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Entries in Bible Study (112)

Thursday
Aug102017

The baggage we bring

I had three brothers, many male cousins, and I had a father who was good to me. I have a husband who is very good to me, respects me, and is not combative or abusive. When I sit in a sermon which talks about Ephesians 5, I don't feel a sense of anxiety or concern. However, there are women whose experience makes their reaction the opposite.

I was bullied by a pack of angry girls in the 8th grade. In my years as a young mother, I was involved with a very toxic friendship with a female friend. I have also had a few really unpleasant experiences with women I have met online. When I am told I "need" my female friends, I squirm. The prospect of a large gathering of women (especially a conference where I may have to spend a few days among them) puts me on guard. Now, if I'm going to stand up and teach women, I'm okay. But to sit among them, open up to them, and "share" sets my heart racing. 

When we come to Christ, we bring our personalities, experiences, and in some instances, baggage, with us. How I react to one thing is not the same as another woman might. I was scanning Twitter last night before bed, and I saw a string of people gushing over a book that I thought was marginal at best. We all react to things differently. 

As someone who has been teaching the Bible to others for over 20 years, it is my goal to become better at bringing out the implications of a text and helping the student to appropriate it into her life. Right now, I'm teaching teens, and that can be a challenge. It can be tempting, because they are teens, to reduce everything to a "do or don't" scenario. 

I've just finished Andreas Köstenberger and Alan Fuhr's book Inductive Bible Study. It is a great book. Though it's not directed with as much effort to women as other Bible study books, it should be read by women (Interestingly, the authors use the pronouns "he" and "she" interchangeably throughout the book). It may not be easy, nor does it have that chummy feel of typical "women's books," but it's filled with insights which will really make an impact. It's worth the effort to read.

In my quest for developing application skills, I love what the authors say. In their next to last chapter, they discuss three phases of application: personal assessment, reflective meditation, and appropriation. Application is intensely personal, and because of that, I'm trying to be more cautious about using my personal experience as a jumpstart to application. As I said, what we bring to our faith -- and, by implication to our reading of Scripture -- is filtered through our experience.

Köstenerger and Fuhr have some very wise words that really made an impact on my thinking:

As the reader submits to the text, she also submits to God. Much of application can be described as an obligation to holiness -- behavior and activities that honor God in the daily routine of life. Yet the term "appropriation" implies a greater work, the act of transformation and the development of Christian character. In this we ought to think of application in broader terms than simply doing what the Bible tells us to do. The study of Scripture results in a holistic transformation of our minds into conformity with Christ. (emphasis mine)

There are some times when simply doing what Scripture says is unavoidable. Flee sin. There is nothing wrong with that application. But as the authors remind, the goal of appropriating Scripture to ourselves is our transformation. We are already one with Christ, but we are in the process of becoming more transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2). Scripture study, as we appropriate the word and are taught by the Holy Spirit, is part of that process. It certainly includes actions to do and actions to avoid, but it is all anchored in how the word transforms us. While some personal experiences will be meaningful to some, others will fall flat. I'm beginning to see more and more that as a teacher, my goal is to emphasize this need to be transformed.

The results won't be immediate. Sometimes, we grow slowly. That is another truth I have picked up from this book: Scripture study is a long process. It's work. And it takes a lifetime. If we understand that going into it, I think we will benefit a great deal.

Monday
May292017

When "scholar" isn't necessarily a compliment

On two occasions this past weekend, I read comments by women who resist the use of commentaries in Bible study. Both women suggested to me that simply studying the Bible for themselves, in context, without relying on commentaries meant that they were relying on the Spirit of God to teach them, not the voices of other people. One of the people, a friend, said to me that she is not the "scholar" that I am, and simply gets more out of Bible study if she just listens to the Spirit.

The last comment reveals two attitudes: first, there is a division between the Christian who is seen as a "scholar" and one who is not; and second, the Spirit is prevented from working through scholarly pursuits. I reject both of those premises, and it frustrates me that such attitudes remain common, and not just among women.

That my friend says I am a scholar is amusing. I've finished half of my MTS; I'm hardly a scholar. And even if I were, that doesn't automatically mean I am out of reach of the Spirit. Listening to the Spirit and intellectual pursuit are not mutually exclusive. I certainly don't think every woman needs to study as much as I do, and yes, there is a danger that Bible study can become mere academic exercise. However, that I love to study does not mean I am in a different class than another Christian who is "doing it on her own." There is an attitude of individualism rearing its head when one takes pride of doing it "on her own."

The idea that commentaries interfere with the Spirit suggests that in order to really engage with the Spirit, one must disengage from her intellect. Yes, the Spirit is our teacher, and yes, he does work mightily through our study of Scripture, but by consulting a commentary, I am not out of the Spirit's reach. A commentary will help me unravel the meaning, and as I understand more of what Scripture means, the Spirit teaches me. The Spirit is not divided up into little compartments within me, out of reach of my intellect. The Spirit affects my whole person, and walking in the Spirit does not necessitate rejecting the expertise of commentators.

As long as many women hold such views, they will prefer books which emphasize experience and emotions. It will be seen as more "spiritual" to study a book which is not too intellectual. I think this is why there are so many such books marketed to women: they're buying them. I'm re-reading Gone With the Wind right now, and one passage comments about how Scarlett O'Hara's mother only pretended to be interested in politics to please her husband, because real women aren't interested in such things. Are "real" Christian women seen as those who disengage from their intellects?

A friend on Facebook shared with me this quotation from Spurgeon. Spurgeon is talking to preachers in this passage, but the principles are applicable to study in general: 

It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries. If there were any fear that the expositions of Matthew Henry, Gill, Scott, and others, would be exalted into Christian Targums, we would join the chorus of objectors, but the existence or approach of such a danger we do not suspect. The temptations of our times lie rather in empty pretensions to novelty of sentiment, than in a slavish following of accepted guides. A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences."

--Spurgeon, "Lecture 1," Commenting and Commentaries

Tuesday
May162017

How do I become a better Bible teacher?

The short answer to that question is easy: be a student yourself.

Watch/Listen to Good Teachers

I returned to teaching teens this past fall. The first week I taught, I found myself frustrated because I was reminded that teenagers don't react the same way to being taught in the same way that women who are there because they do want to be taught. I had to sit back and think about how I could generate more interest and discussion.

Over the next little while, I watched my theology professor as he led the class and specifically, how he answered questions from us. There was always a true interest in giving the best answer. If you need inspiration, watch others who teach. Listen to sermons online. Listen to podcasts. There are many ways to sit under experienced teachers without attending seminary. Listen to how the teacher opens up the Scriptures; listen carefully. In the winter of 2016, I took hermeneutics, and Dr. Barker, the prof, basically gave a little sermon about a text every class. I learned a lot from just watching him.

Read Good Books

Look for Bible study books. Read more than one, and don't be afraid to read one that takes you deeper than you may want to go. I have written previously about books I would recommend for Bible study, but I would add another which I have just begun: Inductive Bible Study, by Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Alan Fuhr Jr. It goes into much more detail, especially about the process of observation, interpretation, and application. Most of us are very quick to move to interpretation without spending enough time in observation, and observation really should take the longest amount of time in a study. 

Be Humble

Intellectual humility is something I have really come to appreciate this past semester. Dr. Fowler, my theology professor, is 70 years old. Aside from the fact that he has spent a lot more time in school than I have, he has also been a Christian longer than I have and has served longer than I have. Despite his superior credentials, he is a very humble man. Students want to learn when they realize that their teacher is also a pilgrim on the journey. There is no room for arrogance when teaching. Teaching the Bible is an act of service, not an opportunity to draw attention to ourselves. We must remember that at one time, we knew much less than we do now, and that there is still more which we don't know yet.

Teaching is work. Learning the Bible well is work. It may mean that we give up time doing somethiing we enjoy. It may mean shutting ourselves up in study areas and hunkering down. The Bible is an amazing book. It is God's Word. We cannot impart knowledge to others with any degree of success unless we become students ourselves. We cannot teach what we have not learned ourselves.

Tuesday
Feb282017

Curiosity and the New Living Translation

A while ago, as a gift for a donation, the Gideons sent me a copy of the New Living Translation. I have not used this translation much in the past. In my plan to read as many translations of Romans as I can, I decided to try this out. I'm only five chapters in, but already something has popped up that reminds me why I am leary of more dynamic translations: a lack of precision.

In Romans 5:19, the NLT renders the verse this way:

Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

By way of comparison, here are how the NASB and the NIV render it:

NASB: For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

NIV: For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

The NASB capitalizes pronouns referring to God and Jesus, and so has capitalized "One" to indicate that Paul is talking about Christ. Yes, it is interpretive in its choice. You'll notice that the NIV uses the more general term "man." I suspect in its goal to avoid gender specific language, the NLT has chosen the word "person." I may be wrong about that. 

What is important to remember is the context. Prior to verse 19, Paul was drawing a parallel between Adam and Jesus. Adam's sin is imputed to us, and Christ's righteousness is imputed to us. The crucial point here is that it is Christ's obedience which becomes our obedience, resulting in justification. We can understand what is meant by "the man" or "the One" because we know the context. Unfortunately, the NLT is less precise when it uses "one person." Which person? Can anyone impute sin to another? Can anyone impute righteousness? While the NLT can be helpful in complicated texts, what it lacks in precision could present a problem. When it comes to this doctrinal issue, the imputation of Christ's righteousness, we should strive for precision.I'm not a Greek or Hebrew scholar, so perhaps my ignorance has clouded my view of this. Hopefully, when I start Greek studies next fall, I will be able to look more closely at the original language and evaluate the accuracy of this rendering in a better way.
Tuesday
Feb142017

Book Study or the Bible?

I always feel uneasy when someone asks me for a suggestion to teach younger women. When I am asked this, inevitably what the person wants is a book that has a study guide. I find it even harder when I'm asked for something that is topical, geared to marriage/family/children.

In the past, when I have taught younger women in a group setting, I have used such books, but my approach has changed somewhat over the years. The reality is that when we use a book geared toward such issues, most of the time, the author begins not with a biblical text, but with a predisposed position that she/he unfolds, including biblical material. There is nothing wrong with that, but one must be aware of that reality. No matter how good the author is (and there are a few good studies), there is no assurance that the focus is on Christ. And likely, there will be a lot of behavioural instruction. At this point in my life, I prefer to teach a book of the Bible and flesh out the topics within the context. Topical teaching, done responsibly, is actually a lot more work, and it involves more than proof-texting. The last topical study I was given to use could be considered as nothing short of irresponsible in how it handled various texts, taken out of context.

This year is my 30th wedding anniversary. My children are grown. As I look back on what helped me as a young mother, I've come to a couple conclusions. First, what helped me in the matter of parenting my children was not specific teaching about how to raise my children. In fact, the one parenting class my husband and I took together was the worst mistake we ever made. What was more helpful was the presence of other mothers, my own and my mother-in-law included; women who had raised children and had wisdom to share. Plus, a lot of it was basic common sense. Why do I  need to consult the Bible for potty training or behaviour issues? The response is very simple: consistency and patience. And I needed to confront my own selfishness. Many of the struggles I had as a mother were a matter of not dealing with my own impatience and lack of grace in dealing with immature people. That's something only time can improve upon, hence the reason why Grandma is usually much more patient than mother.

Regarding marriage, when it came to dealing with conflict and other matters, biblical principles beyond Ephesians 5 were far more helpful.  In short, my attitude was often my biggest problem. It still is. Now, I have been fortunate in that I have a good husband who doesn't abuse me physically or emotionally; he doesn't drink his wages or look at porn. I don't know how I would have handled those situations, but I doubt very much that a class with a bunch of women discussing an author's marital advice would have been sufficient. In those cases, I suspect that women need a lot more counsel, and from someone who knows what she's talking about.

I don't know if this reveals my ignorance or not, but while books directed to marriage counsel can be good, ultimately, strong marriages depend a lot on the spiritual maturity of the people involved, and often, it's just a matter of growing up and submitting to God's will. Yes, we do want strong marriages, but I feel uncomfortable with the idea that our marriages are seen as successful only if we look like teenagers in love. There is conflict in marriage. It's unavoidable. It doesn't mean we're failing. Many times over the years, my husband would say that our marriage would be better if we just loved each other more selflessly and treated each other better than ourselves. 

When I teach young women now, I prefer to go right to knowing God. And that takes time. Sometimes, as well-intended as they are, books that begin with "how can I have a good marriage and be a good mother?" aren't asking the right questions. Because, ultimately, marriage and family may change. And then who are left with? Ourselves.