Wanna know a secret? No one reads the Bible anymore. Can you name the last time you opened your Bible at home? If you can't, know that you’re not alone.
Whatever your background with church—whether you haven’t missed a Sunday since you were a child or you’re just finding a faith of your own as an adult—most of us have one thing in common.
Very few American Christians—regardless of their church involvement—read the Bible consistently on their own.
Several years ago I sat in a church pew on a Sunday night listening to well-known Christian evangelist Tony Campolo speak. As he taught from the pulpit he called out to the congregation, naming chapter and verse of the Bible and asking us to recite the scriptures with him.
All he got back from the congregation was uncomfortable silence and blank stares.
I was never very good at recalling scripture by chapter and verse, and I’m still not. I’m no memory verse or Bible drill champion. But all of us should know the Bible better. And to know the Bible better, we have to read it more.
This isn’t a post, though, to blame Christians for not reading the Bible. This is a post to acknowledge that the church needs to do a better job of teaching people HOW to read the Bible.
WHY DON’T WE READ THE BIBLE MORE?
The Bible is hard to understand. You can’t just pick it up, flip it open and start reading—at least not if you expect to get the most out of it. So, mostly, people just don’t.
That means that Christian leaders need to do a better job of teaching the basics of scripture, and not just for our members’ sake—many pastors (myself included) could benefit from a review of the basics, too!
People have very basic questions when approaching the Bible like, “Where should I start reading?” And, “What should I know about the Bible before I start reading so I can understand it better?”
It seems like it should go without saying, but our churches MUST be prepared to intentionally engage these questions from our adult members if we want them to read the Bible more consistently.
WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD WE ALL BE ABLE TO ANSWER AS WE READ THE BIBLE??
When we open the Bible, if we want to understand it better, we should bring some basic questions (and answers) to our reading.
1. How and when did the Bible come into existence? How did we end up with the sixty-six books of the Bible? What did the first Christians read before the Bible was formed?
2. What Bible translations should we be reading from? Why do we have so many different translations of the Bible? What are the differences between them?
3. What type of literature is the particular book of the Bible we're reading—poetry, prophecy, history, gospel, letter? When was it written and where? And, what does that mean about how we should read any particular text?
4. What is the author's purpose for writing? Are there big questions the author is likely trying to address? What kinds of answers were the first readers of scripture looking for? And, what kinds of answers should we be looking for in a particular text?
THEN WHAT? WHAT DO WE DO NEXT?
And then, once we’ve answered these questions, we need to help our church members READ THE BIBLE—not someone else’s application of scripture that turns it into seven easy steps for a happy life, and not someone else’s interpretation of scripture that tells you why your political positions are blessed by God.
We just need to READ THE BIBLE, so we can seek to understand it for ourselves together in Christian community. Once we’ve developed an appropriate foundation, we need to trust our collective ability to interpret and apply God’s word in our own contexts and for our own lives.
That’s a long way of saying we need to recommit to the foundational Protestant principle of the priesthood of all believers.
Last week, my HERITAGE Home Group met to talk about what we’d like to study together over the next couple of months. Here’s the feedback I got from my group. They simply wanted to know more about the Bible and how to read and understand it for themselves.
I nearly wanted to cry when I heard their responses—both for joy that there’s a hunger for meaningful engagement with scripture and in sadness at realizing how poorly we’ve satisfied that hunger and need in our congregation.
So over the next several weeks, my home group is going to start trying to answer some of these questions as we simply READ THE BIBLE together.
And you wanna know a secret? I can’t wait!
See you Sunday.
Next week, I'll offer some suggestions about where to start as we begin to re-engage scripture for ourselves.