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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