Learning the Story, Living the Story part 1: Why We Don’t Read The Bible

I recently had the opportunity to speak to InterVarsity students at Portland State University. I spoke about the relationship between spiritual formation and the Bible. It was a pretty big topic so I had to hone it in as much as I could.

As my first pass, I boiled it down to this: We must learn the story of God, and live the story of God.

Then I shared three unhelpful things we do (that prevent us from learning and living the story) and then three helpful things we can do.

So for the next six weeks, I’m devoting Sunday to expanding on my six points. The first three weeks will be the unhelpful things. The next three will be the helpful things.

Again, this is my first pass. I am pretty sure I am missing some important points. But let’s dive in anyway.

'BIBLE IN OLD CHURCH' photo (c) 2009, carl & tracy gossett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

How Not To Learn or Live the Story of God: Don’t Read the Bible

This one got a laugh when I spoke.

But seriously, how can you learn the story if you never read the source of the story?

I don’t want to guilt trip people here. I know very well what it is like to make some commitment to “read my Bible more” and then quit when things get tough. I have even said that Leviticus is where Bible reading plans go to die.

If the church gave a dollar to World Vision for every “read my Bible more” pledge that went sour, poverty would probably be totally eradicated.

So what stops us? Why DON’T we read the Bible? I am going to skip right over the “lazy” option and go for some deeper reasons.

Its Not a Page Turner.

Reading the Bible isn’t like reading Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Lord of The Rings, or . . . Twilight. It doesn’t keep you glued to your seat. Chapters don’t end with cliffhangers.

Many people who’s primary reading, if they read at all, consists of entertaining adventure fiction are going to have a difficult time with the Bible. It just doesn’t read like a modern novel.

It’s Hard to Understand

People who lived 2-3 thousand years ago thought differently than we do. They had different ways of communicating. They used different literary techniques with different images and metaphors and references.

It’s hard to know what do do with a lot of the things we read in the Bible. And rather than working through those things, we find it much easier to just give up.

We Don’t Like What We Read

You don’t have to go far before you will find something that will grate against your sensibilities. Something in there is going to offend you.

Something in there is going to suggest that you do something you would never want to do in a million years.

What This Means

I want to say, as compassionately as I can, that I understand why people don’t want to read the Bible. I have felt every one of these things. I’ve been there.

But if this is our general posture towards the Bible, it will never shape us. We will never learn the story and will never live it.


Because we will spend all our time trying to convince the Bible that it needs to be something its not.

“You need to be more entertaining, easier to understand, and pleasant. And if you don’t shape up, I’m out.”

Have you ever given up on a decision to read the Bible more? Why?
Part 2: The Teacher’s Edition of Life
Part 3: Don’t Read the Bible Alone
Part 4: Train Yourself to Read the Bible
Part 5: Context, Context, Context!
Part 6: The Word With Friends


13 responses

  1. love it! I am going to enjoy the series 🙂
    I have given up on my reading for every reason you listed… laziness, offense, confusion, the sheer magnitute of it.

    I agree with you though, we cant live it unless we start learning it from source.
    I am just at Revelation now- you might remember I’m on my 1st full straight through read(not in a timed plan though, I started in summer) and I am already changed fundamentally and I am hitting from Genesis again next! love, love, LOVE it!

    • So you made it through and are starting over?! Fantastic! I love reading books a second time because I am way more patient and can pick up on all the foreshadowing.

  2. Just discovered this blog via Slacktivist.

    Anyway, I’m part of small Bible reading group where we take a Saturday a month and will be reading through the Bible through the year. Yesterday we started in Genesis and ended at Leviticus 14 (right after the chapter on infectious skin diseases and mold.) We all take turns reading a chapter out loud, and every seventh chapter we take turns reading a verse aloud. When the reading gets real tedious in “begats” and hard to pronounce place names, we use an audio Bible to get us through that portion. We have breaks throughout for reflection and for meals (we were there for about 10 hours.)

    The biggest take away so far for me is reading like this in a group setting makes it easier to plow through the tougher portions of Scripture. A lot of these stories are weird and offensive to our moden/postmodern sensibilities. And the detail of Exodus 20 and following! My word, do we need to know (in detail) how God he wanted the Tabernacle and vestments were made and *then* retelling us they were made in the detail God wanted them? And the details on skin disease: we nearly lost it. But it was good to read this in a community, where we all shared the load in reading God’s story. And it was cool to read God’s story in such a big chunk; I’ve tried those “read 5 chapters a day” plans and gave up by mid-January. It’s easier for me to commit to setting apart a larger but infrequent portion of time to feast (so to speak), as opposed to committing to a much smaller but more frequent portion of time to read through the Bible.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Marty!

      And you have actually hit on part 6 of this series. So you all have just been reading it through? What do you do when you are done for the day? do you talk about what you have read? That sounds like a fun group.

  3. There’s not really anything that offends me. I think most people say to themselves thatcthwu will read according to some plan. They start out on some plan, then look at the big picture and feel overwhelmed. Or they hit Leviticus and really get tied up in the tedium. Or in Numbers. Or 1the Chronicles. They just don’t want to put in the tough plowing.

  4. I pointed out a lot of stuff here that I think I’ve never been willing to say out loud, especially the fact that it’s not a page-turner and I often don’t understand it, so it bores me.

  5. So, yeah, I generally hit the tedious parts and lose steam. At the same time, I find plenty that offends me. Well, to clarify, plenty that ought not offend me if I were less selfish, or more generous, or more gracious, or maybe just less me. But since I am me, I tend to get offended at all these bits about God sending the rain on the the just and the unjust alike and how I should be like that and such. But since being offended at the Maker of All Things is generally considered bad form, I pass it off as either ignorance or laziness. Which is probably worse.

  6. Come to think of it, if the Bible is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, then nothing that is written in it is new. I think it’s a wonderful book that teaches us about mistakes that others in the past have done, and that no matter what, the Lord forgives us. Who wouldn’t want to continually read about such a hope?

  7. Hey I recently used that pic in a blot post! As far as excuses go, I think we deceive ourselves about what we really need.or want. There have been so many times where I didn’t want to read it, but did anyway, and loved my time in the word. Also, I don’t think.we get or know the context of the whole story, so it makes it difficult to connect.

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