I was interested to see an article by Peter Enns exploring why Bible reading is down in churches today. Biblica did some research and offered three conclusions. Let me share their findings with my own thoughts here:
1. Bible reading is down because people read it in fragments.
They point to the perennial problem of prooftexting. The problem here goes both ways. First, despite the proliferation of prooftexting in seemingly all types of Christian literature, as an approach it fails to live up to implicit promise. People like to think that nuggets and bite-sized nibbles can satisfy the need for wisdom and instruction, but it reality does not support this. People need more than “a verse for this” and “a verse for that.”
Which leads to the second issue here. Not only does prooftexting fall short, but it also steals the experience of seeing the bigger picture, the sweeping thoughts, the epic narratives and the heart-stirring poems of Scripture. I often ponder the fact that the Bible men and women whom I most aspire to be like are not those with a ready quiver full of pithy proof-texts, but those who know the God of the Bible because they are washed in the Bible as a whole, book by book.
2. Bible reading is down because people read it a-historically.
The article points to Biblica’s approach to reordering the books in the canon. This is interesting and I sometimes read through the Old Testament using the Jewish TNK order, or mix up the NT books into a different logical sequence. I would push our thoughts in another direction than canon, however. I think too many readers are reading Bible books looking for something to jump out to them today, as if the Bible were written as a relatively poor repository of ancient wisdom for future listeners to sift through and glean the lasting nuggets.
How much better the Bible becomes when we read it to find the God who revealed Himself to the original writers/readers, and who continues to reveal Himself through those books today, when understood in their own contexts. Studying the historical setting of an epistle or a prophet can be a profound experience. I remember reading the introduction to a weighty commentary on Isaiah—the introduction set me on fire for studying the Bible! I would recommend reading something like Paul Maier’s “Flames of Rome” to enter into the historical context more, and then see if the epistles still feel so flat afterward.
3. Bible reading is down because people read it in isolation.
Too true. When did the “personal devotions” approach to Bible reading become the only legitimate approach to Bible reading? I am very excited to embark on another season of Cor Deo next week ... six months of studying God’s Word and pursuing God’s heart with a group of friends passionate to know God more. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Perhaps you need to pray about finding someone with whom to enjoy the Bible. Not to drown it in dull fill-in-the-blank questions. Not to discuss it at length until one person’s theological hobby-horses send the other to sleep. But open-hearted delight-filled enjoyment of discovering God together. And that is not about hunting for applications as the first order of business, but about pursuing the God who has first loved us.
Enns finishes his article by suggesting we should “read big, read real, read together.” I agree. Might I add that we should “read big, engage historically informed imagination and chase the personal God.”
To see Enns helpful post, click here.
I can’t help but think there may be some other important factors, too. Let me list a few and see if you would add any:
4. Bible reading is down because some preachers don’t motivate reading by their own lack of enthusiasm for enjoying Scripture (hard to be infectious if you don’t have the disease).
5. Bible reading is down because some preachers don’t expect people to actually read the Bible (and people will live down to that kind of expectation).
6. Bible reading is down because technology and instant communication is changing the way this generation engages with any books.
7. Bible reading is down because preachers with an over-emphasis on application and utility have reduced the appetite for chasing God Himself (a self-focused engagement with Scripture will always diminish appetite for a revelation that works in the opposite direction).
What would you add? And just to complete a bit of a messy post, how about a brief counterpoint, too?
I wonder if Bible reading really is down? Generally I would accept the assertion. But among a lot of people I meet, there is a great passion for Bible reading. These kinds of studies are always open to spin in respect to who is in the sample. I had a conversation recently with someone asserting that the under-30′s are leaving the evangelical church in unprecedented droves. I pointed out that I don’t know any under-30s who love Jesus who are leaving the church, and perhaps the stats may actually be pointing to nominal churchgoers? It is hard, statistically, to measure true faith.