A rabbi and a pastor opened a Bible and what happened? A project that will bring people of all faiths together from all around the world in one simple task intended to revive their faith: reading the Bible.
After meeting with Rabbi Tuly Weisz, the head of Israel 365, Pastor Keith Johnson, the founder of Biblical Foundations Academy International, was inspired to initiate the “Readers of the Book” project to inspire people around the world to build a biblical foundation for their faith. Pastor Johnson considers the project as a “grass roots program that could sweep the planet.”
“In Jewish tradition ‘the book’ has been the Bible,” Pastor Johnsons said. “Unfortunately, some groups in Christianity see the Bible, what they call the Old Testament, as a reference for their main study, which is the New Testament. They forget that before there ever was a New Testament, everyone studied the 24 books of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.”
The pastor noted that nothing could be more simple since joining the project is free and most people already have a Bible sitting on their shelf.
“There are many people who have the Bible in their homes but they have only read sections of it,” Pastor Johnson said. “Imagine this; the best selling book in history, inspired by God, they have it on their shelf, and they have only read sections. Doesn’t it seem important enough to read from beginning to end at least once?”
The pastor noted that even people who consider themselves to be well-versed in religion may not have read the Bible cover to cover.
“For Christians, reading the Bible is actually a radical thing,” Pastor Johnson said. “In the Jewish tradition, there is an annual cycle of reading, at least for the Torah accompanied by readings from the Prophets and the Writings.”
“We are getting people to go back to the basis of their faith, Jews and Christians. We are going to take one year to do that, connecting people from across the world.”
To facilitate this, Pastor Johnson set up an easy-to-use graph with daily readings. By following the plan, a reader will complete the five books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings. Though the guide begins with Genesis at the beginning of the year, people are encouraged to jump in at any point.
The project, like the books it focuses on, transcends religious boundaries. An online forum allows the participants to interact: to ask questions and to share their understanding of the text.
“This is not a forum for disputation or evangelizing,” Pastor Johnson explained. “This is not about theology. The discussion has to be about the Book, chapter and verse. When people who believe the Bible is the word of God get together to discuss what is revealed in the text, this generates excitement on all sides. This excitement is what we are after.”
The pastor noted that children are especially drawn to the activity and plans on organizing a family forum.
“Kids love to ask questions and that is what the forum is about,” Pastor Johnson said. “And they especially love it when they can post an answer to a question based on what they have just read. Nothing is better for instilling a love of the Bible in kids than simply reading it.”
The pastor has made an intensive study of Hebrew and incorporates this into his Bible teaching.
“We believe that encountering the language, history, and context of the Bible will help in deepening their understanding,” Pastor Johnson maintained. “The translations sometimes get it wrong, or only tell one part of the story. This project can also help people to learn Hebrew.”
Toward this end, Pastor Johnson has teamed with Rabbi Tuly Weisz, Director of Israel 365, who published The Israel Bible. Pastor Johnson recommends using The Israel Bible which has a linear English translation alongside the original Hebrew and maps illustrating the locations mentioned. Each page has insights and commentaries focusing on the land of Israel. Toward this end, Rabbi Weisz is offering a 25 percent discount for people who sign up for the project.
“Even if you don’t have The Israel Bible or a special copy of the Bible, it doesn’t matter,” Pastor Johnson explained. “The idea is to simply read the Bible. That simple act of a few minutes each day will transform your life and deepen your belief.”
The project officially begins with the new year but many people have gotten a head start. Rob Crysler, a 69-year-old Canadian living in the Cayman Islands, has already started the project.
“Although most people would think of me as a Christian, I do not follow some of the
traditional practices of Christianity,” Crysler told Breaking Israel News. Despite his difficulty in identifying his religious affiliation, Crysler believes reading the Bible is his path to serve God.
“God declared many times over that the One Torah was for the ‘alien’ or ‘stranger’ as well as for the native-born,” Crysler said. “This is stated explicitly in the Torah as well as the New Testament.”
Crysler is looking forward to connecting with Jewish participants in the project, a connection he has discovered in the past to be spiritually enriching.
“I deplore the anti-Semitism perpetrated over the centuries by Christians,” Crysler said. “My wife and I have joined with the Jewish community here in the Cayman Islands for some of the moedim (festivals) on occasion but as we have learned and grown we have begun to do the feasts and have joined with the Jewish community. We appreciate the fullness and wisdom that comes from those who have been raised in Judaism.”
Crysler has read the Bible cover-to-cover several times already but sees the project as an opportunity to connect with others through this meaningful endeavor.
“My wife and I study together,” Crysler said. “I appreciate the input from others and this was an opportunity for that. When it comes to reading the Bible, I could never have ‘too much’.”
Dawn Marie McAlister, a 47-year-old resident of Colorado, has already begun reading the Bible according to the schedule. Her religious affiliation is undefined.
“It’s complicated,” she told Breaking Israel News. “I can no longer call myself Christian. But like Ruth, in my heart, I am joined to the Father of all creation and His people Israel.”
McAlister explained that she loves “Tanakh” (the Hebrew acronym for Torah-the Five Books of Moses, Neviim-Prohets, and Ketuvim-the writings) and has read the book in its entirety several times.
“I want to help others love it, too,” she said. “Also, I want to study with people who are willing to set aside tradition and doctrine in order to find the ultimate truth of our Father’s word.”
McAlister is active on the forum and has found it to be a positive part of the experience.
“Everyone is excited and that’s fun to see and be a part of,” she said.
She did caution that there were instances in which people referred to the New Testament. As a rule, the forum discussions are intended to focus entirely on the Old Testament.
“A few people brought up verses from the New Testament in ways that made me a little uncomfortable,” McAlister said. “But that’s just the nature of ‘forming/storming.’ No one meant to make anyone uncomfortable but it’s just a habit that needs to be overcome. Pastor Johnson looked into it quickly and brought everyone back to the Tanakh.”