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01 November 2011

How to read the Bible

How to read the Bible

Hearing the deafening roar of 12 motorbikes revving up outside a tent packed full of Christian worshippers; seeing hundreds of children laughing and playing barefoot in sweltering heat waiting to hear a Bible story; feeling infuriated not getting a word in edgeways as Richard Dawkins held forth on the BBC 's Bible Special show: Biblefresh has been quite a year for me.

Thanks to the Christian bikers turning up to Spring Harvest to distribute the Viral Bibles, the work of one medical student in Burkina Faso, and even the public dismissive retorts of fundamental atheists, one message has come home to me this year: the Church needs the Bible urgently.

This, of course, was the inspiration behind the initiative that gathered 120 agencies together from a wide variety of backgrounds, denominations, festivals and churches to work shoulder to shoulder to help the Church re-engage with the Bible. I have been trying to keep my ear close to the ground to pick up some of how this is happening. Christians have been getting creative to get written reflections on the Bible into their local newspapers, or artistic competitions into their local schools. I have seen movies produced and heard about guided tours of art museums and read tweets that show appetite for the Bible is increasing.

But while my Bible radar has been on full alert, I have also been dismayed to see Scripture occasionally misused or twisted. As news emerged of Seal team 6's successful assassination of the world's most wanted, Osama Bin Laden, a new war was unleashed - a war of words in cyberspace. Some quoted Proverbs 21:15: "When the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy." Others tweeted Proverbs 24:17: "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice." Many Christians felt caught in the crossfire, desperately seeking to engage more with God's Word, but hearing conflicting voices. So how can you tell when God is speaking through his Word and when we are putting our words in His mouth?

Here is a quick checklist that may help us hear God's voice through the Bible:

Are you reading the Bible for yourself?

Many of us just encounter the Bible second-hand, via our favourite authors or preachers. But accessing the scriptures directly in proper chunks will help us weigh up any references quoted by others. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit, the only infallible preacher, to testify to you as you read.

Are you reading the Bible with others?

To avoid the risk of scripture reinforcing our own prejudices, it helps to discuss the Bible with people that might think differently from us. Studying the Bible with children, seekers, and even across cultural or denominational divides can help us avoid the group-think tendency, enable us to test our assumptions and discover the root truth.

Are you prepared to have your mind changed?

I wonder when was the last time that reading the scriptures resulted in a lifestyle change for me. It can be a powerful testimony to our friends and family when we acknowledge that we are now going to embark on a different course of action because of the Bible.

Are you travelling beyond familiar territory?

Our churches love the epistles, and are familiar with the gospels, but we rarely delve into the wisdom literature or the prophets. This form of selective listening, even censoring of God's Word impoverishes us. There are rich treasures yet to be mined, and our characters will be more fully formed as we discover the "whole counsel of God".

Are you confident in the heartbeat of the Bible?

Preachers use the Bible to promote all sorts of contradictory and controversial doctrines. Trying to remove the layers of opinion and tradition and rhetoric is hard, especially when words are quoted in their original languages, which seems to rubberstamp any sermon and place the speaker beyond dispute. Knowing the heartbeat of the Bible will enable us to get a feel for truth and error that bypasses those Greek and Hebrew courses. The best sermons will resound with that ring of truth that comes from preaching in line with the thrust of God's Word.

Last week I sat having a barbeque in a rainstorm listening to the amazing testimony of one family whose lives have been transformed by the power of God's word. One lady came to faith, then her husband, her mum, her Dad, and her kids one by one followed her out of atheism, bereavement and alcohol abuse into hope. And this is not the end of the story. As members of this family visit local schools working with those at risk of exclusion because of addiction issues, they are helping the young people see God's word is life-changing, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Alongside a growing appetite for Scripture, and a developing discernment for the truth of God's Word as it is preached, I am most excited to hear about the growing confidence in the power of the Bible to bring salvation and hope. As somebody once wrote - God's Word is living and active.

Written by Krish Kandiah, chair of Biblefresh

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