Read the Bible – Trying and Doing

yoda1Do you read the Bible daily? I believe that all Christ followers know that we should read the Bible regularly, consistently and faithfully, if not daily. Do you? For a decade in the 80s and 90s, I read the entire Bible once a year. But I only read the Bible and nothing else. Over the last few years, I began reading Bible commentaries and books to help me understand the Bible. But I stopped reading the Bible alone. My Bible reading was to read books explaining the Bible. I read books to help me prepare for sermons, Bible studies and blogging. I felt guilty that I stopped reading the Bible out of love and devotion to Christ, but as a means to preaching, teaching and blogging.

Can you read the Bible for 10 min a day? Then I heard Francis Chan’s anointed sermon. I often ask people this: “How many chapters of the Bible do you need to read daily if you are to read the entire Bible in a year?” People think it is 15-20 chapters a day. But it is only FOUR! Chan said that if you only read the Bible for 10 minutes every day at the regular reading speed you can read the entire Bible in a year. Somehow this resonated with me and it kick started my Bible reading on Jan 1st. In the first six days of 2014 I read respectively 37, 20, 10, 11, 8, 10 chapters a day.

Are you trying to read the Bible? My favorite Yoda quote is No! Try not! Do or do not. There is no try! Trying to do something, anything, is equivalent to failing. Isn’t this why almost everyone who tries to diet and lose weight fail 95% of the time? Might it be the same with anyone who tries to stop watching porno, or lusting, or lording over others? When I was reading books and commentaries, I tried to read the Bible only and could not for several years. But after hearing Chan’s sermon, I felt inspired and simply read the Bible! I stopped trying to read the Bible. I simply did…happily and willingly.

Being or doing? God expects–even demands–our obedience, knowing full well that we will all fail without exception. Only Christ fulfilled the Law and obeyed God perfectly and completely (Mt 5:17)–at great cost and agony to himself (Ps 22:1; Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). Yet Jesus obeyed God wholeheartedly and willingly (Jn 10:17-18). His obedience came from who he is–one with the Father (Jn 10:30; 17:21). His doing came from his being. Likewise, when we are transformed by God’s grace, our obedience comes from our willingness. Thus, I want to love God, even if I fail daily. I delight in the Law (Ps 1:2; 119:70; Rom 7:20) knowing that I will fail.

Do you buy Yoda’s theology? Without legalism or bibliolatry, do you delight in Scripture reading as you delight in Christ?


  1. Happy New Year Dr. Ben!! Your article is timely. I read through the Bible most recently beginning to end in 2012. It was a plan put out by our local church. But, I confess that last year, my attention to the Bible was minimal at best. Mostly on Sunday, based on our pastor’s preaching. I have been reading more books about theology and spiritual living (in addition to recreational reading!), but not the Bible. I felt rather convicted about that fact. I missed God’s word. So, I found a reading plan to read the whole Bible in 90 days. It takes about one hour each day. I’m 11 days into the plan (started right after Christmas) and I am enjoying it very much–for no other reason than delighting in God and His Word. I’m even surprised that I don’t remember some passages from Leviticus–feeling as though I had never read them before. Thus far, it has been a joy delighting in the Word–even Leviticus!

    God be with you!!

  2. Here are some helpful Bible reading plans for 2014:

  3. Do you read the Bible daily?
    >> Yes.

    Can you read the Bible for 10 min a day?
    >> Sure, if it is The Message version.

    Are you trying to read the Bible?
    >> There is no try, only do :) But yes.

    Being or doing?
    >> Both are required. One question is “what do we obey?” I do not try to obey God’s law. If someone does want to obey the law, I wonder if they know what the law actually says. I do try to obey the fulfilment of the law– to love, to show justice, to care for our neighbor, to love my wife, my kids, my abusers– I do this because Christ in my compels me to love and to build friendships and reconcile relationships. This is my obedience that comes from faith. And my obedience to love is done while pursuing my journey of self-discovery and to “be” in the presence of God and to “be” myself.

    Do you buy Yoda’s theology?
    >> No, Yoda is not a theologian. Yoda is a puppet. But his philosophy has some merit. Even then, I don’t take his philosophy too far, for fear of falling into the dark side :)

    • I should point out that I rarely read the bible systematically anymore. I did that for over 16,000 hours, so I have a foundation of the text itself. Now I search the bible for words and read chapters and books and listen for God’s voice to guide me to verses. I listen for the Holy Spirit to impress a word or phrase or thought in my heart at night, and then in the morning, search out the Holy Scriptures to find what message the Lord would have for me today.

  4. It’s good to hear from you, Samantha. I remember you telling me about your 90 day reading plan. I’ll pass on that pace! Generally, these various Bible reading plans do not work for me (since I hate feeling controlled…even by a Bible reading plan!). So I will simply randomly read whatever I want to each day. I probably do not advice this “plan.”

    Happy New Year everyone!
    Here’s a bible reading program I want to try…and do.

  6. btw…your conversations have been very interesting Ben and BK…I’m still putting my own thoughts together. Let me just say that I agree with Brian that the OT references used to encourage boldness against “worldliness” are a red flag to me in this NT era in which we should be known by our gospel love and often fall so far short of it in favor of defining, maintaining and establishing the boundaries of truth as we see them. I keep thinking of all the exhortations about good deeds, good lives, living at peace, finding favor with all men etc, in the NT writings of Paul especially. Of course, being bold is important but…

    • forestsfailyou

      I found this to be relevant to your comment Sharon.

      “The central idea of the great part of the Old Testament may be called the idea of the loneliness of God. God is not the only chief character of the Old Testament; God is properly the only character in the Old Testament. Compared with His clearness of purpose, all the other wills are heavy and automatic, like those of animals; compared with His actuality, all the sons of flesh are shadows. Again and again the note is struck, “With whom hath He taken counsel?” (Isa. 40:14). “I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the peoples there was no man with me” (Isa. 63:3). All the patriarchs and prophets are merely His tools or weapons; for the Lord is a man of war. He uses Joshua like an axe or Moses like a measuring rod. For Him, Samson, is only a sword and Isaiah a trumpet. The saints of Christianity are supposed to be like God, to be, as it were, little statuettes of Him. The Old Testament hero is no more supposed to be of the same nature as God than a saw or a hammer is supposed to be of the same shape as the carpenter. This is the main key and characteristic of Hebrew scriptures as a whole. There are, indeed, in those scriptures innumerable instances of the sort of rugged humor, keen emotion, and powerful individuality which is never wanting in great primitive prose and poetry. Nevertheless the main characteristic remains: the sense not merely that God is stronger than man, not merely that God is more secret than man, but that He means more, that He knows better what He is doing, that compared with Him we have something of the vagueness, the unreason, and the vagrancy of the beasts that perish. “It is He that sitteth above the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers” (Isa.40:22). We might almost put it thus. The book is so intent upon asserting the personality of God that it almost asserts the impersonality of man. Unless this gigantic cosmic brain has conceived a thing, that thing is insecure and void; man has not enough tenacity to ensure its continuance. “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

      Everywhere else, then, the Old Testament positively rejoices in the obliteration of man in comparison with the divine purpose. The book of Job stands definitely alone because the book of Job definitely asks, “But what is the purpose of God? Is it worth the sacrifice even of our miserable humanity? Of course, it is easy enough to wipe out our own paltry wills for the sake of a will that is grander and kinder. But is it grander and kinder? Let God use His tools; let God break His tools. But what is He doing, and what are they being broken for?” It is because of this question that we have to attack as a philosophical riddle the riddle of the book of Job.” GK Chestertons the introduction to the book of Job

  7. “The saints of Christianity are supposed to be like God, to be, as it were, little statuettes of Him. The Old Testament hero is no more supposed to be of the same nature as God than a saw or a hammer is supposed to be of the same shape as the carpenter. This is the main key and characteristic of Hebrew scriptures.”

    Thanks, Forestsfailyou. This is a very interesting quote and GK Chesterton is one of my favorites. I’ve been trying to understand Christian virtue and spiritual formation, and though I really do love Francis Chan, his message lacked something. He seems to oversentimentalize his own unworthiness and God’s greatness. I would like more help in understanding what it looks like to “live such good lives among the pagans…”

  8. Joe Schafer

    Ben, you wrote: “I believe that all Christ followers know that we should read the Bible regularly, consistently and faithfully, if not daily.”

    I agree with you that Scripture should play a central role in the life of the church. But interaction with Scripture can take various forms.

    Behind your words, I see a picture of one Christian sitting in a room by him/herself, reading passages from a Bible, trying to figure out what they mean. To modern evangelicals, that is the predominant image of how we ought to interact with Scripture. But that image isn’t really found in the Bible, nor was it practiced for most of church history. It presupposes widespread literacy and ready access to written copies of the Bible, neither of which happened until the last 2-3 centuries. And it presupposes a post-Enlightenment mindset which treats the Bible text as an object to be studied — a textbook for the edification and instruction of individual believers — rather than a Great Story to be experienced.

    For most of Judeo-Christian history, believers interacted with Scripture through hearing it read (and often sung) in public worship gatherings. It was mostly a community activity, not an individual one. And it was about listening, not about looking at words on a page. In the gospels, Jesus doesn’t urge us to “Read!” He tells us to “Listen!” Jesus was a masterful storyteller who brought God’s word alive. That tradition continued in the early church. In apostolic times, the “evangelist” (as mentioned in Ephesians 4:11) was probably an itinerant performer who traveled from one local church to another, orally performing and explaining the teachings of Jesus and the stories of his life, death and resurrection, which were eventually compiled in written form for the New Testament. Seeing these evangelists and listening to them in person was probably just as thrilling as watching a blockbuster movie like The Hunger Games or The Hobbit. Evangelists didn’t just read the words of Scripture in a hollow wooden voice, nor did they put on a fake show to entertain. They embodied the words of Scripture and brought them to life as an act of faith and worship. Evangelism was not for amateurs; it was a highly specialized calling and gifting from God.

    My point is this. If individual Christians are un-excited about reading the Bible, perhaps it is not a sign of a moral failure on their part. Perhaps it is because we (modern evangelical church leaders) have misunderstood something important about the genres of Scripture and the nature of evangelism. Perhaps we have lost sight of the oral and community and story aspects of Scripture. Perhaps we have collectively forgotten how to animate the words of Scripture in our meetings and our worship. Our public interaction with the Bible treats the words as text to be lectured about in a dry, informational, objective tone, with lists of take-away points and imperatives. We haven’t shown people by example how to inhabit the Great Story of the Bible. We leave the task of animating the words of Scripture up to each individual person. We expect everyone to open up the book daily and privately evangelize themselves in their own rooms, regardless of whether they are gifted evangelists, and then lay guilt trips on them if they can’t do it.

    • Joe Schafer

      I guess what I’m trying to say is this. For many believers, the tendency to neglect the Bible doesn’t come from a lack of zeal, lack of discipline, etc. but from a lack of creative imagination. The formulaic ways that many of us have been taught to approach Scripture (in UBF and elsewhere) have all but sucked the life out of the Bible. So it’s no wonder that, after a few years, believers were once excited about the Bible lose their excitement and find it laborious.

  9. Joe Schafer

    A timely post by Peter Enns on why Christians don’t read their Bibles:

    • Another reason people don’t read their bibles: They’ve been beaten over the head too many times with this book. Why read it when you’ve been told you’ll never be accepted but only tolerated until you conform to certain truth interpretations?

  10. Joe, you mentioned “We haven’t shown people by example how to inhabit the Great Story of the Bible.”

    Something that goes hand in hand with comprehending the bible narratives is finding your own personal narrative.

    I like your word choice: inhabit (to occupy as a place of settled residence or habitat; to live in) This is both dangerous, if we create a fantasy worldview/wishdream and live in that, and exhilirating, if we really do discover the narratives woven through the Holy Scriptures without damaging our own narrative God gave us.

    • Joe Schafer

      Yes, it is easy to construct a personal or group narrative that is so self-indulgent, so self-serving and out of touch with reality — and out of touch with the actual history of the Bible and the church — that it cannot be sustained.

      When I wrote “inhabit the Great Story of the Bible,” I had in mind a church community that dwells deeply in the life of Jesus as the culmination of the story of Israel. All too often, we approach Bible passages and try to extract from them some general principles or teachings that we think are universally true which we can quickly apply to our own lives. In doing so, we tend to overlook the actual history of Israel, Christ and the church. For example, I recently heard a popular evangelical preacher give a message on Joshua chapter 1. He claimed that this passage reveals the secret of how to be successful wherever you go (Joshua 1:7) and gave seven or eight principles for how we can live a successful life today. What he totally ignored was the actual story of the conquest of Canaan, what the author(s) of the book of Joshua might have actually been trying to say about their own national history and identity and their understanding of God. In an attempt to quickly make the passage relevant to us, he skipped over any consideration of actual message of the book, making it into an a-historical fable on how to be a successful person. And he skipped over any consideration of how Jesus and the apostles might have viewed the book of Joshua in light of the gospel.

    • Joe Schafer

      It’s happened again.

      A conversation starts up on UBFriends, like this one here about personal/community narratives and the Bible. There’s something that I wanted to say, but I wasn’t sure how to put it into words.

      Then I discover that Greg Boyd has been preaching about this exact topic.

      If you have 29 minutes to spare, watch this thoroughly entertaining and interesting sermon on Colossians 3:16-17.

      Or, if you want to quickly cut to the chase, read the “extended summary” of the sermon here:

    • Thanks for that Boyd sermon, Joe. Excellent. I like how he begins with his thoughts on discerning between evil spirits and a “waking dream”/sleep paralysis experience and relating it to health science such as with Vietnam veterans.

      We need to learn how to discern such encounters from physical health issues. I’m always looking for ways people have discerned such encounters. Our encounter with God may be similar I think. Sometimes we may not be encountering the Holy Spirit, but just our own emotions. As Boyd claims, I agree, our stories deeply affect how we feel. That is a big reason why I’ve completely re-written my own personal narrative of my life– in a way that makes sense to me and does not contradict input from others as much as possible. I am trying to be cautious of exchaning one fantasy worldview for another, so I’ve been searching for reality– messy dialgues help me tremendously.

      Boyd makes a good point about being sensitive and respectful to other people’s narratives, which I need to learn more and more. Encountering other people, encountering God, encountering the Spirit is a much needed discussion topic. I like Boyd’s contention that Colossians 3 is a good example of the “story we are supposed to be living in”.

      By the way, this “spiritual encounter” idea shows up in the narrative of Jacob and Esau, as I’m sure you’re already aware of (Jacob wrestled with God and also saw the “face of God”.) So thanks for pointing this out. Perhaps we are all just story-tellers?

  11. Thanks, Sharon, Forests, Joe, Brian. I do agree that people tend to read the Bible in soundbites, out of the historical context, and personally, rather than in community. The Community Bible Experience does sound like a great thing. I know that IVCF began reading Mark’s gospel during their retreat without chapter and verse which one of my sons attended.

    My perhaps overly simplistic thought and experience is that many church going people, myself included, do not read the Bible partially or primarily because they/we become distracted by the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and their own sinful inclinations and tendencies (Mk 4:19). In the words of DL Moody, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

    Hopefully, an earnest resolve to read the Bible (even with bad or improper habits and understanding) may stir within us the dormant slumbering image of God can cause the reader to be inflamed with passionate love for God and neighbor.

    • I feel this point needs to be made: on one extreme, not reading the Holy Scriptures is one problem. On the other extreme, reading the bible too much or improperly is a problem, a larger problem in my mind.

      The bible itself cautions agains this, for the point is Jesus NOT the bible: John 5:39-40 “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.”

      In ubfland, I spent about 16,000 hours over 20+ years with my “head in my bible”, reading personally and in community. THAT was a problem and I do NOT suggest anyone to do that. I thought the bible was my salvation when it was Jesus who alone is my salvation.

      In one 30 minute bibe study at my local church, the Holy Spirit taught me something more valuabel than all 16,000 hours: the grace of God.

      So I am glad to have the familiarity with the bible text (even though I was skewed to certain over-emphasized passages from the flawed ubf heritage teachings). But I created my own KOPHN fantasy world and always put myself in each character in the bible as I read it. That is not a good thing. We should read the bible as if God is speaking to us, not as if we are required to act out the bible characters.

      I STRONGLY recommend learning how to listen to God’s voice through the Holy Spirit who speaks many words to us in the present and guides us through the Holy Scriptures.

  12. “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

    Or the bible can keep you from Jesus.

    • Yeah, BK, it is very sad when the Bible keeps you from Jesus, as it did with the religious leaders (Jn 5:39-40).

    • Bonhoeffer provides some solutions to avoid such problems. We tend to be quick to jump into the “ministry of the word”. Bonhoeffer reminds us all that we need to dwell in other ministries and show more respect for the word in the Holy Scriptures.

      Specifically, he mentions three other ministries that he says must preceed the ministry of the word:

      – the service of listening to each other
      – the service of active helpfulness each other
      – the service of bearing with each other

      If we have a community in which communication and spiritual direction is one way, with no listening, and we re-defined helpfulness as being “teach them the truth” and we continually divide ourselves instead of bearing with each other and working through differences, our commuinty has NO RIGHT to even talk about the ministry of the word.

      “Wherever the service of listening, active helpfulness, and bearing with others is being faithfully performed, the ultimate and highest ministry can also be offered, the service of the Word of God.” Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pg. 102

  13. The Bible should lead us into an intimate meaningful relationship with God and others by the work of the Holy Spirit, and not simply to propositional truth statements or methodologies or values that are used to control others or beat them over the head with.

  14. Thanks, Joe, for stating how we often apply the biblical text to us today before understanding the intent of the author nor how the original Israelites understood the text. Reading books on biblical theology has helped me to understand this.

    This sounds similar to the recent critique of Joel Osteen’s latest book Break Out, where he quotes a verse or story from the Bible and then uses that as a springboard to say what he wants with little to no correlation to the historical context.

    Being the new year, it seems that many are writing about reading the Bible. This is from the gospel coalition: This resonates with me in that the Bible must be about Jesus (not me), points to Jesus (not me) and ends with Jesus (not me).

  15. “btw…your conversations have been very interesting Ben and BK” – See more at:

    Yes I enjoy this kind of dialogue. Very few people seem to enjoy it as well though.

    In any case, Bonhoeffer makes one of my points extremely well, and describes what I’m getting at:

    “For the pious community permits no one to be a sinner. Hence all have to conceal their sins from themselves and from the community. We are not allowed to be sinners. Many Christians would be unimaginably horrified if a real sinner were suddenly to turn up among the pious. So we remain alone with our sin, trapped in lies and hypocrisy, for we are in fact sinners.”

    ubf is a pious community in most chapters, a gathering of the pious. Those of us who were transparent enough to admit we are sinners had to leave, for we were not permitted to be sinners at remain in fellowship.

  16. I mentioned something above that needs to be expounded more. I said, ” I do not try to obey God’s law. If someone does want to obey the law, I wonder if they know what the law actually says.”

    Lesslie Newbigin expresses my core thought in an excellent way, in “The Household of God”, pg 41:

    “1. There are two spheres in which human life may be lived. The first is the sphere of law, wherein man hopes to win acceptance with God by his obedience to God’s law. In fact this sphere is under God’s curse. It is the sphere of the flesh. The second is the sphere of grace, wherein man rests his whole hope of acceptance with God upon God’s revealed grace in Christ. This is the sphere wherein God’s Spirit rules. We enter this sphere by hearing the Gospel, laying hold of it by faith and baptism, and receiving the Spirit.

    2. These spheres are absolutely exclusive of one another. There is no possibility of any combination or compromise between them. If you try to supplement grace by works you have abandoned grace.

    3. This does not mean that the law is contrary to God’s purpose. On the contrary, by the law God purposes to block up every other way except the way of grace and faith; to drive us to Christ. But having been set free in Christ we cannot return again to the bondage of the law.

    4. The demand for the circumcision of the Gentiles involves acceptance of the whole sphere, with its unlimited obligation, its confidence in the flesh, and its curse. Therefore for the Gentile Christian to be circumcised will mean being severed from Christ.”

    And such thoughts form the basis of my “outlaw theology“.

  17. Thank, Joe, for Greg Boyd’s sermon on Col 3:16-17. This is a commentary from the ESV Gospel Transformation that begins the exegesis of Heb 12:1-4 with this statement:

    “Missiologists teach us that the church in any one locale needs the church in the whole world in order to read the Bible correctly.”

    Isn’t this the point that Boyd is making in his sermon?

    UBF likely knows and stresses the “utmost importance of community,” since she originated from a homogenous communalistic (anti-individualistic) culture. But I think it is fair to say that the UBF community at large has become too insulated and too isolated from “the rest of the church in the world and in history.” I wonder if this is becoming increasingly evident to longstanding UBFers, or perhaps to some 2nd gens.

    • “UBF likely knows and stresses the “utmost importance of community,” since she originated from a homogenous communalistic (anti-individualistic) culture. But I think it is fair to say that the UBF community at large has become too insulated and too isolated from “the rest of the church in the world and in history.””

      Yes, that’s a very important self-contradiction that UBFers should start to see (one of many self-contradictions). And again, I would not say that UBF “has become too insulated”, but that UBF always has been insulated, deliberately, since Lee separated it from the Presbyterian Church. Lee deliberately removed all furnishings that resembled an ordinary church from the Chicago center (which was originally a church). He also abandoned Baptism and Communion. This was all done to separate from “ordinary” Christianity and to show that UBF is something different.

      In the recent past, there have been some attempts to cooperate with other Christians again, though sadly only driven by the younger members or with the sole goal to get a seal of approval from organization like the NAE and to get rid of the cult image, not from a genuine wish to cooperate with others.

      I remember how a newbie after a conference 20 years ago asked our chapter director why we didn’t cooperate with other groups in Heidelberg. His answer was “now we are too small, but once we’re more accepted and large, we will start to cooperate”. This was a very typical UBF answer. First, leaders always postpone serious requests in the hope that newbies forget their concerns over time, start accepting the UBF way as normal and stop asking. Second, it shows the delusion that UBF would ever become large and powerful if they just operate the way they do. The only thing that happened was that UBF became smaller and more cult-like. Third, it shows that UBF wants to talk with others only from a position of power and “we teach you”, not with a humble, learning mind. UBF leaders only want to operate in their role as master, not as brother. Both inside UBF and outside. They always feel superior to other Christians.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, the point that Boyd makes in his sermon is that human beings are story-constructors. We don’t just experience events; we process those events and arrange them into stories that make sense to us. His sermon is a call for the local church to be a community whose dominant story is the life of Jesus, so that, as we process our experiences, we fit our lives into the story of Jesus, rather than fitting Jesus into the story of our lives.

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, I basically agree with your observations.

      In recent years, some top UBF leaders have been participating in Kimnet — a very small Korean group that gives accolades to UBF and never raises any questions about its ministry practices. And every year, a few leaders attend the meeting of Missio Nexus (formerly Cross Global Link) which is an association of North American mission organizations. But as far as I can tell, these relationships have no significant impact on anything that UBF actually does.

      Chris wrote: “They always feel superior to other Christians.” This is certainly true in a collective sense. As a group, UBF leaders see themselves as hyper-committed spiritual elites who have something great to teach others and little to learn. About five years ago, I asked the previous GD a direct question: “Is there anything that UBF can learn from other Christians?” His only response was that UBF might learn something from them about “how to do singspiration.”

      But at a personal level, it’s very different. I’ve seen how UBF leaders act when they are around other Christians in nonKorean nonUBF contexts. One or two of them might strut around like peacocks, acting like they are somebodies. But for the most part, they are awkward and shy. They huddle together, keep quiet and contribute little to the conversation. They behave like outsiders and display a sense of inferiority about themselves.