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A Practical Plan for Growing in Bible Literacy

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By Ronnie Winterton

As Western culture continues the process of secularization, Christians continually lament the decline of Biblical literacy inside and outside of the Church. Several surveys show that American and evangelical believers lack basic biblical literacy skills. A LifeWay study showed that only 11% of Americans have ever read the entire Bible and only 9% have done so more than once. A Ligonier survey showed that most evangelicals deny original sin and affirm doctrines dangerously close to pluralism and Arianism. An inability to understand the Bible, God’s inerrant Word and the most influential book in world history, obviously hurts the Church, but it also hurts the general culture.

What Do We Do About This?

I firmly believe that the answer to this problem is that we, as Bible-believing Christians, need to make active plans for growing our biblical literacy. Our generation of Christians has the most access to the Bible and biblical resources than any other period in history. Also, as Rosaria Butterfield masterfully argues, we cannot expect our non-believing neighbors to know the Bible if we don’t.

My aim here is not to hammer Christians for not reading the Bible. Sure, there are many nominal Christians who do not read their Bible nor desire to read it. However, my experience is that many well-meaning Christians simply do not know where to begin. The Bible is a large and complicated book to read, hear and understand.

On top of that, we often simply tell Christians to “Read your Bibles!” Now, we absolutely should encourage that, but this command is like telling somebody who knows nothing about fitness to “Just go to the gym!” without any fitness plan. If you tell somebody with no fitness training to just go to the gym, a few things will likely happen: they may never go because it’s overwhelming, they may go for a while but give up because they feel lost and they’re not seeing any progress, or they may go consistently but never see much progress because they don’t know how to train properly.

Something similar often happens when we tell Christians to read their Bibles without giving them any guidance. My goal then is to share a system for developing Bible literacy helps me in hopes that it will help you know and love your Bible.

An inability to understand the Bible hurts the Church, but it also hurts the general culture.

A Global/ Local Approach

I call this a “global/local” approach because in order to grow in our understanding of the Bible, we need to be able to understand the big and small picture. Imagine that your biblical literacy is like a Google Maps page. When you are first beginning to read the Bible, your map may be completely blank. Yet, as you start reading the Bible the map starts to fill in and you can start to see the shape of the continents, then specific countries, oceans and so on. Your “global” vision is increasing.

Now imagine that you decide to specifically study the Gospels. The map starts to zoom in on a particular area and you can actually see some of the buildings and trees on the land. As you keep going, eventually you can see specific streets and neighborhoods. Your “local” vision is increasing.

In order to have a fully develop world map, per se, we need to grow in both of these areas. If I fill out the whole outline of the map and never get closer than the ozone layer, I’m missing out on all the particulars of Earth. If I zoom in to one specific area, my map never gains any understanding of the whole world. A similar thing can happen as we try to learn about the Bible. We might get so focused on the big picture, that we don’t dive into the riches of a particular text, or we can get so enamored with our favorite book that we forget how it weaves into the whole metanarrative. This is why when I make a plan for a personal Bible study, I intentionally plan a global component and a local component.

“Global” Activities

In reading the Bible “globally,” your goal is to understand the big picture concepts related to the Bible and life. An obvious example would be studying the classic creation, fall, redemption, restoration metanarrative of Scripture. Another example could be studying systematic or biblical theology. Here are some things you can do for a global activity:

  • Read the Bible in year.
  • Read a book on systematic theology, biblical theology, the narrative of the Bible or any other topic that involves the whole Bible.
  • Listen to a sermon series about the whole Bible.
  • Read historic creeds, confessions. and catechisms.
  • Memorize the Apostle’s Creed.

“Local”

The goal in reading locally is to dive deeper into particular areas. You don’t have to get down to the street level, but you’re at least getting closer than you were at the ozone. For example, you might decide you want to spend a year skimming the New Testament or the Gospels. Here are some things you can do for a local activity:

  • Memorize a favorite passage.
  • Listen to a sermon series on a particular book of the Bible.
  • Focus on a particular area of the Bible for a time (Old Testament in a year, Psalms in a month, 1 John for a week, etc.)
If you are not rooted in basics of the Bible, you are more likely to be swept away by every wind of doctrine someone throws at you.

How to Apply the Global/Local Method

All of the ideas above may seem overwhelming, but the key is to be patient and focused. You have to think about what where you lack in your Biblical literacy and tailor your own plan based on what you can do. Here are some main points in making your own global/local study

  1. Determine Your Time.
    How much time do you have for Bible study? Whether you have 15 minutes a day or 60 minutes, tailor your plan to what you can reasonably fit.
  1. Stick to Basics.
    Stick to the Bible or things that are historically orthodox like the creeds, catechisms and confessions — especially if you’re just starting to learn the Bible. You might be frustrated because you can’t dive into your friend’s debates on Calvinism versus Arminianism or Covenant theology versus Dispensationalism, but if you are not rooted in basics of the Bible, then you are more likely to be swept away by every wind of doctrine someone throws at you.
  1. Play the Long Game.
    Don’t feel like you need to know everything within a year. Studying the Bible takes a lifetime! Take your time and be patient. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn by taking small steps. You can memorize entire books of the Bible or read entire systematic theologies if you invest 10 minutes per day.
  1. Do What Your Church is Doing.
    It’s always best if you can pair what you personally study with what your church is corporately studying. Your pastors and leaders have chosen passages for their sermons, Bible studies, so if you may consider following along with whatever your church is doing.
  1. Pray.
    We need the Holy Spirit if we are going to really understand God’s Word. Do not forget to pray before, during and after you read and study the Scriptures.

Some Sample Global/Local Plans

 To help get started, here are two sample plans that might help you decide how to go about applying the global/local approach to your life: 

  • 15 Minutes a Day
    • Global: Start a two-year Bible reading plan. (10 minutes)
    • Local: Pick one small passage from the reading plan to meditate on. (5 minutes)
    • Extra: Listen to a sermon series on the whole Bible. (Here’s one such example.)
  • 60 Minutes a Day
    • Global: Start a one-year Bible plan (30 minutes) and slowly read through your church’s statement of faith and other confessions (15 minutes)
    • Local: Memorize Ephesians 2:1-10 (15 minutes)
    • Extra: Listen to one of The Gospel Coalition courses on a favorite book of the Bible.

Persevere in Growing Your Global/Local Map

Once you determine your plan, work at it a little bit day by day. God’s Word is powerful, and you will slowly see him growing you in your understanding of his Word. Don’t be discouraged if you lose track for a few days, but keep on going. Again, your aim is to go to the gym of God’s Word with a fitness plan for growth. Just like in fitness, you need to invest time, discipline and focus to see results. As we grow in our Biblical literacy through focused studying, we can be lights to our fellow Christian and non-Christian neighbors as we show the beauty of God’s Word to a world in desperate need.

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Ronnie Winterton

Ronnie Winterton is pursuing an MDiv in Christian Ministry from Southeastern Seminary and is participating in the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture mentorship. When he is not reading for school, he likes to spend time with his wife and church, read comic books, and drink coffee.

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