[See our previous blogpost, A Summary of Recent Bible Reading Surveys]
You say the church needs a revival of the Bible. What do you mean?
Dr. Berding: As with other times in history when love for God and his kingdom has waned, spiritually-minded people in our generation are longing for a renewal of the Holy Spirit. But I am convinced that any work of the Spirit not grounded in the Word of God is destined to be short-lived. My newest book Bible Revival: Recommitting Ourselves to One Book starts by comparing two revivals that took place in the country of Wales, the first in 1859 and the second in 1904. Both seem to have been genuine works of the Holy Spirit. But the impact of the first on the church and society was lasting, whereas the second was like a sparkler that spouted brilliant colors for a moment, sputtered, then grew suddenly dark. The difference between the two revivals was the Bible. In the first there was a strong emphasis on teaching the Bible and biblical doctrine; in the second such an emphasis was largely missing. If the Holy Spirit moved in revival in our generation I’m afraid that is might be short-lived in light of our current state of general disengagement with the Bible.
There are thousands of books about the Bible, yet you say yours is different since its aim is to help the reader “learn, live, and love the Bible.” How so?
Dr. Berding: Almost half of Bible Revival directly addresses the underlying spiritual problems that have contributed to our current generation’s disengagement with the Bible. The book doesn’t simply address how to interpret the Bible. Its probing of the underlying spiritual problems is what makes this book unique. Besides that, the book is short. People like short books.
How has technology’s distractions contributed to biblical illiteracy?
Dr. Berding: Technology is an enormous help for those who have the discipline to use it judiciously and keep its allurements at bay. The greatest problem with technology, though, is the amount of time we tend to devote to it—to social networking, television, video games, and internet surfing. Some of this time really needs to be given to reading God’s Word, memorizing it, meditating on it, and speaking about it to each other.
Yet, hasn’t technology made a positive contribution; for example, ubiquitous access to the Bible through such websites as Bible Gateway?
Dr. Berding: Absolutely! I am deeply grateful for the access people currently have to the Scriptures digitally, and I regularly recommend that my students access Bible Gateway. Furthermore, such technology has truly been a God-send to people in limited-access countries who want to learn God’s Word! Technology has also made it much easier to compare Bible translations, something that is extraordinarily helpful when doing a close study of a passage.
Still, I can’t help but reflect upon a comment made by a young man who was being challenged by a friend to start memorizing larger portions of Scripture. He cavalierly pulled out his smart phone, tapped it with his index finger, and retorted: “Why do I need to memorize the Bible? I’ve got it right here!” I wonder if that young man’s comment is in any way representative of a mindset shared by many who have been excessively devoted to technology.
How do you respond to people who say they’re too busy to read the Bible?
Dr. Berding: At the end of the first chapter of Bible Revival, I introduce people to Maxine Gowing, a woman who came to know the Lord at the age of 34. She was working two jobs and raising three children on her own. But her mentor emphasized from Day One the importance of the Bible for growth in her spiritual life. So Maxine carved out time to read, memorize, and talk to her children about the Bible. Maxine (now much further on in life) recently told me (though I had to squeeze the information out of her) that she memorized Philippians, Colossians, Hebrews, and 1 John during those years. If someone like Maxine could do this, I believe that any of us can make some time to read and learn the Bible. Will it entail for you cutting into a bit of sleep, or listening to a recording of the Bible while you drive to school or work, or reading the Bible aloud to your children before dinner? So be it. The Bible is basic to our Christian lives. All of us need to make it a priority.
You claim that many people have an underlying distrust of the Bible. Explain what you mean.
Dr. Berding: We live in a generation where lots of people distrust authoritative texts. Even though we are not always aware of it, many of us—self-professing Christians included—have breathed in this air of distrust. During doctoral studies I had to read a book titled Is There a Text in This Class? by Stanley Fish, a Duke University professor at that time. In his opinion, there are actually no meanings that you can discover from reading written words. Instead, social groups create their own subjective meanings when they read texts. Said differently, it isn’t possible to read a text and actually know what it means. You’re stuck with trying to make some sort of meaning out of it in whatever setting you find yourself. Have you ever heard the following comment? “Well, maybe the passage means that to you, but it doesn’t mean the same thing to me.” Anyone who makes such a comment is inhaling the same air as the professor I just mentioned. I have had various students over the years make a related comment: “There are so many different interpretations, how can we know which is correct?” They’re breathing in the same air.
The multitude of today’s Bible versions shows how nuanced and complex it is to translate Hebrew and Greek into English. How important is it to memorize Scripture perfectly and minutely word-for-word?
Dr. Berding: It’s important to memorize word-for-word, but not for the reason most people who emphasize it think. The goal in translation is that translators do everything possible to minimize the bits of lost meaning or added meaning that pop up whenever any text is translated from one language to another. That process is very nuanced. The goal in memorization is different. It’s that you remember what you’ve learned; and to do that you need to stick with one generally faithful translation. Yes, learn it word-for-word, otherwise you’re going to forget it. But if you discover that there is a problem somewhere in your otherwise-generally-faithful translation, my recommendation is that you switch out a word or phrase from another translation and memorize that expression in place of the problematic one. For example, right now I’m trying to memorize the book of Galatians, and the translation I’m using often employs the word bond-servant where slave would be a better translation. So I’ve penciled out bond-servant on my memorization paper and have replaced it with slave. Still, since most of us don’t have the background in biblical languages to make calls like this, my recommendation is that for the purpose of memorization—not for study, mind you—you stick with one translation and learn it word-for-word.
Why is it important to intentionally talk about the Bible with others?
Dr. Berding: First of all, the Bible itself instructs us to talk about the Bible. It’s one key theme of the book of Deuteronomy, which is concerned especially with parents speaking to their children (e.g., Deut. 4:9-10; 6:4-9; 11:18-20; 29:29; 31:12-13; 32:45-46). But beyond this, did you know that one of the quickest ways of remembering and retaining is by verbally relating to others what you have read? There is a good reason some of us become professors; we know that teaching others is one of the best ways to learn!
How can people achieve what you call Bible fluency?
Dr. Berding: The most important thing you can do to achieve “Bible fluency” is to set aside daily time to read (that is, larger sections), study (smaller sections, like paragraphs), and memorize God’s Word (click to learn the easiest way to memorize Bible passages). Furthermore, in September I’m releasing a project called simply Bible Fluency, which is a method for learning how to locate the most important events, characters, and themes in the Bible. Bible Fluency employs high quality recorded music, graphic art, teaching videos, a workbook, and class curriculum to help people learn their way around the Bible. All materials will be made available for free at biblefluency.com (once the password has been lifted) and some of the physical materials will be made available to purchase through Weaver Book Company. I’m super excited to be on the cusp of releasing this exceptionally useful resource in September. I anticipate that this is precisely the kind of resource people who visit Bible Gateway will be interested in using.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Dr. Berding: I’m “praying my heart out” that God will do a genuine work of renewal by the Holy Spirit in this generation. But I long for it to be a lasting work of God. In preparation for this we need to recommit ourselves to One Book—the Bible—and commit ourselves to learn it, value it, understand it, apply it, obey it, and speak it. Lord, may it be!
Bio: Kenneth Berding (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and an overseer at Whittier Hills Baptist Church. He blogs at The Good Book Blog. He’s the author or co-editor of numerous articles and books, including Workbook in Romans: Arranged According to the History of Redemption, Sing and Learn New Testament Greek, What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About, Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Walking in the Spirit, What Are Spiritual Gifts?: Rethinking the Conventional View, and Polycarp and Paul. He’s also the creator and author of the Bible Fluency program, an engaging way to learn the storyline of the Bible.