For me, reading the Bible is essential to my spiritual growth. I make a habit of consistent and regular study in the Word of God -- not just for messages I preach on Sunday but to be changed by the Word of God. Every time I open the Word of God and teach at church I ask the Lord to speak through it. As believers, it is essential that we read, memorize, study and meditate on the Word of God.
There is much research that shows the correlation between spiritual maturity and reading the Bible. In Brad Waggoner's book "The Shape of Faith to Come," which is based on a LifeWay Research study, and in George Guthrie's "Read the Bible for Life" material, we see that reading the Bible is the best predictor of spiritual maturity. In other words, if you are in the Bible, you are growing spiritually.
Many people are realizing that we aren't making as many disciples as we would like. Studies done by LifeWay Research show a lack of discipleship among many evangelical Christians. So we need to ask: What's the answer to that? Issues such as preaching, missional living and "doing life" in a covenant community are all part of the solution. But I think there's no question that an essential element is leading God's people to consistently engage God's Word through reading, studying and memorization. Biblical illiteracy is prevalent and personal commitment to God's Word is the only real answer.
It is critical for church leadership to challenge believers to be in the Word of God, consistently growing in their knowledge of the Scriptures. One way to do that is to teach and encourage study of the Scriptures in the context of the grand narrative of redemption. I try to read the Bible in the way it unfolds. The Bible is not a series of isolated morality tales. Instead, by looking at it as a whole through a Christ-centered lens, I read the Scriptures with the whole story of redemption in mind.
I regularly hear of people who would rather read devotional books than read the Bible. Certainly, when wading through Leviticus, the chapter on identifying and treating skin diseases doesn't exactly bring great joy and warmth to the heart. But we need to remember that even that passage plays a part in the unfolding plan of redemption.
All parts of the Bible are equally inspired, but not all are "equally applied to my life in this very moment." I recognize my view can be easily misunderstood, but I think that I probably need to spend more time praying on and thinking through Philippians chapter 2 than I do Leviticus chapter 13, the skin disease chapter. So, I think what we have to do is remember why they're both there.
With that being said, one of the things I do is make it a habit to read through the Bible once a year. If I simply read the parts I think I need the most, I will miss a big part of God's design for my growth. Even though my tendency, like a lot of Christians, is only to read the New Testament, I need to spend time in the Old Testament as well. It is essential for all believers to get the full picture of God's revelation.
Churches today face some big challenges. One of the greatest is the evangelical angst occurring in North America. Evangelicals in our country are just not sure of who they are or where they're going.
Perhaps what evangelicals need most right now is a strategy for biblical literacy. We need to reengage the biblical narrative and immerse ourselves in consistent study. It will help us be more gracious and winsome in the way we communicate. It will help us have a clearer view on controversial issues. It will help us to understand and communicate a clear Gospel as laid out in the Scriptures -- a Gospel of the cross and of the Kingdom. The Word of God is essential to where we are right now.
Ed Stetzer is vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay Christian Resources.
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