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05 August 2011

Read the Bible? Whatever next!

Read the Bible? Whatever next!

When I was a kid I used to find it really strange that some families would go to church when they went on holiday, regardless of their far flung destination they would seek out a service to maintain their observance. Holidays never really had much to do with my faith; sun, sandcastles and reading books always came first.

This week the Pope suggested that Catholics might take some time during the summer to read the Bible. And the press had a field day when they caught Ed Miliband with a stack of holiday reading, with particularly snide comments about his choice of Leadership on the Line.

One would hope that reading the Bible isn't confined to a holiday activity, and the Pope's suggestion of the Book of Tobit as a quick one hour chunk to get into might also grate with evangelical sensitivities. Books have a great deal of power. They are more or less permanent, they stay long after people have gone and their influence stretches across the oceans and down the years. 

Earlier this year controversy erupted over Rob Bell's latest book, Love Wins, with the views he propagated and the reaction they prompted helping to push his book up the best-seller charts. And following the death of John Stott last week many paid their respects and reflected on the impact his books had on their lives. Books make a difference.

It's not only controversy that gets people reading; endorsements matter. The BBC reported this week that a photo of a young Scottish hacker carrying the book Free Radicals out of his court hearing had led to a surge in sales. So maybe the Pope's recommendation can do the same for the Bible.

When we go on holiday we relax, we rest, we sunbathe and we read. Things we don't always get a chance to do in the hectic frenzy of life: holidays are a break from the norm.

I have to confess that the Bible is not always on the top of my holiday reading list, and if I'm not careful going away will cause me to read my Bible less and not more. I always have a stack of books waiting to be digested and tend to try and get through as many as possible. The Bible doesn't really help this cause. You don't ever really get through it; I can't tick it off and move on to the next one.

I'll devour Christian books, I'll scour books about the Bible, and I'll even read Bible commentaries. But this isn't the same as reading the Bible. If we're not careful we will replace reading the word of God with what people say about it. We will consume opinions, debate and conjecture, all of which have their place, at the expense of the raw text.

But maybe some time in the sun is also a chance to form new habits, or become reacquainted with ones that have dimmed through the passage of time. This year we celebrate 400 years of the King James Version, and this anniversary offers a chance to engage, or re-engage, with the Bible through Biblefresh. Because the Bible isn't just another book to tick off a reading list, nor is it one to carry for the cameras to catch.

It is a book that will change your life. And a book that has the power to change the world.


Daniel Webster, parliamentary officer