Bible held

It’s time to prioritise the Bible like never before

Andrew Ollerton, author of the Bible Society’s The Bible Course and speaker at this year’s Elim Leaders Summit explains.

Western Christians need to recover their confidence in the Bible and prioritise it like never before, says Andrew Ollerton.

The author of the Bible Society’s The Bible Course is discussing why it is so important to read and understand the Scriptures at a time when society is fast rejecting them.

“We need the Bible practically to understand how we should serve God in the world today and personally for our own strength and encouragement,” he says.

It’s crucial to imagine the Bible in the right way, Andrew explains.

Too often, we get caught in the trap of seeing it as a historical text or a doctrinal backstop that shows what God thinks about certain issues.

But actually, it is God’s story of the world – something we have a part in. Reading the Bible can help us understand what God has done in history and encourage us to be part of that mission.

“We need to feel inspired and challenged because we’re saturated by a culture that says ‘me first’,” says Andrew.

The Bible says no, we’re servants of Christ, sons and daughters of the living God, and we are to pursue his call on our lives.

“Every time I open the Scriptures I enter a world where God is king and I am his son and servant. It sets me up for living his way in the world.”

The Bible can also equip us personally, he adds.

“Romans 15:4 says the Scriptures were written for our instruction and that through the encouragement in them we might have hope. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need these things on a daily basis.”

So reading and understanding the Bible is vital and beneficial, but if that is the case, why does it sometimes seem so difficult?

“The Western culture we live in is strongly pulling us away from confident engagement with the Bible,” he says.

“Education and secular media naturally undermine our confidence in it. They suggest that we used to need things like the Bible before we understood the world but now we have science, technology and Wikipedia, so we don’t anymore.

“If you’re a Western Christian today you have to actively seek to position yourself in the Word of God or it won’t happen.”

Another challenge, he says, is many Christians’ lack of confidence or regular routine when approaching the Bible.

“Too often we are prone to a mindset that says as long as ordained ministers understand the Scriptures we can live in the slipstream of their sermons, books and podcasts.

“The risk is that we only consume the Bible through haphazard or second-hand means.

“Instead of feeling confident that we can personally hear God’s voice in the Bible, many of us assume we can’t; that that is for pastors and scholars.

“We need to mobilise and encourage all of God’s people to be confident in reading the Scriptures and hearing his voice for themselves – to be sustained personally and to play their part in God’s mission.

 “One of the biggest challenges we face with the Bible is its size and complexity.

“A friend who became a Christian told me it felt like he was being asked to eat an elephant. He had no clue where to start,” says Andrew.

“That’s why we need re-sources that help us make sense of it. Here are two from the Bible Society Course to help you.

“From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is not just an eclectic set of sayings, but is one grand narrative that tells God’s story. One of the most powerful ways to unlock it is to read the smaller parts in the light of this bigger whole,” says Andrew.

“That’s what The Bible Course does. Through eight sessions containing videos and discussion opportunities, the course guides small groups through that big story to show how the pieces of the jigsaw form one big picture.

“Many people have told us that once they’ve seen that big picture they’ve never read the Bible in the same way again. Now, when they read an isolated passage they can see how it fits into the big story.”

“The resource is now available online for individual daily bite-sized study too.

“The course is designed to empower Christians to have confidence in the Bible. The idea is you can learn to interpret, understand and apply the Bible yourself.”

Andrew's top tips to help you get into the scriptures

1. Engage in different ways -
You don’t have to just read the Bible these days; you can listen to it, watch it – there are many great options out there. And I’m not just talking chapters. It’s OK for it to be a bitesize experience of the Scriptures.

2. Read it daily -
I would encourage the discipline of spending daily private time in God’s Word. That could be as an individual, a couple, at home or while commuting to work – it doesn’t matter as long as you’re not distracted but are concentrating and giving your best to the Lord.

3 Read it in community -
In addition to personal time, God wants us to read his Word in community and have a shared experience of it. For us as a family, for example, we read, discuss and pray about a bit of the Bible over breakfast every morning.

4 Resources can help -
The Bible isn’t always straightforward or easy to understand. I still feel perplexed by certain passages, so I need help. Drawing on resources is not defeat. Turning to courses, books or podcasts that help us engage with the Scriptures is a good thing.

5 Read books in one sitting -
We can engage with the Bible in daily chunks, but many sections were written to experience in one sitting. Sometimes I’ll read for an hour. I read Matthew’s Gospel, for example, and the impression you get of Jesus and the beauty of his ministry when you read the book in one sitting is profound.

Dr Andrew Ollerton is a theologian, pastor and popular communicator who makes complex ideas simple and relevant. He works with Bible Society and developed The Bible Course, an eight-session guide to the big story of the Bible for small groups. Andrew is married to Charlotte and they have three children.

First published in the April 2022 issue of Direction, Elim’s monthly magazine. Subscribe now to get Direction delivered to your home.

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