JumpIntoTheWord

Bible Engagement Blog


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Create a Banquet

Writing experts say that half the struggle is getting people to read what you write. They also say that a good title is everything. This may be true. When I saw The Hottest Thing at Church is Not Your Pastor or Worship Leader, the title of a Christianity Today (April 2017) article, I was enticed to read it.

It’s a good read. It highlights the fact that the number 1 explanation for why Americans go to church is for “Sermons that teach about Scripture.”

That’s music to my ears! I firmly believe that reading, preaching and appreciating the Word (which is to appreciate the One of whom the Word speaks) should rank above every other reason for why we go to church.

Which reminds me of something a veteran Bible teacher and preacher recently said to me, “We should lay out a banquet for people to feast from when they come to church.” He’s absolutely right. The preaching and teaching of God’s Word should be spiritually tasty and filling.

Unfortunately pastors don’t always provide their congregations with a weekly banquet on God’s Word. Sometimes it’s only a snack and sometimes it’s just a morsel – certainly not enough to sustain or nourish a congregation.

Pastors, “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). That’s literal language. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not figurative. With every ounce of strength and passion, prayerfully and humbly, carefully and patiently, in the power of the Spirit – preach the Word! Exegete the text. Do everything possible to invite every person to enter into the Scriptures, engage the Scriptures, encounter the One of whom the Scriptures speak, and emulate the Scriptures in everything they say and do.

I still remember, about 30 years later, how one pastor told me that it only took him 3-4 hours to prepare his Sunday message. He was proud of this because it gave him more time to spend with his family … the implication being that it was good and right for him to make his family his highest priority. I’m still flabbergasted! A good message takes days of preparation, hours and hours of wrestling with the text, and even sleepless nights as the preacher seeks to reconcile himself with the text because he knows he can’t preach if the Scriptures don’t have ascendency in his own life.

In fact sermon preparation is somewhat similar to cooking. When my wife and I want to prepare a really nice meal for friends or family it takes us about two full days to do the planning, shopping, cooking, table setting, vacuuming and dusting (our house must first be clean before we can serve up a banquet), dish washing and drying. Similarly, when I prepare a sermon I know it requires planning, getting all the ingredients together, arranging and organizing, making sure my own house is in order before I tell others how to get their house in order, serving something sumptuous, and doing what needs to be done so that others will say, “Thanks, that was great!”

One more thing: I’m a nobody when it comes to cooking and I’m a nobody when it comes to preaching. But that’s okay. The Christianity Today article mentions how the Gallup poll also discovered that “people in the pews care far more about what’s being preached than who’s preaching it.” That’s good news for every ordinary pastor who is diligently feeding the congregation a Sunday banquet week in and week out.

It’s also a reminder that the preacher plays the supportive, not the main role. When I go to a restaurant and eat a good meal, the food itself, not the chef, is the focus of my gastronomic experience. Similarly, the texture, flavour and aroma of the Scriptures should be the focus of the preaching, not the preacher. And for this to happens the preacher’s main aim should be to preach the Word so that everyone can “taste and see that the Lord is good” Psalm 34:8.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Engaging the Bible Relationally

Many people engage with the Bible in order to know more. They study the Bible to learn about faith, God, morality and how to live their lives. Gaining information and growing in knowledge about the Bible is the desired end.

An informational approach to the Bible is largely borne out of the fact that we’ve been wired by educational institutions to gather facts, interpret events, and understand our world. But the Bible is not a text book and God never intended for us to treat it as one. That’s because the goal of Bible engagement is something far greater than elevating our knowledge or trying to understand the Word.

So what is the goal of Bible engagement?

Our primary motive for engaging the Bible should always be relationship. Specifically, the main reason for connecting with the Bible should be to elevate our worship, communion and love for God. Why? Because Bible engagement, while it involves us, is not ultimately about us. I’m guessing Rick Warren would agree. His mantra in The Purpose Driven Life is, “It’s not about you!”

Maybe one of the reasons why we approach the Bible informationally rather than relationally is because we’re inclined to look out for our own wellbeing. We study the Bible because we want help, healing, hope and so much more. And yes, God gives us these things, but only within the context of a reciprocating relationship. The trouble is, we sometimes get the cart before the horse, we major on the benefits of the relationship when we should be majoring on the fact that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father …” James 1:17.

That’s not to say that engaging the Bible relationally is easy. It’s not. Bible engagement requires personal discipline and intentionality as well as wisdom and strength from God. In fact when we try to engage the Bible relationally, without the help of the Holy Spirit, we usually fail.

Here’s the rub: Knowledge about the Bible is important, but knowledge without an intimate and dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ, is hazardous. This is the point that Jesus was trying to make to the Pharisees (Mark 7:1-13). It’s a matter of first principles. We can’t find truth or know truth if we’re disconnected from the truth-giver.

Years ago, when I was a full-time pastor, I remember hearing a story about a dinner gathering that was attended by a well known orator. During the course of the meal he was asked to recite the 23rd Psalm. He eloquently recited the psalm and everyone was impressed. Then someone turned to the old pastor who was also there that night and asked him if he would recite the 23rd Psalm. As he recited the psalm it was obvious that his words came more from his heart than his lips. Instead of the people being impressed, they were moved. Of course we know what made the difference, the orator knew the words but the pastor knew the One who is the Word.

Do we know the One who is the Word? Effective healthy transformational Bible engagement fails or succeeds based on how we answer this question.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Repent

Maybe I’m not listening too well, but it seems to me that even from our pulpits there are some key biblical words that are barely mentioned today. One of those words is “repent.”

I’m not surprised that I rarely hear the word “repent.” We live in an era of tolerance, entitlement, the pursuit of happiness and political correctness. So telling someone they should feel regret, sorrow or contrition for something they’ve done wrong, isn’t considered appropriate.

Just because a word may no longer be culturally appropriate doesn’t mean we should stop using it. True Bible engagement is often counter-cultural. Bible engagers can’t pick and choose what they like or dislike in God’s Word. We must interact fully and proclaim (with grace) every word and verse in the whole Bible. That’s not easy. Especially when it may offend others or place us at odds with society.

So what are we to do with difficult biblical themes and words like “repent”? Press into them! Let’s not forget that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” 2 Timothy 3:16 .

Interestingly, when we embrace all of God’s Word, we will be blessed. This is certainly true of the word “repent.” Here are the benefits of repentance according to 2 Corinthians 7:9-11:

  • It leads to sorrow for our sin (v.9)
  • Which leads to salvation and the removal of all regrets (v.10)
  • Which leads to a desire for justice and restitution (v.11)

Isn’t that great? The good things that God is willing and longing to give us are released into our lives when we repent. So don’t shy away from engaging with every word in the Word. For when we do, it will ultimately take us to a better place with others and a better place with God.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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State of the Bible 2017

Since 2011 the Barna Group has conducted an annual survey concerning the state of the Bible in the USA. The survey is commissioned by the American Bible Society and aims to gather insights into the multifaceted relationship that Americans have with God’s Word.

This year’s findings revealed the following:

  • Two-thirds of Americans read, listen to or pray with the Bible (16% daily, 21% once a week or more, 7% once a month, 6% a few times a year).
  • Bible usage is highest among Black American practicing Protestants who live in the South.
  • The average Bible user reads the Bible for 30 minutes during each sitting.
  • Lower income people (less than $50K annually) read the Bible more frequently than higher income people (more than $100K annually).
  • While the KJV is the most popular version it’s usage is declining (down 14% since 2011).
  • The NIV is the second most popular version followed by the ESV.
  • The primary reason why two-thirds of Bible readers connect with the Bible is because it “brings them closer to God.”
  • Nearly 60% of adults indicate that they want to read the Bible more frequently.
  • Bible reading increases when it is seen to be an important part of a person’s faith journey.
  • Bible reading declines when people are too busy with the responsibilities of life, start doubting their faith, face trauma, or leave the church.
  • There is a decline in Bible reading among Millennials.
  • Favourable emotions when reading the Bible included feelings of peace (49%), hope (45%), happiness (29%), and intrigue (19%).
  • Unfavourable emotions when reading the Bible included feelings of being overwhelmed (13%) or confused (12%).
  • Nearly half of the Bible readers give a lot of thought to how the Bible applies to their lives.
  • Most people prefer to use a printed Bible (91%) for reading the Scriptures yet they also use non-print formats (smart phone, apps, podcasts, internet, audio) for reading the Bible (92%).

For more information click here to download the whole report.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Spoken Word

Spoken Word, or more specifically Christian Spoken Word, is an oral form of Bible engagement utilising free form or slam poetry. Popular with millennials, it integrates word play, beat, reiteration, voice inflection, hip-hop, modulation, music, prose monologues, or even comedy, to present/perform the Word.

While Spoken Word is a form of poetry, there are four elements that differentiate it from other forms of poetry: It’s written for performance, the themes are biblical, it should be challenging and should involve some acting.

Performed, biblical and challenging. “The ‘blessed are the underdogs’ message of Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount – had it been filmed for YouTube – would certainly have gone viral. Particularly if he’d performed it in rhyme. Jesus was all about new messages in new ways – speaking from boats and atop mountains and from his friends’ living rooms – and always with an epistle intended to make his congregation think about the accepted status quo.” Spoken Word Applied to the Word – Premier.

So what are some of the basics of Spoken Word? My daughter, Christie Warren, writes, performs and teaches Spoken Word. I learnt the following at one of her workshops:

  • involves rhythm and repetition that produces a “flow”
  • can be set against a musical background
  • presentation should be dramatic
  • words should be emphasized to bring a focus to the theme
  • there should be a clear message that invokes a response
  • can utilize visual images
  • it’s not a rigid form of poetry
  • it’s not necessary to follow grammatical rules
  • be creative!
  • can be presented in a church service, as a street drama, or in any suitable public forum

“Oh Taste and See” by Christie Warren

O taste and see that the Lord is good.

Hmm…to taste

In haste

Would be a waste

Of the sweetness of His words

Or so I’ve heard

And see, apparently,

They’re sweeter than honey

And more desirable than gold

Or so I’m told.

But if you have truly tasted of the kindness of the Lord

It’ll surely strike a chord

And certainly afford

The opportunity to become

The salt of the earth.

For one cannot simply taste

And not wanna chase

Change pace

About face

Run the race

While fixing one’s eyes on Jesus

And see

Literally

Undeniably

Indescribably

Unequivocally

See that He is good

No other thought will do

No other can be true

So how can we continue

To live our lives this way

When He’s shifted our perspective

When everything has changed

How can we put up this facade

And play with full bravado

And silently just plod, plod, plod

Through this life?

We can’t

End rant

We have to take a stand

We have to actually be His feet and hands.

For when we taste and when we see

We’re changed eternally

And I, for one, can’t simply let that be

Join me?

And here’s one for you to watch:

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bored With The Bible?

Why are some Christians bored with the Bible?

While doing some Bible engagement polling, I asked a woman in her fifties if she read the Bible. She said, “Yes, many years ago, from cover to cover.” “Do you still read it?” I asked. “No”, she said, “I much prefer a good novel or something stimulating. Frankly, the Bible is boring, and reading it once, was more than enough.”

On another occasion, after I’d preached a message from Hebrews 4:12, a young man said to me, “Pastor, I know the Bible is a good book, and I know I should be reading it, but it’s really difficult and confusing. And to be honest, I find it boring.” His words pulled me up short. I’d spent 30 minutes passionately speaking about how the Bible is living and active, and yet the reality for this earnest millennial, was that the Bible was wearisome and disinteresting.

Then there’s my own reality. Since the late 70’s when I became a Christian, I’ve had seasons where I’ve passionately loved reading the Bible. It’s been exciting, engaging, transformational, and so much more. Then there’s been times when Bible reading has been a hard slog – dry, dreary and depressing. And occasionally, I’m just not there – more interested in opening my browser and going to Facebook, than in opening up the Bible.

Reason argues that it’s impossible to be bored with the Bible. After all, the Bible is God’s Word – the Voice of life, truth, hope, wisdom, grace, salvation and so much more. Surely what comes from the heart and mouth of God can’t be boring.

If God, in and of Himself, is not and cannot be boring, then the reason why some Christians are bored with the Bible must lie elsewhere.

When I fell in love with Karen, I loved to listen to everything she said or sung. We’d talk for hours on end and I’d hang on every word, delighting in every inflection in her voice.

I’ve been happily married to Karen for more than three decades, but I have to admit that I don’t always listen to her with the same enthusiasm as when we first fell in love.

Maybe that’s what sometimes happens with our Bible reading – we’re not really listening. The problem isn’t with the Word, it’s with us.

If being bored with the Bible is a listening issue, then the remedy is possibly found in learning or re-learning how to open our spiritual ears. Here are three things we need to do to hear God’s Voice:

  • Confess sin (cf. James 1:21). Un-confessed sin is like spiritual earwax – if it’s not removed it eventually makes us deaf.
  • Remove distractions (cf. Luke 8:7). Don’t let video games, music, banter, busyness, cares, or concerns of the world keep you from hearing the Voice of God.
  • Lean in (cf. Jeremiah 29:12-13, James 4:8). The closer we are to God, the better we’ll hear Him.

Now it’s your turn to have your say. Why do you think some Christians are bored with the Bible?

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Thinking About Our Thinking

This post is compiled with Bible ministry colleagues in mind. It’s for people working in the fields of Bible preaching, Bible translation, Bible publishing, Bible storying, Bible study, Bible teaching, Bible resource development, and Bible engagement.

Here are ten primers to get us thinking about our thinking:

  1. The entertainment industry thrives on the power to distract and hypnotize. What are the Bible engagement strategies, methodologies and technologies that are required to capture the attention of people caught in the grip of an alluring hotchpotch of images and fragments of visual stimulation?
  2. Biblical scholarship requires a major paradigm shift. The perception and interpretation of the Scriptures must shift from engaging with silent print to engaging with the Bible in the context of electronic media. What are the implications of this premise?
  3. Since the majority of people hear the message of the Bible rather than read it for themselves, greater attention needs to be given to the importance of communicating the message with dialogical language (vs. dialectic language). What adjustments in our Bible delivery systems/methodology need to be made to help people hear the Word in more relational and dynamic ways?
  4. In recognizing that there are more people outside than inside the church, it is imperative that intralingual translations (e.g. English to English) of Bible versions/paraphrases are developed to better enable people to relate to the Word. How might a multi-media rich environment help or hinder intralingual translations?
  5. There are multiple tools, forms and avenues available in the sciences and arts through which connections with the Bible may be made. How might the sciences and arts be more creatively accessed to help people see, imagine, contemplate, tell, hear, remember and share God’s Story?
  6. It was mainly Christians who pioneered the transition from orality to literacy. Now that Western cultures are more abstract, wouldn’t it be great if Christians once again pioneered the transition to secondary orality? So what are we presently doing, and what should we be doing, to communicate and invite interaction with the Bible in the context of a more deliberate self-conscious orality?
  7. Robotics and artificial intelligence are going to dramatically alter the landscape of society in the coming years. What impact might the changes in technology have on how we provide access, develop approaches/methods, and invite engagement with the Bible?
  8. Social networking sites have changed the way we communicate. The linear reasoning that’s been nurtured by print culture is being augmented or replaced by non-sequential thinking stimulated by visual effects, wired to sound bites and punctuated by the exchange of one-liners. With this in mind, what are the implications for discipleship, given that Bible reading/reflection (drawing on linear reasoning skills) has been the primary means of nurturing mature believers?
  9. What can we learn from the past that can help us in the future? The biblical texts were originally recorded to assist oral presentation and the development of a communal piety. The spoken and rhetorical features of the biblical text have been largely overlooked or ignored by commentators, pastors and teachers for hundreds of years. How can electronic media be harnessed to recapture the original oral underpinnings of the Bible?
  10. What new thinking, arrangements, reorganization of translation processes, and development of production and delivery mechanisms are required to enable people to engage with the Bible in a way that they can encounter God and live lives that bring honour and glory to Him?

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Jesus Engagement

Bible engagement is about Jesus engagement. This may seem obvious, but there are a lot of Bible related things that aren’t ultimately about Jesus. In fact whenever Bible related programs, activities, projects, seminars, challenges, courses, or initiatives are exclusively about Bible reading, Bible study, Bible translation, and such, then it may be nothing more than Bible idolatry. Jesus said, “… you shall be witnesses to Me …” Acts 1:8 (NKJV).

It’s a matter of priorities; making the main thing, the main thing. It’s not Bible reading and reflection that are important. They’re just the means to a desired end. And what is the desired end of Bible reading/reflection? Is it moralistic – reading the Bible as an example to imitate? Is it intellectual – reading the Bible as something to know? Is it therapeutic – reading the Bible to feel better about ourselves? Is it theological – reading the Bible to systematically develop religious beliefs? Or is it deistic – reading the Bible for truths about God? No, categorically no! The desired end of Bible reading must be to connect with, be transformed by, and live in obedience to the One of whom it speaks – Jesus Christ. “To this you were called … that you should follow in his steps” 1 Peter 2:21 (NIV).

If one loves the Word more than one loves the One who is the Word, we’ve missed the mark. Paul Tripp asks, “Could it be that you have a heart for the Word (a quest for theological expertise and biblical literacy) but not a heart for the God of the Word?”

By emphasising Bible reading just for the sake of Bible reading, we perpetuate something short of God’s intent for His Word. That’s why it’s more than Bible reading that we should be promoting/advocating. We should want the kind of interaction with the Word that reveals God, exposes sin, and causes us to worship Him. And for that to happen we need Jesus engagement.

So what is Jesus engagement? It’s a relational interaction with the One who is the Word such that His Spirit reveals, renews and revives us, in and through the Word, to love and live for Him in accordance with His Word.

Here’s the rub: Bible reading, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily lead to us loving and living for Jesus. After all, the Pharisees and teachers of the law studied the Bible ardently, but they didn’t love Jesus. Their Bible reading only resulted in legalism and a love for their own traditions. Jesus called them out for this, saying: “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” Mark 7:6 (NIV) and “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition …” Mark 7:13 (NIV). That is, their Bible reading perpetuated religious rituals, nothing more.

That’s not to say that reading/hearing the Bible isn’t a required spiritual discipline; it most definitely is. But it is to say that Bible reading has to go beyond reading about God to having a vital ongoing life transforming relationship with Christ. As John Stott reminds us, “Only as we continue to appropriate by faith the riches of Christ which are disclosed to us in Scripture shall we grow into spiritual maturity, and become men and women of God who are thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

So let’s make Bible engagement about Jesus engagement. Let’s “get beyond propositions and Bible verses to Christ. I do not mean ‘get around’ Bible verses, but ‘through’ Bible verses to Christ, to the person, the living person, to know Him, cherish Him, treasure Him, enjoy Him, trust Him, be at home with Him” John Piper, “God’s Glory Is the Goal of Biblical Counseling,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, 20/2 (Winter 2002), 8–21.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Heart Language

For Bible engagement to be effective, people need to connect with the Bible in their heart language. The Apostle Paul alludes to this when he says, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” Ephesians 1:18-19 (NIV).

So what is heart language? In essence, it’s something more than language. It’s what unites us at the deepest level and includes our integrated value systems, beliefs, experiences, and the reality of who we are. But that’s not all. Heart language is transactional. It’s something that transcends who we are; it’s about God revealing and communicating His love for us, so that we hear and believe. “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified …” Romans 10:10 (NIV).

In the Christian context, heart language is therefore about the human heart and God’s heart coming together. It’s us interacting with the triune God; an intimate relationship between One heart and another.

Which raises a question: What does heart language look like for different people, i.e. for every tribe and tongue and nation? Obviously, very different. In fact, while there may be a similar heart language within a specific culture, it may also be true to say that every individual has a unique heart language. That’s why God joins Himself with groups/communities of faith as well as allying Himself intimately with the thoughts and feelings He’s created in every individual.

But getting back to the opening sentence, and the association between heart language and Bible engagement …

God’s Word changes hearts. It is in and through the transference of God’s Word that our hearts are touched and transformed. When we rely on the power of the Spirit to help us interact with the Word (personally and communally), God speaks into our hearts in ways that nurture us to live only all for Him.

Thus to engage with the Bible we need to enter into the Word – to become part of the grand drama of salvation. This requires humbling and inclining our hearts. We must develop new postures of authenticity and vulnerability. For it is only when we open our hearts fully, that God will fully apply His Word and make us new creations with the capacity to worship Him and do good works.

All told, it is through the deeper work God does in our hearts, as His Word courses through us, that we are eventually redeemed, restored and reconciled to Him.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

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