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Chris Thompson: Five ways to improve your Bible literacy

In a May 2 column I addressed the appalling lack of Bible literacy among Christians. I also mentioned I would follow up in a future column with ways to increase biblical literacy. This is that column.

Before attempting to increase your biblical literacy, you must really have a desire to change your literacy quotient. Do you care about knowing more of your Christian heritage, or does it even matter at all? If you don't care, then it's pointless to read further. On the other hand, if you do care, there are many ways to proceed. Here are five suggestions. Most important, remember the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 10:17: "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

Obtain a Bible you are comfortable reading

Hundreds of biblical translations are available. I recommend that the version you pick should not be the work of one man but of a committee of scholars who have brought a balanced discipline to the hard work of translating. For example, the King James Version was translated by a committee of 47 scholars. The Bible in American Life study released by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, a joint effort by Indiana University and Purdue University Indianapolis, reports that 74 percent of translations are represented by just two versions: the King James Version (55 percent) and the New International Version (19 percent). When you add in the New Revised Standard Version (7 percent), 81 percent of Bible reading is represented by only three versions.

Read or listen to the Bible every day

Daily reading of the Bible, even only a couple of verses, pays in the long run. You can read the printed text, use a Web-based version, or take advantage of a smartphone version. BibleGateway.com has an excellent Web-based tool that includes 45 different English translations, all free to use.

There are many excellent ways to listen electronically. I recently downloaded the English Standard Version, an excellent recent committee translation, as one of my Audible monthly book selections. Narrated by actor Max McLean, it also features an orchestral soundtrack, which highlights but does not overpower the narration. Churches often offer a Web app that allows you to read or listen to the Bible. ChangePoint, Alaska's largest church, has that function in their smartphone app. It uses the ESV and can be read or listened to. Their app also includes a handy Bible reading plan with a daily selection to read or listen to.

YouVersion, a free smartphone version, offers 39 different English versions for instant online or offline access. Often, I'll switch between versions during a pastoral reading of a text, to see if there are minor translation points that might help me better understand the text.

Quiz yourself regularly

Many Web-based quizzes are available so you can assess how your biblical literacy is progressing. One such quiz source is christianity.com/trivia, which offers free assessments and can send you a daily question to answer. You can choose to be quizzed on the Old Testament, New Testament or the entire Bible. I enjoy taking quizzes to see what sticks and what doesn't. The site provides biblical references to missed questions so learning can become a game and so you can find sources to study if your knowledge proves weak. Dozens of Bible quizzes are available free. Just Google search "free Bible quizzes."

Listen to Bible-based sermons

The Internet is a rich source of strong Bible-based sermons you may not hear locally. Over the years, I've discovered that Tim Keller, John MacArthur, N.T. Wright and Walter Brueggemann are a select few theologians offering discourses rich with biblical meaning and free of misguided theologies. Their talks can be printed or downloaded, and many are on YouTube. Sometimes, these talks are to other pastors or theologians and can be quite dense. I suggest looking for their shorter talks, ones that are about 15-30 minutes long. Save the longer talks for later. These men are communication experts and will help you learn your Bible easily.

Join a Bible study group

Many local churches offer men's or women's Bible study groups. Generally they meet for an hour and cover a predetermined section of Scripture. For example, a group might march through the Gospel of Mark in 16 weeks (a weekly meeting for each chapter).

These five suggestions are just that. There are many ways to address biblical illiteracy but following any of these suggestions will have a marked impact on this major national problem. If we want to learn how to cook, we acquire cooking knowledge books and cookbooks, becoming familiar with their contents. Want to learn to fly? You must study, take a test, obtain hands-on flying instruction and get tested on that too. Becoming familiar with the Bible is learning about your destiny and how to achieve it. It's worth the effort and promises great rewards.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at adn.com/churchvisits.