C Mark Gooden
Everywhere Greg Nance goes on Signal Mountain these days, somebody is talking about reading the Bible.
He’s heard about it being talked up in beauty salons, at fitness centers and in doctors’ offices.
Signal Mountain recently became the third community in the nation in which most churches as a group committed to urge their members to read the Bible from cover to cover in 90 days.
“I wish we (Christians) were all one family,” said Mr. Nance, minister at Signal Mountain Church of Christ and the driver behind the local idea of the common reading. “If there’s any one thing that’s going to pull us together, it’s finding that common ground. The Bible is that common ground — reading and sharing and talking about what God says. There is no better way for God to work to bring us into unity.”
The community effort began Sept. 1 and will continue through the end of November.
The idea, according to the Houston-based nonprofit organization that created the nondenominational study, is that each participant would read 12 pages a day in a specially selected Bible and gather with fellow readers once a week for insight, accountability, fellowship and encouragement.
The Rev. Tim Filston, associate pastor of Signal Mountain Presbyterian, said many people have had reading the Bible “on their bucket list” for many years.
An effort to get it done in 90 days “provides the sustained motivation” that participants might lose if it was over a longer period of time, he said. It also affords a hunger for additional study and gives participants a sense of the “unified message of the dozens of authors over thousands of years.” From a set of manuscripts, he said, “a driving, singular theme emerges.”
At Signal Mountain Presbyterian, Mr. Filston said, around 400 people have agreed to make the commitment. One family in the church, he said, underwrote the cost of 200 of the Bibles, which are set up in the daily readings.
“People are doing it,” he said. “They’re hungry for it, a lot more than I thought (would be).”
Of the churches on Signal Mountain, several have made the Bible in 90 Days effort their fall theme, according to ministers. Others have not made it the central theme but have stressed the benefits to their members of participating in such a study.
Dr. J.N. Howard, pastor of Signal Mountain United Methodist Church, said even with the variety of Bible study approaches available the number of people who study it is minimal. Even in a worship service, he said, listeners are getting a minister’s interpretation of the scriptures.
“We believe as Christians that the Bible is the revealed word of God,” he said. “It is unique in its ability to declare God’s message to us. That’s the reason we need to (read) it with nothing else added.”
Mr. Nance said his church read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in 2007 and felt “it was one of the best things we’ve done.” While considering what their next step might be, he heard radio reports of the town of Albany, Texas, reading the Bible in 90 days and thought it would be a great idea for the town of Signal Mountain.
He ordered a starter kit from the nonprofit group, and he and his wife, Jenny, read through the Bible, watched the included DVDs and studied the accompanying literature from March through May.
“It was a greater experience than I would have imagined,” Mr. Nance said.
After prayer about widening the reading project and discussion of it with the elders of his church, he approached Dr. William Dudley, the senior pastor of 2,000-member Signal Presbyterian.
“His positiveness fueled the fire,” Mr. Nance said.
When the initial response from other churches was tepid, he felt “he couldn’t let it go” and began to go from church to church for face to face meetings. Those meetings raised interest in the project, and things began to fall into place, he said.
Mr. Nance said he “went all up and down the town” soliciting help from businesses and getting commitments to host stands of cards detailing the reading schedules. Individuals “came out of the woodwork” to donate $1,500 of the $2,000 the group spent on advertising, he said, and Webco Graphic donated 2,500 reading schedule pads.
Sen. Bob Corker, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and Signal Mountain Mayor Paul Hendricks offered endorsements, he said.
“Almost everybody I talked to said, ‘That’s a good idea,’” Mr. Nance said. “Before you know it, it was snowballing.”
Kari Oldham, 40, a member of Signal Mountain Church of Christ, elected to join her church’s reading project and said she appreciates the discipline it demands and the unity it brings in the community.
“The dynamics of the whole community focusing at the same time on God’s word is amazing,” she said. “It gives all of us an opportunity to be on the same page, and that doesn’t happen real often.”
Sheila Gregory, 34, also a member of Signal Mountain Church of Christ, said her congregation puts a great emphasis on the Bible for its guidance. She said an additional reading of it will offer further insights.
“I can’t wait to see what the Lord shows me beyond what he has before,” she said. “I’m excited to find out.”
The group concept of weekly discussion is helpful but not mandatory, Mr. Nance said.
“The concept is so simple that it’s shockingly powerful,” he said. “One person doing it — it (might not) happen. With a group together, a group dynamic begins to build.”
After all, the Bible is an “extremely difficult” read with “at least 13 different genres of literature packed into one book,” Mr. Nance said. It can read like a newspaper, like something out of space, like exotic prose, like a recitation of troubles, he said. It also can bore you to death, he said.
Yet, he said, “it speaks to our time like no other book. Reading it all so quickly keeps it fresh. You see the prophets’ (words come true in the) gospels. The power of that strikes you. Either somebody is making something up that’s incredible or this is really, really good.”
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...