Bible study can be a wild ride
Bible study can be a wild ride

Huge Bibles

In the last few years, reading the Bible has become trendy again. Popular and well-packaged curricula, like Covenant or The Story can help your church move through the entire Bible in the span of one year. Aside from curricula, there are many books available to pursue this endeavor solo or in a group, most notably Brian McLaren’s We Make the Road By Walking (Jericho Books, 2014).

Bible challenges are popping up all over the country in parishes and dioceses to read the whole Bible during the summer, in six months, or a year. All in all, getting Christians to read the Bible can only be a good thing—biblical literacy is shockingly low, even among regular churchgoing, mainline Protestants.

But the truth is, unless one is firmly embedded in a supportive, consistent, and engaged small group, actually getting through the entirety of the Bible is really difficult. And too often, even if one manages to actually get through the Bible without a small group, interpreting the often troubling or confusing content can be problematic at best.

Not to mention getting lost in the wilderness—after the high of reading the drama in Genesis and the great escape out of slavery in Exodus, many people quit when they get to Numbers, because, well, it’s boring. And unlike the Israelites who were stuck wandering around for forty years, the reader has the prerogative to shut the book and get on with life, never knowing that it’s perfectly okay to skip a chapter (or a book) and keep on going.

Most people and groups who try to read the Bible take the advice the King gave to the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland: “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” The trouble is, the Bible isn’t a normal book.

Not only is it not a normal book in structure, or in the vast time span between the composition of its different pieces, but also the Bible is Scripture. Not a textbook, not just history, not just fiction, not quite non-fiction, not just law or poetry or pithy sayings, not just primordial myths or piercing insights, not just life-changing parables, and not just visions of the way the world can be if we let God change it. The Bible is more than all of those pieces combined.

And we’re just going to hand over this beautiful, dangerous and complicated mess to a charted reading plan, some half-hearted discussion questions and a quick prayer? I think not.

Like a group of travelers in the wilderness, the group that travels through Scripture is in for a wild ride, and they need to be prepared with supplies and a map. There are some in your parish who are experienced wilderness guides, matured through years of study and life experience who can lead others.

These are the folks who can read the entire Bible in a year, who know how to form cohesive groups of reflection and support, and who can shepherd a group into the promised land of biblical literacy and theological reflection. These experienced guides would flourish with a curriculum like Covenant, which teaches the Bible thematically, with appropriate background and helpful scholars via engaging video content.

But what if you don’t have guides, or parishioners who are convinced that a 32-week Bible series is good use of their limited time? My parish’s expedition into The Story lasted approximately until the book of Judges, after which it died a slow death of postponed classes and neglect. Don’t let that happen to you! In my next post, we’ll look at ways to hack the curricula for the general public.

Becky Zartman (@Becky_Zartman) is the assistant rector at St. Thomas’ Dupont Circle and is working on a Fresh Expression in the Diocese of Washington. She blogs at Vicar of H Street.

Image credit: “Bibles” by Donna via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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