Reading the Bible

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Apparently, and this might shock you, people don’t read the Bible all the way through. Now, while you get back onto your chair and recover your senses after that revelation I should add that I’m not talking about heretics, atheists, or secular humanists. Most Christians don’t read the Bible all the way through. Take a minute to let the shock of this wear off before you continue reading.

Now, are you feeling better? I know this is a bombshell to most people’s sensitivities. “Of course,” the good Christian might say, “Everyone reads their Bible. Especially Evangelicals, what with their waving around the Word so much, lifting their Bibles high in moral exultation. They definitely read it, because that’s the whole basis of their various declarations on all manner of religious and societal topics, such as church government, evangelism, other religions, and manifold moral and cultural phenomenons.” (note, the previous quote is from the Acts 2:7-11 school of dialogue).

The fact is people don’t read their Bibles. Well, they read parts of it, that should be noted. Generally the same parts as the other people, in order to win their badges in competition or conversation (which often is the same thing). “But publisher Zondervan said that while 91 percent of Americans own at least one Bible, only 22 percent have read through the entire text.”

What is there to do? Some have come up with supposedly ingenious approaches to overcome this reality. Even if they don’t answer why ingenious is spelled with an “ious” while regular old genius is spelled with a plain “ius” they do seek to get people into the text with a broader view in mind.

Personally I am inclined to agree with Professor Schultze, mentioned in the article, not just because I had him for a very excellent class on Isaiah while in college, a class on the doctrine of Scripture, and spent a lovely Sunday afternoon in his living room with other class members. This helps my inclination to be sure, as tea and cake generally will do, but it is more that I am inclined to agree with him because I think he’s mostly right, which is in most cases the best reason to agree with someone. If someone is going to spend a short amount of time reading the Bible, one would certainly be better off really, really getting to know a whole single book of the Bible, rather than chapter headings and summaries made by someone else.

The problem with not reading the Bible, or only small bits of it plucked from its various branches, is one begins to understand Scripture as a source for prooftexting, getting the right verse to make your argument, rather than letting your argument come from the whole of the verses. The Bible becomes a tool, a collection of aphorisms and apologetic arguments, and in doing this curiously limits one’s understanding of God. It is limiting because one can become very good at telling the Bible what it says by picking and choosing, infusing your telling with theological weight and using terms such as Proclamation, or the Word, or Scripture to give authority to that which you’ve basically made up for yourself, or heard someone else make up.

However, in the methods and books suggested in this articles we run into another problem. Going too quickly and the Bible becomes nothing more than a textbook, with the chapter headings and key points and Major Characters all pouring into the same basic mold as a Cliff Notes version of Shakespeare. Cliff Notes are helpful to be sure but there’s a reason Shakespeare is famous and its not because of the brilliant summaries which can be distilled from his descriptions of Danish history. The brilliance is found in two parts: the story and the details. Lose either the story or the details and you’ve got an old English guy writing pulp fiction. Losing both the story and the details is what Cliff Notes do, and my guess is what these reduced Bibles do. They give the outline, the bare bits, but do nothing to give a real feel of the flow, or the connections between incidents, or do that most important part of a real story, namely draw you into it.

These methods make reading the Bible a project, or an assignment, or otherwise make it academic and entirely not interesting, and it should be entirely interesting. If it is burdensome, then a person will go back to whatever approach of appropriating God they had before.

I would heartily suggest a “year through the Bible” sort of approach, such as this one. This puts a person into a rhythm, and makes reading Scripture a habit to keep. Plus it’s easy to do, and mostly free. My approach to reading through whole Bible was entirely not free, in fact neither method was.

That’s a good hearty way of going about things. However, it’s not my initial recommendation. Because even when reading through the whole Bible in a year’s time a person can get bogged down in the details, losing themselves in the laws, or begats, or curses, or characters. They can finish the whole Bible, multiple times even, yet never really get a feel for the plot or the story. A person, in my estimation, is best served by getting a sense of the flow of Scripture then leaning into the details increasingly. Now, that sounds like the methods the article suggests, but its not. Because chapter summaries don’t give a feel of the flow, just more details removed from the story.

However, I have it on very good authority that something like the Picture Bible would be a marvelous approach. Indeed, if I was teaching a class for new Christians, or really on introduction of the Bible to anyone, I would encourage each person to read through the Picture Bible two or three times before jumping back into the regularly written version. This is how my own approach to Scripture was built, and I’ve learned that this is also a significantly effective approach to teaching literacy in general. Start with the story:

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.

I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems
Than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams.
I love to tell the story, it did so much for me;
And that is just the reason I tell it now to thee.

I love to tell the story; ’tis pleasant to repeat
What seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story, for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.

I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
’Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.

The problem, for the most part, is folks like to tell a story they really don’t know all that well. Which is why getting to the whole of Scripture, in whatever manner works, needs to be a renewed discipline.

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