It’s presumptuous for a man to suggest that he knows the best method for everyone to read the Bible. But I’m going to tell you the way that I best read the Bible . . . and why it works so well for me.
I’ve been a Bible reader for many years and the plans I’ve followed are certainly varied. At times I’ve read the Bible through every seven weeks. I believe I even read it in a month a time or two. Such “marathon” plans are a little much for most people, but can be helpful in some special situations. I’ve read in various sections each day. I’ve read books at random, making sure all the books are eventually covered before my allotted time is finished. I’ve used plans that matched certain books together to give more of a chronological feel to the reading. Most of my believing life, I’ve tried to read the Bible once a year at least, with some portions read multiple times. Some years I failed to do anything very consistent, but usually only because I did not determine a plan of action beforehand.
No plan for Bible reading is a complete waste of time, obviously, but I’ve now come to believe there is a better way of thinking about Bible reading. I’m recommending immersion or saturation in one or two books of the Bible over several months as my preferred method. Frankly, I have never known Bible reading to be so transformative and interesting as with this method, both for me and for many friends who have tried it at my suggestion.
Three Tempting Replacements for Meaningful Bible Reading:
Regardless of whether you prefer my new plan or not, I want you to consider three distractions always luring the serious Christian away from his Bible. The first is devotionalism. I mean by this the view that we read the Bible mainly in order to get a spiritual boost for the day. We do want to be devoted. I don’t mean to disparage that aim. But devotionalism is a way of reading Scripture for a lift rather than for truth. It’s reading the Bible as a self-help book designed to give you nuggets to get you through the day. Most of the believers I know have been devotionalists. I was for many years. You can often tell them by the fact that they can converse about almost nothing significant biblically, even after years of reading, except how good they feel when they have devotions.
I don’t mean to say that a devotional reader never cares about truth at all, but that he will not make exceptional efforts to find it out. Not really. He would rather take whatever apparent meaning floats to the top or whatever someone has said that lingers in his mind to be the text’s meaning than to do any work at understanding himself. He will skip over the difficult and seemingly unrelated sections lying between these potent verses he thinks are most helpful to him. Sometimes the devotional reader is correct in his view of the text, but often he will be wrong, or biased in his understanding of the text. And, for all his reading over years, his understanding of Scripture never really changes that much.
Good books are a second diversion from serious Bible reading. I’ve had a large library for many years, and have spent lots of my time reading books. I’m also an author of several books. But I can tell you without question that many people are not serious Bible readers because of the best of these books.
We should read some books, but very selectively. Recently, in another country, I stacked up a set of five large books next to the Bible. The men listening to me were receiving these books as part of a book reading seminar for the next year. The books were about five times higher than the Bible. It will take them just seven to eight pages of reading each day over the semesters to make it through those fine books. But I asked: “How many of you will read that much Bible every day?” They sighed, because they knew I was making my point. Who can spend serious time reading the Bible when there is so much else that is good to read staring at them? I said, “You can read at least three times through the Bible this year in the same amount of time it will take to read these books.”
Many people buy books incessantly and build large libraries. When I see the rows and rows of books, I think, “Can they reject these noble authors staring down at them from these shelves?” Those books say, “Read me, read me,” every time they walk through the room.
I have such a library. It’s impressive. But some years ago something died in me concerning those books. The desire mechanism inside me wilted and gave in to something more appealing. I read some still, but I don’t have the relish for those books I used to have. They seem so much less important now than the Bible that I can’t bring myself to invest in them as I used to. I’m not trying to act pious about this. It’s happened, and I can’t seem to revive the old lust for them I used to have. As a result, I’ve divested myself of a couple thousand of them, and will do more of that when I have time. I believe the death to those books came from reading a set of 66 books I own that do much more for me. I must admit, I don’t have even much relish to get people to read the books I’ve authored either, though I believe God has used them in the lives of many. It’s strange, but true.
I’ve often encountered Bible students in seminaries and Bible schools who say, “I don’t have time for the Bible in school since I’ve got so much reading to do.” It’s an interesting thing, isn’t it, that some students read far less Bible in seminary than they did before they went. They will come out weaker Christians if they don’t do something about this. Some men start their ministries having never read through the Bible! Some have read it only once. Reading about the Bible has replaced reading and discussing the Bible itself in many scholastic settings. Is God pleased with this?
I hope I can read more of the right books in my life, for there are some worthwhile ones, but I would far rather read and become a master of the Bible. And if there is a choice between the two, as often seems the case, I know which I’m choosing.