Youth Pastor Helps Students Immerse in the Bible

Soft-spoken, studious and philosophical, youth pastor Jesse Bolinder understands the importance of the Bible in the spiritual formation of kids and teenagers. So when Jesse approached us this spring (before Immerse: The Reading Bible was complete) and asked if we’d give him pre-published files to begin testing Immerse with his youth group at Harbert Community Church in Sawyer, MI, we knew he was a great fit.

I sat down with Jesse to talk about his work with young people and how he sees the role of Scripture playing out with Generations Y and Z.

Recent data shows 40—50% of Millennials are leaving the church. This includes kids that faithfully attended youth group and went on missions trips. Does that weigh on you and shape the way you do youth ministry?

Definitely. James Emery White in his book Meet Generation Z unpacks what the world might look like to the first generation of young people born into the post-Christian era (1995—2010). For this generation it will be crucial that we get the Bible right—that we stop treating it like a user’s manual or reference book. I’m hesitant to give my students a reference Bible because I want them reading the story, not just looking up verses on what the Bible says about anger.

Immerse represents a new approach to reading Scripture. What caught your attention and attracted you to it?

I’ve really bought into IFBR’s concept of full meals versus Bible nuggets. And the book club model is perfect for young people. We don’t give them enough credit. If we invite them to read the Bible and express their opinions honestly, they’ll respond. We have to stop trying to control the conversations or thinking that honest opinions are dangerous. We’re starting to use IFBR’s book club model for more and more of our conversations.

Can you share a little about the group’s experience?

We only had pre-production scripts, but there were some immediate takeaways. For me personally, I found myself reading more. I’d read for a while, and because there were no chapter breaks inviting me to stop, I kept reading. It was only when I finished that I realized I’d read the equivalent of four or five chapters.

For the young people, the text was less intimidating. And reading whole books was a new experience. When we finished reading Mark, one of the girls said, “Is this actually the Bible?”

In addition to our group experience, I had a serendipitous experience with my nephew who’s a junior in high school. Our families were on vacation together and he saw me reading a book about the Bible. I was just finishing the book and offered it to him. But he said he’d actually never read the Bible himself and thought maybe he should read it first. By this time I had a published copy of Immerse: Beginnings and asked if he’d like to read it. That began a summer-long conversation. At one point he said to me, “Sometimes God seems to be the antagonist in the story. The people are building these cities but God steps in and messes things up.”

On another occasion, he expressed annoyance that the story of the construction of the tabernacle was repeated four times! Later he softened and remarked that it must have been very important. Here’s this junior in high school, seriously reading the Old Testament and going from annoyance to insight.

Anything else you want to add?

It’s sobering that 85% of young people today believe the church is hypocritical (I think I got that from the book UnChristian). I don’t blame them for this. This is more on us—your generation and mine. We’ve put stumbling blocks in front of them. This is why I’m a fan of Immerse—reading the bigger story and the more authentic conversations. The Bible isn’t Google! We’re definitely using Immerse more.


Media Favorites 2017

Over the course of the year, IFBR staff have had the opportunity to be featured in a number of different media outlets. So we gathered together a few interviews and articles from 2017 (so far) that we feel best reflect our mission, philosophy, and vision for the Bible Reading Movement.

If you’d like to set up an interview or have us write for you, contact us to set something up. Podcast

Glenn Paauw and Paul Caminiti joined Jason Daye at to talk about the current epidemic of Biblical illiteracy, and how tracing the problems back to their roots 500 years ago can help us create solutions for our churches today.

Interview with the Bible Buying Guide

Randy Brown at the Bible Buying Guide published a comprehensive interview with Glenn Paauw in which they discuss the Institute for Bible Reading and our work to pioneer a Bible Reading Movement. They talk at length about the importance of form and design in our Bibles, and how Immerse reflects many of the changes that are necessary for a great Bible reading experience. If you you want an in-depth look at IFBR and our work, this 4000+ word interview is a great resource.

Backstage at Q Nashville

Paul Caminiti was interviewed during this year’s Q conference in Nashville. He shares IFBR’s story and talks about how we’re working for a better future for the Bible.

Q Backstage: Paul Caminiti

Premier Christianity Magazine Article

Glenn Paauw wrote an article for UK magazine Premier Christianity about how snacking on “Scripture McNuggets” is a misuse of the Bible. He then lays out a series of steps we can take to receive the Bible on its own terms and recover deep Bible engagement.

From “No Bible” to “Know Bible” Part 1: Form Matters

The Bible is a library of books that do things. These books instruct, inspire, reveal, convict, judge, comfort, heal, and save. This means that the Bible is not merely a collection of static words. The Bible is rather a divine speech act.

The Scriptures promise that they contain the power to change things, to actually move the creation in the direction of God’s ultimate purposes for the flourishing of life. For this promise to be fulfilled, however, the Scriptures must be received, understood, and lived on their own terms.

But what does this mean—“to receive the Bible on its own terms”? What does that look like?

Reading and living the Bible well—what we could call dynamic, stellar Bible engagement—happens when a community:

  • has good access to a well-translated text presented in its natural literary forms,
  • regularly feasts together on whole literary units understood in context,
  • understands the overall story of the Bible as centered in Jesus, and
  • accepts the invitation to take up its own role in God’s ongoing drama of restoration through the power of the Spirit.

Over the next six editions of this series we’ll be unpacking some of the major elements of this view of Bible engagement in order. Welcome to a whole new Bible, making a whole new kind of difference in our lives.

Form Matters.

The first step in this process involves a paradigm shift in our thinking about the form of the Bible. We’ve all gotten used to seeing and using the Bible in the modern reference book format. For most of us, it’s the only Bible we’ve ever known.

But this format is of course our own creation—something we’ve done to the Bible long after the Bible itself was written. For the first millennium and a half of the Bible’s history there was no chapter-and-verse system laid over top of the text. It was in the sixteenth-century that the Bible was transformed into a standardized, numberized, two-column tool for looking things up.

Rather than reading.

So—no surprise—that’s what we’ve been doing. Using the Bible rather than receiving it. Looking up little pieces of the Bible rather than diving in and immersing ourselves in it. The modern form of the Bible itself tells us to do this. When you see a dictionary, do you sit down with it in a cozy chair and settle in for the evening?

But now imagine this. Imagine seeing the Bible as a library of books that looks like a library of books. Letters that look like letters and stories that read like stories. Nice, comfortable type, set in a single column so there’s no guessing about what is poetry and what is prose. And no additives! No numbers, notes, or nagging distractions. Just well-designed, inviting, easy-to-read, pure text.

Those chapter and verse divisions we added do not reflect the original divisions of the text. They don’t show us Matthew’s five natural sections—a new Torah. They don’t show us the three parts of ancient letters. They don’t show us the parallel structure in Luke–Acts of Jesus journeying to Jerusalem and then the gospel journeying to Rome.

And so on, through all the books in the Bible.

Because here’s the thing: all the books in the library actually have natural literary forms. The Bible’s authors and editors chose particular literary genres to say what they wanted to say. Sometimes they wanted to sing, so they wrote lyrics and set their words to music. The prophets collected their strong, emotional, poetry into stanzas. The apostles used the ancient letter form to instruct distant congregations. Storytellers, well, you know what storytellers do. Because different kinds of writing do different kinds of things well. And the Bible has a lot it wants to do.

This is the literary Bible God inspired.

This is what the Bible actually is.

And our Bibles should show us what the Bible actually is.

So we’ll read it on its own terms, the way it was intended.

We’ve now had a five-hundred-year-old history with the modern reference Bible. The evidence is overwhelming that most people don’t know it. Even people who say they like it often don’t actually read it. Pollster George Gallup was fond of saying the Bible is the best-selling, least-read book in America.

It’s time for a Bible reformation. We can do better by the Bible. It’s trying to be God’s speech act, his living and active word announcing his kingdom and transforming people. Rethinking how we format the Bible can welcome people back into good, deep reading.

The launch of a worldwide Bible reading movement starts with a Bible makeover. It begins with what we see when we look at a Bible. Fresh new Bible presentations embracing the original elegant simplicity of the Bible are the order of the day.

Maybe then the Bible can do more of what it’s trying to do in our lives.

Continue to Part 2: Feasting on the Bible

What We’re Reading: September 2017

From time to time we’ll share some of the interesting and thought-provoking content we come across.

*Note: Sharing doesn’t necessarily imply 100% agreement with the article or endorsement of the author.

Cultivating the Practice of Reading Scripture by Joel B. Green
The Scriptures are often approached with the intent to master their propositions or memorize their truths. Joel Green, provost for Fuller Seminary and dean of the School of Theology, shares this thoughts on Scripture reading’s role in spiritual formation. “The practice of reading Scripture is not about learning how to mold the biblical message to contemporary lives and modern needs.” says Green, “Rather, the Scriptures yearn to reshape how we comprehend our lives and identify our greatest needs.” He then offers six suggestions for cultivating the practice of reading Scripture not so that we can master it, but so that it can “master us” and do the work of molding us into the image of Christ.

Putting the Bible Together by Kaz Yamazaki-Ransom
As narrative theology has gained popularity there have been multiple frameworks for structuring the “metanarrative” of the Bible. Some have offered a three or four-part model, others (like N. T. Wright) have offered a five-act drama model. Still others use a six-act model. Japanese theologian Kaz Yamazaki-Ransom offers a seven-part model, arguing that it allows for a “chiastic” story form, with Jesus at the center of the storyline as the redeemer of the earlier acts.

Interactions of the Reading Mind by Johs Krejberg Haahr
With the ubiquity of smartphones (with ever-increasing screen sizes) and popularity of e-readers and tablets, many people are choosing to read on screens rather than on paper. So how can we leverage technology to provide a great reading experience? The folks at Danish design firm 2K/DENMARK recognize that the media of screens and books have inherent differences that cannot be overlooked, so simply trying to copy a physical reading experience on a digital device is a subpar solution. This article in particular explores the different levels of interaction that happen during reading and the role the digital medium should play in each level. When should technology step in to assist the user, and when should it fade into the background?


How the First Christians Challenge Us to Be Bible Readers

They were counter-cultural—standing out in a world where reading and writing were rare. They were fully committed—doing everything necessary to ensure their communities were deeply formed by written texts. They were transformed—this solid, ongoing determination to live within these texts produced real change in their beliefs and in the character of their lives. The earliest Christians were truly people of the book.

And all of this happened in spite of the fact that in their world the Bible itself was still being written, and was not yet fully formed as a collection of sacred writings. Before the Bible was even completed, there was an impressive and widespread belief that knowing this content was basic to this new Jesus movement.

The new believers were committed from the start to immersing all of their communities deeply in the sacred stories and texts of their faith. Some of these texts were already very old, having been preserved by the ancient people of God. Some were brand new letters to fledgling churches or early collections of the oral traditions about Jesus. Regardless, the first followers of Jesus devoted themselves to learning all of it.

What Serious Commitment Looks Like

What makes this story remarkable is how unique this devotion was in the world of the Roman Empire. The religions of this period were centered especially on the offering of sacrifices to the gods and the accompanying profession of loyalty. Learning the content of a set of stories and instruction was not part of the arrangement.

The earliest Christian converts came into the faith from hearing the public preaching or private sharing of the announcement of the saving work of Messiah Jesus. But once they were in, they were immediately expected to incorporate themselves into an older story of what God had been doing in the world. No doubt, the experiences and practices of the synagogue were decisively influential on the first gathering of Jesus followers. The regular rhythm of public Scripture reading and discussion moved seamlessly into the first churches.

The regular rhythm of public Scripture reading and discussion moved seamlessly into the first churches.Click To Tweet

But when we consider that these churches were increasingly made up of Gentiles joining what was at first a Jewish movement, we can begin to recognize how striking the commitment to God’s written revelation really was. Early Christian leaders had to make heroic efforts to even produce and pass on these texts. There was no personal or financial gain in it for them, and they weren’t part of the leisure class with a household full of slaves to write, copy, and deliver their new writings.

First, writing materials themselves were rare and expensive. Writing and copying was slow, time-consuming work. In a world with no postal or delivery services, travel was both dangerous and costly. Yet the Christians were determined to produce a prodigious amount of new religious material and to make sure other far-flung Christian communities received copies of it.

As one example, we can look at the use of letters in ancient Rome, which were common enough, yet almost always very short. In contrast, the early Christian letters were lengthy, seeking to provide whole congregations with a significant amount of instruction and teaching. Ordinary papyrus letters averaged about 87 words (we have about 14,000 examples preserved). Even the more literary letters of someone like Cicero ranged only from 22 to 2,530 words. In comparison, Paul’s shortest preserved letter, Philemon, is 395 words in Greek and his longer ones are off the charts (Romans is over 7,000 words, 1 Corinthians is over 6,800, and 2 Corinthians over 4,000). This would have been unheard of in the ancient world. In short, this is serious content, and the believers were expected to be serious learners.

What Text-based Christian Formation Looks Like

What would happen when a particular local gathering of Christians would receive a new apostolic letter, or even their first copy of one of ancient Israel’s sacred writings? The vast majority of the members of this community would have been illiterate, reflecting this characteristic of the larger Roman world. Yet all the evidence we have suggests that Christian worship gatherings always included a time for the public reading of, and interaction with, these Scripture texts.

All it took was at least one member who could read the text out loud. Reading the Scriptures became the ongoing rhythm of these times of worship and praise, learning and instruction. It is noteworthy, for example, how Paul and the other apostles showed no hesitation in quoting or referencing significantly from Israel’s Bible. Again, these congregations were largely made up of former pagans. These texts would have been completely foreign to most of them. Yet early Christian leaders expected everyone to enter into these stories of Israel as their own, to learn them inside and out.

They were people of the book, learners of the text, keepers of the traditions. And it made all the difference.

So what about us, today? What would it look like if we also became counter-cultural, committed, and willing to be transformed by these God-breathed books? What if we demonstrated this level of devotion? Maybe we too could change the world.

*The full telling of this story can be found in “A ‘Bookish’ Religion,” in Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, by Larry W. Hurtado, 2016, pp. 105-141.