Where has the Bible gone? Part One
For some months, I have thought about writing a blog…to reflect on some issues of importance to me (and maybe to others also). Given my function as a NT lecturer at Regents Theological College, it will not surprise you that my first topic relates to the Bible. But this is not simply as an intellectual enquiry but as a result of a concern that the Bible is less prominent than it used to be in the life of Christians.
Let me take you back a few decades…to the late 60’s and early 70’s to my home church in South Wales where I became a Christian, regularly attending from childhood – at least five times a week. Central to my life, both personally and in church was the Bible, which I was encouraged to read; it was read publicly in all the church meetings that I attended and everyone had their own Bible which they brought faithfully to church – they tended to be large, leather covered, and were much prized possessions. At Sunday School, we were encouraged to know our Bibles well and played a game which enabled us to know the order of the biblical books; Bible-based quizzes were held regularly and every year, a national Bible-based examination was held and the church was transformed into an examination room (my wife, Judy, still has one of her certificates – 98%, and a shield identifying her high marks). On Saturdays, once a month, for months, I and a friend Lyndon Bowring would catch the train to Cardiff and spend the day listening to four talks – on aspects of the Bible.
We spent most of our time reading from the historical books of the OT, Psalms, the Gospels and Acts. Sermons preached were largely drawn from the narratives (which were often simply re-told and applied immediately (and sometimes indiscriminately)) rather than NT doctrinal books or OT prophetic books, though Revelation was always a cause of (generally hopelessly complicated) intrigue. However, I expected to hear from encounter God when I read the Bible. I understood that maintaining a structured approach to Bible reading was appropriate – discipline was not an illegitimate term with reference to reading the Bible. Associated with our Bible reading were helpful guides provided by The Navigators, including memorization techniques (The Topical Memory System), guides to meditation (Ask, Emphasis, In your own words, Other verses, Use it) and Bible Study booklets, in which the answers to set questions were to be gleaned from the Bible; an aspiration of a number of us was to attend a “Bible” College.
We were not encouraged to read any other Christian books – all we needed was the Bible; we were told of Smith Wigglesworth (a hero of many Pentecostals) who proudly boasted that the only book he had ever read was the Bible; similarly, when Stanley Horton, a significant US Pentecostal (AoG) leader, wrote Into All Truth; A Survey of the Course and Content of Divine Revelation in 1955, he stated that it was based “on what the Bible actually teaches” with “few references to books other than the Bible”. It would not be far from the truth to say that we loved our Bibles – we certainly knew it well and trusted it implicitly, firmly believing in its infallibility and even its inerrancy (though we had no idea what the latter meant (in 2004, 99.5% of UK Pentecostal leaders affirmed a belief in the infallibility of the Bible though nearly 40% did not accept that it was inerrant)).
However, now, the Bible is becoming marginalised in many churches today and in the lives of believers also. Let me work this through next month and provide some more reflection and a way ahead…