Lawson Murray, president of Scripture Union Canada, has talked with many Canadians about how they use and don’t use the Bible. We asked him for his insights as part of our Three Questions Series.
Q1. Why does it matter if Christians engage with the Bible?
You can’t worship Jesus if you don’t engage with the Bible! If someone says they worship Jesus, but don’t engage with the Bible, then what Jesus are they worshiping? That’s a crucial question. If someone doesn’t worship the Jesus of the Bible, then he/she is worshipping a different Jesus. Probably a Jesus they’ve created in their own minds – one who can be shaped and moulded to be whatever they imagine or want him to be.
Bible engagement matters because without it we’re prone to create an alternative Jesus who values what we value, tolerates what we tolerate and cares about what we care about. And when we worship a Jesus we can control, then we’re worshipping an idol. Jesus said, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). To worship Jesus in spirit and truth, our worship must be informed not by the non-biblical things we think we know about Jesus but by the Word of God.
The Jesus of the Bible isn’t a tame Jesus. He disrupts our lives, opposes our personal opinions and preferences, demands holiness, gets in the way of the pursuit of happiness and expects us to do uncomfortable things. Let’s be honest, the Jesus of the Bible doesn’t line up with our preferred version of Him. But that’s the very reason why Christians should engage with the Bible.
Q2. What are the barriers that discourage someone from engaging with the Bible?
According to several research findings the top five barriers are: not understanding the Bible, finding it boring, not needing to, not trusting it, and lack of time.
But when we probe deeper we discover the actual barriers to people engaging with the Bible are because it isn’t a user-friendly owner’s manual for successful living, doesn’t always make us feel good about ourselves and doesn’t make a difference or serve our needs all the time.
We also don’t engage with the Bible because we lack the energy to make the effort. The Calvinist theologian R. C. Sproul says, “Here then, is the real problem of our negligence. We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull or boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.”
Ultimately the real barrier to Bible engagement is sin. People shy away from engaging with the Bible because their independent spirits don’t want to confess the need to be dependent on God. Pride, lack of obedience, an unwillingness to submit and a skewed view of God are the unseen barriers.
Q3. What are good ways for people to start engaging with the Bible more?
I wrote the book Bible Engagement Basics in part to practically answer this question. So for good ways to start reading, reflecting, remembering and responding to the Bible I’m going to recommend that people read Bible Engagement Basics.
That said, may I suggest that the best way to start engaging with the Bible is to engage with Jesus. That is to say that Bible engagement has to go beyond reading about God to having a vital ongoing life transforming relationship with Christ. As the Anglican theologian John Stott reminds us, “Only as we continue to appropriate by faith the riches of Christ which are disclosed to us in Scripture shall we grow into spiritual maturity, and become men and women of God who are thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Here’s the key to engaging with the Bible more: We must make Bible engagement about Jesus engagement. We do this by getting beyond Bible reading, listening, hearing, studying, contemplating, reflecting and such, to Christ. That doesn’t mean we circumvent the Bible, rather we enter into the Bible to find the living Christ and in so doing to know, appreciate, treasure, get pleasure from, trust and be close to Him.
The EFC and Scripture Union were partners in a 2013 study of Canadian Bible engagement. Visit www.bibleengagementstudy.ca to learn more.