Hearing (and Reading) All of Scripture

In an interview with Leadership Journal, author Phyllis Tickle explains why we need to hear the Scriptures. While I don’t agree with all of Tickle’s theological positions, what she says on this issue makes a lot of sense. Two important quotes:

Cumulatively, hearing all this Scripture lays track, just as it did all those years in Sunday school. It’s repetitive, but we learn by repetition. As adults we know “The Lord is my Shepherd” because we heard it so often as children, and for that reason, it becomes the first file that downloads when we have distress. (That’s why I have become passionate about reading to children over and over.)…

The loss of the home altar and of the Bible story time with children truly, truly is something we need to address as Protestants. This loss happened for understandable reasons: you have two working parents and three kids that have been in daycare all day long. Everybody’s exhausted. You’ve shared in supper from the pizza parlor. Even in homes where that pattern has been changed a little bit, there’s still not that sitting down and reading the Scripture without commentary. The loss of that has done a lot to stiltify and stultify Scripture for younger folk.

This is all the more interesting to me for two reasons. First, last fall some friends and I discovered a book by Terry Johnson called The Family Worship Book. It’s essentially a resource for bringing back the “home altar” that Tickle mentions, and it’s a very good resource.

Second, my school is planning to implement a “family chapel” program next year, to enable parents to take the lead in providing Bible education, as well as discipleship in the home. The point of such a program is not to provide a checklist or script for family worship. But most people don’t know how to do this kind of thing anymore, though it was commonplace in Christian homes of the nineteenth century, and in some traditions, up through the 40s and 50s. My mother’s family called it “family altar.”

A bonus reason I’m interested in her comments is that our church has recently been incorporating Scripture readings into the service. To all of Tickle’s reasons I would add this argument for multiple readings from multiple genres: it illustrates the unity of Scripture. The disadvantage of reading the Bible straight through is that you may not get that sense of fundamental unity from such a reading. By the time you get to Hebrews, your reading of Leviticus and Ezekiel may be a dim memory, so you miss the rich connections between those three books.

So what to do? The Book of Common Prayer lectionary does a decent job of connecting themes through the Scriptures; the Revised Common Lectionary I’ve found less good in this regard. But the hands-down winner for me is the Bible reading calendar devised by Robert Murray M’Cheyne. A Scottish pastor who died in his prime (29 years old), M’Cheyne developed the calendar for some very specific reasons. Good copies of the calendar include these “Advantages,” but I’m putting them here just the same.

1. THE WHOLE BIBLE WILL BE READ THROUGH IN AN ORDERLY MANNER IN THE COURSE OF A YEAR. – The Old Testament once, the New Testament and Psalms twice. I fear many of you never read the whole Bible, and yet it is all equally divine. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect.” If we pass over some parts of Scripture we will be incomplete Christians.

2. TIME WILL NOT BE WASTED IN CHOOSING WHAT PORTIONS TO READ. – Often believers are at a loss to determine towards which part of the mountains of spices they should bend their steps. Here the question will be solved at once in a very simple manner.

3. THE PASTOR WILL KNOW IN WHICH PART OF THE PASTURE THE FLOCK ARE FEEDING. – He will thus be enabled to speak more suitably to them on the Sabbath: and both pastor and elders will be able to drop a word of light and comfort in visiting from house to house, which will be more readily responded to.

4. THE SWEET BOND OF CHRISTIAN LOVE AND UNITY WILL BE STRENGTHENED. – We shall often be lead to think of those dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, who agree to join with us in reading these portions. We shall oftener be led to agree on earth, touching something we shall ask of God. We shall pray over the same promises, mourn over the same confessions, praise God in the same songs, and be nourished by the same words of eternal life.

I have a former pastor, Lyle Dorsett, to thank for introducing me to M’Cheyne’s calendar. He never missed an opportunity to recommend it—from the pulpit, in conversations and counseling, in the classroom—and as a result, much of our church used it. And it was amazing; we found the Scriptures we’d read creeping into our conversations. And I was continually stunned by the realization that the Bible is a unified whole, the story of our God. The dominant themes crop up in the most unlikely places, and M’Cheyne’s calendar helped me see that.

With that, I include a link to a nicely designed PDF version.


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