November 22, 2009

The Necessity of Reading the Bible

I have to confess something...for years, as a Christian, I didn't really read the Bible. I read it at church on Sundays and Wednesdays. I read a verse or two a couple of days a week. I even read it in my religion classes in college. I "wanted" to read it, but obviously not enough to actually read it.

Of all the things I regret in my spiritual walk this is the biggest. So read the rest of this knowing that I recognize my own guilt of having acted in the same way.

Check out these statistics:
  • In an interview with Assist News Service, Ron Rhodes, President of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, quotes a recent poll, which indicates that 35% of born-again Christians do not read the Bible at all.
  • Among those who say they read the Bible, the vast majority only read it during the one hour they attend church each Sunday morning.
“American Christians are biblically illiterate. Although most of them contend that the
Bible contains truth and is worth knowing, and most of them argue that they know all of
the relevant truths and principles, our research shows otherwise. And the trend line is
frightening: the younger a person is, the less they understand about the Christian faith.”
—Barna

I find this very interesting because I speak with people all the time who have very strong theological opinions, and yet have never read the Bible all the way through. I did it. And now I have to ask, How can we make any kind of theological statement without having read the entire message from God?

I also meet people who only experience the Bible in short, proof-texting ways, and they believe this is sufficient. They seem to believe they understand the meaning of the verse, and yet haven't read it in context of the book much less the rest of the Bible.

The Center for Bible Engagement recently conducted a study to determine the relationship between Bible reading and a Christian's maturity in the faith. They made several key discoveries:

  1. Most Christ-followers do not engage (read or hear) from God through the Bible on a daily basis because it simply is not important to them—thus, establishing a habit of Bible reading is not (statistically) a probability using current methodologies.
  2. The Bible is seen as one of many ways, all equally important, that God speaks to the typical Christ-follower, thus being engaged in the Word is not perceived as being critical to one’s spiritual growth.
  3. For most people, telling God their personal needs is more important than hearing from Him.
These point to some serious problems.
How can people who claim to want God's salvation not want to read His Word? I don't believe they can. Salvation is more than just saying a prayer.It is not a transaction where I say the right words and God is obligated to stamp my passport into heave. Being "saved"is a commitment to follow the person of Christ and accept not only His Salvation but His way of life. The only way to follow is to know where God is leading. Knowing God's salvation and being in His Word go hand in hand.

In response to number 2, God does speak to us with His "voice" or inner promptings, but His primary and foundational way of speaking to us is through the Bible. The other ways of hearing God do not carry the same weight as listening to and reading His Word, and we have no way of knowing if the voice or inclination is from God if we are not actively in His Word.

Number 3 simply points to human sinfulness in its most destructive form...selfishness.

They Center for Bible Engagement also found:
  • Consistent with other studies, we find a major disconnect between respondents’ expressed beliefs about the importance of the Bible and their actual reading habits.
  • As expected, Bible reading habits are correlated with both spiritual growth and Bible knowledge. In addition, the more the respondent reads the Bible, the more witnessing he or she does.
  • One implication of our results is that the amount of time one actually spends reading (or hearing) the Bible may be a far better indicator of the state of a person’s spiritual life than church attendance.
  • For the majority of Christ-followers, Bible reading guides do not increase the likelihood of establishing a daily Bible reading habit.
  • Our evidence also suggests it is no longer enough to just hand out Bibles in this country because there is a high statistical probability that they won’t be read.
"Let me be homo unius libri"
John Wesley

In order to grow spiritually, we must spend time daily in God's Word and in prayer. We must do it not out of obligation or a sense of guilt, but because we want to be in relational conversation with our Savior. Being in God's Word is the single best indicator of our spiritual growth. According to the research the tipping point seems to be at reading God's Word 4 days or more a week. But we don't need research to tell us how important it is to read God's Word. We already know.

Check out my post How to Read Scripture.

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