In January our Church plant will be starting on a three year programme of Reading the Bible Together. It is the simple plan of reading the Bible that Steve Levy has developed at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Swansea.
Beginning with Matthew in January, Romans in February and Genesis in March the whole Church family will read the books of the Bible asking the questions that the Bible itself tells us to ask. Instead of reading the Bible with all kinds of frameworks, formulas, books, charts and diagrams we will read the Bible as if the Bible had been written in the best possible way with the ordinary church member in mind. Yes, many of the details are beyond most of us the first time we read through the Bible and there are all kinds of questions and problems that we face; yet the Ultimate Author and the character, work and glory of Jesus shine through.
What causes such excitement about reading the Bible is the LORD Jesus Christ Himself. There are endless articles and conferences in some circles that complain how hard they find it to preach or even read the Hebrew Scriptures. Down the centuries the Church has found such freedom and joy in all the Scriptures when we see the glory of the crucified Christ in them all - in all the many and various ways that He encountered the Church from Genesis to Revelation.
Steve Levy’s RBT programme has been so helpful to many different churches. As I go around the UK I find that more and more of us are trying it out. Even The Briefing has provided an article about one church that has taken Steve’s RBT method with a few modifications. Steve has provided a very helpful response here.
The fact that Pete Woodcock is running a version of RBT, and acknowledges his debt to Steve Levy, is great. Pete is such an outstanding Bible teacher. My son Jonathan has been to two of the Contagious summer camps and has become a huge fan of Pete. Every time I say anything at all about the book of Revelation, Jonathan gets out his notes to shows me exactly what Pete said and then explains how Pete preached it so much better than I have done.
They say imitation is the highest form of flattery so Steve Levy presumably is very flattered that his RBT programme has been re-marketed in The Briefing as TBR [The Big Read]. I’m sure this was done as a helpful tribute to Steve’s work, and it is great that another network of churches is getting into this pattern of reading whole books of the Bible.
There are some great new features in TBR, and to be honest, I think I’m going to use some of these when we start up RBT in January. The Experience Bible has been a fantastic resource produced from a top team of black Christians, and it is by far the best dramatized Bible reading out there. Reading long sections of the Bible out loud is an overdue return to the patterns of local church worship from apostolic times.
However, there is one key way in which TBR falls a little short of the original RBT. Steve has explained in his response on The Briefing website how the opening question is a question about myself rather than a question about Jesus, and as Steve says, we need so little encouragement to think about ourselves. My own experience of group Bible studies is that we are all too willing to talk about what the passage made us feel or think, but we often miss out on the original author’s intent.
My own main concern is with TBR’s fourth question and the different Scripture that is used - “How is Jesus previewed/revealed? (Luke 24:27)” The original RBT question is “What did you learn about Jesus? (Luke 24:45-47)”
First, I’m not convinced that it is helpful to introduce the language of “previewed/revealed”. I understand that some churches are committed to the idea that Jesus is previewed in the Old Testament and then revealed in the New Testament, so I can see why they might want to build that scheme of Bible overview into the question. However, it seems to impose a limiting scope to the question. Yes, there are all kinds of ways in which we might talk of Jesus begin ‘previewed’ in the Hebrew Scriptures - from Abel’s offering, the Passover lamb, the day of atonement and David’s defeat of Goliath etc etc. However, there are other ways when the LORD Jesus Christ is actually present, as the pre-incarnate Eternal Son/Logos - as the Angel of the LORD, the Son of Man, the LORD who is seen, the Commander of the Angelic Host etc etc. There are other times when the prophets and psalmists just speak directly about Him - “The LORD said to my Lord...”, “The LORD’s anointed, our very life breath, was caught in their traps”, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” etc etc.
What we like about Steve’s original RBT questions is that the horizon is wide open to any and every way in which the LORD Jesus Christ is shown off in the Scriptures.
Second, notice the different Bible references given for each question. The original RBT question refers us to Jesus’ own mini Bible overview - “He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Here Jesus sets the expectation that the heart and soul of the Hebrew Scriptures is that He would suffer, rise from the dead on the third day and that this resulting change of life and forgiveness is for everybody in the world. This allows the Bible to set the horizon of expectation as we read it.
The Bible reference given in TBR is Luke 24:27 - “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” It’s a good verse, but on its own it doesn’t tell us much about what to expect as we read the Bible. On its own, out of context, we might be wondering what kind of things Moses and the prophets had to say about the LORD Jesus Christ. If we were to include the preceding two verses we would get a much clearer picture - “He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
Why does this matter?
If we used Luke 24:25-27 or Luke 24:45-47 we expect the Hebrew Scriptures to teach us how Christ had to suffer and then rise on the third day. Recently I actually heard a leading evangelical speaker say that Peter fell into Satan’s deception in Mark 8:32 only because the relevant information had not yet been revealed. In other words, the speaker said that Peter could not have known about the suffering of Jesus Christ and that is why Peter rebuked Jesus. The speaker said that the idea that the Christ would suffer was a new idea that was concealed in the Hebrew Scriptures.
We might think that Peter would want to excuse himself, but in his letter Peter specifically affirms that the Hebrew Scriptures do in fact teach the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow - 1 Peter 1:10-12.
If we are going to run either the original RBT or the new TBR, why not leave more room for all the ways that Jesus is presented in the Bible and for the whole scope of His Person and Work, including His Cross?