In the news today is a shocking bombing in Paris prompted apparently by a desire to oppose religious freedom of speech. This follows the creeping growth in Germany in recent days of an Islamophobic movement which needs firm condemnation and marginalisation from political and religious leaders on all sides. Paranoia and use of religion to justify violence and xenophobia are on the rise. Europe is not a dull place to live.
On a more positive note, are there signs that faith is striking back against the strident voice of secular humanism? I was delighted to read this piece by AN Wilson, writer and former atheist-turned believer.
There are also intelligent faith voices speaking to the immense cultural confusion about marriage, like this remarkable speech to the Vatican last month from Lord Sacks which covers everything from the biology of gender and reproduction to its anthropology, sociology and Scriptural basis.
A few years ago Bill Hybels, pastor of the influential Willow Creek church in Chicago, drew the attention of many of us to “Reveal” (summarised here), some research a team of his had done on what helps church members to find and grow in faith. (Articles like this one have also pointed out some ambiguity in the conclusions). The study showed that attending services, hearing sermons and joining study groups does indeed help people, especially in the exploring or early stages of faith. They also found that one thing that helps people grow closer to Christ across all stages of faith is the daily habit of Bible reading.
Of course noone is saying “read the Bible and you will become a better person” or “Read the Bible and God will love you more”. We are a people saved by grace alone through faith alone (John 6:28-29, Ephesians 2:8, etc) (Article 11 of the 39 Articles of the Church of England). This is not a project of salvation by works, even the “good work” of Bible reading. But it is a recognition of the simple truth familiar to the strongest Christians going back centuries, that deep people and deep faith are grown not by the radical things we do and spectacular events that we attend, but by the ordinary habit of daily Bible reading and prayer.
(This post was recently published on the website of Christ Church Cockfosters and introduced a blog series on the doctrine, inspiration and value of Scripture, interacting with Kevin De Young’s book “Taking God at His Word”, which can also be found there).
Following the advice of Proverbs 4:4 “Take hold of my words with all your heart”, we are giving a huge encouragement to all our members at Christ Church to daily Bible reading in 2015.
As we saw in my recent posts on the church website and in our autumn book of the term (“Taking God at His Word” by Kevin De Young), the Bible is “sweeter than honey” to those who read it with faith. To this end we are recommending the brilliant, simple and faithful Bible reading notes here from The Good Book Company. There is an edition for every age of person, from Preschool to adults, and an app for some so that you can access Bible help on your phone or tablet too. For a few pence a week you and I can know God better and find faith, hope and love growing.
Let’s make 2015 a year to draw closer to Christ and become more like Him because we took up the habit of meeting with Him daily through His Word.