Why I want young people to read the Bible
I’m a long-term volunteer with Scripture Union, a movement that has worked for 150 years to help children, young people and adults get to know God through the Bible and prayer. You might think that’s enough inspiration for me to want young people to read the Bible. After all, a visit to SU’s archives opens up hundreds of stories of God’s people working hard to help all ages get to know God better through the Bible in a variety of ways: Bible reading guides, schools work, fiction books, holidays, midweek clubs, training, Sunday School, evangelism, beach missions (including a game called puddox, the rules of which seem to be lost to the mists of time).
The history of SU (and all the other organisations that seek to do similar things) is rich with this passion for the Bible, and every one of those people will have had their God-inspired motivations for their work. But why do I want young people to read the Bible? Well, I see in the Bible one huge story – the story of God’s plan for saving his people. This huge story is made up of smaller stories of people living for God (or not, as the case may be), talking and walking with him (or not, as the case may be) and fulfilling his ways (or not, as the case may be). And we are part of this story.
I’ve always liked Hebrews 11, it’s a chapter which talks about heroes of faith, people who feature in many of the stories of the Old Testament. They are all joined together in one long story – part of this big story of God’s plan to rescue his people.
But it wasn’t until recently, when I was looking at this passage, that I really read the end of the chapter, verses 39 and 40.
These heroes of faith saw glimpses of God’s ultimate rescue, but died before receiving the promise of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews encourages his readership that they are now in possession of the new covenant – that of Christ – and that through it, together with these heroes of faith, they will be made perfect. And though this letter was written to first-century (probably Jewish) Christians, it reaches beyond that audience and time to us – we too are included at the end of Hebrews 11, we too have received this new covenant and look forward to being made perfect in Christ, together with the Old and New Testament heroes of faith.
For me, this ramped up the life-changing nature of this chapter. What chapter deals more clearly with the whole story of the Bible and includes us as a part of God’s story? I am part of this line of heroes of faith, but I have received this new covenant – the salvation brought by Jesus’ death and resurrection. As Christians, we are all part of the story of the Bible, the story of God’s people, the story of God’s plan for salvation.
Yet, how can we learn more about what Jesus did, more about God nature and characteristics, more about how to live God’s way unless we engage with this story? Historian Simon Schama, in a piece written for the Guardian website, puts the case for history to remain an integral part of the school curriculum. And not just Hitler and the Henrys, but the whole scope of British and world history, otherwise children and young people are left with no cultural heritage, no impression of who they are and where they have come from:
“Who is it that needs history the most? Our children, of course: the generations who will either pass on the memory of our disputatious liberty or be not much bovvered about the doings of obscure ancestors, and go back to Facebook for an hour or four. Unless they can be won to history, their imagination will be held hostage in the cage of eternal Now: the flickering instant that’s gone as soon as it has arrived. They will thus remain, as Cicero warned, permanent children, for ever innocent of whence they have come and correspondingly unconcerned or, worse, fatalistic about where they might end up.”
Simon Schama, My vision for history in schools, the Guardian website, 9 November 2010
Schama’s reference to Cicero is perhaps most telling. In his work Orator, Cicero makes this comment:
“To not know of what happened before you were born, this is to remain permanently a child.”
Cicero, Orator, 120
Cicero asserts that a lack of knowledge and understanding of history means that you are permanently stuck in a state of childhood, unable to process current events and situations and lacking a sense of cultural identity.
And I would suggest that the same is true of faith. If we do not know the story of the Bible and the stories of the people that make up this story, then we are not grounded in ideas of who God is, what he has done for us and how we can share in that. We are buffeted by the winds of changing emotion and circumstance. We remain spiritually immature, unable to grasp the basics of Christian faith and unable to grow in God.
How many times have we seen young people on fire for God only for that fire to fade all too quickly? If that initial fire contains no desire (or encouragement) to learn more about God and their relationship with him through engaging with the stories of the Bible, then, when the passion dies, young people are left with no rudder for their faith, no way continuing their spiritual journey with any depth.
This is not an advocacy piece for merely increasing Bible knowledge or memorising facts as if to win a Bible quiz (though increasing Bible knowledge is not a bad idea). However, by engaging with the Bible, we learn about what God has done for us, we encounter Jesus and his life-changing, topsy-turvy, outrageous message, we wrestle with difficult questions, we grow our understand about who God is through his actions in the past, we hear God speak to us in the here and now and we look forward to the glory and eternal life that is to come when Christ comes again.
I want young people to experience God through the Bible and grow in their relationship with him. I want them to gain understanding about who God is, how he relates to his people and how they are heirs to God’s promises in the Bible. I want them to grow in spiritual maturity by wrestling with the questions that the Bible asks us. I want them to be excited about encountering the Bible – this mysterious, outrageous, God-breathed, majestic, unsettling, awesome book. The story of God and his people. Their story.
Alex Taylor is part of the Children’s and Youth Team at the Diocese of London and is an experienced youth worker and writer.