Somewhere along the line I had absorbed the assumption that unchurched people would find the Bible boring
One of the many surprises of my life was the discovery that I didn’t need to protect unchurched high school students from the Bible. Somewhere along the line I had absorbed the assumption that unchurched people would find the Bible boring, and impenetrably hard to understand. Upon reflection, that may have been a reaction to a nominal Christian culture that had developed an immunity to the gospel in my generation.
The Immunised Generation
I am a Baby Boomer—a member of a generation which (like that of our parents) was well churched in childhood. Confirmation at age fourteen was a point that many believed completed their time for God. They didn’t want to hear any more.
As we set about bringing the gospel to our community, we faced this resistance and sought ways to attract people back to church and the Bible. Ministry required us to pair something attractive with the gospel. Bible talks had to be short and simple so as to not put people off.
But times and cultures change. We are no longer calling people back to church. We are introducing people to someone and something they have never known.
The Exotic Gospel
The people we face today are not immunised against the Bible. Far from it
The people we face today are not immunised against the Bible. Far from it. The unchurched greet the study of the Bible as an exotic and interesting novelty. Their responses are remarkable and refreshing.
I spent twenty-seven years teaching in a Christian School that had an open enrolment policy. In our early days we decided to issue each student with their own Bible. We made the mistake of assuming the text needed to be paired with fun and interesting things. We chose the NIV “Teen Study Bible.” It was full of colour, lots of side bars and boxes with cool stories and sayings. Students read the side bars and the boxes but skipped the text. We dumped the Teen Study Bible, and went to a plain text, black letter Bible. We struggled for the next three or four years.
Then we were offered a thinline, bonded leather, centre reference, NIV Bible with maps, in its own box, for a remarkably low price. We issued that Bible to the incoming year sevens and got an overwhelming “Wow.” It looked like it was a valuable book. It was something worthy of protecting. We started selling Bible cases at the uniform shop. One young lady, whose family came to us from Iran, nearly burst with excitement. She couldn’t pronounce the word “Bible.” It was “my own Bibly.” This was a major turning point not only in the responses of our students, but in our understanding of our ministry.
The Bible is the most exciting object of study. It is the words of the Creator to people made in his image
The Bible is the most exciting object of study. It is the words of the Creator to people made in his image. It is the Good News of our salvation and of the healing and restoration of all things in Christ. It answers all our big questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? It releases all our emotions as we come face to face with the truth about ourselves, and the things that happen day to day.
The teenage years are the stage of life where the iron is white hot as one’s foundational beliefs and commitments are formed. It is no coincidence that years nine to ten in high school mark the peak in the rate of commitments to Christ. To those asking such questions, the Bible’s earthy frankness and clarity is very attractive.
No Apology Required
The audience we face today is not immunised. The worst thing we can do is to infect our audience with the assumption that the Bible needs some kind of sugar coating. They don’t find the Bible boring and we shouldn’t apologise in advance as if we expected them to.
This isn’t to say that reading the Bible with unchurched people is going to be all fun. We are exposing sinners to the Word of God. It cuts deep. Issues come up. Questions and arguments swirl about the room. Managing an intense conversation focusing on such issues in a room of thirty teenagers is not a game. It is an engagement with reality like no other. It is an engagement with God’s presence, authority and power.
The most powerful strategy in bringing the gospel to a lost world is for people to read the text for themselves.
It was a humbling lesson for me to learn that the trick is to get out of the way and let the Word of God do its work. The most powerful and effective strategy in bringing the gospel to a lost world is for people to read the text for themselves.
Our greatest source of opposition to teaching Biblical Studies as a real subject came from a few Pentecostal students and parents. Their argument was that if we taught the Bible academically, we would put people off, and create barriers to conversion. They saw the Bible (and reading generally) as impenetrable and boring. They valued the experience of God, not the knowledge of his word.
I still admire their passion to see people saved—but not their belief that conversion depends on us. In our discussions with these protesters, we probed the question of our faith in the power of the Word of God. Ironically, we had to look deeper at our faith in the work of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s clear the table and put an open Bible down where people can read and question and engage with God first hand. The more we pair the Bible with distractions, the more we convince our audience that the Bible is boring and impenetrable. We need to rethink our approach to the teaching ministry of the church. As we read through the Book of Acts, again and again we find people poring over the Scriptures and finding the gospel of Christ to be true. As Spurgeon put it:
Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out!
“Christ and His Co-Workers,” A sermon preached on 10th June, 1886 from Mark 16:20, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 42, https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/christ-and-his-co-workers/#flipbook/ accessed 21DEC2020.