I recently heard Jen Wilkin argue that the American church faces a biblical literacy crisis. From the discussions that I have and the comments that I read, I could not agree more. Most Christians do not know the basics of the biblical storyline, basic facts about the Bible’s major characters, or the texts on which our most foundational doctrines are built. Many Christians try to have in-depth discussions about ethics and the relationship between Christianity and the government without knowing even the most basic facts about Scripture. It’s like trying to solve an equation when you don’t know that 2+2=4.
Lest I sound as if I write from the top of a mountain of biblical knowledge, let me assure you that I don’t. I became a Christian in 1997 during my sophomore year at a Christian university. My conversion came after wrestling with my own guilt, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, and what it means that a Christian is a new creation in Christ. Because my conversion was tied up in theological questions, the first book I read after my conversion was Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul. While this is a fantastic book and a great introduction to the Reformed faith, I was trying to wrestle with knotty theological issues when I could not name the twelve tribes of Israel or the twelve Apostles. I wanted to have a deep understanding of what it meant that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but couldn’t name the plagues that preceded this divine action.
By God’s grace, I’ve made a good bit of progress through the years thanks to daily Bible reading, good books, and listening to good teaching. Yet, I still find embarrassing gaps in my knowledge of Scripture. While at least some gaps will always exist, I believe every Christian is called to make every effort to know God’s word as deeply as possible. This conviction means I have to strategize and figure out how to grow in my grasp of the whole of God’s word, especially those areas where I find my knowledge to be woefully deficient.
I have made four adjustments to how I read the Bible and other books to help grow in my knowledge of the whole Bible and commend these to you as well. If you cannot make all four of these adjustments, pick one or two that you think would make the biggest difference.
Before I get into these four strategies for learning Scripture, I would like to address the elephant in the room–time and effort. Almost any time Bible reading comes up with a group of Christians, people wonder how they could possibly “find” the time to devote to learning Scripture. My answer is always the same. You will never find the time but you can make the time.
Look at how you currently spend your time and see what adjustments you could make. How much Bible could you read in the time that you scroll through Facebook and watch Netflix each day? Put a time-tracking app like Moment on your phone and you will quickly find that you have more time than you think. (The average moment user spends 3 hours and 57 minutes on their phone each day.) If you have a long commute, could you listen to an audio Bible in the car? Do you have pockets of time between meetings when you could read?
Strategizing to learn God’s word does take time. Finding a reading plan and working through how you will stick with it does take effort, but it is absolutely worth it. God’s word does not return void and time spent digging into God’s word is never wasted.
I started a few months ago employing a method John MacArthur used in seminary to learn the content of the New Testament. To keep from being “Concordance crippled,” he read each New Testament book every day for one month. For longer books, he broke it up into manageable sections and read the section each day for a month. This repeated reading produces familiarity with the content, outline, and flow of a biblical book.
I took MacArthur’s basic principle, repeated reading of the same book of the Bible, and tweaked it for my purposes. Instead of reading each New Testament book every day for a month, I am reading each book of the Bible ten times. For longer books, I am breaking it up into 6, 7, or 8 verse sections and reading consecutively through the book ten times.
As I read through the book, I make sure to note things I need to know about in more detail. For example, I stopped and jotted down a list of the mother for each of Jacob’s sons. I’m also working on two or three sentence summaries of each chapter. The result is that as I read through each book repeatedly, I grow a little bit more familiar with the book and find myself better able to reference the details of the book in conversations with people.
The one drawback of the repeated reading method is that if you do not do other Bible reading separate from it, there may be books of the Bible that you don’t read for several years. If you read Genesis repeatedly in 2018 but then don’t read it again until 2022, you will likely forget much of what you learned about Genesis in your repeated reading.
What I have done recently is to add three extra chapters into my Bible reading each day. In addition to the repeated reading, I read two chapters from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. When I finish reading the New Testament, I will read three chapters a day from the Old Testament until I have finished it as well. Then I will start over again. This helps me to make sure that I am reading the whole Bible at least every twelve to fifteen months.
Too often, when we think about Scripture memory, our brain’s excuse generator goes into overdrive. We think we are not able to memorize because it seems too difficult. However, when we see the benefits of Scripture memory, our excuses will quickly fade and we will figure out the best way to do it. Scripture memory helps us in our war against sin, gives us encouraging truths to share with struggling friends, and provides us with fuel for our Bible meditation.
If you are new to Scripture memory, I would encourage you to learn a new verse every three days. Familiarize yourself with it on the first day, say it without looking multiple times on the second day, and refresh yourself on it the third day. Then, move on to a new verse, but also remember to look back over your older verses from time to time.
I do not recommend using apps for your daily Bible reading. Your paper Bible does not have a home button or a Facebook app on it. However, I do recommend using an app for Scripture memory. The ScriptureTyper app has a built-in schedule for reviewing verses you previously memorized. The Verses app, which I have been using the last few weeks, has a meter to show the strength of your knowledge of a verse. Also, these apps have preloaded sets of verses to memorize. (You can also start with my life of the first 15 verses to memorize or eight longer passages to memorize.
Sometimes we need some outside help in understanding the historical background, theology, and culture of the biblical world. We have so many good tools at our disposal to help us with this now that knowing where to begin can be difficult.
If you have a study Bible, read the introduction to the biblical book before you start your repeated reading. This will help you understand the authorship and setting of the book. It will also provide you with an outline so that you can have some pegs on which to hang what you are learning in your reading.
In addition, I have found reading a chapter from an Old Testament or New Testament Introduction to be helpful before diving into my repeated reading. I have been using the An Introduction to the Old Testament and An Introduction to the New Testament for many years, but I have also just discovered What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About and What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About. If you are looking for a shorter work, you might find a work like How to Read the Bible Book by Book to be helpful.
Whatever strategy you employ for growing in God’s word, the most important thing you can do is to get started. Sit down, drown out the noise from the world around you, and read God’s word. Only then can you begin to see the benefits of steeping your mind in God’s truth.
“How to Grow in God’s Word in 2018“
For Further Reading:
How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart