If you have or if you would think about teaching through the whole Bible in 2011 or in any year, let me encourage you to think about a couple things that I learned as I taught through the whole Bible in 2010.
First, if you are a rookie pastor or just entering a church, WAIT! I did this in my first year and I would not recommend it for others. There are many things that demand attention especially in the first year of ministry and this one took up more time each week than I thought it would. With that said, I have benefitted much from teaching through the Bible this year in a way that I believe will bear fruit in the life of my ministry in the years to come.
Second, and this goes along with number 1, if you are going to teach through the whole Bible, let me encourage you to make sure that you have been reading and teaching the Bible through for a number of years. It is a good rule of thumb, to avoid teaching something that you have not done personally, i.e. if you have never read through the Bible in a year, it would be unwise to try to teach through it. Moreover, this point is important because at some point, or at many points, you will rely on the accumulated knowledge of the Bible that only builds up over many years of Bible saturation.
Personally, as I taught through the Scriptures this year, there were many times when I was dependent on previous Bible reading to provide explanation and fill in details of the text. My schedule did not permit me to study every book like I had first intended and/or desired, so there was much I were many times I was going from memory–from seminary, personal Bible reading, books, or messages I have heard. But this is the beauty of Bible overview, more than intricate exposition. You help focus on the big picture, showing the unity of the Scriptures–a unity that I argued was to be found in Christ (cf Eph 1:10).
Third, set a pace for the year. If you are going to teach through the Bible make sure those you are teaching are reading with you. This will motivate you and they will better be able to follow your teaching. To say it another way: Aim to keep pace with a Bible reading plan. In 2011, we used the plan laid out by Denny Burk.
Fourth, don’t get bogged down with the details. This is hard, especially for detailed-oriented teachers. Aim to cover the big idea, themes, and ways in which the book fits into the larger categories of biblical theology. Don’t spend your time on source criticism, who wrote 2 Peter, or when Daniel was written. I would touch on these things, but believing the Scriptures to be God’s word, I focused on what was in the text more than what was behind the text. In this way, I would encourage you to focus on biblical theology more than scholarly disputes–though sometimes you cannot avoid the latter (e..g is Genesis 1 a myth? [no]; was Paul the originator of Christianity? [no], and things like that should be addressed).
Fifth, create space in your teaching schedule to go over. I took two weeks on Genesis, Exodus, John, Paul. The first two books were planned to go two weeks, the second two were not. Having space in the schedule helped alleviate the stress of ‘fitting it all in.’
Sixth, use outlines and information from other sources to help you, but just make sure you give credit where credit is due. In my notes, I aimed to footnote the places where I was directly dependent on the ESV Study Bible or some other place. (See reflections at The Gospel Coalition on preachers and plagiarism).
Seventh, let the Scripture be your guide. Fill your notes (if you use them) and your teaching with Bible references and Scripture quotation. My goal on Wednesday nights was always to read as much from the Bible as possible to prove my points. I aimed to synthesize the main points and to show from the text how I made that point. Spending time in commentaries and theologies did not help this, only reading the Bible did.
With that said, let me confess: Some weeks as I taught, I would read lots of background material and biblical-theological commentary. Other weeks I wouldn’t. In preparation, the text always needed to be central and more often than not it was, but sometimes, I must admit, I spent too much time in the books and too little in the Bible. The result was a less-stimulating personal understanding of the book. So, for anyone going into it I would recommend finding a handful of shorter reflections on each book–maybe just one or two reliable resources–and then spend most of the time in the Scripture itself. Make up your own outline if possible and ask God to help make the book come alive for you.
Eighth, pray! It was only by the grace of God that I finished the course this year. Many prayed for me and when I grew tired in some weeks, it was petitions for grace that were answered with time and thoughts to present God’s Word to God’s people.
If you are going to read or teach through the Bible in 2011, or in any year, let me recommend these resources.
First, the ESV Study Bible was a necessary resource that I relied on every week to give background information and to help me outline each book. Zondervan’s Introduction to the Old Testament (Dillard and Longman) and Introduction to the New Testament (Carson and Moo) would also be excellent aids. They supply a great deal of background information and will help field textual questions and scholarly disputes.
Second, I would urge you to consider Jim Hamilton’s biblical theology: The Glory of God in Salvation Through Judgment. Hamilton’s book pays keen attention to the literary structures of the individual authors while holding together two-fold unity that runs through the Bible–salvation and judgment. Hamilton also highlights many important theological themes that emerge throughout the pages of Scripture. I didn’t have this book when I started this study, but I wish I had. The articles in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology would also be helpful, but I honestly did not avail myself of these like I could have.
Third, as I prepared, I often listened to Mark Dever’s overview sermons. They were edifying and regularly pointed me to Christ-centered interpretations of the texts. These sermons were collected into his two books: The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made and The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept. You could read these books, but I would recommend listening to them as you walk, run, workout, or drive. I found that having a different medium to ‘hear’ the message of Christ was helpful. It ministered to my soul and it allowed me to ‘hear’ how someone else presented the big picture of each book. In addition to Dever, The Gospel Coalition’s website has a number of other pastor-teachers who have given book overviews.
Finally, if you have not read Graeme Goldsworthy and his approach to reading/interpreting the Scriptures, I would urge caution, or at least patience, before teaching through the whole Bible. This may seem like an overstatement–for how could one man’s interpretive strategy be so important? But I would suggest that he, more than anyone else I have read, aims to show the gospel of Jesus Christ from all the Scriptures. In this way, he has provided modern teachers with an interpretive method that flows from Luke 24 itself. His works include his Trilogy (The Gospel & Kingdom, The Gospel in Revelation, and The Gospel & Wisdom), According to Plan, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christians Scripture, and Christ-Centered Hermeneutics. In my preparation for teaching through the Bible in 2011, these 4 books proved to be necessary prerequisites for me to read through the whole Bible and see how each epoch, genre, and author pointed to Christ as the Spirit inspired them. Again this might be a little overstated, but Goldsworthy has been formative for my understanding of putting the Bible together, something that proved to be necessary before starting this biblical tour in 2010.
Overall, I would highly recommend reading through and/or teaching through the Scriptures so that you might see and show how all things are summed up in Christ. It is amazing to watch the story unfold and to see how every story whispers his name, to borrow Sally-Lloyd Jones‘ turn of phrase. In the process of teaching this series in 2011, my faith was strengthened by reading the Scriptures this year and beholding Christ, and my heart was gripped with gratitude for God’s grace in helping me read and teach through the Bible in 2010. Even more, I was grateful for the faithfulness of the church members who joined me each Wednesday night, hungry to learn more about Christ and his word. It was a precious group who joined together each night to hear God’s word and to go deep and LONG into the Scriptures. I praise God for them.
Next year, I will be doing something a little different–see here–but I pray that God will continue to help us read the whole counsel of God with eyes open to see Christ and hearts burning like the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss