Nov 05, 2019 08:00am
The Hard, Narrow Road to Biblical Literacy

We desire the silver platter of biblical literacy – that we might somehow put in the littlest effort yet receive the full weight of gospel truth. It’s wishful thinking.

It seems to me we have quirked our way into a large problem regarding the Bible and actually knowing it – that is, biblical literacy. We have, many of us, gone looking for the easiest, most convenient, sanitary, bubble-wrapped, revolved-around-us approach to unpacking God’s Word. Our heart longs for the real, biblical Jesus, but our minds have suffered such rewiring from today’s media influences that the attention span required, and the simple, yet thorough commitment accruing Bible knowledge demands, makes it hyper difficult. 

We have warped, slowly and surely, into consumers. We hope to discover that singular secret (if there were one) that would bring in the harvest of biblical literacy.

You can’t just download it straight to your brain. No such thing exists.

From consumer to consumer

Even as I ponder that word consumer my heart breaks a bit. To consume the Bible sounds like a tremendous deed – it sounds like a person who feasts where the true, fulfilling food is. It sounds like someone well fed enough to profoundly impact the relationships around him or her, one by one – it sounds like someone who is staying close to our Savior, Jesus Christ, friend of sinners. 

But, no. This is not what “consumer” means these days.

To consume in the 21st century is to have everything oriented around self. But to consume as Jesus would have us, is to have everything oriented around him.

Pause to consider that for a moment: all the fabric of our lives woven into a sole purpose of serving Jesus. Oh, how I long for that in me and in you! 

To consume in the twentieth century is the pursuit of leniency, of glazed living, of life hacks. To consume as Jesus would have us isn’t necessarily the utter opposite of this. Like, we Christians don’t thrust ourselves into difficulty just because. No, that’s nonsense. 

However, we sure do pay close attention to the joy-saturated drudgeryof New Testament living. It is hardhaving Jesus as a discipler. And we should never ask him for an easy life.

Hopeful life? Yes! 

Joyful life? C’mon, yes! 

Satisfied life? Of course! 

Easy life? Never for us, no – not that one. 

It’s simply not an option Jesus offers – and when you’ve actually sat down (with screens off and away) to think about your life, would you truly desire an easylife? Is that the adjective you’d select? We need a larger vision.

Well, here’s the question I’d like to pose. How do we go from consumer to consumer? How do normal people like you and me find that hard road to biblical literacy and actually finish the race? Here are my thoughts – and, look, it’s not easy.

#1 Decide to start.

Carve out time today and tomorrow – go ahead and make that appointment with the Lord right now– to sit face to face with Jesus. And then start discussing. Talk to Jesus about (1) how you want to know him but (2) how you’ve neglected his Word, yet (3) how you’re ready to commit life longto studying his revelation. Set out a passage like Psalm 119:10, “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” Or John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And just meditate. 

Then, once you’ve laid it all out on the table, start growing in biblical literacy – one stinkin’ day at a time.

#2 Do the hard work of rewiring your brain.

No doubt this involves the Holy Spirit. But it is our command in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds . . . ” We long for transformationin this realm of knowing the Bible, in this age that is lacking in biblical literacy. Well, it seems to me that transformation comes through “the renewal of your mind”. 

Practically, on our end, we must handle the influences around us in a more responsible way. Whether that’s Netflix, Snapchat, or even things like family time or three-hour naps every day.

We should enjoy these outlets actively. That is, we must do the choosing of where and when and for how long we indulge.

Too often it’s just the rhythm of our day, the habit of our lives: falling asleep simply because you have free time; picking up the phone every single time it dings; allowing one YouTube video to turn into fourteen. This isn’t active, it’s passive. Renewing our minds occurs, in part, when we use our minds actively: that is, with intention, especially if the intention is to know Jesus more.

#3 Get out the scheduling knife and carve out time.

I risk boasting by saying this: My time in the Bible has actually increased since having kids. Currently, I have three little boys (4, 3, 1). They’re nuts. I love them, but they are crazy little tornados. They are needy and loud and wake up at night and poop on the floor. 

So how has my time with Jesus in the Bible increased? Laziness has largely left the door. Before, I’d just sleep or twiddle on social media. Now, far more exhausted, I’m like, “Might as well, let’s do this thing!” Here’s my point. We all have time. We also have mixed up priorities and distracted hearts. As we say in our household, “You gotta want it!”

#4 Assemble your toolkit.

Let’s get hyper practical for a moment. If what keeps you away from Scripture is that you’re left puzzled when you engage with it, I get it. Like, I really do. Here are three ideas (plus this article) to probe deeper into that “table” of Scripture – and enjoy a feast.

First, pray for the Holy Spirit to help.

Scholars use a fancy word for something I wanna share with you. It’s super helpful and I wish we used the word more. Perspicuity. It means clarity. God wrote the Bible in such a way that farmers and PhDs alike can understand it. That is, if the Holy Spirit allows it. It is a sealed book to all if the Holy Spirit does not “remove His hand” from the passage under study – so pray for clarity with a humble heart.

Second, print out the passage you’re working on.

Make sure there’s a good amount of space for commenting.

Then, “interrogate and insight” the cadoodle out of that passage

Interrogate your text – as if it’s your prisoner. Take John 3:16 for example. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” What does “for” mean? What’s the significance of “only Son?” I thought I was His son, too? What does “belief” mean?

Then, write out your insight. Anything that you discovered; anything that helps you; any connection you made; anything you needed right then and there.

Third, start answering your own questions.

Take them to friends. To your pastor. Or, get yourself D.A. Carson’s guide to commentaries and purchase one he recommends – then dive into a commentary. Concerning commentaries, two things. First, many are plain bad. That’s why I recommend Carson’s little guide. Second, never begin a Bible study with a commentary or else you lose personal engagement with the text. It’s a discipline, but only use the commentary to answer the questions you’ve tilled up.

#5 Give. Yourself. Grace.

Friend, give yourself as much grace as God does. If you miss a day, whoa, life goes on. A week? You’ll probably feel the ramifications – but you’re gonna make it. Jesus’ blood is sufficient, yes, even for missed devotionals.

Remember that God’s grace is never a license for laziness (the classic: “Oh, God’ll forgive me…it doesn’t matter how I live.”) but it spurs us into action. The Christian’s attitude is more like, “Because I’m undeservingly in the heavenly family I desire to study the Word. Because I am loved I desire to position myself near Jesus and his teaching and grow in biblical literacy.”

It’s not, “Oh gosh, better make The Big Man Upstairs like me today . . . now where’s my Bible?!”

Change the vertical, change the horizontal.

In numerous ways, it’s not an easy time to be a Christian. Biblical illiteracy in the West is at a low point. Comparing yourself to Christian friends, therefore, might not be the best gauge. The odds are against you. And the journey to knowing the Bible is long, slow, and usually uphill. But, man. The person who gives attention to the Word will “find good” (Proverbs 16:20). Find good in your devoted alone time with God and then extend that goodness to the watching world.

Copyright © 2019 by Justin Talbert @ Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from