Biblical Theology Comes from Reading More of the Bible

Most Christians at least acknowledge the fact that reading through all of Scripture is something they should do. One hears complaints about the great difficulties of making it through Leviticus, the implication being that it is so far removed from our contemporary experience that it is rough sledding indeed to push on. I recall being part of a study a few years ago on the last four books of the Pentateuch, and one participant remarked at how good the study had been for him, because “I’ve always been a New Testament kind of guy, and didn’t really read the Old Testament.”

This is less surprising than it should have been to me. In 2018, Crossway publishers surveyed readers about their Bible reading habits and found some startling responses.

Among 6,000 readers (and one assumes since they are signed up to receive Crossway emails that they are Christians) about a third of them have read Numbers, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, or Ezra in the last three years. Among some of the minor prophets, nearly half of readers have read these books only in the last three years. Judging from the graphic, it appears about 15% of readers have never read some of the minor prophets.

The result of this is an impoverished understanding of God’s truth. If we are reading infrequently (or not at all) we will have a poor grasp of the plot-line of Scripture, and of what God is doing, what he has planned. That theological and biblical illiteracy are at high levels within the professing church is without question. Those levels are attributable to a failure to read all of Scripture. Proof-texting one’s way to a view of some particular teaching is common, but a whole Bible understanding of how a doctrine fits in with all of revelation, much less so. Biblical theology, (as distinct from systematic theology) is the understanding of this plot-line of Scripture, the unfolding of all that God has done, is doing, and will do.

In his book, Light in a Dark Place: The Doctrine of Scripture, John S. Feinberg writes about his father, Charles Feinberg. The elder Feinberg is not so well known as he should be, but he served as the first president of Fuller Theological Seminary. On his father’s Bible reading habits, Feinberg noted this:

“For my father didn’t read just a few verses or even a chapter or two each day. Rather, it was his habit each day to read ten pages in the OT and five pages in the NT. Dad had seen a Bible reading plan that showed that if one reads the aforementioned number of pages each day, one would read through the whole Bible four times every year! As a result of following this strategy, during his lifetime my father read through the whole Bible well over one hundred times.”[1]

Some Christians commit to read through the Bible each year, but Feinberg’s plan takes it beyond this. Rather than measuring by chapters (you can get through the whole Bible in a year by reading about 3.5 chapters per day), reading 15 pages a day means that you get a greater portion, and indeed, a grander sweep.

What you notice by reading larger portions are the overarching themes, the detail that appeared 7 chapters back, but had you read it two days prior, you might have forgotten. Reading in a larger portion promotes biblical theology. It promotes a drone’s-eye view of the unfolding drama of redemption. I’ve been following Feinberg’s plan, and I have seen these benefits. I can’t see going back to reading less of God’s Word each day. This, too, is one of the effects of the living Word of God—it increases your appetite for God and his plans. If you’re putting in here and there, reading piecemeal, it’s more difficult to get these benefits. If you struggle with Bible reading consistently, the solution may in fact be to read more. I recommend this method for your consideration.

 

[1] John S Feinberg, Light in a Dark Place: The Doctrine of Scripture, (Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2018), 763.

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