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Lack of Bible literacy is spotlighted

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Standing before nearly 700 attendees at a “Read the Bible for Life” conference, George Guthrie rattled off a series of statistics:

— 25 million copies of the Bible are sold in the United States annually.

— Nine out of 10 homes in the U.S. have a Bible.

— More than 400 million copies of all or part of the Bible are distributed through Bible societies each year.

Despite what would appear to be a Scripture saturation of biblical proportions, the “No. 1 predictor of spiritual maturity [according to a study by LifeWay Research] is reading the Bible on a daily basis [but] only 16 percent of churchgoers read the Bible daily and 25 percent of churchgoers don’t read the Bible at all,” Guthrie said at the April 15-16 conference at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

“This means that more than 50 percent of people who come through the doors of our churches on a regular basis only read their Bibles occasionally, perhaps one or two times per month, if at all,” Guthrie said. “Even more sobering, only 37 percent of those who attend church regularly say that reading and studying the Bible has made a significant difference in the way they live their lives. Only 37 percent.”

This alarming lack of biblical literacy is what led Guthrie to write “Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word,” released earlier this year B&H Publishing Group, the trade publishing arm of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Guthrie, who serves as Union University’s Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible, compiled the book as a series of conversations about how to study the Scriptures in a meaningful way.

The Read the Bible for Life book is just the first component of what has become the Read the Bible for Life initiative spearheaded by LifeWay in partnership with Union’s R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies. Other components include a nine-week small-group video curriculum and readers’ study guide. This fall, LifeWay will release a Holman Christian Standard chronological study Bible in support of the initiative.

“Dr. Guthrie’s book could not have come at a better time for individuals and churches looking for ways to know God more intimately and be transformed by His Word,” said Brad Waggoner, LifeWay’s executive vice president. “George Guthrie is one of the world’s leading scholars. His bent for scholarship did not remove him in any way from his passion for the local church. He desires for the Word of God to transform His people; that is the key to this emphasis.”

The reading and study material is aimed to accomplish two things:

— to help people learn to read the parts of Scripture well, so they know how to engage a psalm, an Old Testament story, or a parable and apply the Word in specific life-changing ways.

— to help people understand how the Bible fits together so they can understand their place in God’s story.

At its core, Guthrie explained, the Read the Bible for Life initiative seeks to change the processes for how followers of Christ interface with the Bible by understanding the dynamics of the overarching “grand narrative” of Scripture.

The road to Scripture literacy goes beyond telling people they need to get in the Word and have a devotional time, Guthrie said.

“First, we need to look at processes in the local church and not just programs of the moment,” he said. “We need to read and teach people how to read Scripture more effectively and meaningfully. And we need to get into the grand story of Scripture — individually and as a community.

“By doing this, people will begin to realize that ‘this is my story and it has implications for my life.’ This coordinated attempt at changing patterns and processes of interacting with Scripture is a way to help the church be the church and learn to read the Bible well,” Guthrie said.

David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., preached during the conference’s three plenary sessions and also participated in a question-and-answer session with Guthrie and musician and author Michael Card. Platt, author of the bestseller “Radical,” noted that Guthrie’s material played a crucial role in his church’s yearlong “Radical Experiment.”

Over the course of a year, Brook Hills members were challenged to radically change their modus operandi by praying for the entire world, reading through the entire Bible, committing to multiplying community fellowship groups, sacrificing finances for a specific purpose and giving time in another context.

As a working laboratory for the Read the Bible for Life teaching material and reader’s guide, Guthrie worked a couple of months ahead of the church’s schedule to produce reader’s guide material as Platt preached chronologically through the Bible.

“We walked through the story of Scripture from cover to cover testing out the Read the Bible for Life curriculum,” Platt said. “To see the Word come alive through this material and through our church was incredible. As a pastor I’m indebted to this.”

Guthrie said the Read the Bible for Life curriculum “is a ministry of service. It is our greatest desire to come alongside others to help them in their faith.”

Platt said that as the church walked through the chronological reading of the Bible, “people began recognizing key messages and stories that serve as hinges to the redemptive story of Christ. People in our church, some who have been Christians for 20 and 30 years, are saying, ‘I never knew how this all fit together.’

“As you unpack the grand narrative of Scripture, you start to realize that the God of Peter, James and John [and] of Isaiah, Moses and Abraham is your God,” Platt said. “To have your eyes opened to the fact that God, the consuming fire on the mountain, is the same God we meet with…. it takes our daily routine up to such a higher level when we realize we are a part of something so much greater — a grand story of redemption.”
Russ Rankin is manager of editorial services for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Components of the Read the Bible for Life initiative can be previewed at www.ReadtheBibleforLife.com

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  • Russ Rankin