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Bible Engagement Blog


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Reimagining Bible Engagement

The problem with the emphasis of some of today’s Bible engagement teaching is that stress is laid on how often we connect with the Bible and whether or not these connections impact what we think, say and do.

Or to say it differently, the problem in some local churches, Sunday School classes and Bible agencies is that the underlying agenda is to get us to read/hear the Scriptures so that we’ll gain spiritual insight and understanding that results in submitting to and obeying God’s Word (i.e. acting in accordance with biblical morality).

Now hear me out. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t engage with the Bible regularly. Nor am I saying that the Bible shouldn’t influence how we live. Far from it. But what I am saying is that when the emphasis in Bible engagement is on regularly reading/reflecting on the Bible and ordering our lives according to biblical morality, then we have a problem. It’s a problem because in and of itself, it’s legalism.

You see, we’ll struggle to interact frequently with the Bible and live righteous lives if we aren’t first taken up completely with Jesus. I don’t say that lightly. The focus in Bible engagement must always be on how wonderful, amazing and magnificent Jesus is – nothing less and nothing more!

Now why do I say that? Why should Bible engagement be first, foremost and always about Jesus? Because in Jesus “all things (including Bible engagement) hold together” Colossians 1:17 (NIV).

Here’s the rub. When Bible engagement isn’t always about Jesus, our reading/reflecting on the Bible will be done mainly out of guilt or duty and fueled, not by love, but by fear, shame or self-serving ambitions. And when our Bible reading/reflecting is done out of guilt or duty we usually dry-up or fizzle out. That, or our hearts grow progressively colder and more judgmental – holding to the letter of the law and condemning those who don’t obey God’s commands.

First things first. Bible engagement should always be Jesus engagement. Bible engagement is seeing His glory, knowing His grace, and growing in Him. From beginning to end, the Bible is a window through which we look to see Jesus. So when we read/hear the Bible it’s about opening our eyes and ears to His unbridled compassion, His inestimable salvation, His unstinting care, His extravagant provision, and His infinite mercy.

When we don’t get Jesus first, we’re in trouble. There’s no polite way for me to say this, but when the emphasis is on the regularity of Bible reading/hearing and the importance of moral outcomes, it creates modern-day Pharisees.

Bible engagement without Jesus is a heavy cumbersome load. When it’s about keeping score of how often we read the Bible or how many right choices we make in a day, we’ve missed the mark and will always miss the mark. That’s because Bible engagement, according to Jesus, is less about what we do (or not do), and more about who He is (cf. John 5:39).

At the risk of repeating (albeit in slightly different words) what’s already been said; loving Jesus should never be absent from our Bible engagement. The measure of Bible engagement is whether we are, or are not, meeting with Him. When we read, reflect, remember and respond to the Bible we must do so in a way in which we’re constantly recapitulating our hearts to Jesus and inclining the content of our lives to Him. That’s when Bible engagement takes on a life of its own.

So here’s to reimagining Bible engagement. Let’s read/hear the Word as an encounter with the One who is the Word. For when we meet with the One who is the Word, the rest falls into place. That is, when the priority in Bible engagement is connecting with Jesus and abandoning our lives to Him, that’s when we’ll be committed to regularly reading/reflecting and obeying His Word.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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About Jesus and For Jesus

Jesus taught that He’s the central theme of the Old Testament. This is plainly revealed on the road to Emmaus when He began with Moses and the Prophets and explained to the disciples what the Old Testament said about Him (cf. Luke 24:27).

While it’s obvious from Luke 24:27 that the Old Testament is about Jesus, it should also be noted that Jesus (when He was physically living in Palestine) had to read and reflect on the Old Testament in order to grow and develop (e.g. Luke 2:40, 52).

How can this be? How can the Old Testament be both about Jesus and for Jesus?

The answer to this question is informed by the fact that Jesus has both a divine and human nature – is fully God and fully man. This is a mystery that’s difficult to understand. Jesus is simultaneously the Son of God and the Son of Man. Which is to say that He is One person with two distinct yet inseparable natures – what theologians call the hypostatic union.

Remarkably, the eternally existent omniscient Son of God is the One who gives us the Old Testament and He’s also the finite Son of Man who had to listen and learn (cf. Luke 2:46) in order to grow in His understanding of the Old Testament.

Most Christians are comfortable with the fact that the Old Testament is about Jesus, yet some are a tad uncomfortable with the fact that the Old Testament is for Jesus. That’s not uncommon. The tendency is to think of Jesus as God and mainly relate to Him as the Almighty who is “alive for ever and ever!” Revelation 1:18. But let’s not forget that Jesus was born of a woman (cf. Galatians 4:4-5), was taught the Old Testament by His parents, and grew up hearing the Old Testament being read and discussed in the synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16).

So just like Jesus is fully God and fully man, the Old Testament is fully about Jesus and fully for Jesus.

One more thought: While the theology about Jesus’ divine and human nature is intellectually fascinating, it’s nonetheless practical. Because the Old Testament is about Jesus, it should elevate the way we receive, read (or hear) and reflect on it. And because the Old Testament is for Jesus, it should elevate the way we respond to it. That is, because the Old Testament is for Jesus, it reminds us that Jesus became one of us so that we would model our lives on Him.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
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