• indoubt Podcast
  • ·
  • March 23, 2020

Ep. 219: Why Study the Bible?

With Tim Mackie, , , and Isaac Dagneau

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Think of your favourite book – how many times have you read it? Now, how many times have you read your Bible? On this week’s episode of indoubt, Tim Mackie joins Isaac to discuss the relevant question: Why should I study my Bible? So often we can forget that reading the Bible is more than just a command, but a way to further our relationship with God – so how can we do that better? You’ll hear Isaac and Tim Mackie discuss what studying the Bible can or should look like and the importance of memorizing scripture, and so much more.

[This episode was originally aired on January 2, 2017 – Episode 051: Why Study the Bible? with Tim Mackie]

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Kourtney Cromwell:
Welcome to the indoubt Podcast where we explore the challenging topics that young adults often face. Each week we talk with guests who help answer questions of faith, life, and culture, connecting them to our daily experiences and God’s Word. For more info on indoubt, visit indoubt.ca or indoubt.com.

Kourtney Cromwell:
Hey guys, welcome to indoubt. This is Kourtney and I’m so happy you’re with us for this week’s episode. If you were with us last week, you’ll know that we’re taking a few weeks in a throwback series, so we’re checking out some of our older episodes that we think are worth another listen. Last week we heard from Justin Brierley; and this week, we’re going back to January 2017 to a conversation between Isaac and Tim Mackie, who’s the Co-Founder of the Bible Project.
With this episode, we’re looking at the question, why should I study the Bible and just really getting into what that means for all of us. It was an important question three years ago when we first talked with Tim, and it’s absolutely still important for today. You’ll hear Isaac and Tim discuss what studying the Bible can or should look like, and the importance of memorizing scripture and so much more. Here’s the episode and we’ll jump right in with Isaac and Tim Mackie.

Isaac Dagneau:
Well, I have the privilege and honor of speaking with Tim Mackie today, all the way from Portland, Oregon. Thanks for coming on the show.

Tim Mackie:
Yeah, absolutely. It’s great to be here.

Isaac Dagneau:
Tim is a pastor at a church in Portland. Maybe you can share a little bit about that, but he’s also one of the two guys behind the Bible Project. I mean, we only think it’s two guys, maybe there’s more people. I’m sure there are. But why don’t you just share a little bit about who you are as a person and sort of what you do?

Tim Mackie:
Yep. Yeah, sure. So yes, I’m Tim Mackie. I hail from Portland, Oregon, where I have a few too many jobs, but they’re all related to teaching the scriptures, so that’s a dream come true. So yeah, I serve on the pastoral team in a part-time basis, but mainly just teaching in a church here in Portland called Door of Hope. I’m also a part-time professor of Old Testament at Western Seminary here in Portland, Oregon. And those are both part-time gigs that are super fun.
And then the main thing I’m doing right now is a part of a creative design studio called the Bible Project. I’m kind of the Bible nerd. So really what I do is I read a lot, and then I get into rooms with really creative people and we create short animated films that explore all the books of the Bible and main themes, theological themes in the Bible. There you go.

Isaac Dagneau:
That’s awesome. No, that’s great. I want to hear a little bit more about Bible Project. We’ll come back to that at the end, but let’s just jump into a little bit more of Bible study. When I think of the term Bible study, I mean, it’s thrown around a lot. Churches say, “Hey, we’ve got these Bible study groups, and so on. But I feel like a lot of people aren’t quite sure exactly what everything Bible study kind of means. So when you say to someone, Tim, “Hey, you should study the Bible.” What are you actually telling them to do? What does it mean really to study the Bible?

Tim Mackie:
Yeah. It’s interesting. In one sense, I don’t really ever tell someone to study the Bible. I would tell them, “Follow Jesus.” And part of being a disciple of Jesus means immersing myself in the story that he saw himself as a part of and as the culmination of. It doesn’t take long. And one of the main ways that I have access to Jesus and become His disciple is reading the accounts of His life and teachings in the New Testament. It was a very close relationship between Jesus and the Bible. But for me it’s very important to at least kind of… I don’t have a personal relationship with the Bible.

Isaac Dagneau:
Yeah, exactly.

Tim Mackie:
For me, it’s about knowing and following Jesus, who loved me and gave Himself for me. And one of the primary ways that I do that is through the scriptures. Obviously, they’re texts, so you read them. But we all know that you read and engage the headlines of a newspaper and a nonfiction how to build a house book and then a novel by Eric Steinbeck in really different ways. We read different texts in different ways.
The scriptures are a kind of text that’s very similar to just really high literary art. It’s theological art, but it’s art, nonetheless. And so just like Moby Dick or East of Eden requires slow pondering, rereading, the Bible is more a book that’s like that but on steroids, just way more. It’s just such a rich. And on one sense, just reading the Bible, you can just read it on a surface level and read a story about David or Abraham and read one of Paul’s letters. But the way that the whole Bible is designed is to invite you into a whole different way of seeing the world, but it’s from another time and culture and place. It was written originally in another language. And so there’s all these steps towards greater depth and understanding that are required than just reading it on one pass in English.
I think it’s really helpful to create an analogy between like if you finish a great work of art, like I mentioned Steinbeck’s East of Eden, you finish that and you’re like, “Whoa, that was… ” You almost feel like you need to go read it again because you realize you almost certainly didn’t get everything. And that’s actually how most people feel when they read the Bible anyway is, “I’m not getting everything.”

Isaac Dagneau:
Exactly. Oh, for sure. Yeah.

Tim Mackie:
Okay. Sorry. That was a lot of setup to say the Bible is the kind of text that is meant to be read and re-read and reflected and pondered over the course of a lifetime. It’s actually designed that way. It’s designed to not give up its depths on the first read through.
And so studying involves a lot of things. I mean, I think it involves turning to the body of Christ, the greater community of Jesus followers and they’re going to be people in the church community that you’re a part of or in the worldwide community that have been reading and studying the Bible a long time. A lot of it has to do with learning how to read the different types of literature in the Bible. There’s a lot of poetry. It’s mostly narrative and poetry. Not everybody reads poetry. A third of the Bible is poetry.
Yeah, it’s about learning to engage. There’s so much wealth of great Bible dictionaries and commentaries and group experiences. But basically, it’s just taking a step further than just reading it once through and be like, “Okay, that was good.” It’s a book that’s designed for a lifetime’s worth of meditation.

Isaac Dagneau:
Right. And engaging that point, you say it’s worth a lifetime of engaging it, if someone asks, “Well, why? I’ve read Moby Dick, let’s say three times. I get the story. I get it. But why would I need to keep going back to the word constantly? Because I’m not a pastor, I’m not a church leader, I’m just a Christian.” If someone said that to you, what would you say?

Tim Mackie:
Well, I bring it back to Jesus. If I’ve devoted my life to follow someone and if I’m trying to bring every part of my life to become consistent with their teachings and who they were and what they were all about, you’re not just going to read about them and their teachings one time, you know what I mean? No, if you’re going to follow Jesus, you need to immerse yourself in stories about Him and His teaching. That in and of itself gets you into a big section of the Bible.
If you’re going to follow Jesus, you need to at least… I don’t know, in my mind it makes sense that If I follow someone as the most important person in my life, I’m going to probably memorize some of their most important teachings. I’m probably going to try and return to them time and again. So that I know my way around their teachings so that when I come across things in life, relational conflict, okay, what did Jesus say about forgiveness? Let’s go back to Matthew 18.
And so that’s just one thing is if you follow Jesus, it just makes all the sense in the world that you would make the stories and his teachings like a staple diet in your life. And then if you do that, you’ll discover something else. You’ll discover that Jesus is constantly talking about the Bible. He’s constantly quoting from the scriptures that existed at His point, which is what we call the Old Testament. And He explained Himself and who He was in light of those writings and He invited people to see that actually the whole of the Old Testament scriptures is what was pointing towards Him. He, himself, tells you if you want to really get who I am, listen, three quarters of your Bible you need to really become familiar with. That’s just part of it.
I think also is that the Bible is the kind of book that’s trying to mess with you. It’s trying to challenge your currently held views about the world and about who God is, if you do or don’t believe in God or who you are and what’s true in the world and what’s really wrong in the world and what’s right. So those aren’t things you can just figure out on a one-year Bible read through.

Isaac Dagneau:
Exactly. Yeah.

Tim Mackie:
I mean it takes a lifetime to sort all that out. And so, the Bible’s a gift in that way. It’s really meant to shape every part of your life in different seasons of life. Different things in the scriptures will become more pronounced to you.

Isaac Dagneau:
Yeah. No, that’s good. As you’re saying, you’ve been talking about the whole you’re going to memorize parts of the Bible because you’re following Jesus. I just think about when I’m at a family reunion and we all start talking about stories with our relatives that we’ve had these close relationships with and we can say, “Oh yeah, and Joe said this… ” And you can recite this paragraph because you’re so invested in the people and these stories. In the same way, I can kind of hear you saying that’s the same thing with the Bible. It’s God’s Word and we are invested into that.

Tim Mackie:
Yeah. And we shouldn’t be naive. We’re all actually doing that anyway. The question is, what stories fill up the pool that we draw on to understand our world? And so, if you live… Well, I’m sorry, you’re in Canada so I can’t assume. But I’m an American and so from a young age I’m brought up in this American “Don’t tell me what to do. Don’t tread on me, liberty of the individual,” you know what I mean? Like that’s-

Isaac Dagneau:
Oh yeah, that’s same up here in Canada.

Tim Mackie:
Yeah, totally. Yeah, totally. We’re both Westerners, right?

Isaac Dagneau:
Right, exactly.

Tim Mackie:
And modern Westerners. And then of course, if you grow up on the diet of Hollywood, whether it’s for kids or teens or adults, different versions, that’s filling your imagination with all kinds of other stories about what’s important in life and who are you and what defines success as a human being? We’re all drawing on stories, a story world, to make sense of our lives.
And I think becoming a follower of Jesus means adopting a new story world, the biblical story world, and letting that start to become the baseline. And that kind of life, heart, mind transformation happens slowly and through habits over the long-term. You’re right, it’s exactly like a family history that needs to replace our currently held family history, so to speak.

Isaac Dagneau:
Exactly. No, that’s good. And someone listening, and even myself, I’m encouraged to be like, “Okay, I do want to learn more. I want to memorize more. I want to be involved in God’s Word more.” But the truth of the matter is that, obviously, many young adults are busy. They have their relationships, they have their social life, they have their jobs, they’re taking five courses in a semester, all this stuff. And I mean, everyone loves practical stuff, they just say, “Tell me what to do.” And I get from what you’re even saying that this is about relationship, I want to follow Jesus. I know that that is the foundation, but how can we actually achieve this kind of study of the Bible? What time should we be allotting to it? Even the specifics, they’re like, “Well, how should we be doing this on a daily basis in the midst of our crazy lives?”

Tim Mackie:
Yeah. Yeah. It’s a great question. I mean, part of it is, yeah, our current technological culture. There are things crying for our attention in all of the empty spaces of our lives and it’s in our pockets, in our mobile devices, so that’s our empty time. But then it’s also hijacking our spare time as well. It requires enormous discipline becoming a reader. And not everybody has to be a bookworm but building in habits. This is about habits. And in other cultures that are way more textual or that don’t have as much other noise filling their time, I think it was easier. When texts were the main media in a culture like in Jesus’ day obviously and it was a higher cultural value. So in our age it’s very difficult. What I’m saying is, if people listening to the podcasts find it very difficult to carve out time to read, period, much less read the Bible, you’re not a horrible person. You’re a westerner.

Isaac Dagneau:
Yeah, that’s a good point.

Tim Mackie:
You’re a 21st century Westerner. And so, I think we’re faced with a decision about what kinds of media am I going to allow to shape me as a human? And these devices in our pockets can control our lives in this scary way. And so, in a big way, I think it’s revolting against the man. And it’s saying, “No, I’m going to prioritize… I believe I will be shaped as a mature human and as a disciple of Jesus through fostering this other habit that is archaic.”

Isaac Dagneau:
Yeah, exactly.

Tim Mackie:
Smartphones are only what, 15 years old now? But we have no idea the effect that living this way is going to have on us. But we know the effect of what letting the biblical texts shape you because we have millennia worth of amazing human stories of people living in light of the scriptures. I just think it’s a question of priorities.

And so if 30 minutes… and even, personally, I personally do have a daily habit. But even more so. I have a couple of times carved out a week where I can do more than just have a little window. It’s where I personally carve out an hour to dive into the book of the Bible I’m currently studying. And I know that sounds nerdy and that’s not where everybody’s at, but I think it’s a habit. The Jewish tradition, and then the Jewish and Christian tradition through history has said, “Humans are the most mature forms of themselves when they allow themselves to be shaped by time in these texts.” And so, who am I to say they’re wrong? So anyway, you just have to do it. I don’t know what to say.

Isaac Dagneau:
No, that’s good. I’m glad you said that. And I think the point you just made though about the whole, we have these thousands of years of this history of people being shaped. We’ve seen it prove itself over and over again to the Bible being read on a habitual basis does change lives for the better. And you’re right, we only have the 10 or whatever, 15 years, of a smartphone. We have no idea what that’s going to lead, and we can only imagine. It’s kind of scary to think. But anyways, it’s a great point bring up.

Tim Mackie:
Yeah, and there’s different ways to interact with the Bible. Not everybody needs to become a Bible scholar. But I do think being a disciple of Jesus means growing in my ability to read these texts, which means becoming a more wise reader, a more engaged reader, knowing kind of what are some tools where I can bring other people alongside me to give me greater understanding. And that’s all habit, habit stuff, and that requires initiative and discipline.

Isaac Dagneau:
Yeah. That’s good. Well, you obviously, I mean, you’ve been on this earth for a little while now at least to study the Bible and to know its life-givingness to you. How can you, kind of as a testimony, tell others how it is actually shaped you? Not just to make you more maybe smarter or have better knowledge in it, but how has it actually given you a joy unspeakable, you could say?

Tim Mackie:
Yeah. Well, God, it’s hard to not make that noodle a long story. I started reading the Bible when I started following Jesus, which I was 19, actually almost 20. I was raised around church-ish kind of culture, and I didn’t like it and I never really liked it. And I’d never read the Bible very much. I mean, I kind of knew a couple of stories, children’s version. So I’m a new follower of Jesus, I am all in for Jesus and I’m in my early twenties reading the Bible for the first time. And at first, I’m appalled and scandalized because it’s just like, “What? This is crazy.” And it’s so different than anything I’d ever read or engaged before. But at the same time, I felt like I was being invited into a different world and a different view of the world.
And so, I don’t know, I had the gift of… Within my first few years of reading the Bible, I signed up for classes at a Christian university here in Portland and just had the great fortune of having some amazing teachers that opened up the biblical story for me in a way that just ignited my imagination. They opened up the way that the Bible is high-level literary artistry and giving me skills for how to engage and read these texts in a more effective way.
It was just a formative season in my life. I was already looking for a new meaning in my life. That’s why I decided to follow Jesus because the version I worked with through my teens did not work out for me at all. It was a season of life where I was looking for a whole new view of the world and the biblical world gave that to me, and the community that I was a part of really valued the habit of reading and studying and talking and learning about the scriptures.
And that my first mentor I had was just, geesh, he had most of the New Testament and he was just an incredible influence, so I just learned from him. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you read the Bible a lot and you talk about it with your friends, that’s just what you do. So for me, it was actually absolutely life transformative. I don’t know what my life would look like without the scriptures. Aside from my wife, it’s the way that I interact with Jesus on a meaningful level. So to me, the scriptures have just been the greatest, beautiful life-giving thing ever and that’s why I probably ended up having too many jobs teaching the Bible-

Isaac Dagneau:
Teaching the Bible, yeah.

Tim Mackie:
… here in Portland.

Isaac Dagneau:
Yeah, exactly, and that kind of segues. First of all, thank you for just even that little testimony there, and that is encouraging. But to segue into that, you obviously mentioned that you work at the Bible Project, can you maybe explain a little bit more in detail what it is? And then what is the goal and the aim of this ministry?

Tim Mackie:
Yeah. In very simple terms, we create short animated films that live on YouTube, so they’re free. There are videos unpacking the design and message and core ideas of every book of the Bible in five to eight minutes. And then also we are creating videos that explore key ideas or themes that run throughout the whole Bible. We’re speaking non-religious language. Our goal is, whether someone’s religious or not, we want them to at least understand and appreciate what’s going on in the Bible. Yeah, and so we are creating the films for people who are sympathetic to the Bible but not necessarily religious, or people who want to learn more about the Bible.
And so anyway, we’re about two and a half years into the project. We have about 70 or so videos up on our YouTube channel. We’re about halfway done. We think we have about three-ish more years of work, at least till our original vision for what this video library would look like.

Isaac Dagneau:
Yeah. Are you feeling the weight of that or are you just going to keep pushing?

Tim Mackie:
Oh, no, it’s the most fun thing I’ve ever done.

Isaac Dagneau:
That’s awesome.

Tim Mackie:
So yeah. No, it’s so fun. It’s a joy to come do this. It’s a crowdfunded venture, so we’re non-profit. And at the end of the videos we just say, “Hey, if this was helpful to you, here’s the one we’re making next. You can help us make it. Be become a supporter.”
And so we’ve been, over the two and a half years, been able to grow a small studio. But we’ve got a team of about a dozen people. We’re all cranking, full-time writing and drawing and animating and-

Isaac Dagneau:
Very cool.

Tim Mackie:
Yeah, so we have all kinds of other stuff. We were able to partner with another organization and make an app, a Bible reading app, called Read Scripture.

Isaac Dagneau:
Okay.

Tim Mackie:
It’s a free app that you can download. It’s just called Read Scripture. Yeah, we’ve taken the whole Bible and broken it up into 16 chapters, like an epics narrative broken up into 16 chapters and then the videos… But it’s a daily reading experience and the videos are woven into the reading experience. So anytime you go into a new book or a key idea is introduced, you begin that day’s reading by watching one of the videos.

Isaac Dagneau:
That’s very cool. I’ll have to check that out. That sounds great. Sounds like it would totally fit in for someone who’s wanting to go more anyway, so that’s awesome.

Tim Mackie:
Yeah, that’s right.

Isaac Dagneau:
Well, Tim, thank you so much. We’re out of time now but thank you so much for just sharing just about Bible study. Kind of just in a very general, we just scraped the surface, but you did bring in some great insight in regard to that, so I thank you for that. And thank you for your testimony, and also thank you for sharing about Bible Project. Thank you for work there. It’s definitely equipping lots of people. Our church just played the Genesis 1-11.

Tim Mackie:
Oh, sweet.

Isaac Dagneau:
Yeah. And just because we finished a series through Genesis and it was so impactful as well, so thank you for your work. It’s not in vain, for sure.

Tim Mackie:
Yeah. Thank you. That’s awesome. That’s great to hear.

Isaac Dagneau:
Well, I hope to have you back on the show sometime soon. But anyways for now, I’ll see you later, Tim.

Tim Mackie:
Cool. Thanks, Isaac. Yeah, have a good day.

Kourtney Cromwell:
I think this whole conversation is really reassuring. It’s easy to slip into thinking that reading your Bible might not be as important as it really is. It’s a great opportunity to refresh if you might be stuck in that way of thinking or just need to be reminded that the scriptures have changed lives and/or changing your life too.
If you want to find out more about Tim Mackie or the Bible Project, you can head to their website at www.bibleproject.com. You’ll find everything on their website is available as a free resource and we definitely recommend checking it out. And if anything grabbed your attention in this episode, we’ll have the links up on the episode page on our website. As this episode was recorded in 2017, there’s obviously more that the Bible Project has been able to publish. So, like I said, I definitely think it’s worth checking it out. And in just taking a quick look at their website, there’s an ongoing series that they have, which I think really ties in well with this episode.
If you go and search for “How to Study the Bible,” you’ll find their starter video series with videos that help you read the Bible while understanding its unique design and literary devices. Recognizing that the Bible is one seamless and unified story, it can’t be read the same way throughout, and they provide you with deeper explanation on how to read your Bible, how each literary style relates, and how each style ultimately connects to the overall whole. Again, that’s with the Bible Project.
I do also want to mention that Back to the Bible Canada offers some great resources as well. If you go to backtothebible.ca, you’ll find a series called Celebrating the Word by Dr. John Neufeld, a familiar guest of indoubt, and that’s available for you to listen for free. This series focuses on why you should read the Bible and offers the essentials of what we believe to be true about God’s Word. And just to give you an idea, Dr. John looks at the sufficiency of the Bible, why the Bible is inerrant and its authority. That’s another way that you can go deeper with this topic.
If you’ve got a question or a suggestion for us, shoot me an email at info@indoubt.ca. We love hearing from our listeners like Stacey in Georgia or Matthew in British Columbia, who listened to this show and have been loyal listeners since the beginning for Matthew and a few years ago on a road trip for Stacey. Thank you both and I look forward to hearing from more of you.
Next week, we’ll have another episode of our throwback series and we hope you join us for it. Mark Wollenberg was a guest in 2017 and we’ll be hearing from him again as he discusses justice, the church and cybersex trafficking.

Kourtney Cromwell:
Thanks so much for listening. If you want to hear more, subscribe on iTunes and Spotify or visit us online at indoubt.ca or indoubt.com. We’re also on social media, so make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Bible - Ep. 219: Why Study the Bible with Tim Mackie on the indoubt Podcast

Who's Our Guest?

Tim Mackie

Tim Mackie is a creative writer and director for The Bible Project and an adjunct professor of Old Testament at Western Seminary, both in Portland, Oregon. Tim studied at Multnomah University and Western Seminary and holds a PhD in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's married to Jessica, and together they’re raising two little boys, Roman and August, in the wonderful city of Portland, Oregon.
Bible - Ep. 219: Why Study the Bible with Tim Mackie on the indoubt Podcast

Who's Our Guest?

Tim Mackie

Tim Mackie is a creative writer and director for The Bible Project and an adjunct professor of Old Testament at Western Seminary, both in Portland, Oregon. Tim studied at Multnomah University and Western Seminary and holds a PhD in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's married to Jessica, and together they’re raising two little boys, Roman and August, in the wonderful city of Portland, Oregon.