Q&A Andrew Ollerton

Dr Andrew Ollerton (38), author, lecturer and pastor — and creator of The Bible Course.

Why did you put the Bible course together in the first place?

It was a divine accident. We didn’t intend to create any course. I was leading churches down in Cornwall. We saw people come to faith and one of the big challenges was how to engage with the Bible. We did a three-week course which became eight weeks because we all loved it so much.

That was in 2009. The next year a girl who was a graphic designer said she’d put it together as notes. She did. Then other churches wanted to use it. Then we realised that we were scratching where people were itching. 

So what were you trying to achieve? What did you hope would happen?

In a nutshell, it was to help people engage with the Bible who didn’t think they could. I remember a friend at university who became a Christian. He was keen to get into the Bible. But when he first tried, he said it was like being asked to eat an elephant. You don’t know where to start.

A lot of people want to engage with the Bible but there are lots of obstacles to that, and it can make people live through other people’s engagement with the Bible: daily devotions, apps. It’s all second-hand.

What’s particularly difficult about the Bible, compared with other books?

I think it’s probably two things: it’s big and it’s old. There’s the sheer size of it and the fact that it’s a small library rather than a novel that people are used to. And it’s old. It’s not written for 21st century Britain.

So what’s good about it?

It’s the book that has had the most impact on the world that we live in. Our world has been shaped by the power of this text. And that’s not just historically true, it’s still a best seller. Even if you don’t believe, that’s a good enough reason to do the course. It’s a starting point for understanding the world.

Then there’s all the personal impact that the Bible has. When you experience that this historical story is an ongoing story that we are part of with the God of the Bible, it stops being just a text.

I have seen quite a lot of people share stories about freedom in their own personal lives as a result of engaging with the Bible. It’s really exciting to see the ways it’s had quite unexpected benefits in people’s lives.

Which of those stories means the most to you?

Ah, that’s personal isn’t it? I have a friend called Danny who grew up in London and came down to Cornwall, where I lived, as he was a cocaine addict. He wanted to get away from it. He started coming to church, but he wasn’t getting on too well with it and he wasn’t a reader. That wasn’t his thing. But he came on a very early version of the Bible course.

Through the love and support he got on that, he came into a place of putting his trust in God. The impact on him and some of his friends was an amazing thing. It wasn’t a fairy tale. But he’s still going strong.

And what about you, what does the Bible mean to you?

I personally find that my most significant encounters with God happen through moments when I’m studying the Bible in depth. I’ll give you three examples.

I was reading 1 Samuel 3.1. I was praying about two options: to be leading in a church context where I would be the sole leader, or another where I would have been leading under another, older, wiser figure. I was weighing it up. Then I read this and it said that Samuel ‘ministered under Eli’. For me that was the decision made. I knew I needed to be under an Eli figure and that’s what took us to Cornwall.

Then, I was studying John 3.16. That for me was a revelation about how much God has opened up and given us not just gifts and forgiveness, but his own life for us. That was a very personal experience. I had never felt like that before. It moved me to tears, which is unusual. It stopped me in my tracks. 

The Bible also gives us a resource for those tough seasons of life. My father died three months ago which has been a huge experience. I go through various emotions with it and wonder if I have the strength to carry on when I don’t feel like being in front of people.

I read 2 Timothy where Paul says to Timothy, ‘You my son, be strong in the strength that is in Christ Jesus’. I felt like that was my Dad talking as well as my heavenly father. That’s given me something to hold onto when I would have fallen on my face otherwise. 

What are your hopes and dreams for people going through the Bible course?

You know those space launchers where the booster rockets fit on the side of the rocket and give it an injection of energy and then they drop away? I think the Bible course is a bit like that.

I hope it will help millions of people around the world, that it will fire people up into a whole new realm of engagement with God’s Word. I hope it will be the point of engagement and encounter to get them off the ground. 

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