July 25, 2013
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?
I have a suggestion. Let’s stop buying and reading books written by pastors that are not commentaries on a particular book of Bible. Let’s encourage our pastors to encourage us to know our Bible—like Barnhouse knew Romans. After all, it’s when our shepherds depart from knowing and preaching the very word of God that they most run the risk of presenting the flock with “irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’.” (1Timothy 6:20, ESV.)
My prayer is that both pastor and layman will cherish bigger chunks of our bread.
Jim Gilmore is author of The Experience Economy: Updated Edition.