A few days ago now the Church Mouse, an anonymous Church of England blogger, asked, Is the Bible the best way to promote Christianity in Britain? He suggested this on the basis of a survey which found that
8% considered [the Bible] very important and read the Bible regularly, 46% considered it important but don’t read it regularly, 42% considered it unimportant and 4% considered it dangerous.
These figures seem to refer to Britain, although the exact survey area is unclear. I have no idea how figures in other countries might compare. But the general principles of the Mouse’s post would presumably apply elsewhere, at least in the western world.
The Mouse argued from these figures that
46% of the population see value in engaging with the Bible more than they currently do.
Most evangelistic strategies don’t kick off with the Bible. It is often seen as a bit difficult, and something you get to later when you’ve got some way down the road.
Perhaps this is wrong.
Eddie Arthur, Executive Director of Wycliffe Bible Translators UK, was quick to comment that many evangelistic strategies do use texts from the Bible. But in his own comment in response the Mouse clarifies his issues with these strategies, that
The way [they] work is to say “Here is Christianity – why not have a look at that, and perhaps even see what the Bible says about it”. The question I’m asking is whether that focus should be switched round completely, and say “Here is the Bible – I wonder what that is about”.
Now of course there are people who present non-Christians with the Bible as an evangelistic strategy. The Gideons are perhaps the best known such group. I remember several mission initiatives in the UK which have included as a major strategy distributing Bible portions, such as John’s Gospel from the Good News Bible. The Bible Society generally prefers to sell their Bibles, at subsidised prices, but the general principle is the same. These groups seem to believe that unbelievers who read the Bible text are likely to become Christians, or at least that reading the Bible can be a significant step on this path. They generally offer little if anything in terms of explanatory notes or reading guides, and make no explicit appeals for Christian commitment.
There are others who argue that this is not a good evangelistic strategy. These people would generally argue that unbelievers cannot and should not try to understand the Bible on their own, but need guidance from others, such as pastors or professors. Although many who argue like this are Protestants who value the inheritance of the Reformation, their arguments often sound remarkably like those of the opponents of the Reformation, and of many Roman Catholics until recently, that the Bible should be handled only by a special class of priests and officially authorised teachers.
Now it is certainly a good thing when a priest, pastor or professor faithfully expounds the Bible. I rejoice that this happens regularly in many (but not all) churches, and in some academic environments. But in other cases these people who are supposed by some to be the gatekeepers for the Bible in fact keep the gate closed for those who hear it, by distorting the teaching of the Bible or by ignoring it.
So I stand with William Tyndale, who famously said to one of those bad gatekeepers
if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!
That is, I stand with the doctrine of the perspicuity, or clarity, of Scripture, in other words, that ordinary people can and should be able to understand the basic meaning of the biblical text without having to depend on separate authorities, and without requiring special education. But this post is already rather long, so I will leave a fuller discussion of this doctrine and its implications to part 2.