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.
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