Update (06/20/07): Since writing this, I have read Mortimer Adler's classic "How to Read a Book" in which he espouses the same approach I am about to lay out here.
As far as I can tell, the biggest problem in the church today is that we miss the forest for the trees. Entire Bible studies consisting of amateur Christians will often be based around the supposed in depth analysis of only one chapter of the Bible. Devotionals, which give bite size pieces of religion are increasingly popular in the fast paced times in which we live. The irony is that the lure of the devotional is that it doesn’t require any devotion at all.
I got caught up in examining Greek root words when I’ve never been educated in Greek. Even if I was, the connotations of the Greek words that are used are 2,000 years old and I was not going to give the message a fair shake by learning random Greek and Hebrew whenever it peaked my interest as it related to a particular passage. This kind of reading style manifests itself in the fact that my favorite companion tool during Bible reading was the concordance and not the Bible dictionary. With the concordance, I could jump around and find more juicy tidbits. The dictionary gave me a better background and understanding for this ancient, foreign, peculiar people.
I’m trying to think of how many Christians I know that have read through the entire Bible during their lifetime. I honestly don’t know of any for sure. It’s because the Christian culture does not promote the practice. If I ever wanted to ask a question about the Koran, I would naturally be inclined to go and find a Muslim. If I ever wanted to ask a question about the Bible, I would be hesitant to go and ask a Christian. The simple fact is that most of them have not read it! The juicy sayings have simply been repackaged and placed in Sunday schools, sermons, textbooks, speeches, Christian books, devotionals, etc. Those who have, have read it over the course of so many years, jumping around to various verses, and out of chronological order. This should’ve been the first thing I did as a Christian. I shouldn’t have gone any further or made any other plans until I had done it.
When I did set out to read the entire Bible, I usually started in January, perhaps as part of a new year’s resolution, and followed a plan of 1-3 years which consists of reading 1-5 chapters a day. Like mine, the common reader’s journey hits a brick wall around Leviticus and for some even earlier. I usually kept the Bible on my bedside table and read a few chapters or even just a few verses at night as I was dozing off. Then, when I picked up the Bible again to try again next year I got through the same parts and crashed again before I reached Joshua.
The opposite is true of a book like, for example, Harry Potter. A Harry Potter fan will pick up a Harry Potter book and read it in a matter of a day or two. They don’t just read it at night. They read it on the train, on their lunch break, at home. People will even leave their TVs off to read Harry Potter. They cannot put it down. It is a page turner.
The Bible, on the other hand, is not seen as a page turner. It is viewed almost like a devotional in and of itself. I had this preconceived notion that it is so deep and complex, the only way I can truly get the message that God wants me to get from it is to take it slow, examine each word, cross-reference, look up the Greek, and then attempt to pull that piece and apply it to my own life. I focused on the tree when God wants us to see is forest.
The story that is found in the Bible is a page turner. The only reason that it doesn’t feel that way is that we don’t give it a chance. Our reading plan says “January 1: Genesis 1-3” so we stop there when there is a story going on. Can you imagine reading you’re favorite novel in this way? You wouldn’t truly understand the themes, what motivates the characters, or maybe even the plot a year later. The same is true of the Bible when we lose ourselves in its forest. J.K. Rowling would not want her book read this way and I’ll bet Moses wouldn’t either.
So here’s the suggested reading plan:
1. Find a reading plan that is in chronological order, meaning in the order that events actually happened not in the order they were written. For example, you will jump between Psalms and Kings and Samuel, Genesis and Job, Acts and the Epistles.
2. Ignore the daily reading divisions which suggest only a few chapters at a time.
3. Beginning reading whenever you have free time. Act like you are interested, as if you were reading Harry Potter.
If you read the first five books of the Bible in a two week time span, you will be impressed by what a great story it actually is. Try it. Read the Bible like a Harry Potter novel. Don’t worry about things you don’t understand the first time around. Chances are you will understand the trees a lot better when you have seen the forest.