Friday, July 09, 2021

Bible Reading Plans

As a pastor, I'm often asked to recommend a Bible reading plan that people can follow in their individual devotional times. There are a lot of good reading plans out there, and I'll highlight a few of my favorites below. For this year, though, we're running a voluntary challenge as a church to read together through the Bible in a year. So my top recommendation for this year is to do that, and it's perfectly fine to jump in with us halfway through. (Our current month's plan is available at our church website, as you scroll through the announcement slides: 

Now here are some of my other top recommendations:

- Variations on Reading through the Bible in a Year

There are a lot of different Bible-reading plans available out there, and most of them you can find just with a simple Google search. Through-the-Bible-in-a-Year plans have a lot of different forms, from a basic 4-chapters-a-day approach (which has the advantage of leaving a handful of spare days at the end of the year in case you need a little catch-up), to more complicated schemes. The one we're currently using at our church is a blended model, in which we read some of the Old Testament and some of the New Testament every day. There are also plans that do even more blending, and give you a daily reading in OT, NT, and Psalms (and sometimes Proverbs).

All the above options tend to proceed sequentially, starting with the first books in a given section and then working straight through. But another option is the chronological Bible study plan, which presents the biblical material from earliest to latest, working chronologically through the historical story of the Bible. This is really helpful when you get to the OT historical books and the prophets, because it nicely sets each prophet's message in its historical context. You first read the portion of Israel's history and get a sense of what was happening at that time, and then read the message that the prophets were speaking in those very circumstances.

[Dr. Boli's humorous take on Bible reading plans]
Another twist on reading the Bible in a year is to admit that that's a pretty hard task for most of us, and to opt for a plan that reads the Bible in two years instead. You can do this by committing to read two chapters a day, or you can look up a sequential or chronological plan that lays it out for you. (You can even buy a Bible already laid out for this reading pattern, as you also can for most of those already mentioned.) Of course, you could stretch it out even further and do a chapter a day, which would lead you through the Bible in a bit less than 4 years, but I've found that most people, if they commit to a daily practice, have no problem getting through in 2 years or less.

- Plans that Re-balance the Mix

One of the downsides of the traditional through-the-Bible plans, whether chronological or sequential, is that you just end up spending a lot more time in the Old Testament than the New, simply because the Old is so much longer. You're generally reading 3x more from the OT than the NT. Some plans have sought to adjust for this. A very popular option is the M'Cheyne reading plan (first arranged by the great Scottish pastor Robert Murray M'Cheyne). This plan allows you to do the New Testament and the Psalms twice each in a given year, while doing the rest of the OT material only once (and the material is nicely balanced so that you're reading just about the same amount every day, often still just four chapters). If doing it in one year is too much, you can easily cut the readings in half and do it in two, which brings you through the NT and Psalms once per year, and through the rest of the OT once every two years.

My current favorite works along these lines. I like to use the Psalms as a staple of my prayer life, and so I've developed a simple plan where I just read sequentially through the Bible, doing an OT chapter, a NT chapter, and a Psalm every day. So in the span of every two years, I get almost all the way through the Old Testament, and I will have done the Psalms nearly five times and the NT nearly three times, which strikes just about the balance I'm looking for in my devotional reading. It also avoids the stress of having to stick to a rigorous timeline with a fixed end-date; I just keep reading the next three chapters of OT, NT, and Psalms, picking up from wherever I was.

- Lectionary

Another of my favorites is the lectionary-based reading plan. My church doesn't really use the lectionary system (though some churches in my denomination do), but it's a widely-practiced way of reading the Bible that is used by millions of Christians across the world, particularly in their weekly church services. The lectionary is an arranged set of Bible readings that churches use on Sundays, and in the course of three years, it brings each church through a course of readings that run through the whole biblical story and offer weekly passages from the OT, Psalms, NT, and Gospels. Along with the weekly in-church readings, many lectionaries have also developed reading plans for individual Christians to use during the week, which lead you through passages that are relevant to the overall themes of the Sunday passages. If you're in a lectionary-using church, this is a beautiful thing, because you can be working through Bible passages all week long that will prepare your heart for Sunday, and at the same time get a really broad exposure to all sections of the Bible. Even if your church doesn't use the lectionary, there's something really appealing about knowing that you're reading and praying along with millions of other Christians around the world, who are all reading the same passages as you. You can find the current lectionary reading plan (RCL, Year B) by clicking on this link, and the overall lectionary cycle here.