Tragically, we’re prone to reducing the Bible to something manageable, comfortable, or palatable. When we reduce the Bible to something less than it’s meant to be, we handicap Bible engagement.
Here are ten ways we hinder Bible engagement:
Marginalizing – We shut down the Bible when it’s treated as something insignificant or trivial. Pagans do this all the time, but so do Christians. When we say we’re Bible-believing but don’t open it to read it, we’re side-lining it. And when we open it to read it but don’t obey it, we’re not giving it the worthy response it deserves.
Sanitizing – When we connect with the things we like in the Bible but not the things we dislike, we strip the Bible of its efficacy. Are we worried that people will pull back from God if we reveal His whole character? If we feel we have to clean up the Bible by avoiding difficult, controversial, or distasteful passages, we’ve stepped out of line.
Romanticizing – Treating the Bible in an idealized way, as a heroic tale or a book about flawless heroes should be anathema. On one level, the Bible is a love letter; but it’s also a record of humanity’s sin, selfishness, guilt, shame, tragedy, deviancy, darkness and despair. When we engage with the Bible we must engage with it warts and all!
Trivializing – There are occasions (e.g. teaching the Bible to children) when we use approaches designed to make Bible engagement fun. While fun in and of itself isn’t wrong, we should never be amused spectators or reduce the Bible to our carnal level. When the Bible is equated with feel-good preaching or entertaining story-telling, we’ve missed the mark.
Moralizing – The Bible is the doorway to redemption and reconciliation in Christ Jesus. If we diminish it to a niggling petition for ethical change, we close it down. The Bible should never be used to impose control, make demands, get people to conform, or make others feel guilty. It’s not a narrative on issues of right and wrong or a book of moral stories. And it’s never more important to be good than to know Jesus.
Legalizing – While the Bible contains statutes, precepts and commands, it’s not a book of rules per se. Nor is it the means to teach behaviour modification as the be-all and end-all of Christian living. The Bible should never be manipulated to keep people in little boxes. We lock the Bible down if we don’t understand that biblical law only makes sense within the context of faith alone, in Christ alone, through grace alone (cf. Romans 10:4, Galatians 6:2, Ephesians 2:8-9).
Sensationalizing – While the Bible is sensational (extraordinary), it shouldn’t be sensationalized (embellished or overstated). Presenting the Bible in ways designed to provoke interest and excitement at the expense of accuracy is always wrong and always impedes meaningful encounters with the One who is the Word, Jesus Christ.
Minimalizing – Do you snack on a Bible verse a day? Do you only consult the Scriptures for guidance or directions when things go wrong? Do you select just a few favourite passages to the exclusion of others? If you’re doing these things, you’re getting in the way of the Bible fully having its way with you.
Categorizing – Sometimes we treat the Bible like a school textbook, a history of the Jewish nation, or a book of outstanding literature. The Bible is more than information, more than spiritual sayings, more than tips for better living, and more than a storehouse of doctrines or propositions. Pigeonholing the Bible as anything other than the Book of books makes a mockery of the fact that the Bible is God’s living, active, unfettered Word.
Liberalizing – When the Bible is considered fable-laden or false, when it’s treated as something that doesn’t reconcile with modern thinking, or when reason is considered to be the final authority for interpreting which teachings are correct and which are not, then the ultimate shut down of the Bible has occurred. When this happens, Bible engagement is a misnomer.
Sometimes our reductionist approaches are unintended; sometimes they’re due to inexperience, and sometimes they’re intentional. Are you helping or hampering Bible engagement? If you’re doing any of the things mentioned above, you’re reducing the Bible to something less than God intends it to be.
© Scripture Union Canada 2021