What are you doing for the rest of the year? Have you considered reading the New Testament?
That is what the folks at St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas, plan to do.
The Rev. Mary Kathryn Spradlin is inviting her 250-member congregation to participate in the Common English Bible’s 90-day New Testament reading plan and they started Oct. 1.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “We had 109 people in worship Sept. 19 and 45 signed up.” She anticipated the next week’s meal after church with reminder announcements, would motivate more registrations.
“I am excited about beginning our journey together,” she wrote in her blog. “The Common English Bible is a fresh, new translation – not a paraphrase – of the biblical text. Word choices have been made to enhance readability and clarity.” She is encouraging participants to use the CEB, even if they already have a favorite translation.
“Sometimes reading the text in a new light enhances our understanding or raises questions we haven’t considered before,” she said.
The head of United Methodist Communications agrees.
“The Rethink Church Edition is a powerful tool for evangelism,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon. “It introduces the Bible … to seekers with sensitivity to their worldview, in welcoming language.” The special edition also features an introduction to The United Methodist Church.
The Rethink Church campaign invites the people of The United Methodist Church and those unchurched who seek spiritual fulfillment to become more outwardly focused and engaged in the world.
Later this year, United Methodist Communications will offer the Rethink Church Edition CEB New Testament at no cost to seekers who request it when they visit the Rethink Church campaign website.
One bite at a time
Kimberly Shell, CEB senior editor, described the 90-day plan as “a useful way to help people overcome their typical concerns that reading the Bible is a big challenge, one they don’t have time to manage.”
The plan divides the New Testament into small, chronological bites, beginning with Matthew 1-2 on Day One and ending with Revelation 21-22. The “New Testament Ninety-Day Reading Plan” follows the Contents page in the Common English New Testament.
What about chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse study guides?
“Pastors are often trained in seminary to read the biblical text first and meditate on it before they go to study helps or commentaries to find out what others say about the passage,” Shell said. However, a study edition for the CEB translation is in the works with publication targeted for 2013.
The full Bible translation will be available next fall. When the full version comes out, Shell noted a variety of reading plans will be available, including a yearlong plan and one that compliments the three-year Revised Common Lectionary.
Meanwhile, Shell suggests the New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible (published in July 2010) as a companion resource.
Spradlin, who is in her third year at St. Stephen Church, said she has always been interested in how the Bible came to be. One of her primary roles in pastoral ministry she said, is teaching the Bible to adults.
“It can be energizing for a group or a congregation to explore a new Bible translation, a fresh interpretation of the ancient languages,” she said. Reading groups, Sunday school classes and families could also follow the plan, gathering weekly to discuss the content and any questions that may arise.
Initial response to the CEB New Testament has been positive, she said, even among those who have strong preferences toward excellent earlier translations. One person commented, “My reaction to the CEB has moved from ‘somewhat negative’ when I heard about it to ‘very positive’ now that I am reading it.”
It is one thing to use adjectives such as “easy to understand” or “plain English” to talk abstractly about a new Bible translation, Shell said. “The real test is to open the book and read it from one cover to the other.”
Spradlin anticipates a great experience. The 90-day reading plan “is so easy,” she enthused. “I hope other churches will consider it. It’s going to be fun.”
Barbara Dunlap-Berg serves as internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.