Dear friends in Christ: This week’s Forward Today is written by Margaret Ellsworth, Forward Movement’s Marketing Coordinator. From time to time, I hope Forward Today readers will enjoy a perspective from others on our team. – Scott Gunn
When I first saw the syllabus for my Intro to New Testament class at seminary, I wasn’t sure what to think. The reading list listed only one book (the professor’s own, obviously). For the rest of the class, we just needed to read the New Testament three times through by the end of the semester. There would be a final exam—full of short-answer questions whose answers would be taken directly from the biblical text. But the professor assured us that if we listened in lectures and read the Bible, the exam would be easy. As a student with a tendency to over-prepare for every test, I wasn’t so sure!
Ten years later, I have forgotten many of the specifics I learned in that class. I’ve lost my lecture notes that called out specific historical facts and literary devices. But I am still reading the Bible, passage by passage, cover to cover. And immersing myself in the Bible has changed my spiritual life for the better.
For nearly two years now, I’ve been starting my day with Morning Prayer. Which I have explained to Episcopal-curious friends as “thirty minutes of basically all scripture.” The way I encounter the Bible in the Daily Office is more like my old professor’s approach to the Bible than the way student-Margaret expected to learn. The lectionary takes me through the Bible, book by book, not to prove a point but to follow the story. The worship service weaves together those Bible readings with songs and poems from scripture. Nearly every day, I end my prayers with some verse or phrase stuck in my head.
Unlike my classmates, I don’t have to use my Bible knowledge on a weekly basis to preach sermons or teach classes. In my regular layperson life, though, I do encounter questions about faith and the Bible. Most often these questions come from my kids, who are old enough now to ask hard questions about love and death and suffering. Lately I’ve also gotten questions from friends who are finding their way back to church, or curious about what Christian practice looks like for me.
In those conversations, I don’t turn to professor-approved answers. I tell the stories that are stuck in my head. I think about the words of hope and promise I’ve come to know so well, and the narratives of calling and repentance and return. I come to understand my own story anchored in the Story I read every day.
The RenewalWorks team’s research has found that “engagement with scripture is indeed one of the most effective catalyst for spiritual growth in congregations.” That deeper understanding of scripture is a gift for all of us—not limited to the folks with fancy collars and seminary training. From Education for Ministry groups to accessible Bible study resources, there are plenty of ways to increase engagement with the Bible. No final exam required.
I wonder what habits of prayer and study will bring you deeper into the Bible this fall?
P.S. We recently released our 10th Bible Challenge book, A Journey through Genesis. To celebrate, we’re giving you an extra 10% off ANY Bible Challenge book through the end of September. Use the code BIBLECHALLENGE on our website for 10% off our (already discounted) prices through September 30.
More from our ministry:
Pray with often-unheard voices in scripture: Bible Women
Follow the narrative of God’s love: The Path
Begin at the beginning: A Journey through Genesis
Join us for Morning Prayer: A Morning at the Office podcast