Biblical Literacy Begins with Reading by Ben Irwin

3.9 billion.

That’s how many copies of the Bible we’ve bought over the last 50 years, according to one estimate. As you might have guessed, that makes the Bible the bestselling book of all time.
?The Bible has sold more copies than Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Twilight. Combined.

But we all know there’s a difference between “bestselling” and “most read.”

When J.K. Rowling sold 400 million copies of Harry Potter (#3 on the list), there’s a good chance most of those copies were actually read.

Can we say the same for the nearly four billion Bibles in circulation? I think we all know the answer to that.

“Not all copies of the Bible are read, and almost none are read cover to cover. If we turned our attention to a modern novel, it would be a bizarre and ludicrous experience to only read a few pages in the middle and ignore the rest.”

These are the words of an atheist blogger named Jake Wilson. They are a chilling indictment of our relationship with the Bible. The worst part is, he’s absolutely right.

We buy a lot of Bibles. We just don’t read them. And if we do, it’s usually a verse here or a chapter there. We don’t read; we cherry-pick. And cherry-picking is a guaranteed path to a miserable reading experience.

I want you to change two things about the way you engage the Bible. If you do, you might just find yourself reading — seriously reading — God’s Word.

1. Read whole books.

When was the last time you read Luke and Acts together? (They just happen to be two volumes of the same work.) When was the last time you read a whole letter of Paul’s in one sitting? Or listened to Revelation from start to finish?

When we read a book for pleasure, we tend to read from cover to cover. Why should it be any different when we pick up a Bible? When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, did he really want them to hone in on “I can do all things through Christ” and ignore the rest? Or did he expect his readers to engage the whole letter?

I know a college professor who tells his students how to ensure that the next book they pick up will be the worst book they’ve ever read: read just one page a day.

Now let’s be honest. The format of our modern Bible doesn’t exactly lend itself to reading big, does it? The context and genre of each book — its unique literary style and structure — are obscured by a cascade of numbers, footnotes, cross references, red lettering, and a host of other devices that interrupt our reading.

But don’t let that stop you. Find a way to read big. You gain an entirely new perspective when you engage whole books of the Bible. You’ll see the bigger picture — which, by the way, will help you to make sense of the finer details, like “I can do all things through Christ.”

2. Read in community.

Of those who still read the Bible regularly, 86% do so in isolation, according to recent research conducted by the Barna Group.

Community engagement is not the norm, but maybe it should be. Think back to when the books of the Bible were first written. Paul’s letters, for example, were often read aloud in the early churches — partly because that’s what Paul himself wanted. See for example, his parting instructions to the church in Colossae:

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

Or notice how the people of Israel would gather to listen to the books of Moses. Nehemiah describes one such scene, during which Ezra the scribe reads from the law while Levites (the priestly clan) dialogue with the people about its meaning.

How often do we just sit down and talk about the Bible, much less read it together?

Not that our modern approach to Bible study is much help. Like one pastor recently observed, “So many Bible studies are really just regurgitation studies — we give you this basic thing in the text, and you recite to us what you just read.”

That approach will not work if we hope to engage those who are spiritually curious or who are intimidated by the Bible. But what if we engage the Bible in a book club setting where people are free to ask hard questions — without being silenced by pat answers? What if we learn to listen together and let the Bible speak for itself?

It can be done. My friends and I have developed one such way of engaging the Bible, called Community Bible Experience. We challenge whole churches and small groups to read the entire New Testament in 8 weeks, using a format called The Books of the Bible.

The Books of the Bible
was designed to be read from start to finish. There are no chapter and verse numbers or other artificial interruptions.

But Community Bible Experience also about experiencing the text together. Participants read or listen 5 days a week. (It takes around 30 minutes a day.) Then once a week, they gather in small groups to talk about what they’ve read. (Think “book club.”) The conversation each week is guided by five simple questions:

1. What’s something you noticed for the first time?
2. What questions did you have?
3. Was there anything that bothered you?
4. What did you learn about loving God?
5. What did you learn about loving others?

It’s that simple. And it works.

So far, approximately 50,000 people in six countries have done Community Bible Experience. And 70% of them completed the New Testament on or ahead of schedule. For many, it was the first time they ever read the whole New Testament.

We’re just getting started. Soon, we’ll offer a total of four 8-week campaigns, taking churches through the entire Bible.

I’d like to invite you to try Community Bible Experience with your church or small group. Whatever you do, don’t go back to “business as usual” with the Bible. Instead, read big. Read in community. You’ll find yourself reading with greater depth and understanding.

You might even enjoy it.

Image sourced from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.