Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Bible Challenge and Why It Matters

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Bible Challenge and Why It Matters

Article excerpt

The Bible Challenge offers individuals, churches, cathedrals, schools, and dioceses an easy way to read through the entire Bible in a year. Participants read three chapters of the Old Testament, one psalm, and a chapter of the New Testament each day. On Sundays, there are no assigned lessons, as it is hoped that those who participate will hear the scriptures read aloud in church. Smaller challenges within The Bible Challenge allow participants to read the entire New Testament, Proverbs, and Psalms in a year or to read one of the Gospels over a fifty-day period. All of the readings can be read along with meditations, questions, and prayers written by leaders from throughout the Anglican Communion and Episcopal Church.

We began The Bible Challenge in 2011 at St. Thomas' Episco- pal Church in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, and later created the online Center for Biblical Studies to share and promote The Bible Challenge. All of our materials are free to use, and the project has now spread to over twenty-five hundred churches in more than fifty countries. Over five hundred thousand Anglicans and Episcopalians have participated, as well as many Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, other Christians, and seekers.

In this essay I will reflect on some of the reasons why The Bible Challenge has caught on so quickly, and why it matters to the church today.

Well Educated but Biblically Illiterate

Each year, my wife joins thirteen of her closest sorority sisters from Vanderbilt University who gather somewhere across the country to enjoy one another's fellowship, catch up, and share stories. In a recent visit, many of them shared that they had to return home in time to participate in their Sunday Bible study. They noted that they rarely missed their Bible study, as this is where friendships were developed and wisdom was gleaned. Almost all of them were attending churches outside the Episcopal tradition.

In most Episcopal churches less than 5 percent of the membership attend a weekly Bible study, and perhaps even fewer read the Bible on a daily basis. The Episcopal Church measures worship attendance, annual giving, baptisms, weddings, and funerals, but we do not record the number of Bible studies held or how many people attended. We measure what we value, and Bible study evidendy is not significant enough to measure.

Church historian Diana Buder Bass notes that there are almost twenty-two thousand different Christian groups and denominations within the United States. Of these, Episcopalians are the best educated, but when it comes to biblical literacy, Episcopalians fall to nearly dead last. Most of us have never read the Bible straight through; at best, we have read through one of the Gospels or a few psalms. We have assumed that it is sufficient to hear the scriptures read aloud in church, or possibly to attend an occasional Bible study class. But with the average Episcopalian now attending church only once a month, those assumptions no longer hold true.

In most Episcopal churches you will not find a Bible in the pews. No one is ever asked to open one and turn to a given chapter and verse. We are known for attracting good speakers in our educational hours and sometimes these speakers teach about the Bible, but rarely are Bibles actually used. Hence, we do not equip and train our members how to benefit from daily Bible reading.

One difficulty many Episcopalians and Anglicans encounter when attempting to study the Bible is our focus on the lectionary as the normal framework for reading scripture, either in church on Sunday or within the context of the Daily Office. While the lectionary has many strengths, it jumps around significantly and omits large sections of the Bible, including some of the most difficult and troubling passages, which are also quite interesting and challenging.

It was not always this way. When Archbishop Thomas Cranmer introduced the first Book of Common Prayer on Whitsunday (Pentecost) of 1549, shop windows were smashed in parts of England by those who thought this prayer book was far too radical, while others thought that it was not radical enough. …

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