JumpIntoTheWord

Bible Engagement Blog


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How Do You Read the Bible?

People read the Bible differently. Some read it flippantly, fancifully, dismissively, selfishly or subjectively. Others read it academically or ardently. How do you read it? Do you mine the text for nuggets, search for solace, seek an encounter with God, look for guidance, or simply go with the flow? Do you read it as a collection of disjointed independent books or as a unified canon? Do you read it in mono, stereo or surround sound? Do you read it mainly through the lens of modernity or postmodernity? Do you read it contextually, critically, historically, or literally? Do you read it from the perspective of a Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal or Charismatic? Do you read it because you want to, have to or think you ought to? Or do you just read it!?

There is a right and a wrong way to read the Bible. So what’s the right way? While there are no quick or easy answers, here are three formative suggestions:

  • Read the Bible as a whole. The two Testaments are not separate books between one cover. View the Bible as the first and second dramatic acts of God’s covenantal relationship with humanity. Recognise that “in the Old Testament, the New is concealed; in the New, the Old is revealed” Augustine of Hippo.
  • Read the Bible Christologically. Christ said, “. . . the Scriptures point to me!” John 5:39. See Christ as the thread holding Scripture together, the central character of the Old and New Testament, the One unlocking meaning and understanding.
  • Let the Bible read you. The Bible is more than a book – it’s alive and active (cf. Hebrews 4:12). Given permission, the Bible will weigh and measure you, and then, finding you wanting, will proceed to fill your heart with faith, hope and love.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Story

Story is integral to Bible engagement. Story, when used with a capitalized “S” delineates God’s Story as distinct from other stories. Story is the metanarrative, the immense Story of the Creator himself – about the One of whom the Scriptures speak and who entered our world as the Saviour, Jesus Christ, to redeem us from sin and death.

Story, when used as a term, is a summation of the narrative, saga, and drama of the Bible. It is more than an arrangement of facts, ideas, propositions, or a compilation of spiritual laws. Story describes God’s narrative – an account that is unified, immediate, multidimensional, relational, non-manipulative, unique and central to knowing truth and the One who is Truth. It is a spacious realm that we are invited to enter with imagination and faith, and once we have entered, to see ourselves as participants. Story invites us to actively engage it and get caught up in the saga by receiving it and reenacting it.

The meeting of our stories with God’s Story are not simple affairs. Encounters between people and God are complicated and convoluted. This is due, not to God, but to us. We have a tendency to confuse, digress and destroy. The problem is we are inclined to indwell an alternative story to the story God invites us to participate in. In our ignorance improvised scenarios are created, distorted roles developed, and conflicting dramas enacted.

True Bible engagement begins when we respond to the Great Storyteller (God) as He invites us to take the role intended for us. The roles are many and varied, including: listening, speaking, reading, studying, reciting, memorizing, interpreting, singing, preaching, receiving, and acting – both individually and communally. All our spiritual senses need to be engaged with the Story. We need to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8); open our eyes to it (cf. Psalm 119:18, 82); and open our ears to it – “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9).

The point is this: When the Bible is reduced to a handbook for church dogma, a moral rule book, a depository of propositional truth, or a collection of wise sayings to guide people through life; it is easy for people to take it or leave it. But when the Bible is shared, in the power of the Spirit, as the Story which runs deeper than the world’s stories, it invites people to enter into a different world and see themselves in a different light, that is, to share God’s view of the world.

© Scripture Union Canada 2012

 


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Through Jesus and For Jesus

Why do you read the Bible? People mainly read it for their personal needs. A 2009 Canadian case study on Bible reading revealed that people read “for guidance, knowledge and direction” (28.2%), “for help, reassurance and comfort” (26.4%), “for understanding, answers and perspective on life” (21.5%), or to know/learn about God/Jesus (20.2%).

Check out a church bulletin or website and it’s obvious that many Bible study, life or small group meetings are “me” focused. Studies harness the Scriptures to address felt needs. Marriage groups spotlight husband and wife relationships, youth groups tackle adolescent issues, parenting groups deal with child rearing, recovery groups target substance abuse, and so on. In many small groups the Bible is mainly a manual of divine instruction.

Is it possible to read, reflect on and even revere the Bible yet completely miss the point of what it’s all about? Some people can quote sections of the Bible, sometimes in its original languages, yet they don’t know faith in Jesus Christ. There are ministers who recite Scriptures from a lectionary, something they’ve done for decades, but they don’t know the One who is the Word. And some theologians reduce the Bible to nothing more than a reference book to uphold their theological perspectives.

I used to think we needed a Bible reading revival. My thinking has been amended. Bible reading per se is not what transforms our lives. Jesus transforms lives. What we need is a Jesus revival! That’s not to say that transformation can happen independently from God’s Word – far from it! But it is to say that we can be “Bible-believing” or “Word-centered” yet miss the point if we’re not “Christ-centred”.

While it’s true that God’s Word is our source of guidance, comfort and understanding, let’s make sure we don’t limit it to these ends. Ultimately God’s given us His Word to lead us to Christ. So let’s read the Bible to know Jesus and make Him known!

© Scripture Union Canada 2012


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Defining Bible Engagement

Building on biblical, theological, historical, and cultural insights, and utilising relational and interactional language, here’s a working definition of Bible engagement: 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.                                                   

To elaborate; Bible engagement is the process (that which occurs in and through the stages and courses that mark the journey of our lives) whereby people are connected with the Bible (reciprocating with the Story) such that they have meaningful encounters (significant meetings that involve coming together with and developing a vital relationship) with Jesus Christ (the One who by grace and through faith saves us from sin and sanctifies us by the Spirit) and their lives are progressively transformed in Him (marked by evident ongoing obedience and life-change that takes place individually and in community).

One word in the above definition of Bible engagement requires illumination – the word ‘transformed’. It refers to the process of change whereby a person becomes progressively more Christ like (cf. Galatians 6:15). That is not to say that transformation is something that people can do to themselves. Transformation does not happen naturally and it does not come easily. The prophet asks, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23). There is no outside force that can change people to become more like Christ. Something internal is required. Transformation begins when a person realizes that “the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint” (Isaiah 1:5) and proceeds when forgiveness for sin is sought and received (the heart is changed, Psalm 13:5), and by faith in Christ being “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2), a right relationship with Christ is formed (the heart believes and is justified, cf. Romans 10:10) and love for Christ ensues (cf. Mark 12:30). This is not of a person’s own doing but comes from the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:8-9), that is, transformation cannot happen apart from Christ. Thus transformation is being shaped by Christ and living out lives that imitate His life. It is refusing to “be conformed to this world” and is the change that comes “by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

© SU Canada 2011