LIMA — The Bible casts a long shadow over life in these United States.
It is, after all, the book that witnesses place their hands on when they swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is invariably invoked in debates over prudent social policy. And there are few homes, Christian or otherwise, in which a Bible does not sit in a place of honor or, at the very least, occupy space on some shelf with other books in the family’s permanent collection.
Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, estimates, in fact, that 9 out of 10 American homes have at least one Bible. And the average American — Christian or not — owns at least three Bibles.
But despite its seeming ubiquity, few Americans have actually read the Bible.
In the July 6, 2015, online edition of “Christianity Today,” Stetzer decried what he described as an epidemic of Bible illiteracy in our churches. “A recent LifeWay Research study,” he noted, “found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible — essentially the same number who read it every day.”
The best way to combat this “epidemic,” Stetzer concluded, was to encourage people to participate in small-group Bible studies. “Small groups are key to combating and changing the epidemic of biblical illiteracy,” he wrote. “Our research shows that as Christians increase their participation in small groups, their Bible engagement scores go up.”
And Sue Iden agrees.
A retired educator who spent 35 years teaching French at Bath High School, Iden will spend the next 14 weeks leading a small-group Bible study at Shawnee United Methodist Church. The course, titled “The Bible in 90 Days,” was created by Ted Cooper, a former agnostic who came to faith in Christ after deciding to read the Bible cover-to-cover.
“He divided it up into readings and it was in the reading of scripture he came to the realization that the story is true,” said David L. Winkle, product director for Scripture Awakening, the organization that distributes the “B90” course. “Ted came to know Christ that way. Then he read through the Bible a few more times and then wanted to design a curriculum where people could do this — Christians and non-Christians alike.”
Iden discovered the course in 2009 when her future husband, Gale Cartwright, had to go north to Toledo on a business trip. “It was a Wednesday night and he thought he’d stop at this one church in Maumee and see if they had services. They said, ‘No, we don’t have Wednesday night services but we do have two things.’ One of them was the Bible in 90 Days and the other was Alcoholics Anonymous, which is something he definitely was not interested in. So he said, ‘Hmmm, The Bible in 90 Days.’ He called me and he was talking to me on his way home about it. And I said, we are so going to do that. So we’d drive up there every week. We would go up and sit through the course.”
The course consists of a series of hour-long weekly meetings where participants discuss the readings they have covered in the previous seven days. Iden said that the readings span roughly 12 pages a day, depending on which translation of the Bible the participant is using.
“It doesn’t matter which translation you use,” she said, “whether it’s the King James or the New International or whatever. The one that’s provided for us for sale is the New International.”
The Bibles provided by Scripture Awakening are “reader’s” Bibles, which omit many of the footnotes and references found in most Bibles. For people who want to have their week’s reading selections clearly marked, or simply don’t want to make notes in their family Bibles, these reader’s Bibles are available for $15.
Iden is not a newcomer to leading the “B90” course. Since taking it herself in Maumee she has led sessions at several churches in Lima, including the First Assembly of God, Firm Foundations and Bath Community Church. And this will in fact be her third time leading the study at Shawnee UMC, where she also serves as a lay pastor.
She told me that she does this simply because she feels she has a calling to do it.
“I like to see that people are reading their Bibles,” she said. “I know that to sit and pick up the Bible is not something that a lot of people will do. Or if they do they just read a book or maybe the psalms or something like that. But this way they’re going from cover to cover, and they’re going to see God’s plan from beginning to end. It is such a fulfilling thing for me to see people reading their Bibles. God’s plan is right there. If you don’t read it cover-to-cover you’re not going to get the whole picture.”
Reach Dayton Fandray at firstname.lastname@example.org.