The best plans
Every year about this time, we all start getting emails and are entreated by our pastors to begin a reading plan to read the Bible through in one year. It makes sense, I suppose, for a Christian to do this. I mean, aren’t we Christ followers? Isn’t this his book? Shouldn’t we be so interested in it that we read it over and over our whole life? I don’t think so.
The bucket list
I’ve read the Bible through a couple of times. I think it’s probably one of those bucket list things each Christian should do. But many more times than I’ve been successful getting through all 66 books, I’ve failed to reach halfway. That’s pretty common. Most well meaning Christians that have lives with children and work, hit the wall about Leviticus or maybe Chronicles. It’s a tough row to hoe to work all day, deal with the kids, and fit in all of the sacrificial ceremonies of the Jewish nation. I believe it’s unnecessary.
Why read the Bible?
About this time, I have really offended some high-strung Biblical legalist. I would like to ask that Christ follower a question. You may read the Bible over and over. You may even believe it’s God’s very Word. I do too. What is Malachi about? And what does it have to do with Jesus? Hmmm.
You see, I think it’s important to know what God’s Word says just like most of you. I also think it’s important to know what it means.
Missing the point
I was once an Awana Leader for a small church. One of the goals of Awana is to memorize Bible verses. In fact, the more you memorize, the better. A child is awarded for memorizing as many verses as possible. I think that’s a good thing. God’s Word wont return to him void, if that’s a legal exegetical application. The problem was that I was over a Middle school and High school class and the verses they needed to memorize were not the same as the younger kids. They were much longer, and harder. What was easy for them at 12 years old was suddenly not so easy at 13. They became discouraged. Sure, there is always a high achiever in the class who was able to get the work done, but most were distraught at the idea of even trying. What had changed?
Disconnecting the word from the Word
As I thought about how to help them meet this challenge, I began to realize that there was a disconnect between memorizing and knowing. Many of them had memorized hundreds of verses but did they know anything about what the Bible actually said. After some quizzing and surveys of their theological knowledge, it quickly became apparent that they were Biblically rich but theologically poor. A verse in John quickly came to mind (not void), Jesus said:
John 17:3 (ESV)
3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Nothing can be rightly known if God be not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, where God is not studied. We know little of the creature till we know it as it stands in its order and respects to God; single letters and syllables uncomposed are nonsense. He who overlooks the Alpha and Omega and does not see the beginning and end, and Him in all, who is the all of all, sees nothing at all.
There is a big difference between knowing the Bible and knowing God/Jesus. We can know his words but still not know him. We need to know his heart and to do that, we need to know the meaning of his words.
It’s pretty much the same with Read the Bible in a Year (RBOY) plans. You read his words, but how well do you know them? More importantly, how well do you know him by reading his words?
Ditch your reading plan
If I may humbly suggest this year, ditch your reading plan!
Most scholars agree that in a person’s lifetime, a Christian may only master one book of the Bible. That includes people like Chuck Swindoll and RC Sproul. Scolars also agree that that is exactly what each person should strive for. Master what you read.
May I suggest?
I have just a few suggestions after you ditch your RBOY plan.
Get some help. We stand on the shoulders of many who have gone before us. Many great scholars have done much of the heavy lifting for us. Get a set of good commentaries and a good systematic theology.
Pick a book to master. Each Christian should know John’s Gospel and most of Genesis. Take an Epistle or another Gospel this year and make it yours! Study Ephesians or Galatians or 1 or 2 Peter or Luke or Acts and get to know it. Get to know the writer, his bent, his context, his audience, his motive, and make his book yours.
Learn how to read the Bible (properly). Many people read the Bible, but not many read it correctly. The Bible is a dangerous book. We can and do make it say a lot of things that it has no intention of saying. Take an online course, or order a teaching DVD on how to study the Bible (hermeneutics). Many seminaries now offer free online classes for lay people not looking for a degree. Get a good book on how to read the Bible like Living by the Book. Don’t mishandle God’s Word. I don’t like that, but that doesn’t matter. He doesn’t like that!
Use more than one interpretation of the Bible. I’d suggest having at least five different Bibles to study from. In my opinion, the ESV, NASB, NET, KJV, and the Message are your best bet. The first four are very accurate transmissions and the Message by E. Peterson is a great read for application (most times).
Finally, and most importantly, look for Jesus. Don’t forget, the reason you are reading his book is to get to know him. If you’re proof texting, stop. If you’re seeking academic acclaim, hush. If you’re looking for bragging rights, quit it. Just look for Jesus. That will make the Bible come alive, when you see him in it.
Look for Jesus
I, by no means, want to discourage anyone from reading this great book. If you struggle with discipline and you need to get up and read to keep the habit, by all means, do it. If you can, after you read, think about what you’ve read. Look for Jesus.
If you can, think about challenging yourself with a new challenge this year. Don’t just read the Bible, study it! Master what you read, and ditch your reading plan.