In one of my presentations at a recent conference, I talked about the supremacy of God’s word, the word as the presence and power of God.
As I concluded my session, the presenter of the next session arrived. Part way into his session, he happened to make the same point I had, in a strikingly similar way: God’s word is supreme, it is the presence and power of God.
But we were not saying the same thing. Where he had cited the verse that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed’, I had used ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’.
The word he was talking about was the Bible. The word I was talking about was Jesus.
Incongruous, if not exactly contradictory.
For us Christians, God’s word means at least three things: (1) the Bible, (2) the divine breath that shapes and reshapes things, and (3) the person of Jesus. It’s valuable to ask about the way in which we hold those things together, and why.
I come from Aussie evangelical circles, and I wonder if we’re seeing a shift there. Where once our campus fellowship emphasised evangelism through Two Ways to Live, it now emphasises evangelism through reading one of the Gospels. Perhaps that shift can also be seen in the Uncover campaign. There is still plenty of focus on the Bible, but there is renewed attention to the person of Jesus. (What has been your experience?)
This shift is mirrored in evangelical circles further afield. The IFES resource The Word Among Us explores not only the practice of Bible study but also its purpose, and encourages us to see Bible study as more than an end in itself. The goal is not to study the word, but to meet the Word — or rather, it is in studying the word that we expect to meet the Word. We do Bible study because we seek an encounter with Jesus.
That’s why IFES uses the phrase Scripture engagement: when we use the Bible, even for study purposes, it is about more than the Bible. It is about life with the supreme and living Word, Jesus.
How can we grow our Bible practices in light of this? When many of us think ‘Bible study’, we’re thinking of printed questions on paper, a ‘set question’ approach. Of course this is only one approach to Scripture engagement. Other approaches may not feel like ‘study’, and might not even involve printed Bibles.
The phrase ‘Scripture engagement’ therefore opens up more possibilities for interacting with the Bible. I talk about it in terms of a repertoire. A repertoire contains several different approaches to Scripture engagement. The methods themselves are relative to some extent, because their usage will be determined by what’s appropriate for the situation. Using a repertoire teaches us to keep our methods flexible and responsive in light of a wider goal.
The ever-present question for us is which method the situation asks for, so that the goal of meeting Jesus can be fully pursued.
Feature image credit: James Douglas
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.