Monday, September 13, 2010

Reading the Bible?

According to recent Gallup and Barna research ( there appears to be a slightly scary issue in our Christian lives. I know I was part of these horrible stats on Bible reading and Bible study for several years in the last decade. I have also been part of the "good" side of these numbers during some of these years. However, when I look at these numbers, I cannot be happy that only 30% or so of "Christians" are reading the Bible for at least 52 minutes a week. Seriously, a Christian is not able to pick up and read the Bible more than 7.5 minutes a day!?

Two points I need to get off my chest on this soap box. First, the Bible is God's word. It is the sole source for learning how to better live our lives according to His purpose for us. We cannot know we are within God's will if we aren't reading His word. Second, I know a lot of people will say "I don't know how to read the Bible; what if I get it wrong?" Hmm, how to respond to that one? Maybe this will do: LEARN HOW TO READ IT THEN. Get involved with someone (or several someones) and get guidance on studying the Bible. However, it is good to keep in mind there are really two levels of reading the Bible, "reading" and "studying". I think most everyone should be able to handle "reading" without much help. You can always ask questions if something is confusing at the surface. And I would bet most of us spend much more than 7.5 minutes a day reading other books or watching TV/Movies. Maybe we need to check our priorities.

Here is what I am doing to "read" my Bible now. I open the Today's New International Version (TNIV) translation and pick up where I left off the day before. Right now, I am reading through Exodus. In the last month I have read Romans, Hebrews, Genesis, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Joshua, and Malachi. This kind of "reading" doesn't take a whole lot of time. Still, this rather surface level reading keeps me focused on a Christian worldview as I go through each day. I get refreshment, knowledge, and encouragement from these texts. In many cases, a specific verse will really hit home for problems I face that day or helps me work through a thought I had been struggling with. For instance, I had been really thinking about how to speak about a problem I was having with a person at work. The morning before I was going to approach them (and it would not have been pleasant), I read through Ephesians 4 (also sparked the Build Up post). That reading certainly kept me from saying much of what I was going to say and also changed my heart toward that person.

Take the other side of reading the Bible, the "studying" side. This is where the numbers in the Barna research go way down. To study the Bible requires devoted focus and multiple sources. For instance, to study the text in Ephesians 4, I used my TNIV and NKJV translations of the Bible. Then, I did a little digging on Paul and the city of Ephesus to get a better historical context for the letter. Since the translations I used seemed to differ a bit, I also went back and looked at a concordance to see what the original Greek words likely meant. OK, enough. See, study take a little more effort. But, if I truly want to allow myself to "be transformed by the renewing of my mind," as Paul says in Romans 12, then this is a VERY small price to pay. And I DO want to be transformed. I know I cannot do it on my own, and studying the Bible seems the best way to do that daily.

I think some churches do a good job of offering bible study classes focused on topical or single book studies. These are great and certainly help move people into reading the Bible more. However, I wonder how much these "helps" are treated more as an excuse to not read on our own. I wonder if the thinking is "if my church only has a once a week study, then that's all I need to be doing." Another side issue with these types of studies is that they really don't help us to better study the Bible on our own. Instead, they seem to be a continual spoon-feeding of God's word when in many cases the people attending these studies should be moving past spoon fed nuggets. Again, I think these weekly Bible studies/groups are great! They are certainly needed to guide the new believers. I just think we need to start creating some Bible study groups/classes that are aimed at teaching more mature Christians how to read and study the Bible on their own. Let's start REALLY growing and making disciples of our churches.


Duane said...

Here, here Mark. Part of the problem is that too many of our churches aren't really teaching their people how to read, and study the Bible. I think every church should teach a class in hermeneutics, Biblical interp. But too many "ministers" are afraid to decentralize the power, in other words they prefer they be the only ones capable of distilling this Biblical knowledge upon the people. But that's just my two cents. I also think too many churches don't spend enough time teaching the Gospels, at least the hard parts like the Sermon on the Mount. Christ not only came to die for us, nut to show us how to live and bring his kingdom here to earth. That's why I've tried to go back every few months and read one of the Gospels. I also have found the podcasts of several good preachers who are preaching their way through different gospels. I guess I went beyond two cents. Just put it on my tab.