Faithful and Fruitful: How Do We Fix the Problem?
Of course, you already knew that reading the Bible helped you to grow. It’s actually doing it that’s a challenge. So what are some ways churches are helping people to engage the Scriptures more intentionally? Based on our work with churches, we’ve seen a few patterns. Those producing the most fruit concerning Bible engagement do the following:
See the Bible as a whole.
It’s not just that we read our Bibles, but the way we read our Bibles that increases biblical literacy. I believe there’s a link between biblical illiteracy and our habit of fracturing the Bible into pieces and parts. We read a verse here, a chapter there. We need a quick verse for anxiety, so we run to Matthew 6:34 (“Take no thought about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take thought about the things of itself”). We need another verse about fear, so we jump to 1 John 4:18 (“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”). These verses can help when we’re dealing with life’s difficulties, but a steady diet of verses and chapters digested in this way amounts to spiritual “fast food” from our McBibles. We need a whole Bible approach to Bible reading and study.
I serve as general editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum that takes such an approach. In two years, we’ve gone from zero to over 500,000 weekly users. Why? Because people see walking through the Bible, following Scripture’s redemptive storyline, as a way to combat biblical illiteracy. The Bible isn’t 1,000 stories or even 66—it’s one story. Helping people see this encourages them to read the Bible more faithfully and fruitfully. Some resources for this include The Drama of Scripture (Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew), Gospel-Centered Teaching (Trevin Wax), The Story: The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People (Zondervan) and, for kids or families, The Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones).
Create a plan, personally or congregationally.
It’s critical for church leadership to challenge believers to be in the Word of God, consistently growing in their knowledge of the Scriptures. I often hear of people who’d rather read devotional books than read the Bible. That’s because most of us need a specific plan to consistently be in the Word.
One thing I do for my own Bible engagement is to make a habit to read through the Bible once a year. If I simply read the parts I think I need the most, I’ll miss a big part of God’s design for my growth. Though my tendency, like many Christians, is only to read the New Testament, I need to spend time in the Old Testament as well. It’s essential for all believers to get the full picture of God’s revelation.
You, or your whole church, can follow a plan. There are plenty available online and already in many Bibles. You can lead your church through plans from George Guthrie’s Read the Bible for Life or others. The important part is that you and your congregation are engaging all of God’s Word.
Teach the Bible.
Teaching through books of the Bible at church models for the hearers how to read the Bible on its own terms, especially the unfolding of the one storyline of the Bible that culminates in Christ. Fighting biblical literacy means preaching from the pulpit the way people read the Bible—moving through the text.
When people see and hear their pastors preaching the text as a whole and allowing the text to determine the message (not vice versa), they go home and read their Bibles the same way. When they see us jumping around the text in sermons, they jump around in life. Let’s teach them that the Bible is worth engaging, one book at a time.
Use a modern translation.
We can combat biblical illiteracy by committing to reading, studying, teaching and preaching from a modern translation. The English-speaking world has never had it so good. In the past 50 years, Bible translation teams have produced a dozen or more very good translations of the sacred text. For the last 400 years, the dominant (almost ubiquitous) translation for the English-speaking world was the King James Version. But the English language has changed. Not only do we not converse in King James English, we don’t think in that kind of English.
It’s important to have a translation that communicates God’s Word into our thoughts and beliefs in a natural way. When we read from a translation that resonates with us—something like the Modern English Version, releasing this month and covered throughout this issue of Charisma—we are much more likely to make Bible-reading a habit, and our time in the Word will be much more rewarding. A Bible that communicates in everyday language is one that is much easier applied to everyday life.
We Need the Word
We take aim at the heart of biblical illiteracy when we commit ourselves once again to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is not “you do.” The gospel is “what Jesus did.” Reading the Bible won’t make us a Christian, but it helps us to grow as one.
The Word that became flesh has given us His Word. In it are the words of life—for us and for others. The more we embrace the gospel and what Jesus has done for us in His life, death, resurrection and ascension, the more we begin to think and act like the kingdom citizens we are. Being part of Christ’s new creation means having a new “want to” toward the Scriptures.
In fact, reading the Bible is actually part of the abundant life Christ has given us. The Word comes alive in us through the Spirit as we engage it. God has given us His Word to correct, rebuke, train and reprove us—to train us in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). And as the Spirit works in us through the reading of the Word, the transforming power of the gospel, through the filling of the Spirit, is at work in us.
The Word of God is essential to where we are right now. Grab a modern translation, take someone with you (maybe your whole church), and let’s engage the Scriptures to see the change it brings—even to a nation badly in need of it. We need not be dumb and dumber when it comes to the Bible. We can be faithful and fruitful in the Word instead.
Ed Stetzer is the Executive Director of LifeWay Research, a prolific author, and well-known conference and seminar leader. Stetzer has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.