A couple of years ago I discovered Professor Horner’s Bible Reading System. It literally changed my life. Ok, to be specific, the Lord changed my life through the intense reading of His Word via Professor Horner’s system. Anyway, in the summer of 2010 I had the privilege of interviewing him. Previously, I published that interview in 3 installments. Today, in revisiting that interview, I have combined all three parts so that one can read the whole interview in one place. – Pastor Brett
August 31, 2010
Grant Horner is Associate Professor of English at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, California. A husband and the father of three, Horner is best known to the world for developing a Bible reading plan that is spreading like wildfire. What is the plan? Read 10 chapters of the Bible per day from 10 different sections of Scripture. Professor Horner was gracious enough to sit down and answer 25 questions about his Bible reading system and himself.
Pastor Brett:. I see you studied at both UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke. I didn’t know they would allow that. So, Tar Heels or Blue Devils?
Prof. Horner: I never paid attention to college sports. I taught at University of Alabama for 6 months before I realized that all the noise coming from the big round building on campus was crazed fans screaming ROLL TIDE. When I lived in North Carolina, I was doing PhD work at both UNC and Duke, the great archrivals. I figured out pretty quickly that it would be fun to put bumper stickers for BOTH schools on my car, as I went back and forth between the two campuses and parked. Yep — it was very humorous. Rednecks pulled up next to me at stoplights and called out “boy, you got yersef some kind problem or somthin’???” You could sometimes hear a gun cocking. Lucky I wasn’t shot.
Pastor Brett: You have a book that was recently released. Tell us a little bit about that venture.
Professor Horner: It was released in late June from Crossway and is called Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Viewer. It is about theology and movies, but with a highly unusual approach. I’ve developed a new biblical theology of culture, and the book is based around these ideas. Over years of thinking about scripture and culture I’ve put together what is being called a groundbreaking approach to the issue, and it really opens up the world of what I call biblical-critical cultural discernment. It is written for a general readership, and I’m hoping Christians as well as nonbelievers will give it a look, and see what a powerful biblical approach to culture does for the mind, and for the Christian living in a pagan culture. The book has gotten excellent reviews and has been on the Amazon bestseller list since it came out. It is definitely stirring the pot for Christian thought about culture — what we do with it, how it works, and most importantly, where it comes from.
Pastor Brett: Let’s talk about your Bible-reading plan. How did you develop this system?
Professor Horner: As a brand new Christian the Bible was entirely new to me and very intimidating. I could not get a handle on it as quickly as I wanted to for the first few months. I was bewildered. I found a number of programs, but none of them seemed to work for me. There was one in a Chick Tract that caught my eye that had you reading a lot of books at once, and so I adapted it and built in all the other components as it now stands. I shared it with a few people over the years, but never thought about publicizing it. The original “plan” is still written in blue ink in my same Bible, from 1983!
Pastor Brett: Were you brought up in a home in which the Bible was revered? And read?
Professor Horner: Respected, I’d say, but not revered or really read. There were always Bibles lying around, and a few times I tried to read starting in Genesis, but of course I gave up when I hit that first genealogy! We didn’t go to church much and I knew nothing really about Christianity.
Pastor Brett: Whose idea was it to put your plan on Facebook? (**Update: the original Facebook page is now archived -Pastor Brett)
Professor Horner: My own. A few students over the years asked me how to read the Bible better, so I let them copy out my ten lists right out of my Bible. I got tired of doing that, so I set up the Facebook page. It EXPLODED immediately — went “viral” as they say. The Facebook page now has about 9000 members, and the plan is all over the web — on thousands of websites. I get messages and emails and calls every day, more than I can respond to. And from everywhere. Last spring it swept through East Africa, then West Africa — I got barely understandable messages from people in places I’ve never heard of, thanking me. I had a rush of new FB friends on my personal page, all added from a few towns in West Africa last summer — it was hilarious! I finally figured out that someone started spreading the system over there, and then people went to my personal page and requested to be my friend. I was wondering for a few days “who the heck is Kwalikimba Mogubitu? And why is he (or she — I couldn’t tell by the name) sending me virtual hearts and angel wings????”
Pastor Brett: Did you ever have a “moment” in which you said to yourself, “Wow! I can’t believe how this thing has taken off!” (in terms of popularity)?
Professor Horner: Yes — right off the bat. I mean there were hundreds of people in the first 2-3 hours on Facebook. And though it is not as fast now, it is still a steady stream. And regular requests to license it for various computer and phone applications. Plus a number of churches and denominations who wanted to license it. One of the top guys in the conservative American Anglican churches contacted me to license it for his denomination; as far as I know they have distributed to all their members.
Pastor Brett: When it comes to your use of the plan, how often do you miss a day? If so, do you double up the next day or just move on?
Professor Horner: Well — all the time, depending! I actually just restarted it (I’m on day four) after being off of it for about a year. Sometimes I do it virtually every day for 5 years, even doubling up (20 chs/day). Other times I read/study differently. But I keep coming back to this system. I’d say I have been steadily “on it” for a total time of about 24 years or so. There’s nothing like it. And — it *really* helps if I’m teaching or preaching on any topic or passage at all. Your mind is just loaded with cross-references. I often preach and teach with no real prep at all. No kidding. I don’t recommend that, of course, it is just that I am able to go up and preach without notes for an hour on a passage, just pulling cross-references out of my head, flipping around in my Bible, and contextualizing every scripture with other scriptures, then applying it to life. Probably not a seminary-approved style, huh? My favorite thing is open-mike Bible Q&As, which I’ve done many times. They bring a question, and we go right to scripture. You better know your Bible, because if you have 200 or 1000 people there, there is always some Gamaliel who just wants to stump you instead of asking a real question! 1 Peter 3.15, right hand page, right hand column, 1/4 of the way down…
Pastor Brett: Is it fair to say that you have become addicted to reading the Bible?
Professor Horner: Yes. It is a positive addiction. It is connotatively a negative word — “drug addict” “sex addict” — but functionally it shows us what we are actually designed for. We are made to have regular needs, driven by powerful desires. We just go to the wrong sources (drugs and alcohol abuse, illicit sex, pornography, overwork, entertainment, over-focus on the appearance, and so forth). We are designed to be addicted — to God and His Word. We need it, we must have it, and if we don’t, it makes us “sick” — we don’t function rightly.
Pastor Brett: Having done this for years, and having become so familiar with the Bible, do you find it difficult to keep your mind engaged when doing your daily reading? How hard is it for you not to just fly rapidly through your daily reading since you already know what is written?
Professor Horner: I deliberately also do study-reading and meditative reading as well. I really only use this system now for what I call “imprinting” — getting the text burned into my mind, as much for ministry usage as personal devotional time. But it does have secondary devotional effect. It is a very effective way to get “the whole counsel of God” in the forefront of your consciousness.
Pastor Brett: Can you give a summary of your routine in terms of your daily devotional life?
Professor Horner: I am not a routine guy. The funny thing here is my use of the word “system” — I hate systems! But there was no other word.
I may have a week where I do not actually physically read the text hardly at all. Then in a whole day I may read through Job and Romans, or all four Gospels. Life is unpredictably rhythmic, and that’s ok. But — and this is key — the ‘non-reading’ days have the after-effects of all the imprinting. Scripture is constantly before me and informing my thoughts. I am in front of people all the time, teaching and speaking. I also do a lot of counseling. I rarely have to actually open the Bible — it is just accessible to my mind and I refer to it directly. Scripture itself talks about having the Word in your heart, your mind, almost physically in and on your body, like a necklace. We are to have the mind of Christ — that is, we must think like the Word.
Pastor Brett: Are there any dramatic testimonies that have come in about people using this plan?
Professor Horner: Hundreds of them! Just skim the Facebook page. Hundreds, thousands of people say it has changed their life. Tim Challies has the second-most read Christian website in the world, challies.com. He just did an article on the system a few weeks ago and said of it “Best of all, I find that I look forward to reading the Bible most days. Somehow this system has increased my delight in the Word.” What could be better than that, I ask you?!?
One couple met through my Facebook page due to their usage of the system — and they got married! Then they showed up together at the Bible study I lead. Can’t beat that!
And I may be the best testimony of all. I went from a deeply damaged drug addict to a brand new convert in February 1983. I started the system in the summer or Fall of 1983. A year later, I had read (for example) the Gospels four times, went twice through the Pentateuch and the Psalms, Job and Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon 6 times, Proverbs a dozen times, ALL of Paul 4 times…..you get the idea. In one year! I hate to say it, but I know for a fact that there are many folks sitting in churches right now who have never read the whole Bible through a single time in their lives, or even just all of Ecclesiastes, or the Psalms or Proverbs or Exodus. What a loss for them — and for the rest of the church, because they will be crippled by ignorance, weak from starvation, and in many cases, still enslaved to many sins! How can a body function if many of its members are withered by starvation? The knowledge is not the key, of course — but that is the first step to wisdom, knowing the Word intimately, and knowing it IN CONTEXT. THEN — and only then, can it change you. On the shelf it is tragically inert; in the heart is vibrantly alive, and cutting away, and building up.
I was a brand new, one-year-old baby Christian — and people at church were asking me Bible questions! I went out and did door-to-door evangelism, some street preaching, and became the classic “Jesus Freak” at work. A year or two earlier I had been buying, selling, and using LSD. You tell me.
Pastor Brett: Beside yourself, do you know who has been on this plan the longest?
Professor Horner: You know, I just don’t know. A few family members have used it off and on for many years, though.
Pastor Brett: Does your wife use your plan? How about your kids?
Professor Horner: No, she’s never done it, actually — not her style, and I don’t pressure her. I think two of my kids have used it at this point. But again, no pressure. I have been very careful not to cram Christianity on my three kids — they came to church with us until they were sixteen, and after that, it was only if they wanted to come. I don’t preach at home, run elaborate family devotions, have a “rule-y” home, or have what I call “Jesus-Junk” all over the place. I have tried to keep our spiritual life very organic, natural, low-pressure, and real. I’ve probably made thousands of mistakes. But — all my kids are solid, professing believers, ages 25, 23, and 16.
Pastor Brett: Is there any connection between your expertise of literature and the way the lists are broken up, in terms of genre?
Professor Horner: The lists are broadly genre-based, yes. But it doesn’t really have to be that way. The interweaving of numerous sections of scripture is the key, along with keeping you moving along.
Pastor Brett: How often do you personally adjust the lists for, say, greater attention to a particular book?
Professor Horner: Whenever I feel like it! It is deliberately flexible. I may drop the lists and just read through Hebrews for a while. I did that once — ninety days of reading Hebrews 1-3 times per day. A total of about 200 readings of Hebrews, one after another. Why? I was getting ready to teach the book at church. So I imprinted it on my mind and heart for three months. THEN I felt ready to read some commentaries with discernment, many of which I found to be awful! I kept wanting to go back to just the text. I taught the book every Sunday for four years, and loved every minute of it!
Pastor Brett: I was surprised to find out you are a literature professor. How often do people express surprise that you are not a Bible or theology professor? Of course, you are in good company…with C. S. Lewis!
Professor Horner: I am one [a Bible/theology prof]. I’m just disguised as a Literature Professor! Read my book, or any of my stuff, or sit in a class, or watch me on YouTube, and you’ll see what I mean. And how embarrassing for poor CS Lewis — to be lumped with me in any context. Poor bloke.
Pastor Brett: I’ve come across a lot of Christians who say this plan is just too intense, especially among stay-at-home mothers. Do you recommend a lighter version of your plan or what would you say to such a person?
Professor Horner: It IS intense. So is life. Do Marines go onto the front lines after some relaxing training for three days at Disneyland? And, yes, my wife, a stay-at-home mom, can tell you all about how tough it is — and important! Moms MAKE the next generation. So they should figure out the best way that works for them to get saturated with scripture!
Pastor Brett: If a new Christian were to ask you for the ideal Bible for life…how would you answer?
Professor Horner: The one in your HEART and MIND. Secondarily, get a physical one that is sturdy, readable, and comfortable, with a good, largely ‘formal’ translation. The ESV or NASB, or KJV if you can handle it. Ask yourself this: if you were imprisoned for being a Christian, and thrown in a cell for the rest of your life, and had NO access to a Bible … would you have a feast or a famine? Is it hidden in your heart, or hidden on your shelf?
Pastor Brett: Have you ever thought this might be your historical legacy? Do you think the name “Horner” might go down in history with “M’Cheyne” as a name associated with Bible reading?
Professor Horner: I never really thought about it that way. My main goal is to leave a family that loves God. Then do the same for students and people I teach/preach to. I am Scottish…my Grandmother’s family rowed over in 1908…so I love M’Cheyne automatically, of course. I could not begin to compare with him and his legacy. If I can help people feed themselves with the Word better, then wow, what an honor for me, but it all goes to the one who is due the all of the real glory in this universe. And that isn’t me. I know exactly what I deserve. I’ve read Romans 1.
Pastor Brett: In this era of specialized Bibles, has there been any thought or talk of a Prof. Horner Daily Bible? Like 10 ribbons and maybe color coded edges of the pages based upon genre or list?
Professor Horner: I’d OK that only if I could make TONS of money off it! (You realize I tend towards irony sometimes, I hope!) It really wouldn’t be necessary. Make your own bookmarks and send your extra money to people who need it.
It is almost shameful how many expensive ‘consumer-niche’ Bibles we have in America. But I won’t go off on that. A friend of mine saw his brother beaten to death by communists over a hidden Bible; I sort of freak out when I go into a bookstore and see crazy bible-consumerism run amok. Do we really need Bibles marketed specifically towards highly specified demographic groups? Do we really need a Teen Redhead Girl’s Study Bible? A Retired Municipal Worker Without Male Grandchildren’s Chain Reference Bible with Greek and Armenian Text Parallel? Sorry — I said I wouldn’t rant, and then I ranted a bit…
Pastor Brett: Ok…Pop quiz…quick, take your best shot at guessing where this is found (no Bible or search engine allowed): And the sons of Ammon came out and drew up in battle array at the entrance of the city, and the kings who had come were by themselves in the field.
Professor Horner: Agggh! Public disgrace. Exact location on the page — I could guess but it would only be a 1 in 8 to get it pretty close. I know it is 2nd Samuel, and just before chapter 11, probably ch. 8, 9, or 10. It is the prelude to David making a bad decision to hang out on a rooftop with his binoculars, even though he knows full well that pretty girls bathe up there.
My New Testament I know very intimately, down to where verses break between pages, followed by Proverbs, Psalms, Genesis, and Wisdom books. Historical and Prophets the least (typical American evangelical!) I know the content, but not the page placement of specific passages. Back to school for me! (As I said, I just restarted after a year off; call me in three months — I’m on Joshua 3 right now!)
Pastor Brett: Very impressive! 2 Samuel 10:8 is the answer. Next question… As you know, 2011 is the 400-year anniversary of the KJV. I’m considering using your plan to read through the KJV starting in January (I use the ESV and sometimes the NIV). Do you have any special plans for the KJV in 2011 as a Bible reader or English Prof?
Professor Horner: Not really — though we just had Calvin’s 500th birthday, and I taught a course on him, that went all the way through the whole Institutes! 1400 pages. That was cool.
I still love my KJV, but more due to familiarity, and my preferences as a 16th/17th century scholar who loves the language of the period. I am not a KJV-only guy. I really like the ESV for modern readability and accuracy.
Maybe I should set up some kind of public KJV reading event? I had students read all the way through Paradise Lost with me, in public, for 12 hours last year. That was great! Hmmmmm…..
Pastor Brett: This has been wonderful, but before we go, I think readers might find it interesting to learn that you are into rock climbing…and you enjoy scaling granite mountains, say like, the 3000′ El Capitan… I have a fear of heights, so personally, I think you are kind of loco, but tell me a little bit about that hobby and are you ever afraid? Any hair-raising stories to share?
Professor Horner: You live in Florida, Brett, so you need not worry about hair-raising mountains!
Lots of stories, yes. And I have numerous videos of my little adventures posted on my personal Facebook page. El Capitan is the largest unbroken cliff in the world — 3000 feet dead vertical and overhanging, in Yosemite Valley. Imagine stacking TWO World Trade Center Towers on top of each other. And smooth as drywall. The best climbers in the world try to tackle it, and the failure rate is nearly 2 out of 3; successful ascents take 2 1/2 to 6 days, generally. People are rescued from the wall every year. People can get killed; it is very serious. There is a small group of us who do “big-wall speedclimbing” which is a very specialized set of techniques for climbing very light and fast on these huge walls. A tiny handful of people have done it in under 24 hours. It’s sick, sick, sick, like running a vertical marathon for an entire day. No stopping, no resting, just pounding through unbelievably difficult rock-climbing move after move, with minimal gear and a little food and water. It burns about 18,000 to 20,000 calories, which means you can lose five pounds easily (so to speak….) Most of the guys who’ve done it sub-24 are young. I’m 46, and I’ve done it four times.
I decided to take this summer off technical rock-climbing, though. I did a bunch of High Sierra peak speed ascents instead, like last week. I did Mount Langley, which is over 14,000 feet, and also involves 24 miles of very tough hiking above 10,000 feet. And I did it house-to-house — I drove from LA, zoomed the trail, climbed the peak, zoomed down in the dark, and drove home (three hour drive). Total time was 23 hours, and no stopping. So … Why do you think I’m loco?
Pastor Brett: I think most would think that loco is a mild way to put it. Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or “the system”?
Professor Horner: Nothing, except I hope that the Bride will grow, well fed on the Word. It is the only food we have on Earth; we sit at a banquet table all day long, and yet we look at scraps and crumbs on the floors outside. Nothing else on earth is breathed out by God, like a kiss for us to receive….only the Word is like that.
Pastor Brett: Very well said. This has been a pleasure. Thanks so much for your time!
Professor Horner: Your welcome!
LINKS related to this interview:
To join Professor Horner’s Bible Reading System Facebook page, click HERE. (Update: Facebook changed the way they do group pages, so the original group page, featured in this article is no longer in existence. A new group page has been started since then, which is what I have linked to from here.)
If you are not on Facebook and would like to see Professor Horner’s System and download the bookmarks, click HERE.
For the Tim Challies post that Professor Horner mentioned, click HERE.
For my personal adaption of the plan, which will take you through Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians monthly, click HERE.