Jump Into The Word

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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Family Faith Formation

Family matters! Here are several practical suggestions to help get the family into the Word:

  • Use versions of the Bible suitable for the grade level of each member of the family. You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but some parents give their children the KJV, NRSV, RSV or NASB (versions using grade 11 language). A child should understand what he or she is reading. Consider giving children the NIrV, NCV, TEV or NLT (versions using grade 3-6 language), give teens the CEB or NKJV (versions using grade 8 language) and give young adults the ESV or NIV (versions using grade 10 language).
  • Utilize video, internet and other technology to augment and accentuate the stories of the Bible. About two thirds of 8-18 year olds own cell phones, iPods or MP3 players and about one third own laptops. In a multimedia society it’s essential for families to be able to interact with the Bible electronically. Use social media and other means to share, tweet, text or comment on a verse.
  • Have Scripture easily accessible around the home. Display favourite verses with cool prints. Hang up Scripture posters or write/paint a special text for a child or teen on the walls in their rooms.
  • Enjoy family devotionals after dinner every day. Get everyone involved. Be enthusiastic, authentic and creative. Act out scenes in the Bible with props and costumes, pull out instruments and worship, download YouTube videos, benefit from hearty theological debates, read Bible narratives dramatically with each characters ‘lines’ in the story read by different members of the family, etc.
  • Help children and teens pick out devotionals they like at a local Christian bookstore or online. For great age appropriate Bible reading guides check out  http://scriptureunion.ca/bible-guides
  • Pray and read the Bible with young children before they go to bed. There are excellent biblical books for young children available at http://scriptureunion.ca/books-for-children
  • Be seen to be reading and reflecting on the Bible. More is caught than taught! When we see other members of the family digging into the Word it encourages us to do likewise.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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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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When the Going Gets Tough

TOUGH goingSomeone recently said to me, “I’m embarrassed to say this, but I have to admit that my Bible reading’s dry – I’m getting nothing out of it. I’ve been reading the Bible for fifty years and for the past two years it’s been a grinding routine.” “I know”, I replied. “Sometimes it can be a tough slog. I’ve had times when it feels like there’s nothing fresh.” We chatted for some time . . .

So how do we turn it around when we’re struggling to meet with God through His Word? What do we do when our expectations of hearing God speaking through the Scriptures are at an all time low? Here are some suggestions:

  • Mix it up. Sometimes we get in a rut. We read the same version of the Bible over and over again. Why not try a different version or a paraphrase? There are more than 800 English versions to choose from!
  • Connect with others. Personal Bible reading and reflection must be balanced with communal reading and reflection. Why? Because two are better than one. When one falls down the other can help pick him/her up (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
  • Open up. The Bible is good news for our lives. Are we reading it as such? Let’s be careful not to tame the Word or reduce it to the scale of our own ideas. Before reading the Scriptures we should ask God to unlock our minds to His transforming power (cf. Romans 12:2).
  • Use a reading guide. Be alert to the insights that come through others. Yes I know the Holy Spirit is the Teacher and instructs us directly from the Word, but He also works through human teachers to unpack the meaning of a text, challenge our prejudices and expose our blind spots.
  • Linger longer. We’re more likely to encounter God when we slow down. Most of us live with the tyranny of the urgent, but not God! To meet on His turf we must “be still” (cf. Psalm 46:10), which in context means “Enough! Stop trying to have control over things!”
  • Focus. There’s a tendency to read the Bible almost exclusively to find out what to do. We should rather read it to find out who we are and who we ought to be. Interact with the Bible like you would with a mirror. Look into it and ask, “Who am I? Who do You want me to be?”
  • Live it. God’s Word has a claim on our lives – a purpose. We should be living epistles. The litmus test of Bible reading is whether or not we’ve acted on what we’ve discovered. Bible reading must translate into a response. Imitate Jesus (cf. Philippians 2:1-11). Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (cf. Micah 6:8).

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Reading the Whole Story

How do you read the Bible? A little bit of this, a little bit of that? A verse here a verse there? Some folk slice and dice it – treat it like a piecemeal diet. What about you? Is your Bible reading just the bare necessities – a text with a blessed thought that’s easily digested in two-minutes?

Scripture should be read holistically. The Bible shouldn’t be reduced to a depository of spiritual truisms or selected nuggets we occasionally mine. When we read the Bible we must read texts in their contexts and stories within the framework of the grand Story. Why? Because the meaning of the texts and stories are accurately gleaned only when we read with a clear understanding of the larger context and themes of the books and Bible as a whole.

God speaks to us through His Word. When texts or stories are read in isolation they can be interpreted with meaning they were never meant to convey. God wants us to know truth. When we de-contextualize Scripture or read passages divorced from the overarching narrative we may miss out on what God is really saying. So let’s make sure we don’t short circuit the process of God speaking to us – let’s read the whole Story.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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New Year Resolutions

The beginning of a new year signals a new start. Many of us get freshly motivated to do better than we did the year before. Christians often think about how they can improve their Bible reading. The trouble is they tried that last year, and the year before, and when they hit Numbers their days were numbered! March comes and goes and our good intentions to read through the Bible are nothing more than a distant memory.

So what can we do this year so that our resolution to read the Bible doesn’t fizzle out? Here are three practical suggestions:

1. Get connected. Don’t go it alone. When we read the Bible in isolation we’re more likely to run out of steam. So invite your spouse, one or two friends, or a sibling to join you in 2013. Work together to set goals, figure out how you’ll be accountable, find times to chat about what you’re reading and spur each other along.

2. Be realistic. Sometimes we set ourselves unreachable goals. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s better to read shorter portions of Scripture that you ponder on than read lengthy sections that go in one ear and out the other. So read less and meditate more. And, most importantly, read only what you can absorb and apply.

3. Use resources. Bible reading coupled with reflection is the primary catalyst in the development of our spiritual health and growth. If you’re a newbie to Bible reading consider using the E100 Challenge to get an overview of the major themes of the Bible. If you’re a veteran Bible reader consider using one of Scripture Union’s Bible Reading Guides – Daily Bread, Encounter With God, Closer to God. You can also download the eDaily Devotions for free.

Now onward and upward with this year’s Bible reading resolution!

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Bible Reading and Polarization

Many Canadians don’t read the Bible. When asked why, a lot of people say they’re too busy and some say they have no interest in doing so. [Source: The 2009 National Bible Engagement Survey conducted by SGM Canada with 1259 people of all age groups in 18 cities in 9 provinces. The findings revealed that 58.8% of Canadians do not read the Bible]            

What lies behind the reasons people give for not reading the Bible? Polarization may be a contributing factor. Polarization is the term used to describe the gap between people who value faith and people who don’t. It is the current religious reality in Canada. It’s also a widening gulf – there are rising numbers of people who constitute an “ambivalent middle” as well as a growing core of people without faith (cf. Reginald Bibby, A New Day: The Resilience and Restructuring of Religion in Canada).

From a Bible engagement perspective, polarization is a significant issue. Why? Because when people don’t value faith, they don’t read the Book that informs faith. When people don’t read the Bible, they’re not positioned to become part of it, i.e., to meet the One who wants to merge their stories with His Story.*

The problem of polarization raises a challenging question:  How is an invitation to read the Bible extended to people who don’t want to read it? For many years this question was a conundrum for the SU Canada staff. Then in 2011 we conceived the writing and publishing of an e-book that would be an invitation to read the Bible. This birthed Taste and See: An Invitation to Read the Bible.

When the author, Annabel Robinson, was nearly finished writing Taste and See, we found ourselves at an impasse. We realized the book wouldn’t serve its purpose if we didn’t find a way to connect the prospective reader with it. As we grappled with this problem we quickly realized we would have to make it available as a free e-book – our reasoning being that no one would pay for a book about a book they didn’t want to read! But making it a free e-book didn’t guarantee anything. Many good books don’t get read because they’re not marketed. Our friends at the Canadian Bible Society suggested a social media campaign. It was a great idea. As co-publishers of Taste and See the CBS developed a marketing strategy wherein we equipped people of faith with the means to tell their non-Bible reading friends and family about the book via Facebook, Twitter, etc.

What are your thoughts or comments concerning the problem of polarization? We’d appreciate hearing from you.

    Taste and See: An Invitation to Read the Bible

Published by SU Canada and the Canadian Bible Society
Available as a free download

*This statement is not meant to imply that Bible reading is the only way to come to faith in Christ. People come to faith in many different ways.  That said, faith isn’t faith unless it’s a biblically informed faith!

© Scripture Union Canada 2012


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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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Revival

Revival is intimately linked to Bible engagement. The 19th Century Swiss Protestant theologian and church historian, Philip Schaff, wrote: “Every true progress in church history is conditioned by a new and deeper study of the Scriptures.” That is to say, every spiritual awakening has sprung from and been fuelled by God’s Word.

Revival is a breath of Heaven – a divine visitation bringing deep repentance, renewal and righteousness. Individuals, churches, communities and nations are in desperate need of revival. In a time of plenty we have so little. There’s no shortage of food and water, but spiritual emptiness, shallow enticements and energy sapping pursuits are robbing us of fullness of life.

We’re falling away from God. Someone once said, “As the church goes, so goes the nation.” Performance and program driven churches are generally the order of the day. Consumer motivated values inform what we do and why we do what we do. The majority of people attend church wanting to socialize and enjoy the entertainment. Prayer meetings are usually the poorest attended meetings in the church. Many Christians don’t read the Bible regularly and few live lives informed by a biblical worldview. As God said thousands of years ago: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me . . .” Isaiah 29:13 (NIV).

Revival is the need of the hour. The psalmist cries, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Psalm 85:6 (NIV).  If we share the heart cry of the psalmist we need to know that one of the preparatory conditions for revival is “a new and deeper study of the Scriptures”. The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the puritan revivals in the 17th century, the revival ministry of Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards and others in the 18th century, and the extraordinary awakenings in the 19th and 20th centuries were all marked by a return to the Word.

Revival changes everything. May a generation of Bible studying, Bible believing, Bible living men and women be raised up for the 21st century.

© Scripture Union Canada 2012

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