Christian Union: The Magazine recently interviewed Pastor Colin about the importance of Bible reading, tools to unlock the Bible, and the significance of Bible reading for our nation.
When did your passion for the Word of God begin, and what has it meant in your own life/spiritual formation? Who were the theologians and authors who inspired you?
I was blessed to be brought up in a Christian family and came to faith in Christ as a child. So the Bible was part of my life from an early stage. I still have notes that I typed as a teenager on Exodus, Nehemiah and other books of the Bible. Spiritual formation is a slippery term for me. It can be used to describe the formation of spiritual qualities like faith, hope, and love or the pursuit of spiritual practices like prayer, fasting, and meditation without having a distinctively Christian frame of reference. So I prefer to speak of Christian formation, and in that regard the Bible is indispensable and irreplaceable.
Christ is known through the Scriptures. Our faith is in the Christ of the Bible. So the theologians and authors who inspire me are those who have soaked themselves in Scripture: I owe an incalculable debt to the writings of D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, J. I. Packer, C. H. Spurgeon, and J. C. Ryle, together with Puritan writers like John Bunyan, John Owen, and Richard Sibbes, and Scottish pastors like R. M. M’Cheyne, Thomas Boston, and a host of others.
Statistics from the American Bible Society and Pew Research Center indicate a downward trend when it comes to regular Bible reading among Christians. Why is this alarming?
Our Lord told us that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). God’s Word nourishes the soul as bread nourishes the body. So Christians who neglect the Bible will inevitably remain or become weak. Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on me…will live because of me” (John 6:57). Spiritual life is sustained as we draw strength, energy, faith, hope, love, peace, and joy from Christ, and Christ feeds us through his Word.
Why don’t people read the Bible on a regular basis, and what are some major misconceptions?
To me the biggest misconception is that the Bible is primarily information. I have heard this said many times by well-meaning Christians, and I wince every time I hear it. If you see the Bible primarily as a resource for knowledge, you may go to it when you are interested to research a particular topic, but it will not likely have a regular place in your life. But if you see the Scriptures in terms of food – milk, meat, and bread that sustain your life – you will approach it in an entirely different way.
What are the some practical tools people can use to unlock the Bible and see it come alive?
The first answer to this question is Jesus Christ. Christ is the key to all of the Scriptures. They all speak in some way of him or of our need of him. The goal in all of our reading of Scripture should be to catch a clearer glimpse of him and to draw near to him in faith and in repentance.
Then growing up in Scotland, I was introduced early to a series of questions that I still find helpful when interacting with Scripture: Is there a promise to believe? A sin to avoid? A command to obey? A warning to heed? An example to follow?
I like to read Scripture slowly, and to look for one thing that I can take hold of and carry with me throughout the day. I commend doing this even – and especially – if you are reading through the Bible in a year. Remember that you are reading the Bible to nourish your soul. Success is not measured by the number of pages you have read, but by the degree to which you have absorbed some aspect of the truth and derived benefit from it.
What is the benefit of daily Bible reading?
With so many answers to that question, it’s hard to know where to begin! Besides all that we said earlier about sustaining spiritual life, it’s worth reflecting on Psalm 19 where we find four marvelous statements about what Scripture is, and what Scripture does:
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. (Psalm 19:7-8)
Suppose you are trying to help a believer whose energies are flagging. He or she is generally run down, discouraged, and in low spirits. If you believe the words above, then whatever else you might do or suggest to help this brother or sister, a fresh draught of Scripture will be in the mix because you know that God’s perfect Word revives the soul. Similarly, if you are trying to help someone who does not understand the gospel, meeting with them to continue reading the Bible may be your best strategy. God’s Word makes the simple wise, and it is through the Word that God brings the light of understanding to eyes that once were blind.
What would happen in our nation if more people simply read the Bible each day?
Ah! Now that’s a tricky question! The first thing to say is that it would surely be good for our nation if more people read the Bible every day. I’m convinced that the biggest challenge we face today is a loss of the fear of God. Where people have a sense that God is great and that someday and in some way we are all accountable to him, there is at least some restraint on the worst excesses of sin and of evil. But where the fear of God is lost, all hell breaks loose and I think we are seeing something of that in our country and in our world today.
But we have to remember that the Pharisees read the Scriptures every day. Our Lord says that they searched Scriptures, and even believed that eternal life was theirs on account of their diligent Bible study (John 5:39). But they refused to come to Christ!
There is a diminished version of Christianity that is often found among people who have not yet grasped the great truth of union with Christ. It majors on disciplines, and tends to produce a wooden, joyless attempt at discipleship that often lacks any real intimacy with God, and leaves a person with the anxious feeling that God “has it in for them” if they don’t get it right. There’s a big difference between reading the Bible because you think it is something you need to do in order to be a good Christian, and reading the Bible because you love Jesus Christ. If more people in our country read the Bible because they love Christ, our nation would be transformed.