How to Change Your Mind

[Note: Since other writing projects took up my time today, I’ve decided to repost this entry from last November. Its one of the few entries that I’ve written that I consider to be worth rereading (and reimplementing).]
This post contains a four step process that could transform your life by, quite literally, changing your mind.
After reading the entire post the vast majority of readers will snicker at such a hyperbolic claim and never implement the method I outline. A smaller number will consider the advice intriguing, my assertion only a slight exaggeration, and will also never implement the method. A tiny minority, however, will recognize the genius behind the recommendation and apply it to their own life. This group will later say that my claim was an understatement.
This post is written for those people.
In late August I stumbled across a variation of the four steps in a blog post by Fred Sanders. I implemented his recommendation that day and have followed the process almost daily since then. Last month I had the pleasure of meeting Sanders in person and telling him how his post had transformed my life. My hope is that at least one other person will follow this advice and experience the same transformative affect.
Before I reveal the four steps I want to reiterate that while the advice could transform your life, it most likely will not. As with most life-altering advice, it is simple, easy to implement, and even easier to ignore. Statistically speaking, the odds are great that you’ll ignore this advice. Therefore I encourage you to stop reading now; you’ll only be wasting your time reading further.
For the one or two people who will find this useful, the four steps that will transform your worldview are:

1. Choose a book of the Bible.
2. Read it in its entirety.
3. Repeat #2 twenty times.
4. Repeat this process for all 66 books of the Bible.

Christians often talk about having a Biblical worldview yet most have only a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible. They attempt to build a framework without first gathering the lumber and cement needed to create a solid foundation. The benefits of following this process should therefore be obvious. By fully immersing yourself into the text you’ll come to truly know the text. You’ll deepen your knowledge of the Bible as a whole and be able to put each book into context.
Since this method is adapted from a book by James M. Gray (1851-1935), “How to Master the English Bible” I’ll let him explain in his own words:

The first practical help I ever received in the mastery of the English Bible was from a layman. We were fellow-attendants at a certain Christian conference or convention and thrown together a good deal for several days, and I saw something in his Christian life to which I was a comparative stranger –a peace, a rest, a joy, a kind of spiritual poise I knew little about. One day I ventured to ask him how he had become possessed of the experience, when he replied, “By reading the epistle to the Ephesians.” I was surprised, for I had read it without such results, and therefore asked him to explain the manner of his reading, when he related the following: He had gone into the country to spend the Sabbath with his family on one occasion, taking with him a pocket copy of Ephesians, and in the afternoon, going out into the woods and lying down under a tree, he began to read it; he read it through at a single reading, and finding his interest aroused, read it through again in the same way, and, his interest increasing, again and again. I think he added that he read it some twelve or fifteen times, “and when I arose to go into the house,” said he, “I was in possession of Ephesians, or better yet, it was in possession of me, and I had been ‘lifted up to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ in an experimental sense in which that had not been true in me before, and will never cease to be true in me again.”
I confess that as I listened to this simple recital my heart was going up in thanksgiving to God for answered prayer, the prayer really of months, if not years, that I might come to know how to master His Word. And yet, side by side with the thanksgiving was humiliation that I had not discovered so simple a principle before, which a boy of ten or twelve might have known. And to think that an “ordained” minister must sit at the feet of a layman to learn the most important secret of his trade!

Rather than wasting time attempting to defend the wisdom of applying this method, I’ll simply close with a few practical suggestions for putting it into practice:
1. Choose shorter books and work up to longer ones. Since you’ll be reading an entire book of the Bible and not just a chapter or two, you’ll want to work your way up to more extensive readings. When beginning this program you may want to start with a short book that has only a few chapters that can be read several times in one sitting. This will not only give you a sense of accomplishment but will give you an idea of how quickly you can “master” the material. For example, a short book like John or Jude can be read four or five times in one sitting allowing you to finish the entire twenty readings in less than a week. [NT books, shortest to longest: 3 John, 2 John, Phlm, Jude, Titus, 2Thess, Rev, 2 Peter, 2 Tim, 1Thess, Col, 1 Tim, Phil, 1 Peter, James, 1 John, Gal, Eph, 2 Cor, Heb, 1 Cor, Rom, Mark, John, Matt, Acts, Luke; OT books, shortest to longest: See this chart.]
2. Read at your normal pace. Treating the material reverently does not require reading at a slower than normal speed. Read for comprehension, ignoring the division of chapters and verses and treating each book as one coherent unit.
3. Skip the commentaries. Don’t get bogged down by referring to commentaries or other outside sources. Commentaries are for your Bible study, rather than for this “synthetic reading.” Read the book in its entirety and then attempt to summarize in your own words the book’s theme and major points.
4. Stick with the process. After the eighth or ninth reading you’ll hit a wall that is similar to what runners face in marathons. The text will become dry and lose its flavor. You’ll want to move on to the next book or abandon the program altogether. Stick with it. Persevere and you’ll discover the treasures that repeated readings can provide. Keep in mind that not every book will be equally rewarding. It doesn’t mean that you’re a heretic if during one of your readings you find 2 John a bit redundant or Jude just plain boring. Keep in mind the words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Stick with it and you’ll fully understand the truth of that verse.
5. Choose an appropriate version. As much as I love The Message, a modern language paraphrase is not an appropriate version for synthetic reading. Likewise, the familiar rhythms and cadences of the KJV can, upon repeated readings, get in the way of comprehension. I personally recommend the ESV, though the NIV can be a suitable alternative.
6. Pray. Ask God to open your heart to his Word. Trust the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text and provide guidance and understanding.
7. Begin today. Don’t put it off another day. Don’t say you’ll start tomorrow, or next week, or after New Year’s. You won’t. Start with the only time that you are guaranteed – now. If you have time to waste reading this blog then you have time to start this program. Start now and then tomorrow, next week, or after New Year’s–after your mind has become saturated with God’s Holy Word–you can tell me my claim was an understatement.

Published by

Joe Carter

Joe Carter founded Evangelical Outpost in 2005. He is the web editor for First Things and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. A fifteen-year Marine Corps veteran, he previously served as the managing editor for the online magazine Culture11 and The East Texas Tribune. Joe has also served as the Director of Research and Rapid Response for the Mike Huckabee for President campaign and as a director of communications for both the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and Family Research Council. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicaton.

  • G. A. Harrison

    This is a really interesting approach. I’m going to give it a try.

  • BeitoChaps

    Yes! High reps always build endurance, and we certainly need it for this race. BTW, Revelation should appear after Romans vice 2 Thess.

  • Collin Brendemuehl

    I would add:
    a. Read once aloud
    b. Use a printing without chapter/verse markings
    These give a person a better feel for the ext.

  • kim from hiraeth

    I’ve been doing this since November
    and with the help of the NT on tape
    I have been able to keep up with it.
    I listen in the kitchen while I am
    preparing meals and loading the dish
    washer, etc. and also when I am do-
    ing big projects like painting a
    It has changed my mind in many ways.

  • mandy

    i began reading the bible on a regular basis about 7 years ago….
    it transformed my life AND my mind.

  • ChrisB

    I’ve tried to do this prior to studying a book, and I think it greatly improves the view of the big picture which helps keep you from getting too far off the beaten path as you study in more detail.

  • Wonders for Oyarsa

    That’s actually pretty similar to what I’ve been doing with my Bible Blogging Project though I’ve been reflecting on several chapter chunks, as well as entire books. I doubt I end up reading 20 times, but I generally read through the section four or five times, letting it stew for a few days, before I write.

  • Mike Stimpson

    I’ve heard a variant of this: To really study a book of the Bible, read it through 50 times. I’ve only done it with two of the shorter books, but I will say that I noticed things on about the 45th reading that I hadn’t noticed before.
    So maybe I’m slow, but I think there’s some benefit to going past 20. On the other hand, there’s benefit to doing the whole Bible, too, and at 50 readings, I’m not likely to get there…

  • Robert Duquette

    Christians often talk about having a Biblical worldview yet most have only a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible. They attempt to build a framework without first gathering the lumber and cement needed to create a solid foundation.
    You know, you can say the same about atheists. We often talk about the inconsistencies and errors in the Bible, but we mostly have a rudimentary knowledge of it. I’m sure your method will help me be a better skeptic! Thanks!

  • Mike O

    A good idea and I’m going to try it. I still remember the first time I prayed for God to illuminate my reading. I got so much out of one chapter that it scared me a little.

  • smmthoery

    If it doesn’t cause you to repent, then it will certainly turn you into one of those Atheists that thinks they are better at being a Christian than real Christians are. Then you can look up your buddy Chuck over at The American Mind.

  • Wonders for Oyarsa

    You’ll certainly find what you are looking for, I’m sure. What you might shoot for instead, however, is an appreciation for what the Bible is trying to say. It would be good to understand why, despite the warts, a huge portion of the world think this the defining story of the human race.
    What would be great for you, is to become one of those atheists who can see the beauty and value of the Christian tradition, even if you conclude that it’s based on a mistake. Become a mature atheist like Nietzsche, rather than a rambling bigoted atheist like Dawkins.

  • Robert Duquette

    I’ll try, Oyarsa.

  • Wonders for Oyarsa

    Well, best of luck to you. By the way, I can certainly use the company of some thoughtful good-natured atheists on my own trip through the Bible. It helps keep me honest.
    If you get to a particularly interesting part (say, the genocides in Israel’s conquest), and you want to hash it out with me, feel free to stop by. I read and respond to old comments.
    Oh – and a hint for reading Genesis. Focus on seeing God as father and mankind (as oppose to individuals) as his son. Then look at the relationships between fathers and sons, and the relationships between older and younger brothers. Pay special attention to the issue of trust. Genesis has a lot to say on this topic.

  • Rob Ryan

    “Become a mature atheist like Nietzsche, rather than a rambling bigoted atheist like Dawkins.”
    Having read both, I must state a decided preference for Dawkins. I don’t know where you get “rambling” or “bigoted”. What I’ve read of his work is opinionated, but to the point. The God Delusion was one of my more interesting reads this summer.

  • Wonders for Oyarsa

    Sorry, Rob – I meant to say “raving” not “rambling”. If you can’t see where I get the accusation of bigotry from reading his books, then I don’t suppose anything I say will convince you otherwise.
    If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go abuse…err…I mean pray with my children before bedtime.

  • Laura

    I’ve been doing this since November, in a bit of a modified version. I’m a graduate student, so my reading time is at a minimum. On the other hand, I have an office job where I sit at a computer all day. I chose the ESV Listener’s Bible. I listen to each twenty times, and am just starting Deuteronomy.
    This has been a great experience (despite the slump at around seven times and again at about fourteen).

  • Rob Ryan

    You can call Dawkins a bigot and wrench his “child abuse” statement out of context, or you can take a more reasoned, balanced, yet still critical approach that this apologist takes:
    I don’t think Dawkins is a bigot. I happen to agree that teaching children (or adults) the hell doctrine is monstrous. That doesn’t mean the people who do so are monsters, and I don’t think Dawkins thinks so either. He considers this passing of the meme to be a manifestation of a broader delusion.
    I’m all too aware that some religious people think that my atheistic upbringing of my children is the ultimate child abuse, that I am priming them for hell. Apparently, they believe in an unspeakably monstrous God that holds children accountable for their upbringing. Thankfully, most religious people avoid this awful conclusion by assuming that God will find a way to reach those children unfortunate enough to be reared by infidels if that is his will. As an atheist, I cannot hold a similar hope for those indoctrinated into religion. For some, reason will triumph. For most, reason will never extirpate a worldview planted in infancy and nourished throughout childhood by the most important persons in a child’s life.

  • Wonders for Oyarsa

    Your compassion for my children is touching. What do you propose to do about this terrible thing I am doing to them?

  • Robert Duquette

    The doctrine that there is a hell is not so monstrous as the doctrine as to who goes there, and why. My parents were brought up to believe that non-Catholics were all going to hell, irregardless of how good they were in life. The idea of hell originated with the need to believe in ultimate justice, the need to believe that evil on this earth will be repaid with suffering in the next life.
    But Christian theology perverted that intent. Damnation was no longer punishment for bad behavior, but bad dogma. I personally think that’s a terrible thing to teach young people. It certainly doesn’t disincent them from behaving badly, since behavior is meaningless in the Christian view.

  • Rob Ryan

    “What do you propose to do about this terrible thing I am doing to them?”
    I think it is your business what you teach your children to believe. All over America, parents are teaching their children things I disapprove of even more than the hell doctrine, like racism and homophobia. I also concede that it is their business what they teach their children to believe. There is a danger in the state interfering with the raising of children, and if the price of freedom is many millions of slightly damaged people and a few really warped ones, I suppose we have to pay it. A society where the state determines every facet of a child’s upbringing seems worse to me than what we have. I’m sure you agree.
    I do wish you and your family the best, however. Your online demeanor and obvious intelligence and sensitivity lead me to think you are probably a very conscientious and loving parent.

  • Wonders for Oyarsa

    Thanks Rob – we are very much agreed. A gentle answer turns away wrath. I would only add that giving up that freedom would assuredly not reduce the number of slightly damaged people and really warped ones. It’s a bad idea on all counts.

  • Larry

    My first thought was to say I came by this blog by accident I was looking up something else, then I realized I was attracted to it.I know that I have not even read all of the bible once let alone twenty times. I guess it’s about time. May your prays be with me to give me strengh.

  • bibletimeline

    Bible doctrine is absolutely essential, the Bible must be put back into the place of importance that it once enjoyed. We need to retake our seminaries and Bible colleges and re institute the doctrinal beliefs that once made Protestant Churches the bulwark of the faith. In order to do this we must accept that the Bible is Sola Scriptura , inerrant and authoritative in all mater’s of faith and practice. This includes the fact that the Bible’s statements concerning the origin of the earth and heavens is a fact

  • Aubreyjacob

    you be interested in some of Precept Ministries Bible studies…you start out exactly as you’re recommending…reading, reading and reading again. it changed my mind and my life!

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