I think a more intimate knowledge of God's word is a very laudable goal. However, I have some concerns in the way the one-year bible reading programs are laid out. In fact, I think that many of the programs may actually hinder the goal of knowing the scriptures better. Here are my top three concerns:
1. One-Year Reading Plans Impose Artificial Breaks on the TextThere are several different ways the Bible is laid out by one-year plans. The oldest is to provide a section of the Old Testament, a section of the New Testament, a portion of Psalms and a portion of Proverbs. But this is a terrible way to read the Bible! The books of the Bible are written as just that, books that have a central purpose carried throughout. For example, January 7ths New Testament reading presents Matthew 6, but stops ten verses short. Those ten verses are the completion of the thought of Matthew 6. Jesus says in Matt. 6:25, "That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life" easily showing that verse 25 and following are connected to verse 24. By dividing the text up this way it become harder, not easier, to see what the author's intent and overall message really is.
Other plans, such as beginning-to-end plans or chronological versions are better, as you are at least not reading only a portion of a psalm. But because most of these plans are designed to fit within a specific time period, such as 15 minutes a day, they will still be forced to break the narrative. The books in the Bible were written to be taken as a whole. The New Testament epistles were initially letters to specific audiences. Would you ever read bits of a letter every day for a week and then writing a reply to your correspondent? You would want to read the entire letter so you would have the proper context to form a proper understanding.
2. One-Year Reading Plans Creates the Illusion of Verse IndependenceOne of the classic ways the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses twist scripture is to take certain verses that by themselves seem to support their teaching and use them as proof, ignoring the larger context of the entire text. For example, the Jehovah's Witnesses will use Romans 10:9 to show that Jesus is not God. However, in the verses immediately following, Paul tells us that Jesus is "Lord of all" people, Jewish and Gentile, and he quotes Joel 2:32 to say "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13). Interestingly, that Joel passage uses the divine name of God, YHWH, where Paul writes Lord. This clearly equates Jesus as YHWH.
While Christians will rightly decry the JW twisting of scriptures such as these, the church has become complicit in such abuses by elevating Bible verses over Bible books. We take simple, quotable lines out of their context and use them in ways the writer never intended.
Unfortunately, by presenting the biblical texts as bits, the idea of the verse above the book is elevated. For example, we read about the feeding of the 5,000 in Matthew and we think it is only about what little thing can we bring to Jesus that He could multiply. However, if we were to read the full context of Matthew, we can see how he portrays Jesus as fulfilling Israel's mission: Jesus was "called out of Egypt" (Mat. 2:14), He wandered in the wilderness (Mat. 4:1-10), He delivers the law of God on the mountain (Mat. 5-7), and He relies on God to provide for Him and His flock as the feeding of the 5,000 demonstrates. This picture is hard to see with daily readings but reading Matthew as a whole will show it more easily.
3. One-Year Reading Plans Create Misplaced GoalsA last concern I have over one-year plans is I think it subtly shifts the goal of bible reading itself. As I mentioned at the top of this article, I believe that many people begin such a regimen in order to become more intimate with all of scripture. However, I know when I had previously attempted such a plan things began to get difficult after mid-February. Until then, the Old Testament stories are fairly familiar. One can suffer through a genealogy or two, but Abraham offering Isaac or the plagues of Egypt bring us right back to Cecil B. DeMille familiarity. When the reader hits Leviticus, though, it becomes tough sledding! All of a sudden my intent shifts from understanding the context of the passage to simply getting through it. My goals changed. I was only looking for checking off the box that I did my reading today, not necessarily on what part the passage plays in telling God's story, it essentially defeated the purpose for which I started reading-to become more intimate with the scriptures!
Instead, I want to pass along a recommendation that was given by Dr. Walt Russell in his book Playing With Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul. Dr. Russell is a bible scholar and he recommends creating a reading plan where you focus on one book each month. Start off with a gospel account, or even a short epistle such as Galatians. Once you've chosen your book, you should read it every day. At first, don't stop for the parts you don't have a full grasp of; simply read it as a complete work. After the second week or so, you will begin to notice refrains in the text—ideas that are repeated or reinforced. You can begin to see the work as a single message and then you can go deeper with a commentary or bible helps.
The goal is to master one book per month. On the next month, select another. One you get used to this approach you will find that it really doesn't take an incredible amount of time to read through a book (Galatians can be read in 20 minutes or so.) But you will be going deeper and truly understanding the scripture as God intended.
I'm indebted to Dr. Russell and his teaching in enlightening me with this approach. I think it will provide a very different experience for you. Read Playing with Fire and see how you can ignite change in your soul!