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 there are nuggets and bite-sized nibbles that can satisfy the need for wisdom and instruction, but 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.
Tomorrow we will look at the third reason given …