Dr. Arnold interviews Nate Pickowicz about his new book, How to Eat Your Bible, and how to cultivate an appetite for the life-long study of God’s Word.
Conversation topics include:
Nate serves as pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton Iron Works, New Hampshire, and he is the author of several books, including Reviving New England, Why We're Protestant, and The American Puritans.
Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.
Brian Arnold (00:16):
Well, it's that time of year again for New Year's resolutions. At the time of recording this, we are finishing 2020, which has been a disastrous year in so many ways. And many of us are resolved to do better in 2021 and start this year off right. And for some people that could be diet and exercise routines, better organization, or financial health. And all those things are great. But I hope that everyone listening will resolve one thing that is far more important than any of these. And that is to read your Bible—to get alone with God every day and meet with him in the Word. I know for myself, nothing has changed my life more than diving into the Word of God. But if we're honest, the Bible can be an intimidating book, especially for those who've never read through it before. Maybe you don't know where to begin, or you've started a bunch of times and you've never been able to finish it.
Brian Arnold (01:02):
Well, I hope that today you get past any obstacle that's hindered your ability to read through the Bible. Today, we have Nate Pickowicz with us, who's the pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. Let me just say how much I already love Nate. Nate is pastoring in New England, which was a powerhouse of American theology, but now it's very post-Christian, and evangelicals make up, I think, less than 4% of the population. And Nate is there, pushing back against the darkness with the light of the gospel. And he's just come out with a new book that we're going to be talking about today, called How to Eat Your Bible. Nate, welcome to the show, and thanks for laboring in such a difficult area.
Nate Pickowicz (01:38):
Absolutely. Happy to be here. Thank you for having me on.
Brian Arnold (01:42):
So Nate, tell me a little bit about your time in New England. You may not know this—I don't think we've ever mentioned this before—but my wife and I were actually in the final candidacy of a church in northern Vermont. We almost went there to be a part of a recent church plant. So I love the idea of you ministering up there. What's it like?
Nate Pickowicz (02:04):
Well, it's like you said on the intro, I mean, it is definitely post-Christian. I was born and raised here. I actually—I was born and raised and grew up in the town that I'm currently pastoring in. I planted the church eight years ago, so I've seen, you know, just around the landscape of what it's like here—very low Christian population, professing believing population. In a lot of ways it's different than the Bible belt, where there's sort of a subtle expectation of churchgoing, you know, like I talked to somebody from Texas one time and I said, "Oh, do you guys go to church?" And they kind of looked at me and said, "everybody goes to church down here." There was an expectation. Where up North, there's none of that. So when you meet a Christian, and they're actively going to a church, there's a pretty good chance that they're at least committed, and hopefully a believer.
Nate Pickowicz (02:52):
But yeah, as you said to the stat, it's pretty low. The first book I ever wrote was called Reviving New England, and I cover all the stats, and professing evangelicals is very, very low. So I love these people and these are my people, you know, they're just like me and I care about them very much, but there's certainly a lot of work to be done up here.
Brian Arnold (03:12):
Absolutely. Do you see signs of hope?
Nate Pickowicz (03:14):
I do, actually. Even in the last five years, I've seen more church plants, more like-minded ministry going on, met a lot of good friends. So it seems like the Lord is working—he seems to be doing a big work in Maine right now, which is kind of crazy, but it's going well. So you know, we just...my attitude is—we labor hard, we give it our all, and if he decides to revive the region through our efforts—churches like ours and others—then great. You know, and if not, then we work hard and, you know, he gets the glory anyway for whatever he decides to do. So it's worth giving your life for, you know?
Brian Arnold (03:49):
Of course, and it's nice to know that Aslan is always on the move.
Nate Pickowicz (03:53):
That's right. Absolutely.
Brian Arnold (03:55):
So Nate, what we do in this show is we ask a really big question, and then ask a bunch of other questions to try to get at that. So our big question today is—how do we read the Bible? We're facing a Christian culture that is astonishingly ignorant of Scripture, and let alone a culture full of people who don't even know what the Bible says anymore. And I see a lot of Christians get very angry about what's happening in the culture, but they're not even taking the first steps of Christian discipleship to know the Word. So you've written this book—How to Eat Your Bible. So before people start ripping out pages and chewing on them, like as Ezekiel, what did you mean by that?
Nate Pickowicz (04:30):
Sure. So, obviously it's designed to be a clever title to peak interest. I did pull that from Ezekiel. There's also verbiage in Jeremiah, David talks about it, you know, just this idea of God symbolically giving them this scroll, this book of his Word, and then taking it and actually eating it and chewing on it. And several of the writers say, you know, "it was like honey to my taste"—it was sweet to them. And the idea being that the Word of God is sweet to believers. You know, there's a transformative effect. There's an instructive effect. We get wisdom, you know...I mean, Hebrews 4:12 says the Word of God is living and active. So the Spirit of God uses his Word to change his people, to transform us, to instruct us, to illuminate us. And so it's sweet to the taste. So I wanted to write a book that was easy to read, easy to understand. And I designed it specifically for folks who maybe hadn't had much exposure to Bible study, who are struggling to get into it, who are maybe discouraged. And so I just felt like, you know, let's just hit it on the nose—how to do this. How do you actually get into your Bible and read it and eat it and enjoy it? That was the whole idea.
Brian Arnold (05:43):
Well, you hit your mark. I thought it was excellent for somebody who's never really taken time to read Scripture before. It's a great place to start to even understand how to approach the Bible. And as we're talking even about things like eating, you mentioned in there a time coming where there's going to be a famine for Bible reading. Do you think that's what we're experiencing right now?
Nate Pickowicz (06:03):
I definitely think we're experiencing some of that. I mean, you know, the imagery comes from Amos 8:11, where he talks about the Lord sending as a judgment a famine on the land. And he says—it's not going to be for food or water or anything else. It's going to be a famine for the hearing of the Word of God. And certainly that happened in those days. When I started writing about that, actually, I got some pushback from one of my editors saying, "Are you sure that you really want to say that's what's happening right now—I mean, it's not really like Amos." And I guess on some level it's probably not. And the crazy thing about it is that we have access to the Bible more than any other time in human history. You know, it's available not only in print,
Nate Pickowicz (06:41):
I think the average person has, you know, five to 10 to 12 Bibles in their house, but also through media. I mean, everybody has a phone.
Brian Arnold (06:47):
Nate Pickowicz (06:48):
You can go to a faraway country, download a Bible app, and you have the entire Word of God right there in your pocket. So never has it been more accessible, but yet biblical illiteracy is at an all time high. I mean, we haven't seen levels like this before, where people just simply don't know the Word of God. Even people who are not believers, who would otherwise have a general idea about basic Christian virtue and stories. No, nothing. So there's definitely something going on. And you know, I kind of felt like...I've been lamenting this for years, like every other Christian, you know, out there talking about the need for Bible. And I just felt like, well, let's try to blow a hole in the kingdom of darkness and just write a book to help solve that problem—at least for some people, you know? So if there is a pandemic of biblical illiteracy, let's try to fight it.
Brian Arnold (07:38):
Absolutely. I think it's quite ironic as well. Like you mentioned, there's more Bibles now than we've ever seen in American households and less knowledge of the Bible now. It's a weird correlation there. I know when I was a pastor, the hardest thing for me to do was to get people to realize that the key to spiritual growth is in the Bible. Just read it, you know? They come to you for counseling and it's things that the Scriptures handle pretty clearly, and they don't know that. And my first question is always, "well, how much time are you spending in the Word and in prayer?" And it's kind of the response I would get would be a "well, okay...yeah, I'm not really doing it, but what's the real answer?" And it's—get into your Bible. Right? So what do you think is...go ahead.
Nate Pickowicz (08:18):
I was just going to say, I think it's hard because, you know, we...the answer seems almost too simple, you know? And you don't want to be simplistic with the answer, but at the same time, it's like, when Jesus says in John, or excuse me, Matthew 4, "man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes out of the mouth of God." I mean, like that's his solution. So why do we think we're wiser than the Lord when it comes to what we need spiritually and for life?
Brian Arnold (08:47):
Absolutely. So what is it that keeps people, in your experience, from reading the Bible?
Nate Pickowicz (08:52):
I think there's a lot of factors. And it's interesting, because I was researching kind of the panoply of factors out there. And I think there's a lot of things. I think distraction is a big one right now, especially with the invention of the iPhone and technology that just draws the eye. You know, we don't stop and think and meditate. We don't chew anymore. To give somebody a big thick book and to have him sit down and read it—we just don't do that. We scan through articles quickly, and if it doesn't peak our interest in the first 500 words, we're gone. So I think distraction is one thing. But I think also too—I think even a spiritual deadness. I think, you know, folks who just don't have a revived spirit, a desire for God. I think it's a spiritual problem.
Nate Pickowicz (09:37):
It's like one affects the other, but they're both, you know, not mutually exclusive. But I think another part of it, too, could just be that they don't know. And because they don't know, they don't even know that there's joy to be found in understanding the Bible. So I think there's a lot of factors, but, you know, I can't control the enjoyment piece. I can't control the distraction. But I can at least try to help and give them some tips and some encouragement, because I've been in that place. I mean, I remember early on in my walk being very frustrated and just wanting help—how do I do this? You know, and I was at a church at the time that told me I had to feed myself, and I'm like, "I don't know how to feed myself," you know? So I wrote this book to, you know, basically minister to me back in those days and say, "Hey, here's some help for you. Here's how you can do it." So that's the goal.
Brian Arnold (10:27):
I think that's a really good approach, writing to your previous self. What are the things I would have wanted to hear at that time, that would have encouraged me to get to where I'm at now? And, you know, speaking of distractions, it is amazing how often I hear people say, "I just don't have time for those things in my life," but I would love to see on...I think it's Sundays when that screen time thing pops up on the iPhone, you spent this much time, you know, looking at social media, or on Netflix, or Amazon Prime or whatever—and who also say, "I don't have time." I think it was John Piper who said something like, "Facebook is going to be that thing that God uses in the judgment against people who say, 'I didn't have time for those things.'"
Nate Pickowicz (11:03):
Yeah. Well, and I say—I believe I say this in the book, I can't remember which draft I put this in—but if I were to give you a million dollars, if I said, "Okay, you have to read your Bible every day for 30 days and I'll give you a million dollars," would you do it? And everybody would say, "of course." And if it was really money on the table, and it was like a signed document, you would do it. And if there was a specification for how much time, you would do it. And then what if I were to say, "I'll give you a hundred thousand dollars." People would probably still do it. What about 10,000? You know? And at a certain point it almost becomes absurd, because what price are you going to put on the eternal value of Scripture? So the bottom line is that God motivates inside the heart of every believer to want to get to know him.
Nate Pickowicz (11:42):
So it's in obedience, yes, but it's also a matter of time management. I mean, you do the things you love to do. No matter what it is. And people are extremely productive when they want to be. But I think, you know, you just have to put other things aside and just prioritize and say, "this is important, and I value this, and I'm going to give it time." You don't have to be in it for five hours a day, but, you know, start with 20 minutes or a half hour. And next thing you know, you might end up being in it for several hours a day, you know?
Brian Arnold (12:11):
Well, let me just say, if you ever decide to pilot that program of a million dollars for Bible reading, I'll go ahead and be in the first test group.
Nate Pickowicz (12:18):
All right. I'll give you a call.
Brian Arnold (12:20):
So you frame the book around kind of three words with three important questions—read (what does the Bible say?), study (what does the Bible mean?), and use (how do I apply the Bible?). Can you flesh those things out for us?
Nate Pickowicz (12:33):
Yeah. So those are really just, you know, basic principles of hermeneutics. Anybody who's ever read a hermeneutics textbook or taught through hermeneutics, those are kind of the big three questions. There's so much material. I read a lot of other material in preparation for it, but my thing is okay, how do I make this as simple as possible? Again, you know, talking to me all those years ago—how do I understand how to do this? And really, reading the book—that just gets to basic comprehension. You know, there's books out there. There's actually one book called How to Read a Book, I think it's by Mortimer Adler.
Brian Arnold (13:07):
It's a fantastic book. Yeah. I make my students read it.
Nate Pickowicz (13:11):
Yep. And Tony Reinke has a book called Lit!, I mean, there's lots of good books on how to read books, and it's kind of a lost art. We know how to read words, but to actually sit down and wrap your brain around ideas and concepts, you have to know what's on the page. You can't just let your eyes scan and forget what you're doing. You have to read it. So there's a chapter on that. And then there's a chapter on actually how to study, how to slow down, pull the verses apart, you know, look at the context. Context is key when it comes to Bible study, you know, not just what does it say, but, you know, what does it mean? You know, what do these verses mean for me? And R.C. Sproul used to say, you know, “you need to find the drama in the text,” you know, find out what's going on inside the text, because it's fascinating.
Nate Pickowicz (13:52):
And how do you unpack all that and look at what's in there? And then lastly, how do I apply it? You know, it's great to have information and know Bible things in Bible stories, but if you can't go and take that and apply it to your own life, you're not going to be able to use it in your day-to-day walk. And so, there are principles and, you know, there's truth and wisdom to be used. And every...the Bible says itself that all Scripture is profitable. You just have to figure out how it's profitable in your own life and apply it. And the Spirit of God helps us to do that. So again, very simple steps, very basic, but incredibly helpful, if you don't know already.
Brian Arnold (14:28):
Incredibly helpful. You used that word before—I want to define it for some of our listeners—hermeneutics. Which is basically just how we study Scripture. The art and the science that goes into kind of mining out the point of the text. So as people think about, you know, "what does the Bible mean?" a lot of times it's helpful to use some other resources along with that, to get at the point of the text. And for somebody who's new to the Bible, they're going to be really new to Bible resources as well. What do you recommend to them to use, to read alongside the Bible, to help them get the most out of it?
Nate Pickowicz (14:59):
Yeah, so I think that the scope of that is changing because so much is available on our iPhones and through other resources. If someone has, you know, even just basic Bible software, there's so many online apps. But I would say, you know, some kind of a Bible dictionary to help you define some words. I use a theological dictionary as well—it just kind of gives you more information. But just a way to understand words, you know—what does the word justification mean? You know, what does the word propitiation mean? I mean these words are in our Bible, we should at least be able to define them and know what they are. And then even other cross-reference materials, a lot of study Bibles have those built in just to be able to put those two things together— the word I use in the book is synthesized—but how do you use verses to interpret other verses, and resources can help you do that. And then another level would even be commentary. I know that that's kind of a hot button issue with a lot of scholars about how much to use commentary, but really all you're doing is just sitting at the feet of a teacher who can help you and walk you through different parts of the Bible. So even just a basic Bible commentary, just to give you some ideas, you might not know some background information. You might be missing some context. You know, and good teachers, Ephesians 4, Scripture flat out says that God gives teachers as gifts to the church to help us to understand the Scriptures and how to grow and become more complete. So why not use what God has given us? So just some real basic tools. There are certainly other tools to use, but those are definitely kind of foundational, I would say.
Brian Arnold (16:33):
Yeah, I think those are great suggestions because, especially with thinking of commentaries, I'm one who would tell—especially lay readers—go to the commentaries. Like you said, get to sit at the feet of these great teachers. It's why I love being in the seminary world, because I get to work alongside these guys who are writing commentaries, and watch them study the Word of God for years and bringing that labor of their...the fruit of their labor to bear in people's lives. I think those are great places for people to go. One of the things I really loved about the book, Nate, was you talked about meditating on Scripture and then Scripture memorization. So when people hear the word meditate, a lot of times they're probably thinking more Eastern religion—emptying of the mind. What does the Bible have in mind when it talks about meditation?
Nate Pickowicz (17:13):
So essentially, I mean, it's kind of a crude illustration, but it's definitely a biblical—really to chew. To be chewing on the Word of God in the same way that you'd watch a cow outside chewing on grass. They just chew the cud over and over and over again, that's the idea. And really, it could be something as simple as taking a phrase, or a verse, or even a passage, and just reading it over again and then thinking about it. I mean, that could be something as simple as driving in your car to work—say you stick a verse on a flash card, if anybody even uses those anymore. I do. You know, and just thinking it through—what does it mean that the just will live by faith? What does that mean? And you chew it over and you meditate and you think about it and you work through each word. And it's a way to kind of solidify certain things in your mind. You're thinking through connections. And then, you know, I'm kind of tipping my hand here, but then you're also praying and you're asking God to give you wisdom and give you insight—"Lord, help me understand this verse, help me understand this phrase." And you're asking for help, because this is his truth. And I want to understand what he's saying. So it's not mystic or anything like that. It's really just thinking critically through the Word of God and trying to understand what it means.
Brian Arnold (18:30):
So yeah, with meditation, you give the example of, "I will build my church," and I know I learned from Don Whitney this kind of trick of emphasizing each word in that verse. Every time you read it. So I will build my church. Well, that's Jesus, and he's talking about how he's going to do this as the cornerstone of the church. I will, this is an absolute statement of fact—Jesus is going to build his church. Build, what does it mean that he's building us up on the foundation of the Apostles, and with the spiritual gifts that he's given to people in the church to build this thing up? And so, word by word working through that. So somebody who's never done something like that before, and these are people who oftentimes show up at church on Sunday and say, "how does a pastor say all this stuff—where do they get this from?" It's because they've taken their time. They've slowed down, word by word—just pulled out everything that's there.
Nate Pickowicz (19:18):
Absolutely. And I mean, I tell our church this too. I mean, you know, when I sit down, I mean, I'm no smarter than the next guy. I mean, it's just, this is what I do for a vocation. But I mean, there's nine times out of 10, when I sit down at the end of the week I'm hitting with a passage. I have to just stop and ask the Lord, like, "I've read the commentaries, I've studied it out—Lord, you need to help me, I don't understand this verse." And I'll just pray. And I don't want to move ahead until I have some clarity, at least a little bit of clarity. So, you know, to presume that we can just figure it out as a math problem—there's a spiritual component that plays into effect here. And asking the Lord and humbling yourself and saying, "Lord, I need your help," you know, that's a good thing to do. The Lord wants us to lean on him and to really think these things through. But yeah, the trick of emphasis is good because it does...it helps you to really think through the connections and really try to get to what's called authorial intent. What the author of the word tries...or is saying, you want to figure out what that is. And that's the goal.
Brian Arnold (20:18):
And then you talk about meditation, or I'm sorry, Scripture memory as well. And that was life-changing for me in college. I got a friend and we memorized hundreds of verses together, carried around stacks of flashcards with us everywhere we went. And I look back on that and the things that the Spirit just brings to mind to me, even today. The verses that were just tucked away, hidden in the heart, or even things that I'd learned as a child in Sunday school, in the King James version, they still come out that way because they were just implanted there at such a young age. And I just don't see a lot of churches emphasizing that anymore. How has that been a critical part of your life in ministry?
Nate Pickowicz (20:55):
Sure. I mean, that's definitely something I used to do. There was one summer that I set out to memorize the whole book of Romans. I had sort of received a challenge and—I'm going to give this a shot. I spent three months doing that. And I was doing all right. I think by the end of the summer, the time it took to recall the entire thing, it was...I was spending over an hour on recall and I started to lose verses at the back end, you know? But at the end of the summertime, I—you know, I ended up kind of going backwards a little bit—but I will tell you though, that has been solidified at least part way in the back of my mind. And I can't tell you how many times I'm preaching and it's not in my notes, but a verse will come to mind from Romans that will be like the right verse at the right time.
Nate Pickowicz (21:39):
And the Lord will just bring it to mind, and I use it. So, you know, just because you memorize something and maybe forget it down the road, the Lord can still use that. But, you know, just binding these things to your heart and binding them to your mind. I mean, it's...you're thinking God's thoughts after him. You're trying to think and be like Christ, and with the world throwing so much in your face all the time, and having all these competing voices, you need to have the voice of God in your head. I mean, if people can memorize whole movie scripts and whole, plays, people can memorize...you know, recite King Lear from heart, you know, at some points, certainly we can memorize a couple of verses here and there, and even whole books of the Bible. It's like a muscle, you just have to practice and you can get better. It is possible. So I would definitely encourage people to, you know, whatever tactic you need to do, to try to commit Scripture to memory. It will help you.
Brian Arnold (22:34):
That's right. The Spirit can't bring to mind what you've not tucked away in the heart.
Nate Pickowicz (22:38):
Brian Arnold (22:38):
So, you know, I hope our listeners are hearing this, they're excited to read their Bible this year—you propose a seven-year Bible plan. I think a lot of people are used to these one-year things. Take about a minute or so, if you can, and kind of flush that out for us.
Nate Pickowicz (22:54):
Sure. So early on, I was challenged by...because there's so many different Bible reading plans, but John MacArthur, at the beginning of his study Bible, actually lays out three years through the New Testament. And what you basically do is you read a book of the Bible all the way through every single day for 30 days. And you just keep on working through that over and over again, and then you move on systematically. So I was fascinated by the idea and I started to do it. And just working through, piece by piece—you know, shorter books obviously you can do in one sitting, longer books like John I broke up into three pieces and did it, you know, a day at a time that way—but just began to work through over and over again. And I stopped really worrying as much about gaining ground and trying to plow through the New Testament or plow through the Bible, and just tried to sort of camp out and just not move on until I felt like had a good understanding, a good grasp, of that individual book of the Bible.
Nate Pickowicz (23:49):
And so it took me about three years to work through the New Testament. And then when I was done, I wanted to do the Old Testament. So I kind of modified my plan and sort of going back through the Old Testament—it's obviously a bigger Testament, so you have to kind of modify that. But the big idea—you know, I'm not looking to get every single person to do what I did, or even to do a plan like that—but the idea is to, you know, retrain our minds to think not as much for lengths and sort of going the distance and trying to grab the whole thing in one year, but a change of mind, a paradigm shift to say, "okay, the goal here is to know the Word of God," because Jesus says in John 17, that the goal, eternal life, is knowing God.
Nate Pickowicz (24:34):
So if I'm going to spend the next 50, 60, 70 years as a Christian, I want that time to be knowing God. And if it takes me seven years to work through the Bible, well, what else do I have to do? I mean, I'll do it several more times if I have to, but you know, we're supposed to be spending our lives, devoting ourselves to his truth. And so, I mean, seven years is nothing. But even if you modify—do it in three years or whatever—the goal is to dig down and to get full Bible knowledge, and knowledge that's going to stick in your heart for a long time.
Brian Arnold (25:08):
That's right. Well Nate, thank you so much for that answer, that response. Everyone who's listening, I hope you go out and you buy his book, you eat your Bible this year. If you want to grow in 2021 in your walk with the Lord Jesus Christ, you'll do it through reading his Word, chewing on it, meditating on it, and making it an everyday part of your life. Nate, thank you so much for being with us today.
Nate Pickowicz (25:29):
I appreciate it. Thank you.
Thank you for listening to the Faith Seeking Understanding podcast. If you want to grow more in your understanding of the faith, consider studying at Phoenix Seminary, where men and women are trained for Christ-centered ministry for the building up of healthy churches in Phoenix and throughout the world. Learn more at ps.edu.