When the main messages are clear, then the application of scripture - what we should do and how we should live - is a good deal easier to understand
Last month Rev Nick Crawley launched a new website called Bible for Life as an online tool for helping people engage with and understand scripture so we can become better apprentices of Jesus.
We asked Nick to tell us more about this resource and how he sees it helping us become better disciples.
The Bible for Life ministry has emerged in the context of the Fresh Expressions of church, and specifically in relation to the license that Bishop Mike gave us at Crossnet in 2004 to pioneer new forms of being church and present the gospel in 21st Century. We've tried many initiatives over the years, and through God's grace some have succeeded and made progress.
At its heart, Bible for Life (BfL) is simply an attempt to let the Bible speak for itself to listen and hear the message of the authors.
Although the Bible is a popular book, having arguably a greater following than any other, it is not an easy book to understand. This is not helped by the piecemeal and random approach to the scriptures that is almost always taken by both churches and individuals. Very often we read the text of the Bible like a newspaper, we read a column here, an article there, and we gloss over other parts were not interested in. But the documents in the Bible were never written to be read in this way and if we do, then we risk missing the leading themes, points and applications.
In order to get to the heart of the meaning, we should in every case take time to understand the contexts of the author and those to whom the document was written. Many of the documents were deliberately and very carefully written using accepted styles of writing, and employing specific literary genres. So for example, the letter to the Philippians (which was the BfL book of the month for October), was deliberately written following the specific style and pattern of a letter of friendship with carefully designed and understood protocols. Once this genre is recognised, the message and direction of the letter immediately becomes clearer. Numerous similar examples could be given about the genre of different books throughout the Old and New Testaments.
Once the context and genre is understood, then it is much easier to identify the structure of the document and the writers argument and main message. (A very clear example of this is the book of Daniel; study the structure on the BfL website and see how it directly leads to the main theme of Daniel.) In almost all cases, we have to take the book as a unity, after all regardless of whatever redaction process has occurred in is final form, that is how it is presented.
When the main messages are clear, then the application of scripture - what we should do and how we should live - is also a good deal easier to understand.
Understanding scripture in the 21st century
In the 16th century, William Tyndale translated the Bible into English so that the boy that driveth the plough could read and understand scripture. BfL is an attempt to help todays tractor driver you might say Jo public - understand scripture in the 21st century.
But all this is only a tool in the bigger task of discipling. Jesus final commission to his followers was, Go, and make disciples
(Matthew 28:19-20), and discipling is Crossnets central aim.
Learning how to continue in his word Jesus taught that, 'If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free'
(John 8:31). We can understand disciples to be apprentices in the family business. As believers in Jesus, we are all learning how to continue in his word, which means knowing what he said and learning how to live it out.
The BfL ministry is a tool for helping people engage with and understand scripture so we can become better apprentices of Jesus.
I was brought up to understand that reading is the only effective way to engage with scripture, but Ive learned that for many people, including many highly intelligent people, that they find other different approaches are more effective.
One man with a Doctorate in Philosophical Theology told me that he finds he engages with scripture more effectively when he hears it read, (so he listens to an audio reading when he's at the gym or driving). Another person prefers meditation, and another one understands most effectively by learning scripture. Another by rooting out the hardest questions from the text and then studying them vigorously!
So the BfL website seeks to provide varied material to enable several different approaches to the heart of the text including film and videos.
The material can be used in different ways. It is all free and easy to download, so you can engage in the books with friends such as people in your homegroup. Or you can show your non-Christian friend the website and using the film suggestions as a launch point for helping them engage with these rather complicated documents written around 2,000 years ago. Or you can study individually and then arrange a Skype conversation with me.
There is one 'book of the month', which is the first one in the book section, and then there are others in the sections below. The library is growing steadily.
As a Bible educator, I love this ministry and hope you will find the website helpful.
About the author
Nick Crawley is an Anglican clergyman with 25 years experience of church leadership in London, Harare (Zimbabwe), Sheffield and Bristol. Nick moved to Bristol in 2004 to pioneer a new Mission Church, Crossnet.