Apologies if this disappoints, but I was never a Bible genius. Don’t misunderstand: My love for Scripture runs deep. But I’ve always had to work harder than others to write its commandments on my heart, as if everyone else had nice pens and mine was the flimsy kind with dried ink that churches keep giving away because they ordered too many.
I certainly tried. Most recently and probably most successfully, I was a Bible Study Fellowship devotee. My wife and I earnestly sought out classes in various cities where we’ve lived. And I was raised in an inner-city Awana program that embodied the challenges highlighted in this month’s cover story, where volunteers faithfully struggled each week to balance the needs of kids who devoured memory verses like gummy bears with those of kids who could barely read.
But the taproot of my Bible insecurities rises from my short stint in the most competitive of ministries: Bible quizzing. For the uninitiated, youth “quizzing” teams compete in churches and schools across the country in Jeopardy-like matchups, springing from trigger-rigged chairs for the chance to recite verses or answer questions about a given chapter. Teams typically prepare by memorizing entire books verbatim.
I was no quizzing star. My turn in the ring was always a sweat-soaked bout of quiet prayer for quick mercy. I never uncovered the secret for motivating myself to large-scale Scripture memorization. Which is why I’m so grateful for tiny Bibles and phone apps that have leveled the playing field for the recollection-challenged like me.
Despite my scarring, I’m a big fan of all these Bible ministries. And I am rooting for them more than ever as they adapt their approaches to the times, because we desperately need a revival of Bible study culture. The data on biblical illiteracy in the American church are old but bear repeating: Less than half of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week, and one in five say they never read it, according to a 2012 LifeWay Research survey.
If the Bible’s grip on our hearts is tenuous these days, evidence of its power to transform abounds: a woman so moved by Scripture that she leaves a homosexual lifestyle before it even makes sense, a man so convicted by a verse that he finds the resolve to walk away from wealth and empire.
As for me, I’ve mostly healed from my days as a Bible study dropout. But I love the Good Book all the more because of them.
Andy Olsen is Managing Editor of Christianity Today magazine. Follow him on Twitter @AndyROlsen.
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