By Rick Robertson, senior leader, Jubilee Church Wirral
Is the Bible still important?
So you’re on a journey with Jesus, a journey with faith, a journey with God - it’s your own journey, no-one else can live it for you.
And on this journey you have discovered The Bible. God’s book. Maybe another Christian has handed you one, or maybe your church community uses the Bible regularly - they tell you to read it, that it is vital, like food, to your Christian life. But why is this book really important for you (and for me)?
Through the next few paragraphs, I want to help us answer that question. I’ll look at what makes the Bible stand out from all other books, how people have encountered God through this book and how you fit into God's panorama of history.
It's a book like no other.
A few years ago I heard this quoted on the Alpha course (cited from an article in The Times newspaper):
"The Bible is the biggest-selling book every year. If sales of the Bible were reflected in bestseller lists, it would be a rare week that anything else would achieve a look-in. Is it wonderful, weird, or just plain baffling in this increasingly Godless age, when the range of books available grows wider with each passing year, that this one book should go on selling hand over fist, month in, month out?"
When I heard this I was amazed; what is it about this book that makes it stand out above others.
In this age of the internet, the digital Bible through the YouVersion Bible app is in people’s pockets everywhere. Since the app was launched by Life Church (Oklahoma) in 2008, the app has been downloaded 450 million times all over the world.
The free Bible app is solely funded by donations and has over 2000 Bible versions and 1,372 languages. This appetite for the Bible demonstrates how desperate people are to encounter Jesus for themselves - regardless of their background.
The popularity of the Bible can be somewhat explained by the high value Christians place on it.
There are countless stories throughout history of Christians risking their lives to smuggle Bibles into areas of the world where it is illegal to read or own one. Underground churches in such countries will often share one single Bible across the whole church. There is something so critical to Christians in the pages of the Bible, that going to such great lengths to read it is worth the risks involved.
Considering these observations alone, we can't brush the Bible aside as another sacred writing; we must ask ourselves what is it about the Bible that people find so compelling and life changing.
People encountering the Bible:
Nicky Gumbel, founder of the Alpha Course, shares his story of becoming a Christian through reading the Bible.
While he was still an atheist, Nicky made it his goal to help some close friends who had become christians, see how wrong they were. In his determination he decided to read the New Testament to equip himself. However as he read through Matthew and continued to make his way through the gospels he was suddenly struck with a groundbreaking realisation, that it was all true! Within the pages of the Bible, Nicky had himself heard the voice of God and soon afterwards gave his life to Jesus.
My own experience with the Bible is somewhat different from this. I didn't read the Bible and then discover it was true - but through watching and seeing God’s work in the lives of the people around me, who called themselves "Christians".
I found it hard to dismiss their experiences and how they described a real relationship with God, and was compelled to see if there was objective truth behind what they had encountered.
Once I took those steps I encountered God for myself and was amazed to discover a loving Father who I could connect with personally. I was then excited to look at God’s book - and to my surprise the Bible, which had always felt dusty and theoretical in the past, started to speak to me personally. So for me the Bible and knowing God are inextricably linked.
Let’s look at the story of Lee Strobel, author of A Case For Christ. In this, rather academic investigation interviews are carried out with an array of scholars from different fields, digging up the evidence for the validity of the New Testament and the life/person of Jesus.
Strobel considers the confidence that Christians (including his newly converted wife) place in the Jesus of the Bible, and critiques it from every angle. During his journey of meetings and debates across the world, he discovers a convincing case for the truth about Jesus in the New Testament. His final step was to move from theoretical knowledge into personal faith in the person of Jesus himself - his arguments ran out and he gave his life to Jesus.
Living in the panorama of God's great story:
The Bible has clearly changed people’s lives, but how does my life and your life fit into its overarching story? NT Wright (As relayed by Pietersen - see further reading) describes the Bible story or ‘panorama’ as four acts of a play where the 5th act is unwritten but being lived out by the followers of Jesus:
Act 1 Creation; Act 2 Fall; Act 3 The story of Israel; Act 4 The life of Jesus.
Following Jesus’ time we as his church are living out the rest of the story working with him in the power of the Holy Spirit. We therefore should not expect to repeat the biblical story verbatim but rather work with it; being sensitive to the ongoing leading of the Holy Spirit as we do.
So the Bible is most definitely important to you and I - it would seem remiss not to hold this book as key in our daily lives. It clearly holds a universal pull for all people and it is inviting us to step in and discover a story that we can continue to live out in friendship with our creator. Finally I love this quote from from John Piper in his inspirational short video about the Bible titled ‘God Wrote a Book’:
So will I read my Bible tomorrow? Where else would I go? How else will I know Him? How else will I prepare myself to enjoy Him forever? Yes! I'll spend the rest of my life looking out of this window [the Bible], watching, waiting for another sight of Him, another miracle, another glimpse of my God.
- The Alpha Course, Talk 5, Why & How Should I Read the Bible?
- The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (Zondervan 1998)
- Reading the Bible After Christendom by Lloyd Pietersen (Authentic Media 2011)
- The Bible Project video series ‘How to read the Bible’
- How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee (Zondervan 2003)
- God wrote a book, video by John Piper and Desiring God
Rick Robertson, senior leader, Jubilee Church Wirral, with his wife Chantal