If Quiet Time — ‘personal Bible reading’ — is working for you, that’s fabulous. Don’t give it up.
If it’s a constant struggle, there might be a bunch of reasons for that. But there comes a point when you can’t just pin it all on laziness. It might be time to rethink things — because Just Try Harder probably won’t get you anywhere. And I guess you’ve been doing that, anyway.
See, the silent, introspective thing is pretty demanding for some of us. Personal Bible reading is a pretty big ask when you’re just not wired for sitting still, keeping silent, or being on your own. I find it difficult — and I’m an introvert! It’s just. So. Freaking. Quiet.
If that’s you, well — why not try something? Just drop it. Stop trying it for the zillionth time. Give it up.
As I said before, this is not a cop out. I mean, it’s okay to use an approach that suits you — not because it’s the easiest thing, not because it’s what’s simplest, but because it’s the most fruitful. It’s one thing to be disciplined, but to blindly keep persisting with personal Bible reading as if it’s the be all and end all — maybe that’s just foolishness.
Let’s ask the question: since when is ‘personal Bible reading’ the ultimate way to engage with the Bible? Tamie and I often hear people berating themselves that they don’t read the Bible enough, even though they’re engaging with it regularly each week — in church services, in small groups and over coffee with friends. That’s the Quiet Time gene speaking! Reading in private is not the most spiritual, most effective, or most important way.
But, you say, isn’t my relationship with God the most important thing? Well, maybe. It depends what exactly we mean by that. We have a tendency to individualise that, to narrow that down to just me and God. Of course, ‘me and God’ can be a helpful dimension, and it appears in the Psalms for example (well, some of them).
But we need to pay attention to the other dimensions. Christian life is a community thing. The great biblical images of Christian identity are corporate and collective — images of togetherness — like family, body, and temple. When our evangelical heritage stresses, ‘Jesus is in my heart,’ the New Testament says, ‘We are in Christ.’ And the call of God on our lives is not just vertical but horizontal, not just upward but outward. For example, the Bible’s call to holy living is set in community — it usually has much more to do with how we treat one another than an individual’s inner struggle.
Of course, there’s a place for personal Bible reading — and the Church has a rich heritage of contemplative practice that goes way back before mass-produced Bibles appeared. But there is no good reason to expect private reading to be the most important way of accessing the Bible.
Reading the Bible with others is not just acceptable. It’s great. The Bible is a library of community documents crying out to be accessed in all sorts of social ways.
So let’s change the question: What would it look like if we actively treated the Bible as inseparable from community?
The Australian campaign Live light in 25 words is designed to stem the tide of Bible dropouts. But another Bible society is tackling the same problem from a different angle. Have a look:
As Community Bible Experience puts it, the Bible is not just a book. It’s a shared experience. There are a couple of important features tied up with this, which I’ll explore in the next couple of posts. But for now, notice the community focus: starting with groups rather than individuals. And of course, we don’t need a campaign or a program for that — just a change in mindset.
Categories: Written by Arthur
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.
Yes. Amen. A thousand times yes…
I think we’re on the same page. Are you just trying to give people permission to be honest about their struggles with Bible reading on their own and using the communal reading experience as a way of allowing people to engage with Scripture?
I guess I feel like there’s a lot of rhetoric there that I’m unsure of. At least as much because I’m not sure what you’re getting at with it as because I have suspicions about it.
My mate David Cook is pretty hooked on listening to the Bible these days rather than reading. I’m starting down that path too. Not less reading necessarily, but more listening.
There’s definite rhetoric, Kutz! I’m trying to persuade. But what seems suspicious? (There are 2 more posts to come.)
I suspect that different ways of reading the bible will work for different people. Like Lectio Divinia had never done anything for me. I hate it. But other people swear by it. I do think that any serious Christian should read through scripture just to know what’s in there. Back in college, I would read as much or little as held my attention that day. Some days I read through many chapters, but other times I could barely get through a sentence. But as soon as I realized that my mind was wandering or I was reading without comprehending I put it away for the day. I read it just like any other book, but I started with Matthew, finished the NT and then read the OT. For a while as an adult I used a book of common prayer and did each day’s reading which will take you through all of scripture (I think) in a year.
But these days I only sit down to read my bible once or twice a month at best. But as you say, I am interacting with scripture all the time. It’s in the things I read, the conversations I have, the thoughts I think, the music I listen to. My life today is quite scripture saturated despite not spending time read it very often any more.
The bible is such a remarkable book. But I think that it’s like when you are assigned a book to read for English class. Often, the obligation of having to read something actually dampens our ability to really enjoy and appreciate it. It’s a shame that too often reading the bible becomes this sort of activity for many people.
“Of course, there’s a place for personal Bible reading — and the Church has a rich heritage of contemplative practice that goes way back before mass-produced Bibles appeared. But there is no good reason to expect private reading to be the most important way of accessing the Bible.”
Another thought that is hinted at in the quote above is that personal Bible reading wasn’t even possibly until a couple of hundred of years ago (or less). If personal Bible reading is the primary way we interact with the Bible and grow in Christ, then what about all those Christians that lived before everyone was able to have a personal Bible? Were they less spiritually mature than us Christians now? Why would Jesus make personal Bible study the end all of our relationship with him knowing that it would only be available to people centuries after his earthly ministry?
Of course, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t study the Bible personally. We should avail ourselves of everything at our disposal to grow in our faith. We shouldn’t, though, make one method of growth become the one measure of whether we are growing or not.
Daily reading is not commanded nor exemplified in Scripture. Most Christians throughout history could not read.
But personal, even daily, meditation is commanded and exemplified.
So even if our intake is mainly communal, we must be committed to daily meditation. That would normally require a time for quiet concentration, which should also normally include prayer as Jesus and the apostles exemplified.
Arthur you’re my hero!
Books of the Bible seems cool – I’m keen to give it read!
I’m all for the encouragement to engage the bible in a community setting but think this needs to be coupled with engaging the bible in a personal one on one with God setting.
My main parallel to coupling community engagement with personal engagement is like this. If I had a friend called JC and I only ever hung out with him in a group context, my views of JC, my feelings towards JC and my relationship with JC would be directly influenced by the rest of the group members all the time. Not saying that this is always a bad thing, but for a lot of people who tend to follow more than to lead they might be missing out on a hugely important aspect to their friendship with JC. When they go home or walk away from the group, suddenly they realise that JC isn’t their personal friend – he’s a friend of only the group. I guess what I’m saying here is that the one on one time with JC is vitally important to the friendship if it is to be a “life encompassing” relationship.
However this one-on-one time shouldn’t be boxed into a “quiet time”. I’m all for engaging God in whatever way possible. And I guess I’m not just referring to bible reading – but praying to and communicating with God.
Thanks for your thoughts, Joel — keep ’em coming. Stay tuned for more about The Books of the Bible in the next post!
I agree that we shouldn’t demean the individual dimension — but we’re Protestants, so I doubt there’s much danger of us doing that!
The individual dimension is certainly vital, but unless we set that within the context of community, my friend JC probably ends up being more like a pen pal.
I think you put it well: it’s life-encompassing; it’s a whole-of-life thing!
This is all encouraging, I’m one of those who gets most out of bible studies in small groups! And feels guilty about not reading daily by myself…… I have learned years ago to pray meditate, check in with God all the time. Every moment I make a decision, when I feel like I didn’t deal with that person very well. When…ever,you name it. Connecting with God is necessary. Learning from His word can be done in so many ways, I’m very grateful we are encouraged to also be creative in our relationship with Him. No ‘shoulds’ allowed.
“What would it look like if we actively treated the Bible as inseparable from community?”
Depends. Do we then have a group of individualists where each shares his own subjective view? http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/of-ponds-and-pitfalls/
Do we include in the group those faithful scholars, who through their commentaries, share the fruit of their labors?