Read Your Bible in 2014? Part 2

BookIt has been a couple of years since I suggested that the famous reading plan of a certain famous Christian was not a good idea.  (If you want to see that post, click here.)  That plan, and many that have copied it, involves reading a small handful of chapters each day.  The chapters are from different places in the canon.  I know some people swear by this approach, but I am unconvinced.  Here’s why:

1. Why treat the Bible chapters as vitamin pills rather than part of a coherent feast?  Why pursue “balance” with a passion, but sacrifice the divine design?  God gave us books, not an assortment of random chapters.

2. Why choose to not read chapters in their context?  Esther is hard to put down, so is Ephesians, and Hebrews always grips me, and there are over 60 other books, most of which are an awesome read in flow.  Why take a bit of one meal and then a bite of another?

3. Why miss out on the delight of noise-free reading?  For the first minutes of our Bible reading, perhaps 10-15, we have a mental noise in the background: things to do, don’t forget this, remember that, what about…  Once that clears, we zero in and enjoy what we are reading.  Read for ten minutes and you will be ready to stop.  Read for 30-40 and you will struggle to put it down.  Most reading plans cater to 10-12 minute reading loads.  So you could struggle year after year with these disciplined approaches, but absolutely thrive on the simple approach of reading a decent chunk in flow.  Really?  People who struggle to read the Bible through in a year may find it easier and more enjoyable to read it 2 or 3 times in a year?  Yes.

4. Why take a checklist approach to the most important relationship?  I don’t have to force myself to read sports news, or eat three meals a day, and certainly don’t require a checklist to remember to interact with my wife each day.  I don’t tend to be impressed with reticent disciplined Bible readers.  But those who delight in God tend to be people who devour the Bible.  That may look like discipline, love usually does, but discipline is not the way to get there.

Perhaps it is worth pondering how to encourage people by enthusiastic invitation, rather than by affirming the “difficulty” and “trudgery” of “getting through the Bible” in a year or three.  Here is a link to my friend Ron’s article on Bible reading – as “Bible presenters” lets be sure to be genuine Bible enthusiasts that do more than try to fire up the so-called disciplined wills of our listeners!

7 Comments

Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion

7 responses to “Read Your Bible in 2014? Part 2

  1. Gretchen

    Thanks so much for this Peter. As one who for decades took the “disciplined” approach of a few random chapters a day, in retrospect I now see that it was not my love for Christ that drew me into the Bible—it was my love for myself in wanting to convince myself that I was a “good Christian” because I was so dedicated.

    It’s so true that once you read long enough to get past the “noise’” that interrupts our conversation with the Lord through His Word, it becomes hard to stop! And to know Christ through the Bible is to love Him more deeply because we see His love, beauty, and attractiveness poured out from beginning to end. I read the Bible now because I love Him and delight in Him, and as I read, I experience His love for me as well. When I find that my interest in the reading the Bible is waning, it is a red flag regarding the condition of my heart—not a lack of discipline. I pray that the Lord will again open my eyes to His beauty and love which can’t help but draw me back into His Word and into sweet communion with Him.

    For any of your readers who haven’t already read it, please do read Ron’s article that Peter has linked here. It was what the Lord used to open my own eyes to the kind of relationship with the Him that was possible through feasting on the Bible!

  2. Peter McCallum

    I do not find these arguments any more compelling now that I did two and more years ago.

    The suggestion that a short passage is a vitamin pill and a longer passage is a feast is simply invalid. This by your own arguments. Surely Paul should have written a lot more to Philemon, John more to Gaius, and Jude more than 25 verses. You could go to McDonalds or other fast food chain and eat till gorged, and still probably get more food value from a vitamin pill. It is not that a feast is right and a vitamin pill is wrong. Both have their values. Personally, on the physical level, I prefer to just eat a little and often as that works best for me; and it seems to follow the advice of most professionals in the dietary field.

    I find that Esther, along with Ruth, are the nearest to a page turners in the bible and thus find reading them through a good approach. I find myself stopping to ponder when I get to Ephesians 1:10 “to unite all things in him”. I just cannot rush past that. When I restart I have to stop again to consider the pastor heart of Paul in 1:15-23. I find it hard to believe that Paul intended his letter to be read quickly just to get to the end. And Hebrews 1, who can read those first four marvellous verses without spending time on each statement about Jesus. Again, I suggest that the writer took a long time over putting the paragraph together and that we should respect this in our reading. Just my experience. Sometimes the context is just the sentence, sometime the paragraph, the chapter, larger sections of the book, the whole book, or the Bible in its entirety. Equally, the personal context is not the same for a new Christian as mature Christian, for the Sunday School teacher and the Systematic Theology professor and so on. We bring our own context to everything we do and I doubt that Jesus sees it otherwise. The Incarnation was necessary – He came into our context. Context is therefore for many reasons not a single universal concept. One persons context may be quite different from that of another. Each persons choice of context is relevant to them. The analogy of a bite from one meal and a bite from another is as useful as suggesting that one meal should consist only of broccoli, or fish, or meat – neither seem to be fully relevant to defining context.

    Concentration is the key to “noise freedom” in any activity, not time. I worked in an open plan office most my life. From 40 years experience I can assure you that concentration is the key – many times my colleagues had to touch me to gain my attention. Time is needed for perfection in most activities in life, so is repetition.

    The reference to sports news to contradict the need for checklists is interesting. There is a sports section in the Daily Telegraph which I rarely consult as I confess not only to disinterest but also a childhood background of treating all sports as worldly. But even there you are certain to have your own mental checklist – it is, for instance, unlikely that you search out the results for Ayr United regularly. You may not require a checklist for your meals – I confess to working through many lunch times without noticing – but you certainly require some kind of checklist to put those meals together. Checklists are valuable in almost every single human activity. They can be written, of mental, or even physical like a bookmark.

    There are implicit assumptions in this and related posts. The ability to read, even to speed read, is one, the availability of scripture is the other. To this day neither of these can be assumed for all Christians.This does not mean that they are in any way whatsoever inferior the those of us who can read and have a plethora of translations in their own language.

    I read the Bible, in different ways at different times. I read it by myself both in small passages and in large chunks, I read it with others in small groups, I listen to it being read in different circumstances. I encourage others to do the same. I am not advocating that anyone should stop reading the Bible. I am not advocating that anyone should stop listening to and acting on the Bible.

    But, there is no single best methodology for reading the bible. I recognise the caveat that this article does not condemn other methods. Nevertheless it seems do “damn with faint praise”.

    • Thanks Peter, that is quite a substantial response. I’m not sure I follow all the arguments here, but I agree that the Bible can be enjoyed, read and heard in a great variety of ways. My concern is that we Christians often create an aura of negativity around Bible reading and yet I meet young believers who devour it (until we teach them that that is not the way mature Christians handle it). I don’t think I suggested that everyone could read and I can’t speed read, and of course there are still too many without the Bible in their language or the Bible allowed in their homes. Neither did I make any value judgment on anyone who does not have privileges that you or I may have. Nonetheless, it is good to ponder your thoughts and I hope you have a great Christmas and New Year.

  3. Gretchen

    I’ve been a Christian for nearly 50 years, and during that time I have nearly always consistently read the Bible in some form. I have read short bits, done intense studies, read straight through over long periods of time, studied the Bible in an academic setting, done topical studies, studies of individuals, studies of specific books, and probably touched just about every possible “method” for reading the Bible over those years. All of those things absolutely have merit for different people at different times, as the one respondent mentioned, and they have for me as well. But to this I can attest: Nothing—-not any of those other ways of reading the Bible—-has changed my heart and my life the way that reading in the way this post describes has done. And I have watched it have the same impact over and over again in others’ lives. I have not given up any of those other ways of reading and studying the Bible. But neither would I give up reading through from beginning to end in large portions at a time because through it, the Lord has drawn my heart deeply into His love, and I am more in love with Him than I even knew was possible. Nothing has caused me to know Him like this has and to love Him with all of my heart. It is not about methodology, it is about relationship! Life abundant? Yes! Complete joy? Yes! Overflowing love? Yes! From the depths of my heart, I would encourage others to give it a try. It might surprise you as it did me.

    • Peter McCallum

      Thank you,

      I too have benefited from all these methods, for such they are, for longer – but age is totally irrelevant. And I too encourage complete book reading etc. whenever the chance presents itself from the platform, in small groups, and in personal conversation. I will continue to do so. Those of us who can enjoy these methods should employ them.

      My concern is quite simple. There have been millions of Christians since 30 AD or thereabout, and millions at the present time for whom these methods are not available in any way whatsoever.- they are blind, they cannot read, they do not have scriptures, they do not have scriptures in their own language, they are in prison for their faith and so on.

      Is their Life Abundant any less than ours?
      Is their Complete Joy any less than ours?
      Is their Overflowing Love any less than ours?
      In any aspect of Christian living are they any less Christian than us?

      I would be very concerned if the answer to these questions is YES. If, as I suspect, the answer is NO; then we must look to other more universal reasons to gain Eternal (or abundant) life, Complete Joy, Overflowing Love. e.g. The work of the Holy Spirit, The work of preachers and teachers. Fellow Christians. Prayer. Faith. Jesus.

      Our bible reading is one facilitator, one enabler, one blessing – our gracious God in his bounty has given us every spiritual blessing.

      As I write it is almost midnight on Christmas Eve. I therefore take the opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy Christmas and every blessing in your ministry in the coming year.

      (I am up this late waiting for the arrival of a daughter who is driving home from the north of England in a car which has developed problems.)

      • Thank you Peter, and I trust your daughter made it safely for a good family Christmas together. Just a couple of thoughts from me. First, I often encourage groups in the value of listening to the Bible. I understand the challenges many face in our society with reading, and yet we have affordable or free audio Bibles available. Epistles were not typically written to be read by individuals and studied closely, but to be heard by the congregation. Consequently, we would do well to take advantage of audio, whether or not we are able to read confidently.

        Second, God is very gracious to us all, including those who do not yet have the Bible in their language (many of whom therefore also lack preachers/teachers and even fellow believers). But I don’t think we can so easily assume the answer to your question is No. If you are right, it undermines the need for Bible translation, distribution, etc. Thus I would suggest the Bible is not just one of many enablers for Christian spirituality, it is far more primary and central than that would imply. All other “enablers” or “facilitators” do what they do in light of Scripture. Christianity is a revelation-based faith because our God is a God who has spoken. This means we cannot reduce the significance of Scripture.

        I’ll leave it there, but thanks again for interacting with the site. Peter

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