast moving biblical sketches in the corridors and lecture halls of the Johannesburg College of Education. It was an exciting period in my life filled with the joy of seeing hundreds of fellow students embracing Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

From first-hand experience I’m keenly aware of the power of drama to connect people with Jesus and His Story. Drama, rightly harnessed, can be used by the Holy Spirit to bring us close to the Word and bring the Word close to us. And more. Drama is a gift from God to help us explore the Word, enjoy it, be moved and provoked by it.

It’s time to act. Many people are kinesthetic learners, i.e. they learn by doing. For people who learn by doing, dramatizing Scripture is one of the best ways for them to engage with the Bible.

Dramatizing Scripture involves connecting with God’s Word through some kind of performance like an impromptu skit, sketch, rehearsed play, dramatic reading, playback theatre, street drama, dance drama, mime, monologues, or reader’s theatre.

The key elements in dramatizing Scripture include careful and prayerful reading of the Scripture text, writing a script, rehearsing and performing, and inviting a response.

Through dramatizing Scripture we get to see ourselves in the Word, find ways to connect our lives to the Word, and learn to come alive to the Word. Phil Collins, Director of Scripture Engagement at Taylor University says, “We tend to put ourselves into good stories that are acted well, ‘trying on’ for ourselves what characters are thinking and feeling, often seeing ourselves and the world in a new way.”

That to say there are many benefits to dramatizing Scripture:

  • ideal for visual or kinesthetic learners
  • is a medium for creative and artistic people to engage with the Word
  • reminds us that the Word is about real people with real emotions
  • helps us see ourselves in the Story
  • enables actors to physicalize the Scriptures
  • provides a means for us to grasp and pursue the Word
  • touches us in different ways from words by themselves
  • directs attention more sharply on the things about Jesus which demand our worship

While there are many benefits to dramatizing Scripture, there are potential pitfalls that need to be avoided. Dramatizing Scripture should never be seen as a way to make God’s Word attractive, exciting or interesting. And it should never be about entertainment for entertainments sake. Thinking we can somehow make God’s Word more appealing should be an anathema.

So here’s to dramatizing Scripture, and doing it not for the sake of performance, but to meaningfully connect us with the Word so that we connect with the One who is the Word.

Recommended Resources:

Pederson, Steve. Drama Ministry: Practical Help for Making Drama a Vital Part of Your Church, Zondervan, 1999.

Siewert, Alison. Drama Team Handbook, InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Watters, Sandra. Scripture Alive in Your Classroom With Drama, WestBow Press, 2015.

The Sourceview Bible – www.sourceviewbible.com

 

 © Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Engagement and Orality

According to the International Orality Network, 80% of people in the world don’t understand God’s Word when it’s delivered to them by literate means because they’re oral preference learners. Even in literate cultures, many people won’t read God’s Word, or prefer oral ways of connecting with God’s Word.

Strangely, even though most local churches are comprised of people who favour listening to the Word, the chosen approach is to ask people to read the Word. In a world that depends largely on verbal communications, shouldn’t the primary approach to Bible engagement be oral?

Before people connected with the Bible as a book that was read, the Bible was shared from mouth to ear (2 Peter 1:21). For centuries most people heard it. Maybe that’s why 80% of the Bible is narrative. God gave us a Story composed of many stories because stories are well suited for people who favour speaking and listening.

Interestingly, on the occasions when the Bible mentions the Scriptures being read, the greater context is usually about people listening attentively (e.g. Nehemiah 8:3, 2 Kings 23:2). In fact when reading and listening are compared, there are far more texts that speak about listening than about reading (e.g. Psalm 85:8, Matthew 7:24, Luke 11:28, John 8:47, Romans 10:17, Hebrews 2:1).

I’m a prolific reader and love writing. That makes me different to most people. When it comes to Bible engagement, I don’t assume that others will enjoy reading the Bible like I do. Unfortunately, the readers and writers of the world, in large part, haven’t seen it this way. Since Gutenberg’s Press started printing Bibles, reading has been the go to means for Bible engagement.

To see literacy as somehow superior to orality is problematic. Speaking and listening is ingrained in us. Even in the most literate cultures, orality is an enormous and inescapable part of human life. We should therefore see orality for what it is, and make the best use of it for Jesus and His kingdom.

In both pre-literate and post-literate cultures, rather than placing an emphasis on empowering people to read God’s Word, we should be placing the emphasis on empowering people to listen to God’s Word. There are many ways to do this. Consider the following:

  • Bible videos or movies
  • Podcasts
  • Social networks
  • Songs
  • Audio Bibles
  • Drama
  • Storying Scripture

Promoting an emphasis on listening to the Word is not suggesting that reading the Word should be dismissed. But it is an acknowledgement that reading, in and of itself, isn’t the holy grail of Bible engagement.

The reality is there are many people who have difficulty with reading, or dislike reading. Equipping them to listen to the Word is an expression of love and common sense. We should meet people where they are, not expect them to meet us where we are. So if you tend to equate Bible engagement with Bible reading, it’s time to change your outlook. Bible engagement is multi-faceted. In a world where most people are oral preference learners, we should focus on helping people effectively listen to the Word in ways that edify, inform and inspire them to live for Jesus.

Your thoughts …

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Reading And Bible Engagement

Bible reading, the kind that’s concerned with being knowledgeable and learning about God, should never be equated with Bible engagement. Here’s why Bible reading and Bible engagement are different:

When Bible reading is strictly about gaining facts, studying the history of Israel, enjoying the stories, learning about how to behave, just reading it, or looking for guidance for one’s life, the outcome, at best, is that we get to be informed.

But God didn’t give us His Word to inform us. God gave us His Word to form and transform us.

A person can know all the stories, recite the ten commandments, say the Lord’s Prayer, hear the Gospels read every week in church, and even read the Bible personally every day – yet not engage with the Bible. That’s because God didn’t give us the Bible to tell us about Him. He gave us the Bible so that we would meet with Him and be forever changed by the encounter.

Bible engagement is Jesus engagement. Bible engagement is entering into the Word to get together with the One who is the Word. When we meet the One who is the Word, something radical and life-changing happens. Bible engagement always rocks our socks off! That’s because Bible engagement is getting up close and personal with the One who was dead and is now alive for ever and ever! (Revelation 1:18).

Bible engagement isn’t for the faint of heart. When we engage with the Bible, we’re not safe! Bible engagement will turn us upside down and inside out.

Now why do I say that? Because Bible reading per se is about us taking control of the text. When we take control of the text, we’re safe. But Bible engagement is about the text taking control of us. And when the Bible’s in control things happen that are out of our control.

There should be a warning on the front cover of every Bible – “Dangerous Contents!” Unlike other books “the word of God is alive and active” Hebrews 4:12. When we correctly engage with the Bible, the Word will read us! And when the Word reads us, we must watch out! Anything can happen (according to God’s will). And what will definitely happen is you’ll feel constrained to worship Him with every ounce of your strength, trust Him with your heart, give Him your mind, and live wholly and only for Him until the day you die.

Is Bible engagement risky? Absolutely! Bible engagement, correctly undertaken, is always hazardous. But, (to borrow a concept from C. S. Lewis) while Bible engagement isn’t safe, it’s always good!

© Scripture Union Canada 2019

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Random Thoughts

I’m often thinking about Bible engagement, and while some of the things I’m thinking about become the basis of the articles I write, there are random thoughts that make it no further than a comment on a sticky note, musings jotted down on a used envelope, or as recently happened on a flight home from Calgary, several sentences scribbled on a napkin.

So mainly because I’m reluctant to throw out the napkin and waste some thinking, here are some random thoughts about Bible engagement:

A rejection of Christ and His Story results in intellectual and moral anarchy. Without Christ people are left trying to find meaning in racial, ethnic, or sexual identities – or in living lives immersed in the moment. Sadly and tragically, in searching for a personal soul, people are forgetting the desperate need we all have for transcendence. And transcendence is only found in Christ and His Story.

It isn’t the reading of many books that make us learned or holy. It’s the frequent reading of one book, the Book of books, that develops wisdom and righteousness.

The psalmist says, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” Psalm 119:130. Note how it’s the “unfolding” (opening to reveal what is disclosed) of God’s Word that gives light. There are no two ways around this. To dispel darkness, unnerving encounters with the Word are required.

As a Westerner reading the Bible (as it’s geographically, historically, socially and culturally linked to this world) I must remember that it’s not a European book – it’s a Middle Eastern book.

Education devoid of God’s Word leads to arrogant occultism or secular bigotry. So if Christ is to have the ultimate authority over hearts and minds then His Word must be at the centre of education.

God’s Word should be the foundation on which every ministry is built. Every ministry value, principle, practice and expected outcome should be scripturally sound. If there’s no biblical support or precedence for a ministry activity, program, or approach, it shouldn’t be part of what we say or do.

The starting point for marinating children in Jesus’ Story is a deep and progressive study of the biographies of Jesus. Children should know the Gospels from back to front and from front to back. And for this to happen we’ve got to expose children to the Gospels in ways that unveil them to the extraordinary, glorious, unbridled, beautiful, astonishing love of Jesus.

A moral quagmire isn’t a random occurrence. When the Bible becomes a closed book; ignorance, corruption, avarice, depravity, infidelity, and savagery will take root and flourish.

One can never be a mature Christian or adequately fulfil God’s purpose for one’s life without extensive reading and reflection on God’s Word.

When our activities are in conflict with God’s Word, we tend to correct our behaviour or find a new god.

Do you have any random thoughts on Bible engagement that you’d like to add? Feel free to comment. And if you want to use or share any of the random thoughts above, please do so.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Rooting out Legalism

There’s an injunction in Galatians 6:1 to “watch yourself.” Eugene Peterson in the Message interprets this command as “saving your critical comments for yourself.” Sometimes (and tragically) the Pharisee in me gets the better of me. Instead of watching myself, I see the speck in someone else’s eye. Which got me thinking about rooting out legalism in my life, and then got me thinking about rooting out legalism in how I engage with the Bible. So here are my thoughts as they pertain to rooting out legalism in Bible engagement:

To begin, I should probably admit to a tendency to promote my own personal Bible engagement standards. My personal standards are rules or expectations expressed in words like, “Christians should have a ‘quiet time’ (prayer and Bible reading) every day.” While this personal standard may be okay for me, it’s not okay for me to press others to adopt this standard.

When I was a young Christian I was free and easy about urging fellow Christians to have a quiet time. I didn’t appreciate that what I was doing was legalistic. Most legalists are legalists without realizing it.

Recognizing that the fog of legalism is ever present helped me identify four legalistic Bible engagement inclinations that I need to guard against:

  1. Self-righteousness. If I read and reflect on God’s Word in a way that makes sure others are aware of my good behaviour, I’ve crossed the line into legalism. Performance-based Christianity should never be the goal of Bible engagement.
  2. Human effort. If my motive for reading and reflecting on God’s Word is to exert all the energy I can muster to make God happy or be a good Christian, I’ve got it all wrong. Bible engagement conducted in my own strength is antithetical.
  3. Religious duty. Reading and reflecting on God’s Word to be devout or faithful is another form of legalism. The spirit of legalism is also inherent in the fear that God might punish or reject me for not reading or reflecting on His Word. Religious duty is the enemy of Bible engagement.
  4. Personal standards. Telling others to “Read your Bible every day” is legalism. It’s not a command in the Bible and I shouldn’t equate personal values with God’s values. That to identify that the measure of Bible engagement is in God’s hands, not mine.

 

That’s my Bible engagement short list for rooting out legalism. It reminds me that Bible engagement should never be obedience to a formula or special moral code. Bible engagement, correctly undertaken, breaks all bondage to legalism and sets me free. For true Bible engagement is a grace-filled, Christ-exalting, kingdom-championing process that liberates me to live fully and only all for Jesus.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Kingdom Focused Bible Engagement

In many instances Bible engagement has been reduced to majoring on the bits of the Bible that speak to making the world a better place through social activism, the golden rule as it applies to living a decent life (cf. Matthew 7:12), or using the Scriptures to underpin religious duties and obligations. But Bible engagement is about something far bigger than cherry picking Bible verses to inform our good works, good morality, or good religion per se.

Bible engagement is counter cultural. For Bible engagement to truly happen, we can’t be double minded. We can’t serve two masters (cf. Matthew 6:24). Bible engagement begins when we turn away from our old way of life and invite Christ to give us new life. And it proceeds as we sever our loyalties to the world and give our total allegiance to Christ (cf. Luke 14:33).

When we connect with the Bible, everything should change. We cannot continue to think and do life as we’ve done it before. Bible engagement requires a new way of being and a new way of living. We must relinquishing all we have to follow Jesus (cf. Luke 14:25-27). And for that to happen, Bible engagement has to be kingdom focused.

So what does kingdom focused Bible engagement look like? Kingdom focused Bible engagement is giving our unreserved commitment to the King and His kingdom. It’s submitting fully to Christ’s reign over our lives. And it occurs as we continually respond to God’s Word in ways that indicate that Christ is working in and through us.

While kingdom focused Bible engagement is embodied in Christ, it also includes everyone who submits to His kingship (cf. Romans 5:10). Bible engagement should never be an exclusively private or internal affair. Yes, Bible engagement concerns me, but it’s more about us. That’s because the kingdom of God is about community – about Christ’s Word being embodied and manifested in the lives of all of His kingdom citizens.

This is the good news: Bible engagement is about being liberated and empowered. It’s entering the throne room, encountering the King, and embracing, sharing and enjoying the fullness of kingdom life (cf. John 10:10). But wait, there’s more! When we’ve finished being part of the kingdom that’s here, we get to be part of the kingdom to come (cf. 1 Timothy 6:19).

Now before we get too heavenly minded that we’re of no practical use, let’s not forget that kingdom focused Bible engagement, while eternity bound, has an earthly home. Bible engagement is about God’s future turning up in the present. Bible engagement was never meant to be esoteric. Bible engagement is for this world, but not of this world. The Bible engagement prayer is “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Matthew 6:10. And for this prayer to be apprehended, kingdom citizens must live out the Word in ways that bring honour and glory to the King.

This to simply say that Bible engagement is Jesus engagement, and Jesus engagement is kingdom engagement. The three go together. They’re distinct, but not separate. When we engage with the Bible, we should do so with the express purpose of engaging with Christ. And as we engage with Christ, we should do so with the express purpose of being kingdom focused.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5