by John Hailes/ June 25, 2020
The Church has a Bible problem. In many ways this isn’t a new problem. Pre-reformation much of the Church didn’t have access to a Bible in a language they understood. In fact, littered through Church history there have been many periods where chunks of Christians couldn’t even read. However, the Bible problems currently are less to do with access and much more to do with engagement. Truthfully, we have greater access to the Bible than ever before, but there seems to be less motivation among Christians to engage with the Bible in meaningful ways every day.
I sometimes wonder what role the church has played in causing this Bible engagement crisis. Here are three things we do that I think perpetuate the Bible engagement problem, and how we can put them right!
1. We don’t like people questioning
While it isn’t true of all pastors or churches, we often are quick to discourage Christians to ask questions of their faith or scripture. In fact, when people do have questions, we prefer to easily appease them with simplistic answers rather than pointing them back to look in the scriptures for their solution. If we want Bible engagement to grow in the church, then we need to create a culture of curiosity and questioning. If we teach in black and white ways, then why would people go to scripture, if they already feel like they know what it says? When we expose people to the grey areas and allow discussion, then we are driving them to the scriptures to resolve their thoughts.
2. We position ourselves as the authority
We have created a church culture where people come to church to hear an interpretation of scripture from the lead pastor. People come to get fed. We have formed an easily digestible experience. We put scriptures on the screen and the pastor presents a persuasive message. While this works in many ways, it fails in that it positions the pastor as the ultimate authority. Scripture should be the ultimate authority for the church. This is accomplished by sending people to find answers in scripture. It comes through the way we teach, the way we develop small group discussion and the way we encourage our congregations to engage in scripture even in the church setting.
3. We are content with Biblical Literacy
There is a difference between biblical literacy and bible engagement. Biblical literacy is more easily described as bible knowledge. We are often concerned that people don’t know scripture or the stories of the Bible. While it is good that people know scripture, it's more important that they are being transformed by scripture. Bible engagement doesn’t just speak to gaining knowledge, but it speaks of consistently submitting to scripture as you allow it to transform your life. Our emphasis in the church must be helping people to read scripture for transformation, not just information.
What are some practical ways we can shift to better position people for Bible engagement?