For the season of Lent, St. George’s United Church is walking through the 6 marks of discipleship/6 spiritual practices for following Jesus. Last Sunday we delved into the third practice, “Inspired by Reading Scripture.” The sermon can be found here.
The Bible is obviously central to practitioners of the Christian tradition, whether conservative, liberal or somewhere in between. Yet, few of us in the mainline/liberal churches read it or engage it outside of weekly worship. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one that I hear often is “I don’t know where to start.” Obviously, anyone can start at any point, but I put the following handout together as a roadmap to help in what can seem like a daunting journey.
-The Rev. Ryan Slifka, Lead Pastor, St. George’s
6 Steps in Reading the Bible for Growth and Transformation
The Rev. Ryan Slifka
Step 1: Get a Good Bible
Get a few different versions. Different versions exist for different reasons: NRSV, NIV, NASB, are more “literal” for study, having been assembled by scholarly consensus to understand what the original text says. Other versions like The Message, New Living Translation, are good as an attempt to get at what the text was intended to mean, rather than what the text literally says.
With the above in mind, you can find almost any version of the Bible online at www.biblegateway.org, which also has an app so you can read on your phone, or you can even have the Bible read to you instead with their audio app.
Go deeper with a study Bible. I recommend The Harper Collins Study Bible (which is more academic, with historical background) or the New Interpreter’s Study Bible by Abingdon Press (which is more narrative/theological). The Life with God Bible by Renovare is my favorite for devotional purposes (and not just because my mentor Ed Searcy wrote the materials on Ezekiel). You can get all three online at many places such as Amazon, but I recommend supporting your local bookstore. I’ve order both the HarperCollins and Life with God Bibles through Laughing Oyster books at reasonable prices. They also come in eBook versions.
Internet study resources are few and far between, likely due to the massive investment it takes to create a reliable study Bible. BibleHub has good study resources such as Greek translation, and topical look up, but skews to far towards literalism for my liking when it comes to devotions or interpretation. Enter the Bible by Luther Seminary is quite accessible and reliable (and less literalistic by far), but has far less content and doesn’t cover the whole bible (yet).
For kids I recommend the Children of God story Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It’s a straightforward, easy read that stays close to the Biblical text and doesn’t follow the children’s Bible temptation to moralize the scriptures. They keep it in stock at Laughing Oyster.
Step 2: Get a Little Background
Find a general introduction to the Bible to give you an view of and insight into the whole. The Borg, Hamilton, and Foster volumes are likely orderable at your local bookstore. The Hamilton volume is my personal favorite.
Marcus Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time (progressive).
Adam Hamilton, Making Sense of the Bible, or Richard Foster, Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation (centrist).
Highly Recommended Website—The Bible Project: www.thebibleproject.com. Beautiful videos on each book of the Bible, themes, and words, most if not all posted on YouTube. They also have a podcast, audio devotions, and a reading plan that goes right into your email inbox!
Step 3: Figure Out How to Read It
Learn Devotional reading techniques like Lectio Divina, an ancient method of divine listening and meditation. During Lectio Divina, the practitioner listens to the text of the Bible with the "ear of the heart," as if he or she is in conversation with God, and God is suggesting the topics for discussion. The method of Lectio Divina includes moments of reading (lectio), reflecting on (meditatio), responding to (oratio) and resting in (contemplatio) the Word of God with the aim of nourishing and deepening one's relationship with the Divine.
Learn techniques for in-depth study. The Rev. Dr. Patricia Dutcher-Walls, professor of Old Testament at Vancouver School of Theology has put together a straight forward method. Email me if you’d like a copy, as we don’t have permission to circulate privately but not publish.
Step 4: Get Reading by Yourself (Good)
DON’T read from front to back. Often, people will just sit down and try to read the whole Bible. Things go fine until you hit Leviticus and get bogged down by details. If you’re starting out, I recommend reading Genesis, Exodus, and the gospel of Mark as an introduction, then gradually make your way through the rest.
Read Sunday’s scripture ahead of time. Upcoming scripture passages are usually shared in the weekly email newsletter before they’re preached on Sunday. . Read devotionally or in-depth study, ask questions of the text as to meaning etc., email one of the ministers with questions or insights.
You can find the newsletter or sign up here.
Get a “read the Bible in one year” Bible, or find a reading plan. We have given the One Year Bible to new members before. The Bible Project has a simple plan here that goes along with their excellent videos.
Find a daily podcast, app or email devotional that incorporates scripture:
My favorite is pray-as-you-go.org, a Jesuit app/podcast that incorporates lectio with prayer and meditation.
UCC.org includes the United Church of Christ’s daily devotional, which has a scripture passage, meditation and prayer (UCCan’s sister denomination)
www.bibleinoneyear.org is from Nicky Gumbel, founder of the Alpha Course, who also has a Bible in One Year podcast/app
Step 5: Get Reading Together (Even More Good)
Meet a friend for coffee weekly/biweekly or monthly to discuss Sunday sermon/scripture
Join a Small Group focused on Bible Study - find St. George’s small groups here. There’s one on Job coming up!
Start a Small Group focused on Bible Study - Rev. Ryan will get you everything you need to start one. It’s easy, and there are simple curricula.
Start a Prayer Group that Uses Lectio Divina - Again, Rev. Ryan will get you everything you need to make it happen.
Start or join a longer term Bible Study - We have hosted long term Bible studies before (from 12-24-34 weeks). These groups are ideal for learning and spiritual growth. (i.e. Disciple, Covenant, Kerygma). The beauty of these is that everything is laid out for leaders and participants.