In their survey, “The State of the Bible 2014”, the Barna Group surveyed over 2000 Americans and discovered the following when it comes to reading the Bible:
88% of respondents owned a Bible.
80% think the Bible is sacred.
57% read their Bibles only four times a year or less.
26% said they read their Bible four or more times per week.
61% wish they read the Bible more.
29% believe that the moral decline in society is the result of people not reading the Bible.
Why do people find it so difficult to read the Bible, eventhough they think that not reading is hazardous to the health of our society? There are lots of reasons, not the least of which is that the Bible is a very long book full of strange material from another time and place, all of which can make the enterprise very daunting.
Is there something we can do to make this task less daunting? To be honest, there is no way around the monumental nature of the task. Furthermore, not only is the Bible massive and full of strange material from another time and place, we also resist how it challenges many of our most cherished assumptions. That being said, there are some things we can do to sustain our study. One has to do with whether we take on this task alone or in the company of others. My experience is that many people approach Bible study as an individual task to be done in the privacy of their own home and give up almost before they get started. Many tasks are too foreboding to take on alone; Bible study is one of them.
Over two years ago, I invited people to take on the task of studying the Bible by joining my Tuesday morning Bible study. This group usually looks at one of the readings for the coming Sunday. To foster a deeper knowledge of one book of the Bible, we usually choose readings from the same book until that book is no longer assigned for a Sunday. In all my years of leading Bible studies, I have never enjoyed a Bible study this much, and because the participants keep showing up I think they are enjoying it as well.
Why are we finding this study, not just helpful, but bread for the journey? I hesitate to speak for the others, but here is my sense.
First, we have cultivated a non-judgmental, humble atmosphere in this study. There is nothing worse than being in a Bible study with someone who is lording it over everyone else. Such a person makes everyone else afraid to share their perspectives. Even if they don’t overtly criticize what you say, you know that they are still standing in judgment. The members of this group have openly acknowledged that there is no way we can fully grasp what God is saying, and that is ok. When it comes to the Bible, there are few experts.
Secondly, rather than looking at texts in order to get “good advice,” we are reading to discover “Good News”. I think we have a sense that the Bible is much more than a self-help book. I think we have a sense that it is a book that is trying to open our eyes to a God who refuses to be controlled by us, and is always breaking into our world to disrupt tired, death dealing ways, and breathe new life into our world.
Thirdly, we have discovered that reading the Bible with others offers us more perspectives than just our own. Over the last few years, I have frequently had my eyes opened to something that I would never have seen on my own.
Fourthly, we are seeing what biblical texts said to our ancestors in the faith, but also what they are saying to us now. And importantly, we are seeing that God’s Word is not primarily addressed to us individually, but rather to the church as a community and to the world God made.
Finally, in a lonely society we are growing closer to one another. Loneliness is a killer. Our weekly gatherings have made strangers friends.
Beginning May 30 through mid-October, we will be following the readings in the Book of Genesis and Exodus. Feel free to join us Tuesdays, 9:30—11:00am, Rm 6. If you come once and it is not for you, not a problem.