BIBLE READING IN 2021
Every year for the past several, I have read through the Bible. Sure, I've missed a few days here and there -- which still brings up a little shame that 20-years-ago-more-legalistic Ben would have felt quite overtly -- but for the most part, I've gone through both Testaments, intentionally using different versions, at times with commentaries from different veins of orthodox Christian theology.
THE BEAUTY OF MULTIPLE TRANSLATIONS
The New King James Version (which I am finishing this week; 2020) is a word-for-word translation that's somewhat technical (I read The Spirit Filled Bible, with a little more charismatic commentary); the English Standard is literal but also very eloquent and flowing (ESV Study Bible, 2017). The newish Christian Standard translation (my 2019 version) is more thought by thought, but very accessible; and Eugene Peterson's The Message paraphrase (2018) is a simple and beautiful -- and very pastoral and freeing -- interpretation.
God has used that combination -- the whole Bible, in different versions, with different nuanced notes -- to grow and shape me in some really sweet ways through these years. The various elements each year highlighted, about who God is, His work in the world, and the different wording of even some familiar verses, have all led me to deeper love of God. I know Him more deeply; He is concurrently more clear and more beautifully mysterious. I understand my relationship with Him better (2020 has grown my dependence for sure!), as well as my place in the world around me, and a more biblical view of relationships with, and posture toward, others.
In 2021 I'm going a bit of a different route: I'm reading through some weekly Psalms, but primarily focusing on the New Testament, in as chronological an order as possible. There's something about reclaiming the original history and context that has a growing appeal to me: especially as we set out to plant a new church that I want to dive as deep into the faithful life Jesus first invited his followers into, as they/we pursue(d) his gospel and his kingdom, "on earth as it is in heaven."
So I'm doing a little deeper dive into a chapter a day, guided in part by N.T. Wright's translation, The Kingdom New Testament (or as I like to think of it, "N.T.'s N.T." Har har.) and J.B. Phillips' New Testament in Modern English (originally published in the 1950's). Here's the plan I'll follow.
WHY READ the Bible?
One of the values of Salt+Light, our new church plant, is being with Jesus. We define this, in part, as "living all of life centered on His word, His Spirit, and His Kingdom." A vital spiritual practice for followers of Jesus is knowing and obeying God through regular time in his word. So Jess and I, along with Matt and Nicole Tatum, sent this to the budding core team of Salt+Light, in preparation for some intentionality around the Bible in 2021:
Reading the Bible doesn't earn us points with God; achieving a set number of minutes per day, or accomplishing a set plan, doesn't make you a better Christian. But knowing God through his story, and being formed by his Spirit into Jesus' image, invites us to engage regularly with the word of God.
WHERE DO I START?
There are lots of ways to do this -- perhaps you're involved in BSF or another Bible Study group that guides your reading (Nicole and Jess, and several others, are); perhaps you'll read the New Testament in 2021 (that's Ben's plan), or the whole Bible (like Matt is); or perhaps your right starting point is the weekly verses we'll discuss the following Sunday.
You might read the Bible regularly for the first time ever, or stick with a rhythm you've had for decades, or even approach God's word in a new way this coming year.
Maybe you'll read a chapter a day; maybe you'll read a couple chapters every other day, and devote the days between to other spiritual practices such as prayer, creativity, or journaling; or maybe a different rhythm works better.
WHAT WILL YOU DO?
The point is that the possibilities are endless -- but God grows his children in wisdom, knowledge, relationship, and godliness, as we dwell with him in his word... and no one drifts into doing that well; even spiritual practice takes practice! So, having a set plan -- even if you diverge from it, leave off for a bit and have to return, etc. -- is helpful.
We urge you to take time before the end of 2020, to prayerfully consider a plan for how you'll spend regular time with God through his word in 2021. We'll encourage DNA Groups to know how each other are dwelling with God in his word, and perhaps even to pursue similar readings together.
Reach out if you need help or have questions! And if you choose to follow the New Testament plan, let me know -- I'd love to chat about it occasionally. Happy reading -- I trust that God will use his word mightily in all our lives!