Dr. Bart Ehrman teaches New Testament Introduction to undergraduates at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A few years ago he started asking his undergraduate classes about their views of the Bible. He recounts, “The first day of class, with over three hundred students present, I ask: ‘How many of you would agree with the proposition that the Bible is the inspired Word of God?’ Whoosh! Virtually everyone in the auditorium raises their hand. I then ask, ‘How many of you have read one or more of the Harry Potter books?’ Whoosh! The whole auditorium. Then I ask, ‘And how many of you have read the entire Bible?’ Scattered hands, a few students here and there.
“I always laugh and say, ‘Okay, look. I’m not saying that I think God wrote the Bible. You’re telling me that you think God wrote the Bible. I can see why you might want to read a book by J.K. Rowling. But if God wrote a book…wouldn’t you want to see what he has to say?’ For me it’s just one of the mysteries of the universe: how so many people can revere the Bible and think that in it is God’s inspired revelation to his people, and yet know so little about it.”
According to a joint study by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society, 88% of American households own on average about four Bibles. However, only 37% of Americans read the Bible once a week or more. One of the main reasons given for this trend is busyness. 40% of Americans—up from 33% last year—report being too busy with life’s responsibilities to read the Bible. Another reason is the rise of skepticism especially among millenials, those born between the early 1980’s and 2000’s. “The number of those who are skeptical or agnostic toward the Bible—who believe that the Bible is ‘just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice’—has nearly doubled from 10% to 19% in just three years. This is now equal to the number of people who are Bible engaged—who read the Bible at least four times a week and believe it is the actual or inspired Word of God.”
Every day we are faced with a fundamental question. Who or what will we listen to today? Will we exchange the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1:25) and build our lives on an alternative story (2 Tim. 4:3–4), or will God’s story be the script of our hearts, thoughts, words, and actions?
Maybe you see yourself in the descriptions above. Maybe you would like to read the Bible because you at least at some level believe it is God’s Word. Maybe you would like to read the Bible because you’re skeptical but really don’t know what it says.
People often struggle to read the Bible and make sense of it because they read it in bits and pieces. Instead of reading it as one story, we often read it like a collection of fables and aphorisms with little awareness of the historical context or the overall flow of the story. Sadly, many Bible study resources perpetuate this way of reading the Bible by breaking up the text into discrete sections for analysis.
Not reading the Bible is influenced not only by the way we read the Bible but also by with whom we read it. Especially in conservative, Bible-believing churches, people are encouraged to read the Bible on their own, by themselves.
But what if we tried reading the Bible together? What if we read the Bible like a story that actually happened with a plot line, characters, action, and drama? What if we read the Bible and discussed it like we would at a book club?
This summer I want to invite you to try an experiment with me. During Sunday School over nine weeks—June 8–August 3—we are going to read through the entire New Testament. However, we are going to use a reformatted New Testament with no headings, chapter or verse numbers. The books of the New Testament will be rearranged along roughly chronological lines. The format will be like a book club. When we get together we will discuss what we’ve read the previous week using the following questions to foster discussion.
1. What was new or compelling to you?
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?
The purpose of this experiment is simply to read the scriptures in community with others; to let the scriptures speak and see what we discover about ourselves and the God of the Bible. Bibles will be provided.