The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Bible Reading (page 1 of 2)

My Favorite Bible Reading Methods

It’s the start of a new year, which is generally the time that many people begin their goal of reading through the Bible in a year. This is, of course, a worthwhile goal, but it is one I have mixed feelings about in the sense that frequently, people get behind in their reading plans and because they feel like they can’t catch up, give up instead. This is wrong-headed, I think, since the real point of Bible reading plans is to cultivate the regular practice of reading Scripture rather than finishing the whole Bible in 365 days.

At the same time, reading through the entire Bible is a very worthwhile goal, and it always amazes me when I hear of people who have been Christians for years and years but have never read the Bible from cover to cover (if you are reading this and fit into that category, I am not trying to make you feel guilty or ashamed, just keep reading). Simply put, if you don’t read the entire Bible, you tend to miss out on some important and recurring ideas.

For the last several years I have read through the Bible using different plans and methods, and for those who might be interested in reading through the Bible in 2018 (it’s not too late to start!), I thought it might be helpful to share of the different methods that I have enjoyed and what I liked about them:

  • The Daily Bible: This Bible attempts to place the books of the Bible in chronological order, and divides it into 365 readings to make it easy to know exactly how much you need to read per day. It also includes helpful introductory material to each book.
  • The Message: This is a simple “method”—I just read through the Message one year. This is not a common translation for me, which meant that I was constantly reading passages in new language, which led to new reflections and new insights. I’m sure some editions now come with Bible reading plans, or you can simply divide the 1189 chapters in the Bible (or the total page numbers in the edition you are using) into 365 portions.
  • ESV Journaling Bible: The ESV is the primary translation I use, and I really liked being able to write a lot of notes and reflections as I read through in the journaling space. Also, I really liked the reading plan that came along with it, which included a daily selection from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Psalms.
  • The Listener’s Bible: Two years ago, I did my Bible “reading” in the car by listening to audio CDs that were recorded by Max McLean. Not only did this allow me to make the most of time in which I was otherwise unproductive, it also allowed me to hear Scripture instead of read it, which is the same way that the original audiences would have been exposed to it. Bonus feature: your road rage tends to decrease when you drive around listening to God’s word.
  • ReadScripture App: Last year, I used the Bible Project’s free ReadScripture app on my iPhone (also available on Android), and absolutely loved it. Having everything on your phone is incredibly handy, the Bible Project videos that introduce each biblical book are incredible, and the emphasis on the Bible as one unified story that points to Jesus is very helpful.
  • Bibliotheca: This year, I am using Bibliotheca for my Bible reading. This approach is novel for a couple of reasons. First, everything about Bibliotheca has been carefully designed to enhance the reading experience: from removing the verse and chapter numbers, to the craftsmanship of the books themselves, to even the specially-designed font. Second, Bibliotheca uses an updated version of the incredibly literal American Standard Version. So far, I have not loved the stilted style of this translation, but the novelty of it and some of the word choices it uses has caught my attention several times and has helped me to see things in a new light (similar to what I said about the Message above, except from the opposite perspective).
  • Whole Books at a Time: This process is described here and is my tentative plan for next year. This is not truly a daily Bible reading plan, as you basically set aside one large block of time per week to read entire books in one sitting, but I can certainly see great potential value in reading the individual books as unified wholes.

If you are currently trying to read through the Bible this year, I applaud you on your goal, and maybe one of these methods will be helpful to you. But remember, more important than completing the entire Bible in an arbitrary amount of time is establishing the practice of regularly spending time in God’s word and seeking the transformation that comes from doing so.

Reaching Your Spiritual Potential: Read Your Bible!

Spiritual Potential

This is the third post in an ongoing series (which I have neglected for a few weeks). See Part 1 and Part 2.

Bible Study in the Bible

Probably I don’t need to go into great detail about Bible study being a biblical idea, but briefly:

  • We know that Jesus had great command of Scripture.
  • He amazed the crowds, scribes, and religious leaders with His teaching  (even at a young age).
  • His beautiful Sermon on the Mount interacted significantly with the Law of Moses.
  • When He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He answered every temptation with Scripture.

Elsewhere in the Bible, we see an emphasis on the importance of studying, meditating upon, and teaching God’s Word:

  • Deuteronomy 11.18-23: “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you.”
  • Joshua 1.8: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
  • Psalm 119.105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
  • Acts 17.10-12: The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.”
  • 2 Timothy 2.15: “Be diligent (KJV: study) to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
  • 2 Timothy 3.16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

There are a lot of other passages we could look at, but I think these give the idea: the Bible presents itself as a book of teaching that needs to be read, studied, and obeyed by the people of God.

Clueless Christians

I think perhaps that the greatest problem in American Christianity today is that Christians claim to live their lives according to the teachings of a book that, frankly, they know very little about!*

I truly believe that a lot of the division that exists in Christianity and a lot of the false teaching that abounds would be taken care of if people would simply spend more time reading God’s Word.

This is absolutely true in the Christian world as a whole and I believe it is also true within the fellowship of Churches of Christ. In classes I teach and in biblical discussions I have, I am firmly convinced that the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians are pretty ignorant when it comes to what the Bible actually teaches.

And if you know your history about the fellowship of Churches of Christ, that is both ironic and sad. Churches of Christ have direct historical ties to the American Restoration Movement, which occurred in the early 1800s in the United States when several men, independently and simultaneously, decided that they wanted nothing more and nothing less than to be members of the Church purchased by the blood of Christ and established by His apostles in the first century.

Men like Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell didn’t want to be called Baptists or Presbyterians or Methodists anymore; they just wanted to be known as Christians. These men didn’t want to have anything to do with manmade creeds or traditions; they wanted their beliefs and practices to be determined by the teachings of Scripture. They didn’t want people following them; they wanted people to follow Christ.

So, examining Scripture, these men came to the conclusion that local congregations should be organized under Elderships, that worship to God should consist of a cappella singing, that the Lord’s Supper should be observed every Sunday, and that baptism involves being immersed in water for the remission of sins. If you attend a church of Christ, that should all sound pretty familiar to you.

As I said earlier, the lack of biblical knowledge that we have today is ironic, because, in Churches of Christ, our big thing, our defining characteristic is supposed to be that we make every effort possible to be the New Testament Church, and to live our lives according to the teachings of the Bible. But how can we hope to do that if so many of us know so little about what the Bible actually teaches?

The simple truth is that there’s no way that we can become mature Christians and reach our spiritual potential if we are ignorant of the teachings of Scripture!

We believe that the Bible is a special book because it is God-breathed; it’s the only book that we have that came from God! What could be a more important use of your time than devoting yourself to the reading and study of such a book?

Unfortunately, somehow we’ve developed the idea that it’s the Church’s job to teach us all the Bible we need to know. Certainly part of the Church’s job is to teach Christians, but if the only exposure to the Bible you’re getting is at Church, it’s just not enough! At the congregation where I work, we have roughly 80 minutes of Bible class time per week. Add to that another 60 minutes of sermon time per week and then do the math, and it comes out to about 120 hours, or 5 days of biblical instruction per year. That, on it’s own is not nearly enough, and that assumes that you never miss a single class or sermon!

What all this means is that if we’re going to grow to become mature Christians and reach our spiritual potential, it is going to require that we read and study the Bible outside of church.

I realize that what I’m saying doesn’t apply to everyone who is reading this; there are some who have studied the Bible for decades, and who continue to make Bible reading a part of their daily lives. But for many of us, there is a lot of room for improvement.

I read the Bible a lot, but it had been several years since I had systematically read the entire Bible through in one year. I decided to do that this year, and have been astounded by the results: so often I will be reading something else or talking to someone about a biblical topic, and I’ll think to myself, “I just read that the other day!” It has been a tremendous blessing to see different parts of my life interconnected and woven together in the shadow of the Word of God.

Let me encourage you: make a commitment today to be a person whose life is characterized by a dedication to the reading and study of Scripture. Your spiritual growth and potential depends on it.

Read your Bibles!

*I say “perhaps” because sometimes I think that the greatest problem in American Christianity is the way that we spend our money. But maybe there’s no real disagreement here: if we actually read our Bibles and listened to what Jesus said about money, it might take care of that problem too.

Being Humble About Our “New Interpretations”

Some more good stuff from Jonathan Pennington’s Reading the Gospels Wisely on the importance of studying the history of the interpretation of the biblical text:

“Any time we think we have come up with a new and insightful interpretation, the odds are that someone has already had this insight and expressed it better; conversely, if we do arrive at an entirely new interpretation, then chances are, if none of the tens of thousands of students of Scripture have ever seen things that way, that interpretation may have serious weaknesses and blind spots.”

So basically, if you’re reading Scripture and feel like you’ve come upon a new and brilliant interpretation of a verse or passage that you’ve never heard before, do a little research: most likely someone else has already developed that same interpretation and has done so in a better and more thorough way. And that’s a good thing, because it leads to a deeper understanding of the Bible.

And it’s also possible (though unlikely) that your research will show that you have, indeed, come up with a new interpretation that no one else has ever thought of before. If that’s the case, your new interpretation is most likely flawed.

Either way, I think researching and reading the interpretive views of others is helpful in determining accuracy, and also leads to humility as well. Both are good things.

Different Types of Maps: Read (and Preach, and Teach) the Whole Bible

In 2 Timothy 3.16-17, Paul writes:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Based on Paul’s words here, I think it should be obvious that we should give attention to all of Scripture, rather than just study the parts that we like over and over again. Some people focus on Paul’s writings; others spend a lot of time in the Gospels. Some folks obsess over the accounts of the early church in Acts, while others never stray far from the wisdom literature or the historical books of the Old Testament.

And it’s okay to have favorites, but if we emphasize our favorites to the point that we neglect the other portions of Scripture, then we aren’t taking Paul’s words from 2 Timothy 3.16-17 very seriously.

In Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, Jonathan T. Pennington puts it very well:
“…For Jefferson County, Kentucky, where I live, we could look at a topographical map that shows terrain and elevations or a road map; at a map that records annual rainfall or one that indicates historical landmarks and points of scenic interest; or we could consult a survey that shows where property lines begin and end. These are all different maps, and they would look very different if set beside one another. But of course they don’t contradict one another. They are complementary and beneficial. They are different discourses of truth—or different ways of approaching and presenting knowledge.

If this is true for maps of Jefferson County, Kentucky, how much more for theology and Holy Scripture. We need to think of the Bible not as a single map that just gives us doctrinal statements or moral commands, but we must realize that the Bible is like an atlas—a collection of maps/books that shows us the way, the truth, and the life but in a variety of languages or discourses or ways of communicating. To privilege—or worse, to rely exclusively on—only one form is detrimental to apprehending truth; a topographical map helps little when we’re seeking the best restaurants.” 
What a great analogy this is! The Bible is true, but it presents truth in a variety of ways. In Matthew, truth might be presented through a parable. In 1 Kings or Acts, it might be presented in historical narrative. In Psalms, truth is presented through poetry, and in Proverbs through pithy sayings. In books like Romans, Paul often presents truth in direct theological or doctrinal statements, and in Revelation, John presents truth through bizarre and sometimes frightening visions.

All of these different “maps” are a vital part of the entire “atlas” of the Bible. Some are more useful for certain purposes than others, but all contain truth and none should be neglected.

I think all people of faith would do well to be more well-rounded in our Bible study.

Reading Scripture as an Immigrant

One final perspective from Steeped in the Holy on Bible reading (p. 32-33):

“The third approach to Scripture—and the one that I believe is most useful for preachers—is that of the immigrant. When we come to a new country as an immigrant, we expect things to be different. We may have to learn a new language, or at least new vocabulary; there are different social expectations and cultural mores. To fit in, to belong, we have to adopt new clothing, accents, lifestyles. We never lose the culture of our homeland, but the longer we stay, the more aware we are of the differences. And as an immigrant, we invest in our new country; we develop relationships. We come to call it home. 

When we approach Scripture as immigrants, we come expecting to inhabit this new world. We explore it as insiders, learning the culture and language not as observers but as practitioners. We are necessarily invested in int, with head and heart and sould. It is not enough to have technical skill or academic disciplines: Immigration demands our participation and commitment as people, practitioners, of faith. With such an approach, we cannot help but live what we preach. We live it from the inside. And in this living the text from the inside, in being immigrants and becoming resident, we find that Scripture itself challenges us. It demands certain beliefs, certain actions, certain faith of us. We cannot approach it this way and remain unchanged. And, if we are luck, we fall in love—not just with our new home, but with the God who inhabits it.”

I appreciated these words and the description of this perspective compared to that of the tourist and scientist.
Older posts

© 2018 The Doc File

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑