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Bible Engagement Blog


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Healthy Bible Engagement

A lover who is separated from the beloved doesn’t let a love letter just sit on the kitchen table unopened for days on end with the ever-growing pile of junk mail, but instead quickly and eagerly opens it upon its arrival, reading and rereading it until the ink is nearly worn off from use. Scripture is a love letter from our Divine Bridegroom … we too should eagerly and often read the Scriptures and hear there the voice of our Beloved speaking to us. Tim Gray, “Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina.”

Bible engagement isn’t something we master overnight. “Exposure to the contents of Scripture does not necessarily lead to a transforming encounter with God’s Word,” says professor of theology J. Todd Billings. The Bible reveals while it hides and hides while it reveals. To engage the Bible successfully with our hearts, heads and hands requires much more than reading the Scriptures, listening to sermons, or memorizing some verses.

It can be a challenge to engage with the Bible. In fact, the reality for some Christians may look like this: Commit to reading the Bible every day. Do okay for a while. Fail. Try again. Do okay for a while. Fail again. Try again. Do okay for a while. Fail again. Give up.

Maybe one of the reasons why some people fail in their efforts to read, reflect, remember and respond to God’s Word is because they think it’s about them; about what they need to do to please God, how they can get Him in their lives, or how to be right with Him. That’s getting it back to front. Bible engagement isn’t about our prosperity, safety or gratification.

For others, it may be that when all is said and done, Bible engagement doesn’t really matter. In their heart of hearts, some Christians secretly wonder if reading the Bible makes a difference. They look around and see nice people who aren’t Christians and Christians who aren’t nice people, and say to themselves, “Why should I read the Bible?”

When I took to the streets and asked people why they don’t engage with the Bible, most people responded, “Because I don’t have enough time.” On the surface, this may be true. Our lives are often frenetic. On the other hand, we’re rarely too busy to surf the internet, watch television, or meet someone for a cup of tea or coffee. The truth is we think we have better things to do and we prioritize our time accordingly.

The more fundamental reason why people fail to connect with the Bible is sin. Some people shy away from reading the Bible because they’re sustaining their lives in their own strength. Our independent spirits don’t want to confess the need to be dependent on God. Pride, lack of obedience, an unwillingness to submit, and a skewed view of God result in us not doing what we should be doing.

Here’s the bottom line: Bible engagement thrives when it’s about Jesus, not when it’s about us. “He must become greater; I must become less” John 3:30. To engage fruitfully with the Bible we must look to Christ, and not ourselves. Author and pastor Eugene Peterson says, “One of the most urgent tasks facing the Christian community today is to counter self-sovereignty by reasserting what it means to live these Holy Scriptures from the inside out, instead of using them for our sincere and devout but still self-sovereign purposes.”

So Scripture is given to us to reveal Christ. Christ is the theme, purpose and interpretive key to Bible engagement. He is the motive, the means and the message. Yes, Bible engagement is challenging, but it isn’t complicated. Quite simply, if our relationship with Christ is healthy, our Bible engagement will be healthy.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Helping the 95%

Many Christians don’t engage with the Bible because they don’t know how to. According to Dr. Phil Collins, Center for Scripture Engagement, Taylor University, “Ninety-five percent of Christians say they have never been taught how to engage Scripture.”

That’s an alarming statistic. Alarming because it indicates a dramatic failure by teachers and pastors to equip Christians at the most basic level of spiritual formation.

In fairness to teachers and pastors, they usually know a few reading-based approaches to Scripture engagement and sometimes share these approaches with their congregations. Unfortunately, many pastors know very little about non-reading or minimum reading-based approaches. This is significant because most Christians, even in literate societies, need to be taught non-reading or minimum reading-based approaches to Scripture engagement.

Helping the 95% begins with the recognition that everyone is unique and engage with the Bible in diverse ways. That’s because our brains are wired differently. Right-brain dominant thinkers prefer to engage with the Bible in more creative and artistic ways and left-brain dominant thinkers prefer to engage with the Bible in more analytical and methodical ways.

Simply telling the 95% they should engage with the Bible through reading based methods alone is grossly inadequate. Bible engagement is effective when it’s geared to a person’s governing learning style. If the 95% are going to engage Scripture well they must be taught approaches utilizing visual, auditory, reading/writing or kinesthetic styles of learning.

If you know how to do it, the rudimentary principles and practices of how to engage Scripture can be taught in a 3-hour workshop. However, this isn’t happening because most pastors and teachers don’t know how to teach others how to engage Scripture.

To address this problem, Scripture Union published Bible Engagement Basics, a handbook that equips individuals and communities with biblical strategies, approaches, tools, and principles to engage with the Bible. If pastors and teachers read Chapter 2 of Bible Engagement Basics, they will be equipped with enough content to teach the 95% how to become Bible engagers.

Most of the 95% are oral preference learners. Oral preference learners learn by listening, talking, seeing, and doing. Interactive practical workshops are therefore the ideal environment for teaching the 95% how to engage Scripture.

Learning how to engage Scripture isn’t enough in and of itself. Bible engagement needs to be cultivated. This is challenging and requires ongoing individual support and encouragement. If, for example, there are several people in a congregation who thrive in an environment where they can engage with the Bible through dramatizing Scripture, then opportunities for doing this need to be created, resourced and sustained.

Helping the 95% is a massive undertaking and will never be accomplished if we don’t help each other. If someone knows how to engage the Bible through journaling, he/she should teach others. If someone knows how to engage the Bible using the Ignatian Method, he/she should teach others. Every one of us needs to play a part, even a small part, in helping someone else engage Scripture.

Will you help the 95%? The challenge facing the church isn’t Bible accessibility or distribution. The 95% have the Bible in multiple printed and online formats. The challenge is Bible engagement. The 95% need someone to teach them how to engage Scripture in a way that works well for them.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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The Abide Bible

Finally, a Bible engagement Bible! For years, I’ve wondered why there isn’t a Bible that incorporates suggestions to actively equip people, in a variety of ways, to connect with the Word and the One who is the Word. To say I’m excited is an understatement! I recently received that Bible in a green cloth-bound hardcover. A gift from my friend Phil Collins, the General Editor. It’s called The Abide Bible, and it was beautifully presented along with a journal and pen.

For as long as I can remember, pastors have been urging their congregations, “To study the Bible.” Bible publishers have supported this injunction with a proliferation of study Bibles. Now I love to study the Bible, as we should (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15), but Bible study shouldn’t be the only way Christians interact with the Bible. We should employ more than our intellect to meet with God in and through His Word (e.g. Joshua 1:8, Psalm 119:11, James 1:22). Our heads, hearts and bodies should engage with the Scriptures. Study without reflection or reflection without application results in a Bible engagement malfunction. To connect adequately with the Bible we must read, reflect, and respond to God’s Word.

The practice of reading the Bible is different from what’s required to reflect or respond to the Bible. To engage fully with the Bible we must learn a range of Bible engagement practices. Most Christians say they’ve never been taught how to engage with the Bible. If you’re one of those Christians, then The Abide Bible may be the best Bible for you. That’s because The Abide Bible, as it says on the inside front cover, has “prompts or sidebars designed to help you engage passages and deepen your understanding and experience of God’s Word.”

To assist people in experiencing God’s Word The Abide Bible incorporates five Bible engagement practices: contemplation, journaling, picture it, praying Scripture and engaging through art. To incorporate these five practices in a Bible, in my view, is revolutionary!

A study Bible, by virtue of its name, says, “This is for students.” The Abide Bible, by virtue of its name, says, “This is for people who want to sojourn with the Lord using a variety of senses and connections.”

The Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement contributors who collaborated on the development of the materials for The Abide Bible have, through the prompts and sidebars, made the Bible more accessible to more people. No two people will engage with the Bible in the same way. There are multiple learning styles and multiple intelligences. The Abide Bible makes it easier for spatial and linguistic learners to engage with the Scriptures. If words, feelings, pictures, sanctified imagination, conversations or images help you read/hear the Word and meet with God, then I strongly recommend The Abide Bible for consideration.

Am I a little bit biased when it comes to endorsing The Abide Bible? Yes. I’m unashamedly a Bible engagement guy who has written a book and teaches Bible engagement classes to help people connect with God through contemplating, journaling, picturing, praying, engaging art and other practices as a means to dwell in the Word. I also became a fan of The Abide Bible when I opened the presentation page and saw Psalm 119:105 – it’s the theme text for Scripture Union Canada, the agency where I serve as President. All that to say that you should check it out for yourself at https://www.thomasnelsonbibles.com/abidebible/

The Abide Bible, Thomas Nelson, 2020.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Read the Bible For What It Truly Is

In 1992, I attended a two week graduate course on Relief and Development at EasternMennonite Seminary in the USA. During the opening session the professor asked the group of fifty or so students to describe how they pictured God. With few exceptions, God was portrayed as a middle aged white suburban male (the primary demographic of the students). I learnt that most of us think God is like us.

What we do with God, we do with the Bible. Our tendency is to project onto the Bible what we want to see or hear. Instead of being caught up in the Bible’s story, we harness the Bible to our story. It’s a predisposition; our natural inclination is ego-centric and our bent is to manipulate the Bible to our own ends. Simply stated, we read the Bible to get what we want out of it.

So how do we read the Bible for what it truly is and not for what we want to make it? By bringing three “friends” to the table:

  • The Holy Spirit . . . ask Him to help you understand what you’re reading
  • Bible commentaries and guides . . . use them to mine the collected wisdom of the church
  • Mature Christians . . . learn from pastors, teachers and people who are wise in the Word

Scott McKnight in his excellent book, The Blue Parakeet, would add that if we are to read the Bible in a way that is renewing and ever renewing, then we should also read the Bible as story, learn to listen to and for God in the Bible (cf. Matthew 7:24-27), and discern how best to live out the Gospel (cf. Colossians 1:9-10).

© Copyright Scripture Union Canada, 2012