By Mark E. Moore
Biblical illiteracy is not a problem to be solved, it’s an opportunity to be embraced.
According to a 2016 survey by Barna, 80 percent of people in the church want to know the Bible better. If the church could develop a quick and comprehensive solution for this, imagine the impact it would make. Furthermore, 60 percent of the people who say they want to know the Bible don’t attend church. So, providing access to biblical training might be one of the most attractional strategies for church growth.
Research has repeatedly confirmed that Scripture has the power to transform lives. For example, a Center for Bible Engagement study involving more than 100,000 people demonstrated that reading the Bible on your own four or more times a week is the most important factor in spiritual growth (from “Bible Engagement as the Key to Spiritual Growth: A Research Synthesis,” by Arnold Cole and Pamela Caudill Ovwigho, 2012).
Beyond spiritual growth, biblical literacy offers practical help on multiple levels. Those who are engaged in reading and studying the Bible are far less likely to engage in destructive behavior (according to the just-mentioned study). Here are several examples: drunkenness, -62 percent (that is, a person who takes up vigorous Bible reading experiences a 62 percent decline in the likelihood of giving in to that temptation); pornography, -59 percent; sexual sin, -59 percent; and gambling -45 percent. Just so we are clear, these declines in destructive habits are not from guilt manipulation but rather personal transformation. Bible engagement empowered individuals to reduce bitterness by 40 percent, destructive thoughts by 32 percent, isolation some 32 percent, unforgiveness by 31 percent, and loneliness by 30 percent. Simply put, those who want to know the Bible better know the Bible will make them better.
Building Bible Engagement
The key, of course, is Bible engagement. This means individuals must read and apply the Bible four days a week or more. A weekend message isn’t going to cut it . . . and it never has. That’s why so many of us in “the industry” bemoan the woeful lack of biblical literacy.
So, if the majority of people want to know the Bible better, why do so few achieve it? We actually know the answer. There are two major barriers between believers and their Bibles: (1) The Bible is too big for people who are too busy (read “all of us”); and (2) We get lost along the way because the Bible emerges from a foreign place and time. What if people could hurdle both barriers? They can. That is precisely what Core 52 provides.
The idea for Core 52 started with a discussion at my church. We wanted to get people into the Word, but we found that our frenetic pace pulls us in many different directions. So, rather than asking people to come to church more often, we asked if we could offer a pocket-sized solution that would empower the busiest people to fulfill this bucket-list goal.
I wrote Core 52: A Fifteen-Minute Daily Guide to Build Your Bible IQ in a Year to provide a simple approach to help people become familiar with the big ideas of the Bible in less time and with less effort than other reading plans. The book, published by WaterBrook, comes out this month.
Core 52 utilizes the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule). The Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noticed that 80 percent of the peas in his garden came from 20 percent of the pods. The same proved true for land ownership: approximately 20 percent of the people owned 80 percent of the land in Italy. It holds true today in sports, economics, and many other applications. Why not apply this principle to Bible engagement?
Once you know the main “hooks” in Scripture, hundreds of other passages can be grasped, applied, and shared. Core 52 identifies these “vital few” verses. Each verse becomes a lens through which dozens of others come into focus. Even though it requires a fractional reading of the Bible, it offers exponential benefit.
The first half of my career, God allowed me to dig deep into the Bible as a professor of New Testament at Ozark Christian College. In 2012, I traded my “Professor Moore” title for “Pastor Mark” at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona. Now my role is to help those far from God navigate this large and intimidating book called the Bible. The Core 52 project is a culmination and collision of my two careers. I’ve tried to mine the depths of the Bible for those passages with the highest return on investment and the greatest potential for practical application.
A Bible-Engagement Strategy
This project has a three-pronged strategy:
1. Identify the 52 most powerful and profitable verses in the Bible. They are the “core,” that is, the central or most essential elements, of sermons, books, and songs because they are the most effective at constructing a Christian worldview. (Here is a listing of the 52 core verses.)
2. Provide a “bathroom-length” essay that unpacks the theological core of each verse and traces its trajectory through the whole of sacred Scripture.
3. Augment each essay with four tools to take the reader on a discipleship journey to spiritual maturity: (a) one action step for application; (b) one resource for further exploration; (c) three parallel passages for meditation; and (d) a Bible story for illumination of the one core verse. [See the chart, “A Strategic Plan for Mastering the Bible in a Year.”]
Of course, limiting the core verses to 52 allows the Bible study project to be accomplished in a year. By doing this as a church, you can add the primary missing component: accountability. Trevor DeVage, lead pastor at Christ’s Church, Mason, Ohio, is taking his church through Core 52.
“In 20 years of ministry, I’ve never seen anything engage and excite our people more than Core 52,” DeVage said. “This is going to be a massive part of our discipleship pathway.”
Your church might have a different path. If so, that’s great. Nonetheless, it’s time for our churches to recognize the power of Scripture to transform disciples. One sermon a week while people sit passively in the pews will hardly get the job done; it never has.
One final comment: The apostle Paul identified our only offensive weapon as the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). The Greek word used here is rhēma—the spoken word. The power of God’s Word is not hearing it preached, or even reading it on our own, but speaking its truths where we live. Biblically literate Christians repeating the core of Scripture will terrify our enemy and cause him to sound the signal of retreat.
Mark E. Moore serves as teaching pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, Arizona.