Since the 1960’s, the British church (in particular, perhaps, but not exclusively so, the evangelical tradition) has become increasingly familiar with the concept of small home-based mid-week meetings. And Bible-study has been a main-stay of such groups (in particular, perhaps, but not exclusively so, for the evangelical tradition). The approach has tended to be systematic – by book or topic – and this increased biblical knowledge has coincided with a marked decline in involvement in a church community within the general population. I’m not suggesting that bible-study has been responsible for this exodus; but it doesn’t appear to have equipped the Church for effective missional engagement with British society…
I have long advocated turning-on-its-head the traditional role of the Bible within the small community. My advice to such groups has been, when you meet together, do so over food; share what is going-on in your lives – the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful; and ask, what resources does the [hi]story of God’s involvement with humanity offer this particular circumstance? In other words, rather than making an abstract, informational approach to the Bible, allow the Bible to approach us in an applied and transformational way. And, see the Bible as a story to enter-into, writing – with God – the next chapter in the trajectory between 100AD and Jesus’ future bodily return; as opposed to a scientific formula to be reproduced [I think we are mistaken when we try to faithfully reproduce the early church, because it was no utopia, and because to do so implies that the Holy Spirit has not lead the Church over the intervening 2000 years].
Ah, but I can only engage in such an approach because of the systematic-approach grounding in my past, the response comes back…without that, the end result will just be an inward-focused handling of the Bible, and increased biblical illiteracy. I’m not convinced: certainly, we need a community that is committed to familiarising itself with our bigger story, so that it can inhabit it. But the systematic approach seems to me more to do with Modernity’s obsession with classifying everything in an attempt to attain Full Knowledge (and thus prove that we no longer need to posit God as a means to fill-in the gaps) than it has to do with meditating on God’s Law night and day. And – moreover – I’m not convinced that many of my contemporaries and younger are going to be convinced of the validity of my faith in Jesus Christ by means of an apologetic based on systematic theology or Bible study; but I am more convinced in the effectiveness of an apologetic based on testimony and how we live as a community, seeking to love God and each other and our neighbour, in demonstrable practical expressions.
So, Bible – like worship – yes; but not as we have inherited it: it is time to lower the bar, by about 1’6”…from a cerebral approach to a visceral one; from study to ingestion.
emerging church , contextualisation , bible , bible study