According to 2014 Barna research, 19% of Americans read their Bibles more than 4 times a week, even though 76% believe it to be sacred and 56% say it is the inspired word of God.
The percentages are always changing, but the gist remains the same: only a minority of self-proclaimed Christians read their Bibles at home regularly.
What might be the consequences? We could talk about the correlation between a lack of Bible reading and an increase in skepticism towards the reliability of the Bible, or about the increased immorality in our society, but let’s focus inward, on the church.
What issues arise when a majority of churchgoers aren’t Biblically literate? Division? Arguing over opinions? A lack of the fruit of the Spirit? Stagnancy in personal growth? A lack of spiritual guidance and leadership? Resistance to accountability or teaching that conflicts with preconceived beliefs? That ‘American Christianity’ everyone is always harping on? A widening gap between what the church should be and what is actually taking place once a week?
I’m not even saying if we read our Bibles, we’d have uniformity in belief.
But doctrinal disagreements resulting from much study on both parts is more admirable than disagreements based on flimsy regard for scripture and mostly cultural, political, and personal biases or that one article that one person wrote.
If I go months without daily reading, I slip far and fast. God seems distant, sin becomes an unshakeable presence, my attitude, my words don’t resemble anything godly but instead reflect perfectly the surrounding. How impossible it is to live as a Christian without the food and power of God ingested d-a-i-l-y!
But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”- Matthew 4:4
There are plenty of reasons why we don’t read more, but let’s focus on one: we don’t know how.
As a child, I hardly comprehended any Bible reading, definitely not the context or story of each book. In adolescence, I practiced only topical study. Maybe Proverbs.
It wasn’t until I was taught, surrounded by people who studied daily and questioned every action and searched scripture for the answer, that I began seeing where I was going wrong.
Topical study can be valuable – sometimes we need answers or reminders about specific issues -but our default should be book studies. It’s how we get the big picture, how we learn beyond the few topics we’re interested in, get to know God, shape our conscience, beliefs, behaviors, strengthen our faith, grow from needing milk to solid food, to meat. How we cultivate zeal, passion. It’s how we deepen knowledge and equip ourselves to teach others, to please God. It’s how we graduate from fearing hell to desiring God.
“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 competent, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16, 17
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” – Romans 15:4
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. “ – Hebrews 4:12
Each time we read through books of the Bible, or the Bible in its entirety, we will 1) learn new things, 2) see passages in a new light depending on our circumstances or the knowledge we’ve gained 3) be reminded of something we’ve neglected, 4) cultivate a heart that is receptive to instruction.
When our only Bible reading is cherry-picking verses, we’re settling for crumbs. Never filling ourselves enough to be satisfied or to grow. Even exclusive topical study leaves us biased and malnourished; only by studying the the whole Bible do we even see those topics with full clarity.
For example, we learn more about marriage when we broaden our reading scope beyond passages exclusively pertaining to marriage. We learn more about God’s grace when we read about his grace in action, through obscure stories in the Old Testament, instead of confining ourselves to verses that include the word “grace”.
Right now I’m working on a six-month Bible reading plan, which I haven’t tried before. There are thousands of yearly plans. Why not try that? If you’re up for it, here are a few tips to maximize growth:
1. Take notes
Highlight, write in the margins. Most importantly, if you have a question ASK- a trusted spiritual mentor, google, a commentary, five commentaries, all of the above. Maybe you won’t get through the Bible in a year if you stop to research every time something is confusing, but at least what you do read, you’ll actually retain and understand. That’s the point, not arbitrary checkpoints.
Example: I read about Jesus cursing the fig tree and was curious about the full meaning. In my googling, I found someone who had heard that the meaning of the passage was to demonstrate that Jesus made mistakes. Spoiler: that was not the point of the passage at all! The Bible is a complex read – go into it knowing that you won’t understand it all at first glace (or second or fifth or thirty-eighth), then be patient and willing to learn.
2. Get the Big Picture
I procrastinated with this for years because, confession, it sounded boring. But if you want to learn the timeline, the history, the who’s-who and where’s-where, consult a workbook. If you’re like me, you aren’t going to remember names and places and the chronology of the Old Testament (or New) unless you read something specifically made to help you learn that. And by doing so, the Bible starts to make more sense, the plan of God and the gospel is more coherent, you learn to see Jesus through it all, and you also make up for lost time if, like me, you didn’t grow up learning all of the Bible basics in Sunday school. When you have a grasp of the who, what, when, where, and why of the Bible, you feel more competent going out and fielding questions from people who aren’t Christians. You also learn more about God when you see the progression of his people and how he interacted with them. And when it comes to learning historical context, especially in the New Testament, we begin to see what the literal meaning of the teachings would have been and are therefore enabled to more accurately apply them to ourselves.
3. Set a time
If I set the vague goal of reading the Bible “sometime today”, there’s a 30% chance it will get done, maybe less depending on how quickly I forget. Can you wake up early to read? Can you listen to an audio Bible on the way to work? Lunch break? Nap time for the kids? In the evening? Before bed? Figure out a realistic and generally stable time frame and designate that your Bible time. For me it’s usually early in the morning before the kids wake up. But that hasn’t always worked, so being flexible is also key. If life circumstances change and your lunch break is no longer and option, make a new plan.
Now, if the entire Bible is too daunting and you’re looking for a place to start, I have to recommend the New Testament first. Some people like to start with the gospels, some people like to start with Acts or Romans. Some with the Epistles. If you’re really indecisive, they even make New Testament reading plans. Just don’t be like me: I got stuck reading and re-reading the New Testament for years because I really didn’t want to get into the Old Testament. I didn’t value it and I didn’t realize the effect it would have on my faith.
Trust me: you need it all!
And you need it all, daily.
But don’t let me do all of the talking! Share your story: your struggles with reading, your successes, your recommendations, frustrations, questions, how reading, or the lack of it, has affected your relationship with God and your growth as a Christian. I want to hear what you have to say about Biblical literacy within the church and how we can start reading more in our personal time.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” – Psalm 19:7-11
“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” – Psalm 1:2