Be careful what you wish for. You can say you want your church to read their Bibles on their own, but I can't believe how much easier it is to just skim over the stuff I don't want people to deal with and just touch on the stuff that fits my paradigm and is palatable for the everyday United States citizen. It wasn't until we got about a week into reading the Biblica New Testament together with our church that I thought to myself, "Oh God, what have I done? I forgot what was in this book!"
Things that I thought were clear aren't as clear as I'd hoped, and the things that I thought were very unclear are much clearer than I'd dreamt up. Reading the Bible knowing that you're going to gather together and talk about every nook and cranny takes it to another level. No more little Bible McNuggets for the soul, everyone wants to talk about the drastic and often dramatic twists and turns in the text!
They don't want to discuss the reasonable "asks" of God, they want to talk about what appears to be the unreasonable "asks" of God. They don't want to flirt and flit around with the easy stuff, they want to dig past the topsoil to the hidden and hardened clay of controversy. They want answers to the unusual claims of Christ, or the unadulterated requirements of Paul, or the culturally loaded statements of the epistles. I literally am sweating for two hours every Tuesday night for Life Group as we talk about everything from homosexuality as nature or nurture, women in leadership/speaking in church, divorce and remarriage, the narrow gate of the Kingdom, the personality of Paul that puts them off, the gifts of the Spirit, unpardonable sin, hating your father and mother, the seeming contradictions from one page to the next (and I'm not just saying that), circumcision, the prejudice of the Jews, predestination, the after-life, God choosing us vs. us choosing God, whether people who never hear of Christ go to hell, judging people, suffering in the world, and on and on and on.
And here's the thing...it has been "bar-none" the most awesome experience for me and those I'm wrestling through the Scriptures with. I feel like, in many ways, I've been born again "again". I can't wait to read the next day...I almost can't wait to see what will come out of nowhere. I feel like I'm finally understanding the personalities and subplots of the story in God's Word.
And I feel like what I'm loving isn't so much what is said, but what isn't said. It's what inferred or assumed that strikes me. It's what's going on behind the words that blows my mind. It's what's left out that you would bet a million bucks is coming next....and instead of being perfectly explained, it leaves you hanging there, dangling in the story to work it out yourself. It doesn't have great lead ins and perfect endings. It doesn't tie up loose ends and make perfect sense all the time...it forces you to throw yourself into the story and look around. It demands more than a casual reading, you have to climb into the Scriptures and fight through the surfacing questions. It's really, really adventurous! I mean it!
Here's the last thing I want to say. If I was reading the Bible by myself for myself, I would not only miss 90% of what God was trying to say...most dangerously, I would misread and misrepresent a good many portions of the Bible. There was one day of reading in I Corinthians that I could have started no less than 6 cults and 15 denominations if I would have taken things out of context and highjacked them for my subjective purposes! Without the interpretation and explanation of community, there is very little protection from pirating, then peddling the Word of God ignorantly.
We have a phrase our group came up with: "Read the whole page." You can't just take a line or a statement or a paragraph and make up a belief system...you have to read the whole page. You have to understand everything within the framework of its original intent, not just its original content. This is huge! But reading the whole page is only just the start...you have to read the whole book to really get what's going on with God and the world of mice and men.
I have snorkeled through the Scriptures with people, but I feel like we are scuba-diving this go around. And you wouldn't believe what things look like 20,000 leagues under the sea in comparison to the corral reef safe along the shoreline. Stunning. Simply stunning, I tell you.
The name of the Bible we're reading is called "Biblica"...you have to check it out and read it with some friends. You won't need your highlighter for this read through the Scriptures, you'll need your hardhat.