To be included in the melee of year-end blog posts about New Year resolutions, advice about how to have a better year, and for the general good this is my annual blog post to encourage greater biblical literacy.
There are three stages in learning a subject: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. The grammar stage is the stage of vocabulary and definition. Dialectic is the stage where you begin to ask questions and make connections with your grammar. Rhetoric is the stage of true creativity and persuasion.
It’s easiest to see how this works in the subject of language. You have to learn the vocabulary and meaning of words in French before you can think about how to construct a paragraph to write or speak with another person in a meaningful way.
Likewise, if we believe that we are a people of the book, those who believe the Bible and base our knowledge of God and the world on what is revealed in it, then we must know the grammar of it so we can be conversant in it.
You expect the same thing of your auto mechanic, so why not expect it of yourself? The thing under the hood that you call a “thingymagiggy” is something you expect your mechanic to be able to label, diagnose, and replace.
If you are a Christian who wants to share the good news with a skeptical friend, you should know “what’s under the hood” of the Bible. If you are a skeptic who wants to question Christianity, then you should know the content of the Bible so that you can level a good argument.
In that vein, I give the following three reasons for both Christians and skeptics to read the whole Bible this:
1. Avoid the Part for Whole Fallacy.
For Christians, if you haven’t read the whole Bible at least once, you run the risk of having a canon within the canon. You know which books or parts of books or individual verses are your favorite. Do you functionally only believe part of the truth?
You may like that Jesus says to love one another, but you haven’t thought about how that fits together with his words, “I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” Does someone call himself a weightlifter if he goes to the gym and only works out his arms and not his legs too?
Likewise, if you are a skeptic, have you rejected Christianity based on only one part of what the Bible says rather than the summary of the whole? Did you stop reading the Bible when you saw passages about judgement, but neglected to read and comprehend the passages on grace?
It’s a fallacy to accept or reject something by simply assuming that a part must represent the whole. No one calls an elephant a scrawny animal based solely on an inspection of its tail.
2. Connect the Whole Christian Story Together.
If you’re a skeptic, no doubt you’ve come across conflicting versions of what is called Christianity. How will you decide between them if there is no criteria other than your own feelings? Shouldn’t there be some sort of reasoned approach to questioning Christianity?
Across the board, Christians of all stripes point to the Bible as the rule of faith and practice. How exactly they do that is another story, but if you are familiar with the whole Bible then you will be better able to understand where different Christians stand and then ask better questions.
This same line of reasoning holds true for Christians as well.
Your parents or your pastor told you one thing about Christianity, but other people who call themselves Christians have said something different. How does each group use the Bible to connect the Christian story together? If you don’t have knowledge of the whole Bible then you don’t have all the data by which to make sense of it.
If the Christian story is a coherent worldview, then the whole Bible must present that story coherently. How can you speak to that unless you read the whole story at least once? To see whether a dollar bill is a forgery, you don’t look at forged bills, but instead you study the real thing intimately.
3. Grow in Your Own Cultural Literacy.
In the Fellowship of the Ring, the hero, a hobbit named Frodo, is given what is basically a magical flashlight by an elf queen named Galadriel. She blesses him when she gives it by saying, “May it be a light to you when all other lights go out.” The Bible is believed to be a spiritual light by Christians when all other moral and spiritual lights go out. But it is also a cultural light to us in the modern Western world (even though the Bible itself could be classified as an Eastern document).
What I’m saying is that if you want to understand Shakespeare, you need to be familiar with the Bible since he makes reference to it in his plays. Not only Shakespeare and historical authors refer to the Bible, but also modern writers like Tony award-winning lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda in his musical Hamilton.
There are phrases and ideas in our culture that come from the pages of the Bible. Anyone, Christian or skeptic, who desires to be thought of as even moderately well-educated owes it to themselves to read the whole Bible.
There are a wide variety of plans for reading the Bible in a year. Which one is the best one that you should use? I answer like the triathlete who was asked which exercise was the best: running, swimming, or biking?
The best one is the one that you’ll actually do.