by Shelley Cunningham, '98, M.Div.
My hope is that folks throughout the church wouldn't read the Bible because they're supposed to but because they get to," Luther Seminary Professor of Old Testament Diane Jacobson said at the opening of the Book of Faith Jubilee on Aug. 14.
For the 285 pastors, lay people and students in attendance, that sense of enthusiasm for God's Word abounded. For three days, speakers, workshops, worship and affinity-group conversations provided rich ideas for how to bring the Word back to their churches.
"I was lying on the couch reading the Psalms when I realized they were poems," said Eugene Peterson, author of "The Message" and a keynote presenter. "I grew up in a culture where you read the Bible to learn something. Poems don't do that. They are metaphors, meant to spark your imagination. That's more than just education."
This perspective influenced Peterson's belief that Scripture is meant to be a living language, a part of everyday experience.
Some of the weekend focused on how that language either shapes or intersects popular culture. Keynote presenter Deanna Thompson of Hamline University explored using "good books" to encounter the Good Book. Through analysis of two recent best sellers, she posited why such books are so popular, what might be problematic for readers who limit their ideas about God to popular literature and how to find pathways into the biblical text.
"Concerns that readers draw their conclusions from best sellers instead of the Bible may tempt us to ignore these books, but if we do, we might be missing an opportunity to engage people where they're at," said Thompson.
Affinity groups--informal conversations around topics such as rural settings, preaching or youth ministry--gave participants a chance to offer their own experiences. The ideas and community shared in these groups reflected another primary theme of the weekend: that the Bible is richer when experienced with others.
"It's easy to be a heretic--to attempt to simplify the Bible's message so I can handle it and take charge of it," said Peterson. "But it's hard to do this when you're in a group. That's why reading and meditating and reflecting together is so important. Congregations are our safety net against heresy."
Still, David Anderson of The Youth and Family Institute argued that even more influential than congregations are our homes as places where the Word is truly taught and brought alive. "It's not enough to have excellent Bible studies and resources and encouragement at church if they're leaving it all at the door when they leave the building. We need to help them form new habits for living Scripture every day," said Anderson.
Keynote presenter Rolf Jacobson acknowledged that many adults don't participate in Bible study because they're intimidated or afraid. But he described the spiritual maturity that develops when people admit they need to learn more about the Bible. "As leaders, we have to give permission for people to say they don't know something."
Whether reading the Bible alone or in a study group, the most important thing a person can do is make a habit of spending time in God's Word. Anderson likened it to a child learning to talk. "When kids are first starting to speak, their tenses don't match, their vocabulary isn't complete. But once they start talking, they don't stop. You don't have to be a virtuoso right from page one."
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