New Year is a great time for Christians to take a fresh look at their personal Bible reading & devotional time.
For example, we’ve launched the First Your Word initiative to ‘support each other in a community of Bible reading to grow a culture of Scripture feeding’. Many of us are using the ‘Read Through the Bible’ plan on Youversion’s free ‘Bible’ app, which crucially includes audio Bible!
Over the last week or so I’ve been trying to pick people’s brains for as much advice as I can on making Bible reading a regular rhythm – and I’ve shared 11 ‘tips’ or ways to develop & sustain that habit over at Premier Christianity’s website. Of the 11 tips, #2 & #4 have been pretty liberating for me already this year!
The 20th century Welsh minister Martin Lloyd-Jones said that there was ‘nothing more sublime in the whole of Scripture’ than Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. When it comes to showcasing the sheer scale of Jesus Christ’s cosmos-shaping work, then I’d have to agree.
Ephesians is a great book to get to know, especially because at just six chapters, it’s not too difficult to feel like you’re getting your head around it’s structure. And there’s a good argument for the claim that Paul didn’t just send this letter to the church in Ephesus, but that he used it as a sort of discipleship manual for churches across the region. I love to read through it one-to-one with people, and it was the first book of the Bible that I taught through after we planted Grace Church.
Recently I had the opportunity to write a series of twenty-five daily devotions going through the whole of Ephesians, which was a really rich experience. When preaching I’ve typically broken the book up into ten or so sections, so splitting into twenty-five passages felt like we were going much deeper.
If you’d like to join me, you can pick these devotions up in the October-December 2020 edition of Explore, a set of quarterly dated Bible-reading notes which aim to “help you read, understand and apply the extraordinary truths of God’s word, every single day.”
Filled with Christ
One of the surprising blessings was reflecting on the repeated language of fullness throughout Ephesians, something I’d not really made much of before. This is really fascinating to explore when you then read Paul encouraging Christians to be ‘filled with the Spirit’. This is often read as if we’re a jug and the Spirit is the liquid being poured into the jug. But perhaps it’s better phrased as to indicate that the Spirit is not the liquid, but the one doing the pouring. The Spirit loves to fill our lives with Christ – as part of God’s plans to fill the universe with Christ.
In slightly more unchartered territory, you can also journey with me through the Old Testament book of Nahum over five days as part of the same Explore.
In fact, not only do you get thirty Bible devotionals on Ephesians and Nahum, you also get seventy-two others (i.e. enough to last you three months) on Romans 1-6, Habakkuk, Ruth, and Christmas. All for just £4.24 – bargain!
You can pick up a copy here. Or download the app and pay through that.
More on Explore
If you’ve not come across Explore before, it’s well worth checking out. Spending a little bit of time reading and praying through the Bible each day is a brilliant rhythm to get into – even if it’s just five minutes.
There are lots of ‘daily Bible reading notes’ out there, but one of the things I love about Explore is that it aims to push you into the Bible, rather than just skimming along the surface. Anyway, that’s what I’ve valued about Explore in the past – I hope this doesn’t tarnish that reputation!
You can hear a bit more about the vision behind Explore from Carl Laferton, one of the Senior Editors, here:
I had the opportunity this week to hear a presentation from Osoba Otaigbe of Bible Society about their Lumino Research Project on attitudes to the Bible. I’d heard the research referenced in passing, but this was the first time I’d looked at it in detail.
If you’ve not come across it, the research is based on YouGov polling, commissioned by Bible Society, which saw 20,000 people interviewed at the end of 2018 about their attitudes to Christianity and the Bible.
This data has then been analysed and the population has been accordingly mapped into 8 ‘personas’, from ‘Bible Loving’ people to ‘Bible Dismissive’ people, but crucially with a whole range in between (Bible Nostalgic, Bible Uncertain, Bible Conflicted, Bible Indifferent and Bible Infrequent).
It’s Bible Society’s belief that around a quarter of the population are ‘open to the Bible and finding out more’ – and the research seeks to draw out these attitudes that we might better engage with these personas as churches.
One of the neat features of the Lumino website is you can enter your post-code and see how your local data compares with the national average (I don’t know how accurate this can be with 20,000 people polled, but it’s interesting nonetheless). Interestingly, Bible Society have undergone a deliberate change in emphasis in their mission, which is to now be a partner with UK churches in mission – and this is key example of this.
Having looked at brief sketches of the data, here are 5 initial reflections:
Many professing Christians have a confidence problem when it comes to the Bible – which means asking some hard questions. According to the data, uncertainty and a lack of confidence about the Bible amongst professing Christians is very common. The slice of people that the Bible Society deemed to be ‘Bible Loving’ was slim (5%). They attended church very regularly and were generally older than average. In contrast, those who were ‘Bible Infrequent’ (8%) still attended church quite regularly but tended to feel they weren’t sure about the Bible or worried about ‘being wrong’. There were then various groupings that identified as ‘Christian’ but had an increasingly removed relationship with the Bible. For those of us who are church leaders, we need to ask some real questions about how we’re growing confidence in the Bible. Are we facilitating personal engagement with the Bible outside of church services/meetings? Are we leading services and preaching in a way that helps people to read the Bible for themselves? Sadly, this is particularly for pointed for those of us in the Church of England. Bible Infrequent people tended to be Anglicans. Ultimately, closed Bibles on a Sunday at church will surely lead to closed Bibles Monday-Saturday at home.
We face some real challenges in our cultural moment. Nearly half of the people surveyed (47.5%) said they were ‘not at all interested’ in discovering more about the Bible. Nearly another quarter (23.4%) said they were ‘not very interested’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, reasons given included being ‘not religious’, previous experience of Christians/church, and time capacity. That leads us onto…
There is a clear need for Bible apologetics. The most common words that people associated with the Bible were Outdated and Contradictory. Other negative though less popular words were Judgmental, Homophobic and Anti-women. How do we respond to these preconceptions? Of course, our lives as Christians should hopefully do a great deal to challenge these, but it strikes me that we do need to tackle these ‘head on’. In our preaching we need to name them and show we understand and identify with them. Rebecca McLaughlin’s excellent book, Confronting Christianity, is a stunning example of this. All that said, 37% of people stated they believed the Bible wouldn’t be relevant to them – which strikes me as an opportunity to prove people wrong!
Bible Delight has to be at the Heart of the ‘Answer’. I think there’s a strong sense that these perceptions and beliefs about the Bible are only going to be transformed as people ‘taste and see’ for themselves that the Bible is life-giving and life-changing, ultimately because we encounter God through it. If that’s not a church-goer’s weekly experience, then why would they look for that in their day-to-day experience? And why would they expect to see anything different in their unbelieving friends? Preaching and opening up the Scriptures with people isn’t absolutely everything that a church leader is called to do, but it is absolutely essential. Are we working on our preaching? Are we seeking feedback? Are we giving it the time it deserves?
Moving from Familiar Stories to Finding Our Place in The Story. I’ve written about this before, and I think it’s fair to say I’m passionate about it. Biblical illiteracy is not going to simply be solved by ‘more Bible’. I think the real challenge of biblical illiteracy is moving beyond familiarity with Bible stories to introducing people to the Bible’s big story. It’s always dangerous to make sweeping statements about preaching, but I think bad preaching can make matters worse, failing to help people read the Bible well. We rip verses out of context and don’t help people locate themselves within the vast story of Scripture. And the goal of good preaching isn’t just so that people know how Genesis to Revelation all fits together. We’re doing it because this story of God is the very thing our fractured world needs right now. As an article in the Irish Times put it a few years back, our crisis of identify shows we’re desperate for a ‘meaningful narrative about who we are’. In other words, as we feel the disorientation of a growing cultural unfamiliarity with the Bible, our response shouldn’t be to champion the Scriptures for the sake of Bible trivia, but rather because we want people to see in this book we have the only story of reality that can bear the weight of our personal struggles for meaning and substance.
Hello, my name is Robin. Welcome to That Happy Certainty, where I write and collate on Christianity, culture, and ministry. I’m based in Barrow-in-Furness in South Cumbria, England, where I serve a church family called St Paul’s Barrow, recently merged together from two existing churches, St Paul’s Church and Grace Church Barrow.
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