Where has the Bible gone? Part 2

 Let me follow from where I left off last time…

The following is viewed as evidence for the trend that I perceive, at least in the West, for the marginalisation of the Bible in the Church and individual believers:-

  • Bibles are rarely taken by people to church. Instead, when the Bible is referred to, it is shown on power-point projectors and readings occur much less in the service;
  • sermons are less expositional and more topical, less text-based and more story oriented, less exegetical and more broad based, less resulting from study and more superficial;
  • there is less expectation to learn anything new from the sermon and more assumption that it will be simply a reiteration of truths already known by the majority, less intellectually stimulating, and more repetitive, even boring and at worst, a tragic undervaluing of the depth of the biblical text, its dynamic potential, vital energy and Spirit-endowed value;
  • there is much less emphasis placed on the importance of the devotional reading of the Bible – a new term has become popular in describing Christians…“biblical illiteracy”;
  • we read many Christian books, most of which were very useful, but less of the Bible, despite the huge range of translations and paraphrases; and Theological College students know their Bibles rather less now than they did twenty years ago.

In 1970, James Smart wrote The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Church in which he explored the phenomenon of living in a country where there was a free availability of many Bibles but an increasing absence of it being read, with the worrying consequence of it not influencing ideas and behaviour. Another book has been published – Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture (J. Arthurs, Kregel, 2012) which reflects the possibility that such an obvious aspiration a few decades ago is in need of being revisited today. In the most recent edition of Churchman is an article by Peter Adam, entitled “The Bible in Theological Education”, which calls for its prominence in all aspects of the College programme, in which he concludes, “If the Bible is silent, then God is silent”.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life surveyed ten countries in 2006 which Pentecostals were a prominent sector in the global Church. Pentecostals were once associated with the habit of Bible reading, Prof. Walter Hollenweger, a commentator on Pentecostalism, prefacing his work Pentecostalism, Origins and Developments Worldwide with the words, “To my friends and teachers in the Pentecostal Movement who taught me to love the Bible”; the situation is changing. Now, according to the survey above, only 34% of Pentecostals read their Bibles daily, ranging from South Korea (27%) to Brazil and Kenya (51%).

 The Bible Society undertook some similar research of 2,000 church-attending participants. It revealed that only 21% read their Bible daily, 22% read it weekly, 57% read it occasionally or hardly ever. Similar studies recently conducted in the USA stated that only 12% said they read the Bible regularly. The Vatican surveyed Catholics asking how many had a Bible at home – USA (93%), Poland (85%), Italy (75%), Germany (74%), UK and Holland (67%), Russia (65%), Spain (61%), France (48%).

And so I am on a quest – to relocate a central place for the Bible in our churches today and in the lives of believers because:-

  • it’s important…more important than many believers realise
  • it’s fascinating and packed with messages for us
  • people don’t know how to read it to gain its maximum potential
  • believers don’t take advantage of the Holy Spirit to encounter them in it

 

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…