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Blog / How to Acquire Bible Savvy: An Interview with James Nicodem

How to Acquire Bible Savvy: An Interview with James Nicodem

Jim NicodemThe Bible is often seen as a daunting book, written in ancient times and addressed to a vastly unfamiliar culture. Is it really possible to draw relevant insights from it for our lives today?

Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. Jim Nicodem (@JimNicodem) about his Bible Savvy book series, Epic: The Storyline of the Bible, Foundation: The Reliability of the Bible, Context: How to Understand the Bible, and Walk: How to Apply the Bible (Moody Publishers, 2013).

Explain what the Bible Savvy Series is and why you’ve written it.

Click to buy your copy of any of the 4 titles (Walk; Epic; Foundation; Context) in the Bible Savvy series in the Bible Gateway Store

Dr. Nicodem: The Bible consistently appears at the top of lists of the world’s best-selling and most-influential books. Unfortunately, most people are not in the habit of reading this book for themselves. Some are put off by the Bible’s length—even the Reader’s Digest version is 767 pages long! Others are confused by their lack of knowledge of the Bible’s historical context. And still others have never been taught how to draw practical applications from this ancient book for their modern-day lives.

The four-book Bible Savvy Series provides a brief but comprehensive overview of the Bible for everyone—from first-time readers to Bible study leaders. It covers the Bible’s storyline, formation, rules for interpretation, and steps for application. The BSS also comes with a study guide that has been prepared by small group experts to stimulate life-impacting discussions.

Why is it important for people to become knowledgeable about the Bible?

Dr. Nicodem: Imagine this: You’re at work, and you overhear two people talking in the office cafeteria. To your surprise, they’re talking about you. Your ears prick up the moment you hear your name. They mention certain personality traits of yours, your likes and dislikes, your vocational goals, the causes that you’re passionate about. But here’s the weird part about the information they’re throwing around: you’ve never talked with either one of them. They’re making all this stuff up. They didn’t get their insights about you from you. Wouldn’t that drive you crazy?

People do that all the time with God. What they know about God is mere speculation. But God can only truly be known by revelation. He must reveal himself to us. And that’s what he’s done in the Bible. If you want to know God, you must get to know his Word.

The same goes for God’s plan for your life. All Scripture is God-breathed, writes the Apostle Paul, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). God shapes us into the people he wants us to become through his Word.

Greg Hawkins, former executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, did a survey of Christ followers in 1,000 churches to discover what experiences had had the greatest impact on their spiritual lives. To his surprise, the number-one catalyst for spiritual growth was not a church’s weekend services or small groups or serving opportunities. It was the individual’s daily reading of the Bible.

How should knowledge about the Bible translate into practical application for everyday life?

Dr. Nicodem: This topic is so important! A lot of people who read the Bible daily, or hear it taught in sermons, or study it in a small group, never get around to putting what they’ve learned into practice. They are what James would call “hearers” of the Word and not “doers” (see 1:22-25). But application is the whole point of spending time in the Bible. James says that the Bible is like a mirror that should prompt us to make adjustments to our lives every time we look into it.

Unfortunately, many people settle for Bible information instead of Bible transformation. In many cases, this is because no one has ever taught them how to make an application from what they’ve read or studied; how to move from text to life. The fourth book of the Bible Savvy Series is called Walk. And that’s exactly what it coaches the reader to do: walk God’s Word.

What do you consider to be the four essential aspects of the Bible?

Dr. Nicodem: Let me describe the four essential aspects, as I cover them in the four books of the Bible Savvy Series:

      The Storyline of the Bible. Like the box cover of a jigsaw puzzle, Epic (book one) provides a big picture view of the Bible to help everyone—from first-time readers to Bible study groupies—understand how its individual pieces fit together. The Bible’s collection of 66 books actually has a single storyline. The theme of that storyline is redemption, which Epic traces from Genesis to Revelation.

      The Reliability of the Bible. Foundation (book two) makes the case that the Bible is God’s book. God “breathed” it out through human authors (inspiration), gathered its 66 books into one volume (canon), protected it from errors through centuries of copying (transmission), and faithfully reveals himself and his will for our lives in its pages (revelation). How can we be sure of these claims? Foundation provides plenty of evidence to back them up, giving us the confidence to build our lives on God’s Word.

      How to Interpret the Bible. Context (book three) is a mini-course in hermeneutics. Skeptics often complain that the Bible can be used to prove just about anything. The skeptics are right—if the basic ground rules for understanding the Bible are ignored. Just as with any great piece of literature (e.g., Shakespeare’s plays, Tolstoy’s novels, Frost’s poems), the Bible must be interpreted according to certain guidelines, which scholars refer to as hermeneutics. (Hermes was the mythical Greek god who brought messages from the gods to people). Context teaches how to accurately interpret a Bible passage by unpacking its various contexts: first, its historical setting (author, recipient, date, and purpose); next, its literary genre (law, narrative, prophecy, poetry, gospel, or epistle); and finally, its key theological issues.

      How to Apply the Bible. Walk (book four) covers Bible application. It begins with a helpful explanation of the role that the Holy Spirit plays in this process. Then it teaches a simple-to-use four step method for enabling Bible readers to become Bible doers. This method is made memorable with the acronym COMA. For every passage you read, you will learn how to: discover its (c)ontext; make (o)bservations about what’s important in the text; determine God’s (m)essage from one of those observations; and craft an (a)pplication of that message for your everyday life.

You sound pretty passionate about getting people into the Bible.

Dr. Nicodem: I am! I plan to have a website called, Becoming Bible Savvy. I’ll encourage subscribers to follow a reading schedule that will take them through the Bible once every five years. This is a good pace for those who want not only to read the Bible, but also to understand and apply what they read.

There will be two postings a week. I’ll write the first one, coaching subscribers through the COMA study method (context-observations-message-application) for the Bible texts they’re reading that week. The second posting will be from guest bloggers, some of whom will be well-known Christian leaders/musicians/athletes—doing the same thing. These postings won’t simply be “devotionals.” They’ll be Bible coaching clinics. My goal is not, as the saying goes, to give people a fish—but to teach them how to fish for themselves.

I’ll also post 5-minute videos on the website every time the daily Bible reading schedule takes us to a new book of the Bible. That video will be a quick interview with a Bible scholar who introduces subscribers to the historical background and main themes of the new book.

If the Bible truly is the #1 catalyst for people’s spiritual growth, then I want to start a Bible-reading revival!

Bio: Dr. Jim Nicodem has been the senior pastor of Christ Community Church (@ccclife) near Chicago since its start in 1984. Beginning with a group of six families, the church has grown to over 5,000 people at four campuses. A significant focus on reaching spiritual seekers has resulted in scores of new believers being baptized each year.

Born and raised in the Midwest, Jim did his schooling in biblical studies (BA/Wheaton College; MDiv, DMin/Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). In keeping with Christ Community Church’s mission to make passionate disciples of Jesus Christ, Jim loves to mentor others in prayer and the study of God’s Word. With that goal in mind, he has authored Prayer Coach: For All Who Want to Get Off the Bench and Onto the Praying Field (2008) and the four-book Bible Savvy series.

Jim and his wife, Sue, have been married for more than 30 years and have three grown children. Jim enjoys biking, hiking and kayaking for recreation. He loves to hang out in Chicago, where he can watch the Cubs play (no better park than Wrigley) or listen to the world-class Symphony Orchestra. The local Starbucks also sees a lot of Jim, accompanied by books (mostly biographies) or friends.

Filed under Books, Interviews, Introduction to the Bible, The Bible