Intimacy or Familiarity

We like to believe what we believe, and to believe it all the way. We like to prefer what we prefer and to hold our preferences high above the alternatives. We sometimes find ourselves expressing our beliefs and preferences in off-handed little comments that seem so insignificant to us, but can hit another person with unexpected force.

Become a Patron

Reading the Bible is something we all believe in. We know it is good and necessary to remain in God’s Word day-by-day. If we are to obey God, we must know who he is and what he commands, and if we are to know who he is and what he commands, we must hear him speak, and if we are to hear him speak, we must go to the one source where he has promised we can always hear from him. And so we develop that discipline of daily Bible reading.

When we search the Bible we find that we must read, but we do not learn nearly as much about how to read. This is yet another area in which we have freedom, and in which one person’s practice may look very different from another person’s. And this is good. Vive la difference!

When I consider Bible reading, I see two broad approaches: one that aims for familiarity and one that aims for intimacy. Both are good, both are beautiful, and both have their place.

A few months ago I was at an event where I heard a leader condemn Bible reading plans like the McCheyne plan that requires reading 4 or 5 chapters per day. His critique was that these plans do not allow for deep consideration or meditation. He did not frame this as a matter of preference, but as a matter of right and wrong. But then I don’t have to go far to find people advocating and celebrating the many-chapter-per-day kind of plan and speaking ill of Bible reading that moves too slowly, so the reader bogs down in a text and never looks up to see the wider landscape. Again, we prefer what we prefer, and often bring far too much force to our preferences.

I love to grow in Bible familiarity. I appreciate the McCheyne approach of reading the Old Testament once per year and the New Testament and Psalms twice (Or even the Dr. Horner plan of ten chapters per day). This is drinking from the firehose of Scripture, and it is a beautiful thing. There are few better ways to understand the overarching story of the Bible and to see all those connections between Old and New, between shadow and reality, than to read it in this manner.

I love to grow in Bible intimacy. I appreciate the two-verse per day approach to reading the Bible—just a verse or two slowly observed and applied. This treats the Bible like a lozenge soothing a sore throat—something to be slowly savored and not quickly crunched up. There are few better ways to fully understand and precisely apply the Bible than to look deep into its words, to ponder them, and to work them deep into our hearts and lives.

I happen to believe we do best when we have a mix of both. So I generally stick to the McCheyne plan for my personal devotions. Then in our family devotions we read a short passage—often just a few verses—and push toward understanding and application. In church I hear the Word preached expositorily book-by-book and verse-by-verse, with focus on both interpretation and application. I read Christian books that often single out a verse or passage and provide a bit of explanation and application. In so many ways I surround myself with the Bible, sometimes pursuing familiarity and sometimes pursuing intimacy.

This is why I find it helpful to speak of “Bible intake,” a term I first encountered through Donald Whitney. It allows us to focus less on the particulars, and more on the simple joy and value of getting the Bible into our lives in as many ways as possible. Intimacy or familiarity—we simply can’t go wrong.

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