Through the Bible in a Year
"...For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." - Acts 20.27
This year started with an ambitious goal:
teach through the entire Bible in one year with our Thursday Bible Study group.
To do this, we would need to cover 1-2 books of the Bible each week. How could we maintain such a pace?
The crucial resource for this plan is the Bible Project’s “Read Scripture” animated charts. If you are not familiar with the Bible Project, you should immediately check out their website or YouTube channel.
The Bible Project creates high quality media that simply and effectively communicates powerful biblical truths in an accessible way. Their charts are a beautifully tool, helping us to see the entire story of scripture.
Throughout the year I’ve used a simple illustration for why we are studying the Bible this way:
Suppose you discovered a new land. There are many ways that you could go about exploring it, depending on the tools you have available.
You could travel on your own two feet, and this slow pace would allow you to stop and explore every nook and cranny you discovered along the way. It would even give you a chance to take out a microscope or telescope to look closer.
Another way to explore would be to get a 4x4 vehicle and cruise around. There would be lots of places you couldn’t go, or wouldn’t have time to go, but you would still get a good sense of where you were. You could cover a lot of territory; you could also still slow down, stop, and explore points of interest.
Finally, you could fly over this new land in a helicopter. This way you could see the landscape stretched out below you, though you wouldn’t be able to see all the gorgeous detail. You would, however, be able to lay out a pretty accurate map. You could see things in relation to each other. Every once in a while you might land in a major clearing to have a closer look.
Your map would be a picture lacking a lot of detail, but it would be a big picture that you could come back to again and again.
Each way of exploring has strengths and weaknesses. The slower you go, the more chance there is that you get stuck, fixated on one area of interest. The higher and faster you travel, the more likely it is that you simply “fly over” some crucial truth. Nevertheless, each way of exploring would prove helpful if the territory was going to become your home, a place where you could spend your whole life exploring.
In just this way, the Bible Project charts have been our "helicopter, helping us grasp the “big picture” of the Biblical material. They are the vehicle that allows us to see how the story of the Bible holds together, and where each piece of this great picture fits together. By studying the Bible in this way, we are much better equipped to get closer and closer, paying more careful attention to the beautiful details. This is especially important for those who have never studied the Bible before.
Our format has been to open with prayer and then immediately watch the chart(s) for the book(s) we are covering. These are usually between 5-15 minutes long. We then open the discussion with any big questions or points that people might have that we want to talk about first. For our group it’s very important to let people say what they are thinking before they either forget or are so distracted by their own thoughts that they miss what others are sharing. A “sage on a stage” format would notbe tolerated by our group!
We then work through the chart, making sure the highlights and major themes have been grasped. To reinforce this, we also open our Bibles and read important chapters or passages. The charts are not a replacement for reading God’s word, they are a tool that helps us study. I love that each Bible Project chart begins with “Read Scripture” in great big letters on the screen!
Usually, these discussions must be cut short because I’ve tried to limit these times to about an hour. After that, we start to lose some focus. I also want to make sure that we are preserving the “big picture” information that we have been trying to grasp. The longer the discussion goes, the more likely it is that we will start missing the forest for the trees.
In my personal experience, as well as in my experience as a biblical scholar, many of the puzzles and problems in our biblical understanding come in when we don’t see how the pieces fit together. Once we grasp the larger scene, the problems don’t necessarily go away, but we are much better equipped to see that the simplest answers are often insufficient.
Is God is sovereign, and, if so, why do our choices matter?
What is “righteousness” and why is it important?
Is “salvation” something that can be lost?
Why is Israel's story important?
How are we to live as part of that story, but as an important new chapter?
And perhaps the most important, “Who is Jesus?”
Additionally, reading scripture together with people who have experienced homelessness opens up some new angles and questions I've never encountered in other contexts:
Is King David really a "good guy"?
In Obadiah, how is Edom's treatment of Israel similar to how we treat the homeless who are "getting what they deserve"?
How are exile and addiction similar, and can God break that slavers' power?
How do we truly get "home"?
The sin and exile of Israel have proven especially instructive, and of course so as God's amazing, gracious, unbelievably precious solution!
These are some of the big questions we’ve worked on this year. The Bible helps us think them through because the Bible raises these questions in the first place! God gives us very good instruction, and yet that instruction is not always simple or clear. I believe that this quality of the Bible, this lack of simplicity, has God’s fingerprints all over it.
Like Lady Wisdom (Prov. 8), the Bible itself invites us to search, question, explore, and wrestle. It does not give up all its answers easily, because some of its lessons require the explorer to ask, seek, and knock. Some answer require wisdom that can only be gained by walking with the Lord. The process of exploration is itself part of discipleship.
I’m also convinced that it is precisely this kind of Wisdom that is critical to “helping the homeless.” In this respect, the “homeless situation” is far from unique, and seen through the lens of scripture we find that there are numerous homeless individuals within its pages. Some, like ancient Israel, become "homeless" by rejecting God's good plan. Others become "homeless" precisely because they are following God's lead. As Jesus famously claimed, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8.20).
Scripture begins with a story of homelessness: Adam and Eve exiled from paradise because of their sin. The story, then, of the human race is one of attempting to regain that home, and usually with disastrous effects. The tower of Babel, the Ark, the settlement of Canaan, the construction of the Temple, the attempt to return from Babylonian exile, and finally the long-awaited birth of the Messiah, far from “home.”
Salvation is a homecoming: the prodigal son returning, the end of exile, the restoration of a garden vineyard. (I was just made aware that Miroslav Volf’s most recent book explores this in detail; I’m looking forward to reading it!) Making this journey requires wisdom, courage, humility, and a large measure of “grit,” exactly the kind what our homeless (and housed!) friends and neighbors need to survive and thrive.
There's more to be said here, but it is probably better "caught" than "taught"!
If you would like to join us for a Bible Study, these run every Thursday from 9-10:30am. All are welcome!