Bigger Chunks of Bread
For being people of the Word, we sure don't read much of it.

I grew up as a preacher's kid. My father was a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force before he pastored churches in the United Methodist Church and the American Baptist Association.

During my college years at the University of Pennsylvania, I attended Tenth Presbyterian Church (when James Boice was senior minister). It was an easy decision where to worship on Sundays, as my parents had attended "Tenth" when they had gone to Temple University years before, and I grew up hearing many a tale of Donald Grey Barnhouse. (A copy of his Let Me Illustrate sat atop our half-bath's toilet as reading material!)

I recall my dad once telling me that Barnhouse had read the book of Romans in its entirety every day as he preached through the book. The full import of that information really didn't hit me until I recently learned that Barnhouse took eleven years—count them, eleven years!—to preach through Romans. That's right: every day for eleven years, Barnhouse read the entire book of Romans; that's over 4,000 days reading the entire 16 chapters (433 verses), each and every day.

I think the man knew Romans.

This insight prompted me to revisit my own Bible-reading habits. I first committed to reading the entire book of Galatians ("the Magna Carta of Christianity") every day for three months. After that, all of James daily. Then the same lengthy gospel passage, day after day, for a week; then another, daily for a week; then another…. Next: the Pastoral Epistles, same routine.

It has dawned on me: we claim to be a people "of the Word." But we read the Bible in chunks that are too little. We read slices of our daily bread, when we ought to digest whole loaves.

Forget George Barna's "revolution." Let me tell you what would be truly revolutionary: if every professing, church-going Christian would read the entire book of Galatians in one sitting, each and every day—until we knew (really knew) Galatians! (It only takes about fifteen minutes to read through Paul's letter.) Greater still: if every preaching and teaching pastor would but read the entire book of Galatians in one sitting, each and every day!

I fear the Church today suffers from preaching and teaching that is based on chunks of scripture that are too small. Many of our pastors don't seem to really know their Bibles. Might the fact that contemporary Christianity is swimming in a sea of topical sermons be the result of pastors being ill-prepared to provide sound expository, exegetical preaching? And that this may be because they are too consumed in reading various books (including my own) other than the Bible, instead of repeatedly reading of the one book of the Bible they are preaching on and through, desiring for their congregants to richly know and understand the text?

July 25, 2013

Displaying 1–5 of 5 comments

Sam S

November 04, 2013  4:19pm

People of the word and followers of Christ. Too often we forget the goals of these titles we are given as Christians. I fail often to live up to these titles. "You reap what you sow." You're right that we tend to become caught up in our topics, and caught up in reading other books that aren't the bible. The mask is coming off and its time to become the people we say we are. We are to live by the word of God. How can we do that without dwelling there? It's the greatest story and yet we settle for less in seeking our entertainment. For me this discipline is hard. I struggle with remembering to read, and doing it even when I remember. My heart needs to change, I need to cherish His word more. This is a great reminder, conviction, and call to become more faithful.

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August 13, 2013  4:48pm

I love this post, and while I've not committed to reading an entire book every day as I preach from it, I recently challenged our church to read the whole book of Joshua at least once while I preached through it. I found myself reading it once per week...and the method unlocked many treasures for me (and I hope those who heard me try to preach it well). Also, one tool I've used to help with reading/hearing the books of the Bible in their entirety is the Bible on CD. Yeah, CD! Pretty quaint already! Anyway, I've ripped them to my phone and listen as I read. This helps me with pacing and works well. Anyway, just a thought. I am challenged, convicted, and encouraged by this article. Praise God!

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July 29, 2013  12:18am

Regular daily Bible reading and reading through the whole Bible in a year was the whole premise for The One Year Bible, now available in many translations. This was Dr. Ken Taylor's "bad idea" (the opinion of his editorial and publishing staff, including his son!) which when finally published at his insistence quickly went on to sell many thousands of copies (likely millions by now) and is still being published. The format of The One Year Bible does tend to interrupt the continuity of thought in the Scriptures, so I can appreciate Jim's recommendation of regularly reading through an entire epistle in one sitting. I know there are examples from heroes of the faith in my tradition of those who regularly read through a whole Gospel every day and who memorized large portions, including several whole books, of the Scriptures as well as all of the Psalms over their lifetimes. My church also provides me with a daily lectionary (including a daily selection from the epistles and the Gospels, and during some periods of the year also selections from the OT) as well as a schedule for praying through the entirety of the Psalms every week, should I chose to use it. Though I still don't read or pray as frequently or regularly as I should, I do much better using these tools at reading and praying the Scriptures on my own than I have done in the past. I have found having such a structure or tool, like The Book of Common Prayer (with which many in the Western Christian traditions are familiar), to facilitate what all too often in my experience is a good intention never realized is a practical necessity for most. The lectionary for my church has the added advantage of making many connections between the passages of the Scriptures that help to more deeply expose their meaning by their use and position within the church year. The lectionary itself, along with the corresponding church hymnody, provides a basic exposition of the Scriptures (for those who have "ears to hear").

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July 25, 2013  12:33pm

I've read the bible in it's entirety three times, and if I were to average each book of the bible as to how many times I've read them...maybe five. The only three books of the bible I've read repeatedly are Genesis, Ephesians, and Mark. But not for no eleven years straight...good lord, I think I would throw dishes at the wall for a mental adjustment! The Book of Common Prayer..." Bill, this is the third time this week I've heard about this book of Common Prayer, and I've never read it before so I think G-d is telling me something here...does it come with notes, and though I detect a recommendation in your writing, do you recommend it personally, and if so, how should it be read? (By read, I mean are these quick reads, or studious moments where time should be set aside to contemplate and think about what is being read)

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Bill B

July 25, 2013  10:31am

Great post, Jim. I think that it is possible for us to become habituated to reading the parts of the Bible with which we are most comfortable, e.g., Romans, Galatians, etc. To counter this tendency, but still ensure that we are taking in larger portions of scripture, I think that the use of a daily lectionary could be helpful. The Book of Common Prayer contains a daily office lectionary with readings from the OT, NT, Psalms, and Gospels that cover the entire NT each year and much of the OT every two years. The lectionary is available online and in mobile applications. Bill

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