Here is a really good post from DesiringGod on reading the Bible. Per DG’s request, I have taken the content of David Mathis’s article verbatim, with changes only to open a new tab/window with each of the links.
There is some science to good Bible reading.
It’s important to know the fundamentals of language and communication, of subjects and verbs and objects, and most importantly conjunctions. Much can be gained from boning up on some basics of English or reading in Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book or Tony Reinke’s Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books. It’s helpful to have good Bible study aids, like overviews, introductions, and reliable commentaries (especially for the Old Testament prophets), and to have some sense of how the Scriptures are put together as a whole.
And just like we learn to ride a bike with training wheels, it can help to have someone spell out some simple method of “inductive Bible study” with the dance steps of observation, interpretation, and application. Rudimentary, memorable approaches like this abound in Christian circles serious about the Bible. They are a gift to help us get going, and come to an otherwise dauntingly large Book with some idea of what to do next.
But the point of learning the little bits of science behind it all is to be ready to dance when the music begins to play. And the best of dancing isn’t just taught in classrooms, but caught in practice.
Good Bible reading is no mere science; it is an art. The Bible itself is a special compilation of great artistries. And the best way to learn the art of reading the Bible for yourself is this: Read it for yourself.
Ask an Old Saint
Ask an old, weathered saint who’s been reading the Scriptures for himself for decades. See if he has a nice, clean formulation for how he goes about his daily reading. Does he have three or four simple, memorable steps he walks through consciously each day? The answer likely will be no; he’s learned over time there’s more art to it than that.
“The best way to learn the art of reading the Bible for yourself is this: Read it for yourself.” Tweet this quote.
Or more generally, just ask, How do you go about reading the Bible? You might see it on his face that it’s a tough question to answer. Not because there aren’t some basic, little “scientific” things, like the basics of reading and comprehension, or the various patterns and methods he’s developed for feeding his own soul over the years, but because he’s learned that so much of good Bible reading is an art. It’s a skill learned in engaging the task, not mainly sitting under formal instruction. And those who have read their Bibles most are the ones who have learned the craft best.
Learn the Art Through Practice
No biblical author gives us any nice, clean acrostic for how to go about daily devotions. That may feel daunting for the beginner who wants help, but in the long run it proves wonderfully freeing. It can be a great help to have training wheels for a season, but once you learn to ride the bike, those extra things sticking out the back are terribly constrictive and limiting.
At the end of the day, there is simply no replacement for finding a regular time and place, blocking out distractions, putting your nose in the text and letting your mind and heart be led and captured and thrilled by God himself communicating to us in his objective written words.
So, here at the outset of a new year, if you feel uncomfortable in the Scriptures, and inadequate in the art of Bible reading, the single most important thing you can do is make a regular practice of reading the Bible for yourself. There is no substitute for a few focused minutes each day in the text. You may be surprised how much the little bits add up in the long haul.
As much as we want a quick-fix, some fast lesson that makes us near-experts in eight short minutes, the best of Bible reading isn’t learned overnight, or even after a semester of lectures, but day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, imbibing the Bible, having God’s words inform our minds, inspire our hearts, instruct our lives. It is then that we slowly see the lights going on everywhere as we walk through life, and keep walking through the texts.
Discover the Art of Meditation
One piece of counsel for any Bible reading plan, however ambitious, is this: Don’t let the push to check boxes keep you from lingering over a text, whether to seek to understand it (what we might call “study”) or to emotionally glory in what you understand (“meditation”).
Think of your Bible reading as a daily surveying of the biblical landscape to find a spot to settle down for a few moments to meditate, which is the highpoint and richest moment of Bible intake. Go for breadth (in reading) and depth (in study), where you stop at something you don’t understand, pose questions and provide answers, consult resources, and perhaps capture a brief reflection in words or a diagram. There is a place for “raking” in Bible reading and gathering up the leaves at a swift pace, but when we “dig” in Bible study, we unearth the diamonds. In meditation, we marvel at the jewels.
Bible reading is like watching the film in real-time. Study is like going through a clip frame by frame. Meditation, then, along with Scripture memory, is for lingering over particular frames and pressing the significance to our hearts, and into our lives.
Grow in Finding Jesus
One final thing to say about Bible reading as art, not just science, is that Jesus taught his apostles to read the Scriptures in what we might describe as an artistic way. The science part of Bible reading is essential, but it doesn’t necessitate reading so rigidly, narrowly, and modernistically that only the most explicit and specific of prophecies apply to Christ, or that the text is always “for the original readers” and never for us.
Jesus himself read the Scriptures with much more flair — not in any way making things up, but seeing with the eyes of faith what’s really there to be seen below the surface, often out of sight to the natural mind. Such deep reading is a kind of acquired taste, through regular practice, not an easily transferred skill; it’s developing the apostolic palette for finding Jesus throughout the Scriptures, in his many textures and hues, without falling into either unbelief or make-believe. It is learning with the apostle John that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).
And so “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,” Jesus himself “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). He claimed, “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). He said Moses “wrote of me” (John 5:46), and that “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). And so he opened their minds — beyond their narrow, fallen rationality — to truly understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45).
As we learn to read the Bible not only with our left brain, but with our whole mind and heart, we see more and more how the apostles heard whispers of the Scriptures — and how they saw pointers to Jesus everywhere.
- Practical Helps for Bible Reading (with short video)
- Primer on Reading the Bible
- Three Tips for Better Bible Reading
- Resolved: To Read the Bible in 2015
“Learn to find Jesus throughout the Scriptures, in his many textures and hues, without falling into either unbelief or make-believe.”Tweet
What are your New Year’s Resolutions?
I don’t mean to throw a wet blanket on your plans, but according to my friend, Gerry Lewis, 25 percent of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions after one week and 60 percent of people abandon them within six months. The average person makes the same New Year’s resolution 10 ten separate times without success. Wow!
So do you want next year to be different? You’ll probably need some help, especially if you’re wanting to make real changes in your life, and even more so if you want to make changes in your walk with God.
In addition to the normal issues with trying to make life changes, spiritual changes are even more challenging. Why? Because there’s a war for your heart! Proverbs 4:23 says they we have to guard our hearts above all else because our life springs from our heart!
Have you ever wanted to know God in a more personal way? Have you ever intentionally tried to know Him? If we are His children, He speaks to us through several ways, including “the still, small voice”, Bible teachers and yes, even preachers! But how do you know that the “word” you heard is really from God, as opposed to feelings of indigestion? I know of no better way to hear God than to spend time reading the Bible! You can discern His voice with the Bible, weighing every other “word” you think you may be hearing. He’s the God of Truth. He’ll never contradict Himself!
So where do you start?
Check out the Bible App (iOS, Android, Windows8, and Blackberry) or head over to YouVersion.com if you don’t have a smartphone or tablet. Sign up for a free account and choose from one (or more!) of their Bible reading plans. They have plans for just a few days to plans that last all year. They have plans to read through the entire Bible in a year, or just parts. Pick a plan, then take a look at this practical article: http://ow.ly/GzHTd.
Not only will the Bible App help you with planning your Bible reading, it can remind you to read your Bible at a particular time of day. The App will even send you an email if you’re running a few days behind … and suggest ways to catch up! You can even share your reading plan with friends and help each other!
And for some additional incentive, the Bible App is offering a 21-day challenge! #BibleFor21
In 2015, I’m going to change things up a bit. The past few years I have read through the whole Bible. In 2015, I’m going to slow down a bit and read the New Testament in five minutes a day, five days a week. Join me! Follow me using the Bible App and let’s be as iron sharpening iron as we sharpen each other!
Bible reading isn’t about reading the Bible. It’s about getting to know God in a deeper way. Don’t end 2015 with no more knowledge of God than you do here at the end of 2014.
So what’s your plan?
I didn’t grow up as a Baptist. I wasn’t saved in a Baptist church. I didn’t become a Baptist until I had been a Christian for thirteen years. So why did I become a Baptist?
I grew up in another division. I say this because “denomination” is a math term and is related to division. The division I grew up in was the one chosen by my parents shortly before I was saved. It seemed to fit me well for eight years or so. Then I was challenged to look at what the Bible said about eternal security.
I had always thought that it was possible to lose your salvation. A high school teacher challenged me to consider what the Bible had to say about the subject. As I looked at what was clearly taught in the Bible, I realized that maintaining my salvation had nothing to do with what I did. It had everything to do with what Jesus had already done! As I continued to consider the issue – even recently – I saw that my eternal security had everything to do with the very character of God!
A few years after my epiphany on eternal security, I began to consider my call to ministry from my early teens. I looked into what my division had to say about issues like abortion. My division’s official position was that abortion was a private issue between a woman and her doctor. But this seemed to be contrary to what the Bible taught about the sanctity of life. Psalm 139, among other scriptures, seemed to indicate that life began at conception. If that’s true, how can abortion be a private issue between a woman and her doctor when a baby’s life is at stake? I couldn’t see myself following a ministry training program in a division that differed from the Bible on this clear issue.
About that time, a non-Baptist friend told me that I was a Baptist, but I just didn’t know it; he said that I already believed everything Baptists did. As I considered his comments, I picked up a couple of books about what Baptists believe. Sure enough, I was a Baptist, I just didn’t belong to a Baptist church. As I continued to consider, not only Baptist beliefs , but Baptist ministry, I saw the importance of cooperative ministry: churches pooling their resources to do ministry, evangelism, missions, and education. Southern Baptists seemed to do ministry from a Biblical model.
So I joined, not only a Baptist church, but a Southern Baptist Church. And when it was time to pursue ministry training, I went to an SBC seminary.
I still have many friends from my former division, as well as friends from many other divisions. We can all agree to disagree on non-essential issues. But at the end of the day, I am a Southern Baptist because I agree with the beliefs and the way Southern Baptists do ministry.
One of my concerns over the years is the popular idea of encouraging people to “pray a prayer to accept Jesus into their hearts”. According the new International Mission Board President, David Platt, doing this is superstitious and dangerous.
I took a class on World Religions when I was at UNC-Chapel Hill. Obviously, this class was not taught from a “Christian perspective”. And that was a good thing. It was good to hear an academic description of the major world religions because it gave me an idea as to how lost people look at the world.
One day, our professor began to explain Pure Land Buddhism. As he described the concept of “salvation”/”achieving enlightenment”, I began to feel chills creep up my spine. According to that religion, all you need to ensure your “salvation” was to speak a particular phrase. You could live your life however you wanted before and after speaking these words and you were still guaranteed “salvation”.
So why did I get chills? Because there’s not much difference between that religion’s concept of “salvation” and much of our evangelistic training and mindset!
Let me ask… When you think about when you became a Christian, do you believe it happened because you prayed a prayer, or walked down an aisle? If one must do any or all of these things, then why don’t we see either of those things mentioned in the entire New Testament? Or in the writings of the Church Fathers? Or in the writings of the Reformers? Even baptism — as important as it is — isn’t given as being essential to salvation. In fact, such easy believe-ism is completely counter to everything we read in the New Testament, and the writings of the Church Fathers and the Reformers.
The concept of praying a sinner’s prayer is a modern convention, perhaps shaped by the Western mindset of “being a soul-winner”, similar to being a successful salesman who always presses for the decision and closes the deal. I even remember some of my evangelism training including asking the prospective convert if he/she could think of any reason why they shouldn’t pray the prayer and if not, they should bow and pray.
As Dr. Pratt says in the video above, doing this is dangerous, and even damning.
How many people will stand before God on Judgment Day, claiming that they should be granted access to eternity in heaven because they prayed a prayer, walked down an aisle, shook a pastor’s hand or were baptized?
The prospect of that Day scares me! And it should scare you, too! Jesus took it a step farther, saying that on that Day, many will claim that they had done some pretty spectacular things, but would still wouldn’t enter heaven because He never knew them. (Matthew 7:21-23)
Biblical salvation is more than just praying a prayer, walking an aisle, and being baptized. Salvation is receiving eternal life and eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). Salvation begins when we exchange our life (all of our sin) for Jesus’ life (all of His righteousness) in order to be put in a right relationship with our Creator and King, against Whom we have all committed High Treason. Without accepting that free exchange, we are all worthy of nothing better than an eternity in hell and separation from God. Salvation continues as we live according to that new standing as adopted children. And salvation is fully realized when we cross over to the other side of eternity.
Does praying a prayer save you? No. Prayer is a natural response to receiving the New Life in exchange for our Old life and being accepted into a new family by a loving Father. And prayer can express our repentance as we turn from our sin and toward God.
What are your thoughts?
Today is not about Halloween. Today, it’s all about the Reformation!
On this day in 1517 a German monk named Martin challenged church leaders over how to deal with sin when he nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church. (You can’t buy forgiveness!)
I thank God for Martin Luther and the other Reformers and their courage to challenge the church back to the Word as its authority.
Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone)
Sola fide (by Faith alone)
Sola gratia (by Grace alone)
Solo Christos (by Christ alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone)
May we be so bold.
(For more info on the significance of today, click here.)