Foundations of Scripture Engagement

From the beginning, BI has desired to see the national churches associated with its translation projects flourish and bear fruit through the preaching and teaching of God's Word translated into their languages. However, this is sometimes not the case when Bible translation occurs in areas where local churches are young or underdeveloped and lack church-planting missionaries. Bible translation consultants, focused on their vital task, often lack the time and resources to do the work of strengthening these churches and their leaders. This may lead to underuse of the translated Bible after it is published, to weak believers and churches, or even to false teaching and the rise of local heresies.

For reasons such as these, several years ago BI felt the need to form a new department called "Scripture Engagement" to focus on the ministerial aspects of Bible translation. This department would work to ensure that national churches adopt the translated Scriptures as their own and learn to use them effectively for the glory of God among their own people. In 2020, an ad hoc committee began laying the foundation for a Scripture Engagement Department, and last year BI invited me to lead it, drawing on 13 years of church-planting ministry experience in rural Cambodia. My wife Julie and I joined Bibles International in May 2022, at which time I became the manager of the Scripture Engagement Department (SED).

Though a newer term in theological discussion, "Scripture engagement" has been happening since Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. The term is defined in various ways, usually referring to how people use or interact with the biblical text. The Bible itself has much to say about how God's people should interact with His Word. Our desire is for all SED objectives and ministries to be guided by the Bible's own teaching concerning Scripture use rather than human inventiveness or creativity.

Given the New Testament's emphasis on the local church as the human institution through which God is working His purposes for His glory in this age (and as reflected in BI's purpose statement), the SED must remain focused on the churches associated with BI’s language groups rather than on individual believers. Though we desire to see national believers reading their Bibles at home, they must also be equipped to use their spiritual gifts and knowledge of God's Word to edify their local churches. To the church at Colossae Paul wrote, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you [plural, "you all"] richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another" (Col 3:16). Elsewhere he wrote that the church is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). Moreover, Scripture engagement requires dependence upon the Holy Spirit who inspired the Word (2 Pet 1:20–21) and illumines those who hear or read it (1 Cor 2:12–14). Finally, Scripture Engagement is accomplished through those gifted to handle God's Word and are themselves Christ's gift to the church, so that the whole church is equipped to edify itself in love (Eph 4:7–16).

Though the SED will work closely with BI's other departments (see, for example, Articles/Translation/Text Formation for Transformation), its final objectives are not accomplished in the course of Bible translation or by BI missionaries. Rather, the SED's objectives are realized when national believers use their Bibles skillfully in activities such as meditation (Psa 1:2), memorization (Psa 119:11), Bible study (Acts 17:11), evangelism (Rom 10:14), mutual edification (1 Cor 14:26), public reading and teaching (1 Tim 4:13), preaching (2 Tim 4:2), and more. The many tasks and activities of the SED as well as the various resources and tools we develop must all serve to advance this cause for the sake of the body of Christ. The SED will develop literature such as tracts and training materials, produce articles for Bible study, provide audio Bibles for the illiterate, and it will be involved in training pastors and other church leaders. Everything will be done with the goal of equipping national saints to edify their churches through the translated Word of God.

Along with grounding in and guidance from the Scriptures, because our work is a cross-cultural endeavor, anthropological studies with affect the SED's activities to some degree. To navigate relationships with national churches in different cultures and to provide meaningful feedback to translation consultants in the Text Production Department, SED members will have training in intercultural communication and sociolinguistics, or the study of social and cultural influences on the use of language. SED members must also be equipped to handle the Word of God and to teach others likewise, which is vital to equipping national churches and church leaders to edify the body of Christ through their own biblical ministry.

In conclusion, BI's Scripture Engagement Department exists to help the national churches associated with BI’s language groups to grow in the skill of using the Scriptures throughout the life of a translation project and even beyond. Our goal is to see these churches take ownership of their translated Bibles once published and to utilize them effectively for all the purposes that God intends for His glory in the church. Please pray for the development of this new department, the growth of its relationships with national churches, and for the Lord to send more laborers to our corner of the harvest.