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Learning under lockdown: trying something new  

The current crisis is giving an opportunity to reshape our practice of Bible reading and study. Terry Young explores options 


Crises make us do things differently, sometimes by force and sometimes because they give us an incentive to try something new. Bible reading and study are now different – time that was your own may now be crowded with others who are locked in with you. Travel time which you may have used has evaporated, while meetings online are a lot more difficult than meeting in someone’s lounge.

If you want to use this crisis to reshape your practice of reading and study, I’d like to look at options in this series that might work for you on your own or with others. Clearly there won’t be a single idea that works for everyone, since we are all different and we have all tried different things up to this point.

In 2001, I left a job in Chelmsford and moved to one in Uxbridge, which left me with cash in my pocket and a long commute until 9/11 worked through the system and we could sell our house. It was a time of learning: in the days before satnavs, I remember trying to work my way home through North London one evening using the moon in order to skip a jam on the M25. Even that harked back to a much earlier adventure when I had learned to steer by the sun in California (and discovered that God could look after me in my wanderings). So, Bible reading was another adventure.

Technology for Bible Reading

First, I bought a neat laptop and an interactive Bible package. Before that, to track an idea through the Bible, I had to use a concordance or my Thompson Chain Reference Bible. Both were based on the old King James Version and each needed a lot of cross-checking.

However, with this system I could type in a word and track an idea from Genesis to Revelation. Another click and there was each passage. Preparing for talks became a breeze where your curiosity could roam freely, while inserting NIV quotations into a talk was simply a matter of control-C and control-V. These days, this way of learning is easier than ever – even from your phone.

Next, I bought an audio Bible for those long commutes. If the laptop enabled me to dive deep, the CDs took in large swathes of Scripture in a single trip. Patterns I hadn’t picked up before were suddenly easy to spot: the number of times Jesus is a dinner guest in Luke, for instance. And again, the technology has come a long way since then. David Suchet, for instance, has recorded the whole Bible: I’m in 1 Peter right now. He is really into the public reading of God’s word and, with his background, delivers a thoughtful narrative that offers a fresh take on familiar passages. A few minutes of on-line searching throws up resources such as Uncover, which lets you listen to the synoptic gospels a chapter at a time.

And so, an upheaval turned me into a tortoise and a hare at the same time: the tortoise who moves around slowly taking in all the nuances of a theme, and the hare who romps through a whole book – maybe several books – in a single drive.

Old and new

Over the years, I’ve tried different things, some of which I’m returning to during lock-down. How about writing your own commentary or notes on the passage? You know: just you, the passage (perhaps a smart device) and a keypad or else a pad of paper, a pencil or pen of some sort. How would that go? What about finding a way to read that slows you down – perhaps spending several sessions with the same short passage before moving on to the next?

How about memorising the Bible? Again, the practice at your church probably isn’t much help – 10 or 15 words out of context with those under 10 clearly in view. The great irony is that young minds could outdistance the rest of the congregation if only we would let them. And so we leave them without an inkling of how much fun memory work can be.

What about Bible notes? I confess that I gave up with daily readings in my teens – nobody seemed to say much that was interesting or new. However, I know some people love them and this series may reward me with a wave of correspondence explaining why people love their daily readings and why, or which are the best.

We could go on – what about reading commentaries?  I’ve done my fair share of that and particularly enjoy the first 100 or so pages, most of the time. These usually tell you about who wrote – or might have written – the book and why.  After that it depends on how driven you are. I tend doggedly to finish, especially if I know the author, but I don’t read many footnotes or references at the back. But as with Bible study notes, I usually find that the answers to all the interesting questions are missing.

Finally, there is the question of Bible study – especially where you get together in someone’s lounge for a hour or two a week or a fortnight or a month.  That type of study is on hold for now and everyone is moving on-line. How is that working out for you? Is it frustrating because you never know when to say something? Or do you find it more relaxed because you can switch to mute and freeze the image of your face if you need to nip to the loo halfway through?

Over the next four blogs, I’d like to think about four ways of engaging with the Bible now:


Image | Aaron Burden | Unsplash

Terry Young was born to missionary parents working in the Middle East. He has always tried to unify his life of worship and secular missions, and has been part of church leadership teams in Essex, and at Slough Baptist Church. He has written a few books that link worlds, including After the Fishermen, and Jake, Just Learn to Worship.

After a mobile early childhood his family settled in the UK to the northwest of Birmingham, and eventually he studied at the local university. After his doctoral studies he worked for 16 years in Chelmsford undertaking research and business development in the aerospace sector, where his interest was in fibre optics and photonics. In the end he gravitated to healthcare systems and moved to Datchet with a position as a university professor. He is a member of a Baptist church  


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