You may recall the 2012 news story about a 17-year-old girl who collapsed at work with a swollen tongue. Turns out she’d eaten almost nothing but McDonald’s chicken nuggets her entire life. No fruits. No vegetables. Just deep-fried chicken. She learned it the hard way: man doesn’t live by breaded nuggets alone.
Scripture says something similar about our relationship to God’s Word. We’re more than just physical beings designed to live off fruits and vegetables and the occasional chicken nugget. We’re also spiritual beings, designed to live off of “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; Deut. 8:3). This means if we neglect the Bible, the aforementioned story of malnourishment can become an enacted parable of our spiritual condition.
And yet it’s astonishing how spiritually malnourished we can be amid such an abundance of biblical availability. For most of God’s people throughout history, hearing God’s Word was literally the only means of access. It’s not as though each individual Hebrew in the desert had his own personal scroll. We, on the other hand, have print Bibles and e-Bibles. Bibles on our phones and Bibles on our shelves. Bibles in dozens of good English translations and specialized study Bibles—all at our fingertips.
Are we any better for it? Has our knowledge of and commitment to reading the Bible kept pace with this increased availability?
Biblical Illiteracy and Distraction
It would seem not. A recent LifeWay study found that only 32 percent of Americans who “attend a Protestant church regularly say they read the Bible personally every day.” Evangelical Protestants faired a little better (36 percent), but not much. As Albert Mohler put it, “The scandal of biblical illiteracy [is] our problem.”
Perhaps Google really has made us stupid and we’ve lost the ability to concentrate. Perhaps we’re surrounded by too many distractions. For some, the Bible gets displaced by Instagram or Twitter or (now) Disney+. For others (Martha-types), the Bible could be crowded out by feverish serving and activities. But for many others, it’s more subtle. Even as a pastor and a theological editor who both do a lot of reading, we can testify to the temptation (and sometimes the actual sin) of Bible neglect. We can talk about the Bible, read books and blog posts about the Bible, and use the Bible to prepare sermons, Sunday-school lessons, or argue for our positions on social and political issues. In short, sometimes we can do everything with the Bible except read it. We doubt we’re alone.
And this is a problem.
Peter Leithart recently observed how skillfully many Christian teachers “from the patristic age to the Reformation” were able to “range across the whole Bible without any of the props and crutches we rely on . . . because they had stored it in the palace of memory.” That sort of mastery doesn’t happen without deep and sustained reading. How can we even approach such reading today?
Fighting to Know God in 2020 and Beyond
God doesn’t expect the same degree of biblical mastery from all his people. We’re not all called to be pastors or teachers. But we’re all called to know him, to hunger for him, and to commune with him. And other than prayer, there is no better way to know and commune with God than to hear his voice in Scripture.
And this is the worst part of biblical illiteracy. When we neglect reading the Bible, we don’t just miss knowledge, we miss God. We’re privileged to worship a God who makes himself known to us in words. And we’re doubly privileged to have almost constant access to those words.
When we neglect reading the Bible, we don’t just miss knowledge, we miss God.
The year 2020 will provide us with ample opportunities to forego communing with God in his Word in favor of trivial distractions, good causes, and perhaps most of all, an endless stream of presidential-election coverage that (for some of us) will seek to seek to dominate our every waking moment. Without a Mary-like sitting at Jesus’s feet and hearing his Word, these forces will deaden our souls and provoke us to bite and devour one another (Gal. 5:15). We’re going to have to do battle, and for that we need the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17).
TGC’s ‘Read the Bible’ Campaign
To that end, The Gospel Coalition has partnered with Crossway to launch an initiative for 2020 called Read the Bible. The goal is to help individual Christians and churches read God’s Word faithfully next year. Here’s what it involves—and no, it’s not too late to join:
The Robert Murray M’Cheyne Bible reading plan, which takes us through the entire Bible in a year (including the New Testament and Psalms twice).
An audio podcast version of volume 1 of Don Carson’s For the Love of God, a daily devotional commentary that follows the M’Cheyne Reading plan.
Bible and theology articles and videos on TGC’s homepage that track with the weekly Bible readings and help us answer tough questions that arise from what we’re reading in God’s Word.
A Facebook group (join here) that seeks to foster conversation about the daily Bible reading and what we’re learning about God, his Word, and how we ought to live as his redeemed people.
So we invite you—individual Christians, families, pastors, church leaders, school administrators—to consider joining us in 2020 to “Read the Bible.” Our goal in this initiative is not to promote TGC, but to point people to God’s Word.
We can’t solve the crisis of biblical illiteracy alone, but we can by God’s grace help and encourage more Christians to immerse themselves in the Bible.
Man shall not live by bread alone. Let’s continue to feast on God’s Word in 2020 and beyond.