Bible Challenge calls us to read all of scripture in 2013

I taught an adult Sunday School class last week for newcomers at our church, and struggled a little to hide my shock when a couple of the students said they’d never heard the story of Joseph and his jealous brothers, and didn’t know why Noah had built an ark. So the idea of a “Bible Challenge,” in which we would invite parishioners to read the entire Bible in the year ahead, has some appeal to me. Apparently many churches are embarking on this project, including St. Mark the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, according to the Sun-Sentinel:

It may be a struggle and incomprehensible to some at times, but South Florida Episcopalians have committed to reading every word of the Bible this year, from the Old Testament to the New Testament to the Psalms.

Parishioners say they are ready for the challenge from their bishop, who asked every church and congregant to make their way through the holy books in 2013. It’s part of the national Bible Challenge, sponsored by the Pennsylvania-based Center for Biblical Studies, which says hearing the Scriptures on Sundays is insufficient for developing a good understanding of the Bible’s deeper meanings and relevance today.

Former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold talks about this project at the Web site of the Center for Biblical Studies:

The vitality of scripture and its capacity to impart life flows from Jesus’ resurrection. In the 24th Chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, we are told that when the risen Lord encountered two grieving disciples on the way to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Later on, looking back on the encounter, the disciples exclaim, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on he road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:13ff). It is the continuing ministry of the risen Christ, through the agency of the Spirit, to open the scriptures to us in order that our hearts might burn within us with the living truth of his presence. Christ is the “Word of God” (Revelation 19:13) whom we encounter at the heart of the scriptural word.

This notion of living encounter mediated by the words of scripture is wonderfully captured in a hymn written in the 4th century by the deacon, Ephraim of Edessa: “I read the opening verses of the book, and was filled with joy, for its verses and lines spread out their arms to welcome me. The first rushed out and kissed me and led me on to the next.”

To approach scripture in such a spirit of expectation opens us to the possibility of our being surprised and accosted by the Spirit who draws continually from “the boundless riches of Christ,” (Ephesians 3:8) and makes them present to us through the words of scripture.

We’d love to hear from those of you participating in this challenge and how you are weaving this into the life of the parish.

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  1. Father V

    I have seen some of my friends on Facebook talking about this, and I must admit that I am a bit mystified. Anglicans already have a system for reading through the bible every year. It’s called the Daily Office. What’s more, the Office provides a liturgical framework to help us interpret each reading in light of the whole Gospel. Why not simply commit ourselves to saying the Daily Office?

    [Father V – please sign you name when you comment on the Café. thanks ~ed.]

  2. We did this last year at our parish, and it wss both very difficult and eye-opening. We used a bible in which the readings were arranged “chronologically.” although I will admitbthat I didn’t manage to read the entire thing, I have read the Bible several times, and I think biblical literacy is a real blessing.

  3. Carole May

    If you were shocked that they didn’t know the stories, imagine my shock when high school juniors told me that they didn’t know that Jerusalem and Bethlehem were real places and that you could go there! They thought that they were part of the Christmas story and were in the same category as Santa Claus!!

    So in the midst of my religion classes, I had to go into geography. I also brought in my slides of Israel to assure them that these places were quite real.

  4. deirdregood

    Dear Father V,

    First, the daily office lectionary leaves out whole chunks of the Bible.

    Second, even what is used would require a two year period to read through.


    Deirdre Good

  5. Rod Gillis

    There is a level of ignorance in not being familiar with the text for sure; but there is also a level of misinformation in reading a text about which one understands little or nothing. Fundie churches are filled with people who can quote chapter and verse but don’t have a clue about what it may mean. Not knowing that Jerusalem is a real place is an issue; but Bp. Griswold should know that naive belief in the Emmaus road story as “factual” is equally problematic. So, campaigns to have people read the enire bible cold are not helpful.

    Q.[sp.] In the article, #2, GriswoRld?

    [~ed. typo fixed – thx]

  6. Jay Sidebotham had an article in the Anglican Theological Review last summer about the experience of his church in doing something quite similar to this. I’ve heard him speak about the impacts it had on his congregation, and they were profound. Parishioners, I think, are actually interested in learning and being taught.

  7. The Diocese of Northern California is also running a Bible Challenge this year –

    I’ve taken this and adapted it slightly, and we’re publishing the day’s challenge each day on our church’s Facebook page.

    Initially 6-8 people expressed an interest in completing the challenge. Only three (including myself) appear to be actually taking part. One of the issues is that the questions asked, while very good, require a more in-depth revelation of ones thoughts and beliefs than most people are comfortable with in a public forum. We’ll see how it goes.

    354 days still to go!

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