A couple of weeks ago I read an article based upon the Apostle Paul’s instruction to his protégé in II Timothy 4:2 to “Preach the word.” Even though the New Testament was not finalized at the time Paul wrote this letter, his intent was clear: preachers are to get the foundation of their teaching from the Bible.

A couple of weeks later I finished reading a short book entitled Practicing His Presence (Volume I of The Library of Spiritual Classics). I was instructed and motivated by what Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach wrote about maintaining an awareness of the presence of Christ throughout one’s day. As good as the book was, I reminded myself that what it contained was not on par with the Bible.

Recently in a Bible class I was leading, an attendee participated in our discussion by reading from a study Bible. Remembering what I had been thinking about the last month or so I reminded the entire class that the notes in any study Bible are not on par with the actual Bible. (I also reminded them that what I say in my teaching is not on par with the Bible.)

Now there is nothing wrong with study Bibles, devotional books, commentaries, and the many Christian books available to us today. I have two study Bibles, many commentaries, theological dictionaries, books of sermons, and books on specific topics about the Bible, the Christian life, the church, and a variety of theological subjects. I consult them regularly in my teaching and preaching.

Preachers, pastors, professors, Christian authors, theologians, and others have much to offer the Christian community as well as those exploring the Bible, the Christian life, the church, and theology. All of us can greatly benefit from the thinking and writing of others about these important topics. But none of these resources are on par with the Bible.

My point in this brief article is to remind readers of what I recently reminded myself of as well as my Bible class: sermons, Bible studies, Christian books, Bible commentaries, and study Bibles are not on the same level as the Bible itself. Most of them are helpful and we need them to help us understand and apply what the Bible teaches. We need those who have studied long and hard and given themselves to teaching the Bible.

At the same time, periodically we need to be reminded that what people think the Bible says and means is not always exactly what it means and says. And my sense is that there are parts of the Bible that no one can say definitively this is what it means. On the other hand, there is much in the Bible that we can definitively say this is what it means.

We need to know the difference between what the Bible says and what different people think and believe it says. They are not always the same.

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The Barna Research Group recently published the results of their study of the top Bible-Minded Cities and the Least Bible-Minded Cities in 2017. I wasn’t surprised by the results, but the results are not what interested me.

I was interested in what they mean by Bible-minded. Here is the explanation: “Individuals considered to be Bible-minded are those who report reading the Bible in the past week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches.” While the results with regard to the cities did not surprise me, I was surprised to learn that “Nationally, only 25 percent of the population is considered Bible-minded.”

Given their definition, are you Bible-minded? Do you read the Bible at least once a week and do you believe the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches? The first part of the question is easy to answer, but the second part is slippery. What makes it slippery is that not all Bible readers agree on the principles it teaches.

Certainly we should and do need to read the Bible. Pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson makes that clear when he writes, “Read the book!” I agree with the first part of his next sentence, but am uneasy with the second part of it: “The meaning is in the book; not in the information about the book.” Yes, the meaning is in the book, but the meaning is not always obvious.

Often we get help in understanding the meaning of the Bible by reading or hearing what others say about the book. As a Bible teacher, I was affirmed and encouraged by a reminder from John G. Stackhouse, Jr. in which he notes “God gave his people teachers, as the Bible itself affirms, precisely because much of the Bible is not easily understood.” As we read the Bible we can benefit in understanding the principles it teaches by consulting trusted teachers of the Bible.

I wish the research group’s description of what it means to be Bible-minded added a third criterion. To be Bible-minded, I would add one needs to submit to and obey the principles the Bible teaches. That’s Jesus point in his close to the Sermon on the Mount about two builders (Matthew 7:24-27). Hearing Jesus’ words and putting them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. But hearing Jesus’ words and not putting them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

It is not enough just to read the Bible. Nor is it enough just to believe the principles the Bible teaches are true. We need to apply them in our lives. Too often we read the Bible, and strongly assert the principles it teaches are accurate, but fail to allow what we have read to shape our lives. When that happens I’m not sure we are really Bible-minded. To be Bible-minded we have to read the Bible, believe that the principles it teaches are accurate, and put those principles into action.

Are you Bible-minded?

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You may not get to read as much as you would like, but I’m sure you do your share of reading. Because of the nature of my work as a pastor I have always needed to read and had the time to do so. Since I stepped down from my last church just over a year ago I have had the opportunity to read even more than I did before. I want to highlight five books that may interest you and that you may want to get and read.

The title of one book got my attention: The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus (2015, HarperOne). It was put together by Dallas Willard’s daughter (following his death) from his notes and lectures. The title not only got my attention, when I read it I was convicted. Willard challenges us as Christians not to “engage in debates and arguments with an antagonizing, arrogant spirit” (p. 2), but to “be characterized by gentleness” and humility.

A second book I am still reading is an older book (1998). I wanted to read it for a few years and finally ordered a used copy. It is entitled Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (Riverhead Books) and is written by Kathleen Norris. (Yes, a woman!) It consists of some 80 brief chapters that deal with a variety of important words and phrases in Christianity often from a personal perspective. I am taking my time and savoring her selections.

For those interested in the Bible I am quite impressed with Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan). First published in 1981, I have the 2014 Fourth Edition. This book is required for one of the classes I teach at Hope International University and has informative chapters on every part of the Bible. It’s an excellent companion for Bible reading.

Last month I got Jesus: A Historical Portrait by Daniel Harrington (2007, St. Anthony Messenger Press). Harrington is a Roman Catholic priest and a professor of New Testament, but this short book is not complicated or too deep for you. “This book aims to state concisely and clearly for a general audience what many specialists in biblical research have learned and written about Jesus of Nazareth in recent years” (p.1). Just over 100 pages, this is an interesting overview of what the Gospels tell us about the life of Jesus.

Finally, if you have not read it, there is my book A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters. You can read about it here

Which of these books sounds the most interesting to you and might you get and read? What have you read recently you would suggest? Let me and other readers know in the comments below. And share this post if you think others would enjoy it.

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John Stott has been one of my favorite authors for more than 45 years. Although he is now deceased, I am still instructed and encouraged by reading his books. I recently read a revised edition of one of his books originally published in 1970. And I was struck by the simple and straightforward challenge he gives to Christians about the Bible.

“First, it is not enough to possess a Bible.” You probably have a Bible. I just counted and I have 17! We sometimes are superstitious thinking just having a Bible makes a difference in our homes and our lives. For Christians it’s not about having a Bible, we need to read our Bibles.

Stott goes on, “Next, it is not enough to read the Bible.” Just reading the Bible or hearing it read is not an end in itself. It is great literature, but that is not its purpose. God speaks to us through the Bible and we are introduced to Jesus through the Bible. For Christians it’s not about just reading our Bible, we need to study it.

“Third, it is not enough to study the Bible.” Different people mean different things by this idea of studying the Bible. One aspect of study is considering what was intended by the writer when it was first written. But we cannot stop there. One of the potential dangers of academic study of the Bible is never allowing it to speak to us today. Real Bible study goes on to apply the Bible to life today. For Christians it’s not just about studying the Bible, we need to put it into practice.

“What is required is that we obey the Bible.” God wants us as His people to do what it says. We can never be satisfied by just learning about the Bible and its content. God gave us the Bible so that it would make a difference in our lives. And that happens as we get to know Him and His Son Jesus whom we follow as our Savior and Lord. It’s an old book for sure, but it’s also up to date.

If you currently don’t have a Bible reading plan and want to begin let me suggest you begin with Psalm 119. Set aside a time and place and take a few days to read and consider this longest chapter in the Bible (176 verses) that is a tribute to the Word of God. And while you are doing that look and ask around about Bible reading plans until you find something that works for you.

Let me know (below in comments or by email) if you will join me in reading Psalm 119 these next few days.

(Quotes from Christ and Conflict: Lessons from Jesus and His Controversies by John Stott, IVP, 2013, pp. 95 and 96.)

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