I didn’t grow up going to church and when I finally did, I started reading the bible on my own. I started reading from Genesis hoping I would end in Revelation and after 5 and ½ years I did. But even reading it on my own, there was much confusion and many questions. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that someone invited me to read the bible with them, answer my questions, and challenge my worldview.
I started to be confronted with a theology I had built of God based on my experiences rather than what God says about who He is in the bible.
Five years later, I was challenged to be on the other end of that equation, to invite people to read the bible with me who didn’t believe it. I was challenged to extend an invitation to people that might be curious about Christianity or understanding who Jesus is, what He did, and why He is so important. I remember thinking, “Why would anyone who doesn’t believe it, want to read it with me?” all while forgetting the affect reading scripture had on my own life.
Since then, I’ve read through the gospel account with a number of people who do not believe it, have no faith or have a faith that is dramatically different than mine. I have found these interactions to be the most amazing, joy-filled and impactful times in my life. As I’ve started to do this again with some friends of mine recently and I began thinking about what I’ve learned in the process of inviting people who don’t believe it to read the bible with me.
Bad religious experiences define understanding of Jesus
Most people have a view of God that is based on poor religious experiences with flawed Christian churches rather than on seeking to understand Jesus Christ in the Bible. I’ve heard so many stories of not wanting to associate with Christ because of experiencing judgment and hypocrisy from those claiming to be Christians and from church experiences.
It’s important to recognize that all Christians and churches are flawed, which is why the gospel of Jesus Christ exists. This gives us the freedom to apologize for the sins of others who claim Christ, our own sins and build bridges of imperfection in people that lead to a perfect Christ.
Listening to them tell their story of their interactions with Christianity will be a great way to connect their current theology to their religious experience. Reading the bible together allows the scriptures to explain Jesus and Christianity better than our experiences.
Explore Jesus & Christianity, not Church
There’s no reason to discuss joining a church if people are just beginning to explore Christianity. I’ve learned to distinguish reading the bible from joining a church, not to neglect the church community, but to remove any obstacles to truly exploring Jesus.
Relationship & Gospel Receptivity is Essential
Evangelicalism can put such an emphasis on knowledge that it neglects the relational aspect of life. When it comes to sharing our faith with others, we can easily forget that our lives testify to the truth of our words. Authenticity is the expression of our faith through everyday life.
Only if people are somewhat receptive to the gospel will they be receptive to reading the bible that explains the gospel. I’ve learned to only extend this kind of invitation to people who express a desire to learn about God, God’s grace, Jesus or the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is because I know the bible is better at explaining these things than my words.
Explain the story & content of scripture
If you are familiar with scripture, you will easily forget how much you assume in regards to other people’s knowledge of the bible. Explain the story of God as laid out in the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. Skipping straight to the gospel story misses the explanation of why a Savior is needed.
Additionally, it will be helpful to explain the Old & New Testament and the gospel accounts, since they have 4 different writers with 4 different perspectives. Similarly, you and I tell a story differently, the story has similarities, but key differences. Preparing people who are reading a book they don’t understand communicates concern for them and is essential to making the Bible more tangible for reading.
Listen, Answer Questions, & Learn
I usually recommend going through the gospel of John. This is partly because I love it, but also because it spells out clearly who Jesus is and what His purposes are. We usually read 2 chapters together and I encourage them to ask any and every question possible.
It’s amazing how much I learn when people who have fresh eyes on the reading point out things I easily skip. I don’t always know the answers, but then get to pursue the answers and follow up.
We also aim to share what we think these chapters are challenging us to do and how we are responding to the challenge.
Uncomfortable but Enjoyable
There have been times that I have done this and it’s been a complete train-wreck, and it is no doubt uncomfortable at first, but it really is incredibly enjoyable. Pushing past the initial awkwardness creates an opportunity to learn more about Jesus and more about one another.
Reading the bible with someone who doesn’t believe it lets the scriptures explain clearly who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection.
Much will be made of Easter Sunday this week, which can be one powerful day, but inviting people to read the scriptures for themselves moves beyond passive learning to active exploration.