Immerse: The Reading Bible | Book Review


Most Americans own a Bible, but few read it. According to the American Bible Society’s State of the Bible 2017 (SOTB), 87 percent of U.S. households own at least one copy of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, only 50 percent of U.S. adults read the Bible, listen to it or pray with it at least three or four times a year.

How can we help people move toward greater Bible engagement?

There are many ways to answer this question, but I want to focus on a new Bible product I believe merits attention. It’s called Immerse: The Reading Bible, which Tyndale House Publishers created in Alliance with the Institute for Bible Reading. You can read more about it at ImmerseBible.com (BibliaInmersion.com for the Spanish version).

Immerse is designed to take the entire church — from Jr. High to senior adults — through the Bible in three years. It presents Scripture in six high-quality, low-cost paperbacks or e-books.

  • Messiah (New Testament)
  • Beginnings (Genesis–Deuteronomy)
  • Kingdoms (Joshua–2 Kings)
  • Prophets (Isaiah–Malachi)
  • Poets (Job–Song of Songs, plus Lamentations)
  • Chronicles (1 Chronicles–Esther, plus Daniel)

According to its website, “Immerse is built on three core ideas: reading a naturally formatted Bible, reading at length, and having unmediated discussions about it together.”

While most Bibles are formatted like a dictionary or encyclopedia — a two-column format with scholarly apparatus, including chapter and verse numbers, headings, cross-references and notes — Immerse presents Scripture in a single-column format and eliminates the scholarly apparatus entirely. According to SOTB, 8 percent of U.S. adults cite difficult layout as a significant frustration when reading the Bible. Immerse’s formatting reduces that frustration.

Using this Bible, a church’s small groups or Sunday School classes meet twice a year for eight weeks each time to read and discuss one of Immerse’s six paperbacks, starting with Messiah. Reading each paperback takes 20 to 30 minutes daily, five days a week, for the duration of the small group. This is what Immerse means by “reading at length.” Thirty percent of U.S. adults say lack of time is a significant Bible reading frustration. By delimiting how much and how often participants read, Immerse’s program addresses this concern.

During meetings, a leader facilitates open discussion around four questions:

  1. What stood out to you this week?
  2. Was anything confusing or troubling?
  3. Did anything make you think differently about God?
  4. How might this change the way you live?

State of the Bible 2017 found that readers are motivated to increase their Bible reading when encountering a difficulty in life (41 percent), a significant life change, such as marriage or childbirth (17 percent), or contemporary discussions about religion and spirituality in the media (17 percent). By focusing on four open-ended questions, Immerse encourages readers to ponder what the Bible teaches in the specifics of their lives.

Several other features of Immerse are worth highlighting. First, it uses the New Living Translation of Scripture (NLT). According to SOTB, 16 percent of U.S. adults are frustrated by the Bible’s difficult language. The NLT features readable, idiomatic English for a broad audience.

Second, within each paperback, Immerse reorganizes the books of the Bible in an interesting fashion. For example, the standard New Testament order of books is Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, other epistles and Revelation. Messiah pairs each gospel with letters related to it: Luke–Acts with Paul’s letters, Mark with Peter’s and Jude’s letters, Matthew with Hebrews and James, and John with John’s letters and Revelation. This helps readers see thematic connections between each gospel and its associated letters.

Third, Immerse provides resources to help readers understand the theological, historical and literary context of each book of the Bible. All six paperbacks include brief introductory essays. And the website includes free aids for small groups: a weekly 3-minute video that introduces each week’s readings, audio files of daily Bible readings, and downloadable guides for pastors, small-group leaders and participants.

God inspired the Bible to equip us for holy living (2 Timothy 3:16–17). If we don’t use it, however, it does us no good. Immerse offers church leaders a well-thought-out strategy for guiding readers through Scripture.

Books Reviewed
Immerse: The Reading Bible, 6 vols. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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Review of ‘Transforming Discipleship’ by Greg Ogden


Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time, rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016).

How well are Christians in America carrying out the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)? Not well, according to Greg Ogden. In the revised and expanded edition of Transforming Discipleship, he sets out to explain what went wrong with our discipleship efforts, why, and how to implement an effective church-based strategy for disciple-making. It’s a book pastors and other church leaders ought to read.

Ogden organizes his material into three parts. Part 1, “The Discipleship Deficit,” examines what went wrong and why. Part 2, “Doing the Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way,” looks to the Bible as a “method book,” focusing on Jesus’ and Paul’s respective models of discipleship. Part 3, “Multiplying Reproducing Discipleship Groups,” outlines how to implement a “microgroup” strategy for growing “self-initiating, reproducing disciples of Jesus Christ.” (Microgroups are groups of three or four people, “triads” and “quads” in Ogden’s words.)

According to Ogden, the basic problem with discipleship in America today is superficiality. Or, as the late John Stott put it, “growth without depth.” Lots of people bear the name “Christian,” but it’s not clear that they produce “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

Why? Ogden identifies eight “distractions” that mar our discipleship efforts:

  1. diversion of the church’s ministry from our primary calling to make disciples,
  2. discipling by means of standardized programs instead of personal relationships,
  3. reducing the Christian life to the future state instead of how we live now,
  4. promoting a two-tier understanding of the Christian life that makes discipleship for “super-Christians, not ordinary believers,”
  5. being unwilling to call people to become disciples,
  6. having a view of church as optional rather than as required,
  7. not articulating a clear pathway to spiritual maturity,
  8. and not having been discipled personally.

Ogden then contrasts the lack of discipleship in America with how both Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul made disciples. Christian leaders typically turn to the Bible to identify what end their ministries should pursue, but Ogden effectively argues that the Bible also articulates the means by which we should pursue them. The Bible, in other words, is both a “message book” and a “method book.” While both Jesus and Paul ministered to groups of varying sizes, their most intensive efforts at making disciples focused on “invest[ing] in a few.”

Here’s how Ogden summarizes the matter:

Jesus intentionally called a few to multiply himself in them. He intended his ministry to become the ministry of the Twelve and be the means by which he extended himself to the world. To prepare the Twelve, Jesus followed a situational leadership model, adjusting his leadership style to the readiness of his followers. As Jesus adjusted his leadership to match the readiness of the disciples, he also changed styles to provoke them to the next level of growth. Jesus shifted his roles from living example to provocative teacher to supportive coach and finally to ultimate delegator. Though Paul’s language and images differed, his goal and process mirrored the model of his Lord.

So, how can pastors and Christian leaders implement Jesus’ model of making disciples in their churches’ own ministries? Ogden focuses on three words: relationship, multiplication, and transformation. “The necessary elements…,” he writes, “are to establish a relational disciple-making process that is rooted in a reproducible model (triads or quads) that brings together the transformative elements of life change.” If I could summarize Ogden’s proposal in my own words, I’d put it this way: Three or four people meeting weekly for a year to grow closer to Christ and to one another, using a curriculum that each member can in turn use with a new triad or quad the next year. This process is intensive, demanding and tailored to the circumstances of the individual members, but that is how Christ himself achieved His best results with His own disciples. If you don’t believe me, look at Jesus’ interactions with His inner circle of Peter, James, and John in the Gospels.

Using this model of disciple making doesn’t require that pastors and other church leaders ditch Sunday sermons, Christian education classes, or other forms of teaching. Both Jesus and Paul spoke to large crowds and smaller groups, after all. It does mean prioritizing microgroups, however, as Jesus’ and Paul’s preferred strategy of making disciples, as well as recognizing the limitations of large-crowd and smaller-group forms of teaching, which can be more informational than transformational.

Transforming Discipleship is a challenging read, though not because it is hard to understand. Rather, it is challenging because churches are tempted to implement one-size-fits-all discipleship programs that are easy for pastors to manage. (I speak from personal experience here.) The easy way is not always the best way, however. Sometimes, the best results require intensive effort on a smaller scale over a longer timeframe to achieve.

I encourage you to read Transforming Discipleship. The book combines passion for the Great Commission, keen biblical insight and helpful practical suggestions for implementing a microgroup strategy. Even if, in the end, you don’t implement the book’s discipleship strategy, it will help you work through the relevant issues—biblically and practically—so that you can better fulfill the Great Commission in your own ministry and that of the local church.

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.