How to Get People to Read the Bible Without Making Them Feel Dumb
“The Bible is simple for a child to understand.”
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the Bible.”
I hear these and other statements at times from well-meaning church leaders and church members. The idea is to shrink the distance from us and the biblical text, to make the Bible seem accessible.
Certainly, we have plenty of materials designed to help us out. From study Bibles to daily nuggets of biblical wisdom to devotional thoughts, you can purchase any number of options intended to help you dig into the Word every day.
The Bible is a Tough Book
But what happens when your Bible reading plan takes you into Leviticus? Many of us don’t make it out of the wilderness. What happens when your eyes glaze over as you read through the Minor Prophets? Many of us are afraid to pronounce their names.
Stress the simplicity of the Bible, and the people you are hoping will read the Bible next year may begin to wonder if they’re just too dumb to understand it. I wonder if, in our efforts to get people reading Scripture, we might be minimizing the tough parts, and unintentionally undercutting our people’s sense of joy when they grow in biblical knowledge.
If we are to lead people to grow in their knowledge in Scripture, people who not only master the Bible’s content, but who are then mastered by the God of the Bible, then we need to do a reality check: the Bible is a tough book.
Yes, I said it. It’s hard.
Sure, there are parts that are easy to read. Yes, we are thankful for the Spirit who illuminates the Scriptures as we read. Yes, the gospel message is simple enough for a child to understand and deep enough for a theologian to spend all of life plumbing its depths.
But don’t take the simplicity of the gospel message and transfer that to all of the Bible itself.
You can be a firm believer in the perspicuity of Scripture and still admit there are parts of Paul’s letters that make seasoned pastors scratch their heads. Some of the sayings of Jesus are enigmatic and difficult to interpret. And let’s not even get started on Revelation.
The Bible is a hard book. It’s difficult. It takes work to interpret it correctly. You don’t read the Bible like you would read the newspaper (skimming it for interesting tidbits of information or analysis). You don’t read the Bible like you read a novel on the beach. To understand and apply the Bible takes prayerful study, time and effort.
What Happens When We Say the Bible is “Easy”
Our tendency is to make the Bible seem more accessible than it is with the hope that more people will read it. I think this is the wrong way to go about it. It’s just not going to happen.
When we stress the Bible’s “easiness,” we lead our people into two wrong directions. Some will throw up their hands and say, “I must be really stupid because this seems very dense.” Or, even worse, we train people to only look for the easy parts, to be satisfied with daily nuggets of wisdom and never wade deep into the Bible’s waters. Either way, you wind up with people who never feel the satisfaction of studying the Bible on their own.
Instead, I suggest we be upfront about the demanding nature of the Bible. Let your people know that it’s hard work. It’s a challenge.
Bible Study: Both Joy and Discipline
Like learning to play the piano, Bible-reading is both a joy and a discipline. Instead of making it seem like the Bible’s accessibility demands little work or time, we should tell people that it’s a hard book with great reward. It may be tough, but that’s just it. The best things in life are things we work for. They’re the tough things.
And then… after you challenge people to read the Scriptures and work hard at studying the text, you help them feel a sense of accomplishment when they are actually able to interpret and apply a difficult passage. When they are able to give a good answer regarding an obscure text, or better yet, when they sense the personal meaning coming from a text that would have once caused them to be wide-eyed, they get the satisfaction of seeing hard work pay off.
Don’t minimize the importance of diligence when it comes to Bible reading among your people. Admit that parts are tough. But then encourage them to rise to the challenge.