Survey after survey in recent years – carried out with people in churches, leaders and non-leaders, as well as non-church people – has confirmed that there is an increasing lack of biblical literacy in the church, not only in society more generally. The surveys reveal that the vast majority of people in churches feel positive about the Bible and consider it to be a revelation from God, but fewer and fewer, it seems (even church leaders), are reading it for themselves. And when we do manage to read it, the surveys suggest, we’re not always sure what to do with it. (pp25-26)
The London Institute of Christianity (LICC), set up by John Stott, seeks to encourage all Christians to be whole-life, whole-Bible disciples, breaking down the sacred-secular divide. This book, emerging from LICC’s weekly ‘Word for the Week’ emails, which have reached up to 10,000 people a week since 2001, encourages us to look at the whole Bible to get the bigger picture, the overarching narrative, rather than cherrypicking. We need the Bible to touch and transform our whole lives, affecting the world in which we live. Many seek quick answers to difficult issues, such as suffering, gender, etc. But those questions are better addressed, and more securely answered, when we have a larger framework in place
Having attended the transformative LICC Toolbox course, and having taken three years to read the Bible cover to cover, it’s helpful to have a quicker overview. I was reading this section on a plane to Berlin as the map showed that we were flying over Bremen. Many history lessons means that bombing has shaped my thinking about that as a destination. As the plane came in to land over Berlin, I got an overview of the places that I was going to visit up close shortly, and this helped created my ‘mental map of the destination’, before I became absorbed in ‘living’ there. This book is designed to offer a mental map to the whole story of the Bible. How do we then ensure that we are partakers, and not spectators?
This book is designed for those who are already engaged in Bible reading, rather than those who have never picked up a Bible before, and encourages readers to continue afterwards to read other texts, hold up the author’s interpretation up to challenge, and recognises that each individual will read something different into ‘the story’. Reading alone is “vital” but as they say:
Reading with others helps to prevent privatized readings of the Bible and corrects some of the biases that we may bring to certain passages or topics. (p19)
As someone who is a bit of a butterfly brain, the book works for me, and it’s designed to be read by all personality types – whether you like to study the maps before you jump in, or like to jump in at the deep end – the book works. It’s not about a tick box exercise, but about allowing the Word of God to “reorder your existence”, so take your time reading the book.
As a Media Studies Lecturer I’m always encouraging my students to understand that newspapers, films, etc. give us a lens through which we see the world, rather than objective fact. The Bible can give us a different worldview – through which we see God, the world and ourselves more clearly. As the Bible gets inside us, our thinking is transformed, and we begin to see things the way God sees them. Often we are encouraged to think that we must always read huge sections (I really struggled with the pressure to read the Bible in a year), but this book offers a series or short (and some longer) readings with which we can engage at our own pace: like a toffee that can be swallowed whole, or chewed over in a leisurely fashion.
The book is written three well-respected theologians with long term engagement with the LICC: Antony Billington, Margaret Killingray and Helen Parry, with a guest post by Mark Coffey, who I knew in my Manchester days. It outlines the shape of the Bible in six words: Creation, Corruption, Covenant, Christ, Church, Consummation. They encourage us to consider where you read the Bible, that reading it in public spaces ‘normalises’ the Bible – allowing you to make connections with how it works in the everyday, not just with us, but with the people around us. They don’t specifically mention digital spaces, but I like to think that those are included!
I read the book fairly fast, but would like to go back through, as suggested, and read a piece a week. The exercises offered in the text are a mix of further Bible readings, and practical thinking/applications. As you’d expect, the thoughts and reflections engage us in the everyday (western) world in which we live.Try it – it could transform your life!