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3 components of Bible engagement

Last week I wrote about the Power of 4, the research finding that changed our entire ministry focus. We’re now dedicated to helping people engage the Bible four or more days a week, the level at which life transformation is most likely to occur.

A market researcher told us years ago that we should abandon the term “Bible engagement” because no one really knew what it meant. Today it’s become a common phrase in ministry circles, used by organizations such as the American Bible Society, Lifeway, and YouVersion.

Although the term has become more popular, we still lack a commonly understood definition of what it means. Most agree that it must include taking in the words of scripture, either through reading or listening. But does it have to be for a certain length of time or a certain length of text? Does it count if you are reading a devotional? Do you need to approach the scripture with a particular attitude, such as already believing that this is the infallible word of God? Can someone who has doubts still engage the Bible?

These questions and many others are worthy of discussion, debate and research among theologians and ministry professionals alike. Yet at the end of the day I keep coming back to what God says about His Word. Two verses in particular guide my thinking:

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. —Isaiah 55:10-11

These verses confirm that the Holy Spirit works through the Word. Perhaps then the answers to all of our questions about length of time, mindset, etc aren’t critical to carrying our mission. Perhaps our energies are best spent simply finding ways to encourage, equip, and otherwise help others to open the Bible for themselves.

That being said, we do have a working definition of Bible engagement that we use in our ministry. This definition was developed more from an empirical rather than a theological approach, although it does meet with the approval of our theologians. We define Bible engagement as

Receivingthe words of the Bible through reading or listening

Reflecting on the meaning of those words

Respondingto them in your own life

What I love about this definition is that it leaves the door open for anyone to engage with the Bible, even if they have doubts, even if they start out only reading one verse a day. As God has promised, he will use even those humble beginnings.

How would you define Bible engagement?

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Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 (NIV)
Ben Marshall

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