JumpIntoTheWord

Bible Engagement Blog


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What Helps People Connect With the Bible?

Research indicates that the primary factors helping people connect with the Bible are:

  • being a committed Christian
  • accessibility and availability of a Bible
  • attending church
  • reading books that aid Bible reading

Simply stated, people are more likely to engage the Bible when they are committed to Christ, linked up with other people (go to church, attend a Bible study or youth group, speak to friends and family about what they read in the Bible) and use easy to read or contemporary versions of the Bible together with devotional books, reading guides, or commentaries.

Conversely, the main reasons why people don’t connect with the Bible are:

  • they are not relationally connected to the Christian community
  • they do not read books or don’t own a Bible
  • they say they are too busy or have other priorities

Slick advertising campaigns or just handing a stranger a Bible are unlikely to have much success in helping connect people with the Bible. Relationships are crucial. We must facilitate and nurture vertical (with God) and horizontal (with God’s people) relationships. For this to happen we must share the good news (evangelize), teach people how to live for Christ (make disciples), and foster authentic Christ centred communities of faith.

© Scripture Union Canada 2014


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Opposition to Bible Engagement

Many Canadians reject the Bible because they distrust it. The reason why many Canadians distrust the Bible is because they do not believe in metanarratives*. Distrust in metanarratives has arguably done more to alienate people from the Bible than any other aspect associated with culture.

In an online survey inviting feedback on why people think the Bible is not relevant, some of the remarks were:  “The Bible is one gigantic anachronism”, “It’s a book – nothing more!”, “It cannot be accepted as a reliable document”, “It reflects a worldview out of date with scientific advances”, and “There is more than one holy book, more than one religion.” [Source: June/July 2009 online survey conducted by SGM Canada with 66 Canadian humanists, atheists and agnostics]

Coupled with the distrust that many Canadians have for the Bible is the popular notion that there are no absolutes and no objective or exclusive truth. There is also the view that reality is unknowable, language does not convey reality, and everything is therefore open to the interpretation and perspective of the individual. As a direct and indirect result of these ideas many Canadians have typically adopted pluralism and multiculturalism. The outcome of adopting pluralism and multiculturalism has been the elevation of tolerance as a prime social norm.

Distrust in metanarratives places popular culture in direct conflict with Christian faith. The clash is fiercest over the Christian belief that the Bible is truth (the belief that the Bible is truth because it agrees with God, who is absolute, and describes who He is – the Truth). Based on the conviction that the Bible is truth, Christians believe that the Bible is authoritative. This explains in part why, when Christians try to gain an audience for Bible engagement, they are labeled as intolerant, ignorant or arrogant.

How is the church responding to people who are alienated or in conflict with the Bible? Some elements of the church (Conservative Catholics, Conservative Evangelicals and Fundamentalists) adopt a defensive attitude (isolate/insulate themselves) or go on the offensive by working hard to make the Bible available and accessible (mostly using approaches developed more than 50 years ago). Making the Bible available has not helped stem the decline in Bible engagement. Other elements of the church (Liberal Protestants and Liberal Catholics) are generally not concerned. They have little interest in functioning as conduits for Bible engagement and do next to nothing to promote the Bible or invite interaction with it. In practice they accommodate popular culture by favouring a broad humanism and acquiescing to the deconstruction of the Bible.

So is there any hope for Bible engagement? Yes! There are elements of the church (mainly Evangelicals) attempting to creatively re-imagine and critically re-form their faith and practice around what Marcus Borg describes as a “transformation-centered paradigm”.  Within this paradigm Christians are re-conceiving, articulating and embodying the Story in contextually meaningful ways. This includes efforts to restore the message of the Bible (e.g. SU Canada’s  theStory™), invitations to read the Bible as a narrative of faith (e.g. SU Canada’s free e-book – Taste and See: An Invitation to Read the Bible), re-imagining language and relationships (e.g. SGM Canada encourages the development of relationships and companionship as the primary catalyst for Bible engagement), and inviting people to participate and enter into conversations/dialogue with the narrative of the Story in communal and inclusive forums. Added to this is the understanding that our invitations to engage with the Bible will be fruitless if we attempt anything without grace, vulnerability and humility.

*Metanarratives are defined as narratives about narratives that give a totalizing, comprehensive account to various historical events, experiences, and social, cultural phenomena based upon the appeal to universal truth and values.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Good News Bad News

In “Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them” Ed Stetzer (Lifeway Research) surveyed 1,000 unchurched young adults about the issues of church and spirituality. The study revealed that young adults are more open to issues of Bible engagement than older generations.

The Lifeway research findings for younger unchurched Canadians are as follows:

– 51% say they would be willing to study the Bible if a friend asked them

– 89% say they would be willing to talk to someone about Christian faith

– 32% would be willing to join a small group to study the Bible

While many un-churched young adults are prepared to study the Bible, they’re not too keen on the church:

– 41% believe the church is full of hypocrites

– 67% would not visit or join a church that does not welcome or affirm homosexual members

[Note: The main reason why younger un-churched Canadians won’t visit churches that don’t welcome homosexuals is because they consider it to be a justice issue. In contrast most churches view homosexuality as a moral/biblical issue]

In another recent study, Thom Rainer interviewed thousands of unchurched non-Christians and asked them what they really thought about Christians. One of Rainer’s seven key discoveries was that unchurched non-Christians would like to learn about the Bible from a Christian, but not in a church setting. Rainer cites someone who said, “The Bible really fascinates me, but I don’t want to go to a stuffy and legalistic church to learn about it. It would be nice if a Christian invited me to study the Bible in his home or at a place like Starbucks.” [Source: What Non-Christians Really Think About Christians]

The bottom line: Younger unchurched Canadians give thumbs up for Bible engagement and thumbs down for church engagement. That’s the good news bad news!

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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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