How to Master the English Bible

by James Gray

a Short Review

by Liam Walsh

This very short 100 year old book was great! I had heard this recommended a few times and was intrigued by the (near audacious) title and finally decided to explore this one. 

Honestly, there is not a lot that’s profound about this book, but it does hone in on the obvious in a marvelously striking way. The author’s primary task is to show how to read Scripture with the most profit for knowing it well. The plan is actually very simple. He recommends that the reader start with Genesis, read it, and re-read it until the reader can generally outline it, and judge they have an excellent grasp on it. 

From there, the task is to simply move through each book of Scripture in order – ignoring the artificial chapter and verse breaks. Gray urges that the reader read each book in a single sitting if possible. As the reader gets through this – they should also attempt to make a rough outline of each book – further revising it with each read. 

I had heard much of this practice before – but Gray’s argument for going in canonical order I had not heard before – and it was actually pretty convincing. I’ve experimented with the re-read process a bit and have found it remarkable for what it allows me to see and understand that I had not before. It also works to give the reader a macro-view of each Bible book – if you will. After this read, I’ll be adopting this process more regularly from now on. 

The second half of the book is an exhortation for preachers to preach and teach expository sermons through each book of the Bible. The plea is a good one. 
Gray argues 1) that contemporary society (over 100 years ago) didn’t read their Bibles – and were so busy that they usually wouldn’t learn them on their own, 2) that the Bible was no longer taught in schools – so wouldn’t be learned there, 3) that the Bible typically wasn’t taught from the pulpit – it was more or less moralistic life lessons or interesting oratory – but not expository teaching through the Bible (sound familiar?..), and 4) that the Bible wasn’t even taught in Sunday school classes – but those were mostly just games or fun things to keep children occupied or maybe even topical lessons for adults (sound familiar?..). His plea, is that if the Bible isn’t taught and exposited through in the pulpit then where would it be? Where was anyone to go to learn it?
His question is a good one. And I find myself baffled just the same at the general lack of expository preaching in most churches.

Gray ends by warning his readers that if Christianity didn’t change this process, authentic biblical Christianity would be near unrecognizable in the coming generations. I dare say his words may have been a bit prophetic. This part struck particularly close to home for me after having recently left a church for a turning away from expository preaching (among other things), and now having a near hour drive in order to be part of a church that does preach through scripture (driving past dozens that do not on the way). 

I’d highly encourage pastors read this, especially if they don’t preach expository sermons through whole books as their regular bread and butter in the pulpit. If nothing else, simply to see the issue from a different perspective. 

Excellent book! And I’m excited to start the journey and tackle the book of Genesis (a whole bunch of times).

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