Media sold to Christians abounded in the 1990s. The 1970s and 1980s had their offerings, but moving into the 1990s, the floodgates opened. I can still remember the charts detailing Christian recording artists and their secular comparisons. If you liked a certain secular artist, there was a suggestion for Christian musician or band to try. My point will not be to criticize such things. An overwhelming pop culture really began to come into its own in the 1970s after emerging in the 1960s. Looking back, we can see the roots of where the United States is now, and anyone should have understanding for the American Christians, particularly parents, as they navigated a world growing ever more foreign to them. The abundance of music, books, devotions, etc. helped us feel more Christian. For many of us, however, it took the place of Scripture itself.
I type this as I sit less than two feet from a shelf of books about the Bible and Christianity. Commentaries, theologies of various sorts, church histories, Bible dictionaries, and various other sorts of secondary sources are right there. Their content helps me as I seek to understand that I might teach. But what to I teach? I teach Scripture. Every one of those books presupposes I actually read the text with some comprehension.
As Protestants, we recognize the recovery of the gospel has much to do with the rediscovery, promotion, and preaching of Scripture by men like Martin Luther, William Tyndale, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin. Calvin stands perhaps above all as a theologian. Though Institutes of the Christian Religion remains his most well known work, he studied and taught on nearly every book of Bible. He engaged the text itself.
The question arises: how? How do I do such a thing? I have tried and tried, and I feel my attempts to engage Scripture are nothing but bone dry.
Do not be downcast, for nearly every Christian feels this way at times. Just a few weeks ago, I stared at my Bible as I tried to compose a devotion for the staff at our church, and I might as well have been reading in Etruscan. I sat there as a Christian of 18 years, serious Bible studier of 16 years, and with my M. Div., and my mind about as useful as an 8-track tape. It happens sometimes.
As the recipient of so many things, secondary sources, Bible videos, and devotional materials, we become overly familiar with the Bible. Our minds become cluttered with other things, ideas and conclusions pile up in them to the ceiling. They remind us of the garage or basement one does not realize has reached its limit of junk until we need to use the space for an actual purpose. You need to clean it out. You might feel a little silly, just like when you finally tossed that box of doodads you had not opened since 1994.
When you open your Bible, find a way to slow down to keep from skimming. I have done this several different ways with success.
1. Read it out loud.
Yes, it is going to feel a little silly. I’m sure if anyone walked in on me while doing it, they would have made a face and slowly backed away. Reading aloud forces you to process the words on the page. You know if you skip something, and you see what content did not escape your lips. You pay attention to it. You see the words with your eyes, process in your brain, form the words in your mouth, and hear yourself say them out loud. You engage yourself in several ways at once.
2. Listen to an audio Bible and follow along.
Do this just like you followed along when a classmate read aloud in school. Bible.com has free audio versions of the ESV, NASB, KJV, and CSB. Get out your physical copy of the corresponding translation and pull up the audio version on your phone, device, or computer. For ages, the way Christians learned Scripture consisted of hearing it read. No one stands farther away from God because he listened to the Bible rather than read it.
3. Hand write what you read.
This will go over like a lead ballon for many, but it helps me immensely. It takes time, and a lot of it. It makes me concentrate. So far, I’ve hand written Romans through Hebrews. Here’s what the beginning of Hebrews 2 looks like:
To be clear, not nearly everything has bears markings like that. Here’s a page from Hebrews 9 in need of some Wite Out and notes:
The process of writing those epistles out by hand took me about a year. Maybe it will not work for you, but it does for me. It also has the side benefit of creating copies I can mark up with writing I can actually read. I leave two lines blank between every line of text I copy. I go through a lot of paper; Romans consists of 87 pages. I cannot tell you how many pages it took to write out Hebrews because I hand wrote it before I got wise and started numbering pages.
4. Read the same book again and again.
When I got my first gig as a regular Sunday School teacher, I took on the Gospel According to Matthew. To prepare, I read it once a week for several months (I had the luxury of a lot of lead time before the class actually started). Matthew has twenty-eight chapters, so I read four chapters a day, Sunday through Saturday. I basically bathed my brain in Matthew. Do this enough and you’ll stop thinking you know everything a text says, and you start to engage what words the author put down on paper.
No one size-fits-all for your personal Bible reading exists. God made us differently, and we learn differently. Differences exist, but the prerogative of the Christian faith to learn from God’s revelation stands for all of us. You might try one method here, and it falls flat. One might work for a time, and you may find yourself in a different place to try another. Sometimes the places you do your Scripture study determine how you study. If you study your Bible while everyone else sleeps, reading out loud may not be the best for you. Maybe you'll try all four, and none strike your fancy. In making the attempt, you may develop a totally different approach. Our understanding of God as revealed in the Bible carries great importance, and such important demands our energy and creativity.