Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
The EFCA is committed to the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures. In Article 2 of our Statement of Faith, "The Bible," we affirm the following:
"We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises."
In addition to affirming the truthfulness of the Bible, we affirm it is to read. It is one thing to affirm its truthfulness in principle. It is another thing to read and live by and under its truth/teaching. This is why we included a “therefore,” in this Article, which consists of an implication and application to our affirmation of God’s Word, that it is to be believed, obeyed and trusted. We conclude that our obedience and submission to the Lord and the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives, viz., the Lord of the Word, is manifest in our obedience and submission to the Word, the Word of the Lord.
EFCA people have been known to be a people of the Book. Many engage in an annual through-the-Bible reading plan. In the start to this new decade, the EFCA joins with the World Evangelical Alliance’s (WEA) Global Bible Engagement initiative to commit with thousands of others around the world—this initiative has been endorsed by over 500 leaders and organizations from over 200 countries—to read through the Bible in 2020: AD 2020 Global Year of the Bible. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is also encouraging others to join this through the Bible reading plan.
In this Global Year of the Bible, WEA emphasizes Scripture engagement, which is explained as follows:
"Scripture Engagement is a way of hearing and reading the Bible with an awareness that it is in the Scriptures that we primarily meet God. It is a marinating, mulling over, reflecting, dwelling on, pondering of the Scriptures, resulting in a transformative engagement with God.
Every time we come to the Bible, we can meet and know God. Engaging the Bible is a relational process, the primary means by which God engages the believer. When it comes down to it, isn’t having a deep, meaningful and engaging relationship with God what you want in life? It’s what we were created for.
The Bible itself teaches us how we are to approach God’s Word. Words the Bible uses include 'meditate' (Ps 1:2, Josh 1:8), 'reflect' (2 Tim 2:7), 'look intently' (Jas 1:25), 'dwell' (Col 3:16), 'ponder' (Ps 119:95), 'consider' (Jer 2:31) and even 'eat' (Jer 15:16, Rev 10:9-11). The phrase that summarizes this process is 'Scripture engagement.'"
Lloyd Estrada, WEA Global Advocate for Bible Engagement, says:
"Many of us have envisioned A.D. 2020 Global Year of the Bible as a catalyst for perhaps a second Reformation that is centered around the word of God united by the grace, the power and the wisdom of God."
While remaining committed to our annual Bible reading, through this initiative we partner with the global/international fellowship of WEA, which goes beyond the NAE and the EFCA. As people of the Book, this 2020 initiative certainly fits our EFCA Word-based commitment and ethos, and it also gives us a connection to the global church, a small way we can reflect our oneness with the larger and broader church of Jesus Christ, which manifests our Spirit-inspired, Word-based, Christ-exalting unity (John 17; cf. Eph 4:1-6). The theme verse for WEA’s global initiative is Psalm 119:160: "The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever."
There is no one Bible reading plan recommended. There are many Reading Plans available, which can be accessed on a website, or you can access them as stand-alone Bible Reading Plans. What is important is to choose one and to use it. I suggest using one and inviting a few others so that you can then share what God is teaching you in the Word and what you are learning about personally living out these truths. This is a unique means God uses to grow us as Christians, to transform us into the image of the Son.
Over the years, I have used a few different Bible reading guides, with two being my favorites. One is Robert Murray M'Cheyne’s Bible reading guide. This guide follows a daily reading plan in four different places in the Bible, including both the Old and New Testaments, and brings the reader through the whole Bible once, and the New Testament and the Psalms twice. I followed this plan and supplemented it with D. A. Carson’s two-volume For the Love of God. There is no better resource available to help one to understand the whole Bible, and a whole Bible biblical theology, than these two companions to one’s daily Bible reading.
The other I have used is the "Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan." This guide follows a daily reading plan in four different places, including both the Old and New Testaments, and brings the reader through the whole Bible. It follows a 25-day reading plan, which allows for some catch-up days.
During our family worship, I would remind our children that their posture during the reading of Scripture ought to reflect God speaking to them at that moment, because He was. God who spoke (in the past) still speaks (in the present), and our posture ought to reflect this truth. I would often say the same thing when the Scripture would be read on Sunday mornings to the gathered body of Christ. God who spoke, speaks!
This is paradigmatic for how Christians approach, understand and respond to the Scriptures. When the author quotes from the Old Testament, Psalm 95, he introduces the quote with these words, “as the Holy Spirit says” (Heb. 3:7; cf. 9:8; 10:15). Please note that Psalm 95, this Old Testament text which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, is now quoted and it is the same Holy Spirit who now “says” in the present tense in the present moment.
What we see here with these believers addressed by the author in this book of Hebrews is that the Holy Spirit continues to address the present listeners through the text of Scripture. The author concludes this longer section (Heb 3:7-4:13) with these important words about God’s word:
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Heb 4:12-13)
Timothy Ward concludes:
"The supreme form in which God comes to encounter us in his covenant promise is through the words of the Bible as a whole. Therefore to encounter the words of Scripture is to encounter God in action.” (Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God, 48; italics original)
At this present time in 2020, with an awareness of our present historical and cultural moment, and a sense of what is ahead, it is critical for us to have 20-20 vision/perspective. Only our omniscient God has that knowledge. In His grace and mercy, He has also revealed some of this to us in his Word (Deut 29:29).
The Chronicler reminds us of this truth recorded in 2 Chronicles 20:20, which was the only way to have a biblical, faith-driven 20/20 vision. Earlier in the battle at Ramath Gilead, Jehoshaphat almost lost his life, attempting to resolve issues on his own.
However, having learned his lesson, when facing his next battle against the Moabites and Ammonites, he corporately prayed to the “Lord, the God of our ancestors,” the “God who is in heaven,” who “rules over all the kingdoms of the nations,” and he affirmed “power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you” (20:7). After affirming God’s omnipotence, he confesses their own inadequacy, praying, “we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (20:12).
After praying to the Lord their God, here is what “Jehoshaphat stood and said, ‘Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.’” (2 Chron. 20:20, emphasis mine). (Although using this text of Scripture with chapter and verse, I acknowledge chapter divisions did not occur until AD 1227, through the work of Stephen Langton, and verse divisions did not happen until 1551, through the work of Robert Stephanus.)
That Word was fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Matt 5:17-20; Luke 24:25-27), and the reminder and exhortation now for us remains the same: we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on the Lord, we believe in the Lord our God and what he has said through his prophets, supremely in the Prophet par excellence, Jesus Christ. That is the only way we will be established, we will succeed, according to God’s ordained means and toward God’s ordained ends.
In the beginning, God created all things. He created ex nihilo, from nothing, and He did so with His word: "And God said..." (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29). In contrast to this life-giving Word is the death-producing lie summarized in the question, "did God actually say?" (Gen. 3:1).
The Psalms begin with a contrast between the one who is righteous and the one who is wicked. The difference is determined by a response to the Word of the Lord:
"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night." (Ps. 1:1-2)
While acknowledging the need for bread to live, Jesus states the Word of God is also essential for life, both for this life and the life to come:
"And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.' But he answered, ‘It is written, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."'" (Matt 4:2-4)
The author of Hebrews writes of the Word that is both living and active, affirming that God spoke and speaks in this Word:
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Heb. 4:12-13)
The Word of God is central and essential to the Christian and the Church, both individually and corporately. Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; Dt. 8:3). Because God and His Word are central and essential to our very being, we are not primarily herbivores or carnivores. Rather, we are verbivores, i.e., we live or die on the Word of God.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) believed the Church was birthed by the Word of God and she was sustained by the Word of God—read, prayed, preached, heard, sung, believed. Regarding the Reformation and his commitment to God and His Word, he concluded the following:
"What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone...How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name?...I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything."
Luther described the active impact of the Bible in the lives of Christians similarly to Hebrews 4. He writes, "The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me." As a professor and pastor, he concluded, "I’d like all my books to be destroyed so that only the sacred writings in the Bible would be diligently read."
John Wesley (1703-1791) continued in the same biblical stream. He wanted to be a man of one book:
"I want to know one thing—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri."
Finally, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) referred to John Bunyan (1628-1688) as one who bleeds Bibline.
"I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like the reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress—that sweetest of all prose poems—without continually making us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved."
It is wonderful to have these individuals as exemplars. The temptation is to know about the exemplars rather than following the way of the exemplars.
Please plan to join us along with thousands of others around the world in the AD 2020 Global Year of the Bible. As we face an uncertain year and decade ahead, God is faithful, and His Word is true. What God has spoken, He speaks. And we, as His people, believe all that it teaches, obey all that it requires and trust in all that it promises.
What is your Bible reading plan this coming year? Who will you invite to join you?