Author: Jim Thompson, D.Min., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM
The Church of Jesus Christ faces many challenges today as it seeks to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission. However, there is one problem that I intend to address today in my blog. This problem is known as The Bible Gap or Bible Poverty.
For those in North America, you may be familiar with State of the Bible. This is a collaborative research report done by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society. It provides insight into the health of the Church in America, and the direction we are headed. Every Pastor should read it and take its findings to heart in their ministry.
The purpose of this blog is to address the problem on a broader scale. It is to look at the spread of the Gospel worldwide and its implications for fulfilling Jesus’ last command “to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…”. Though there are many aspects of this command that need to be addressed, my focus will be on the process of disciple-making and the importance of the Bible in healthy Church Development. I will also focus on this taking place in the Global South (Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East). I believe that Jesus wants us to work towards building a strong, healthy, and victorious Church among every people group on earth.
The Global Church
Research shows us that the Gospel of Jesus is spreading fastest in the above regions of the world. The Center of Christianity has moved from North to South. There is much to be thankful for. We rejoice in these developments of great growth, of faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ taking place throughout the Global South. However, despite the spread of faith in Christ, there is still the problem that often is referred to as the ‘one mile wide and one-inch deep’ phenomenon. There has been much preaching about Jesus, but little disciple-making of the followers of Jesus. The result is many people believe in Jesus, but not near as many transformed disciples of Jesus. The Church is growing larger, but not necessarily healthier. What does the Bible, and both access to Scripture and engagement with Scripture, have to do with solving this problem?
The Worldwide Bible Gap
Some also refer to this problem as “Bible Poverty”. Whatever term you use, it is a problem that we have to face and solve. In simple terms: The Bible Gap is the gap between those who want a Bible and those who do not have access to a Bible.
The Bible Gap is normally viewed in four parts; translation, distribution, engagement, and transformation. Translation of the Bible is the focus of most current writing on this subject. It is true that the whole Bible has yet to be translated into 100 percent of the earth’s languages. In fact, there may be one billion people yet to have the whole Bible translated into their heart language. The major translation ministries are doing a good job of highlighting this need to the Church. Providing all people on earth with a full Bible is a worthy cause.
Closing the Bible Gap: Distribution
Currently, approximately 95 percent of the earth’s population have access to a complete Bible, New Testament, or one of the Four Gospels in a language they can read and understand. This gives most people access to Scripture so that they can meet Jesus as Savior and Lord if they so desire.
However, although there are Bibles, New Testaments, and Gospels translated and available, they are not getting to millions of believers and seekers who want them. A great shortage of Bibles and New Testaments exists in many parts of the world among people who can read and who desire a copy for their spiritual nourishment. This problem seriously inhibits the spiritual growth of Christians and hinders the healthy expansion of the Church. This is especially true in the Global South.
The Bible Gap describes the gap that exists between those Christians who have a Bible for their personal use and those Christians who want a Bible or New Testament that is available in their language but are prevented from receiving one. This is a distribution problem for the Church to face, and solve. In fact, it is a devastating problem because at least 500 million Christ-followers are without a Bible or New Testament in the Global South.
There are also many more seekers who, if they had an opportunity to read or listen to God’s Word, would do so but no one is providing them this opportunity. Just as there is a famine and scarcity of physical food in many parts of the Global South there is also a famine of the Word of God in this Region. It is the Church’s responsibility to meet this need. This is a spiritual justice issue of our day. There is great curiosity and hunger among the masses of the Global South to read or listen to the Bible.
Closing the Bible Gap: Engagement
There is a second part of “The Bible Gap” which I want to bring to your attention. It relates to engagement with Scripture. Engagement speaks to the issue of Christians who have access to a Bible, whether in print, on an audio device, or on a digital platform, but who do not regularly engage with God’s Word and allow it to transform their lives. There are also millions of believers in the Global South who fit into this category. Again, this is an engagement problem the Church must face and give priority to. These problems are at the very core of disciple-making. If we are to be faithful to Jesus’ Great Commission, we must address these problems and work at solving them.
1 Matthew 28:19-20
4 Thompson, James. Closing the Bible Gap In the Global South. Chapter Six, 2018.