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Entries in Bible Study (113)

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.

Wednesday
Dec142016

Discernment 101 For Women

As we get past Christmas, and into the New Year, Bible reading plans will be shared. Bible Gateway and ESV Online (and if you've decided you object to the ESV now, you don't have to actually use that version, but the printable schedule is nice) have their Bible reading plans on their site all year long, so if you don't get a chance to see what is available during the holiday season, check them out.

While I have read through the Bible quite a few times, and enjoy that approach, in 2017, I'm thinking about focusing on just one book. Yes, just one: Romans. While being in seminary means that I spend a lot of time in the Bible, I have only taken one of my Bible requirements. In January, I will be taking Theological Foundations II and Moral Theology, so while I'll be in the Bible, it isn't like immersing myself in a book.

I'm going to keep track of how many times I get through the actual book and I plan on reading in more than one version. One of my profs was a firm proponent of reading in more than one. I'll be reading in the NASB, the ESV, the NIV and maybe the NLT. I know people would brand me a heretic for reading the NIV or the NLT, but until I can read Greek well, I'm going to read as many translations as I can. Those guys still know a whole lot more about the language than I do. Next September, I start Greek, so maybe my next Bible reading plan will be to read the New Testament in Greek.

In addition to Bible reading, I hope to read a few commentaries alongside of my Bible reading. I'll likely start with Leon Morris's commentary, and I'm considering Ben Witherington's commentary, and possibly Richard Longenecker's commentary, which is on the Greek New Testament. Dr. Fowler recently encouraged us to read commentaries on the original language. I have also heard good things about Tom Schreiner's commentary.

Romans is a complex book, chock full of significant doctrine. I have never been sure enough of my understanding to teach it. I trust that in the year to come, I'll learn more. While reading the whole Bible gives us a panoramic view, focusing on one book gives us deeper understanding. And it's been my experience that the best way to memorize Scripture is to study a book deeply over a long period of time.

Now, here is where the "discernment" part of the post makes an entrance . . . 

Whatever route you choose in 2017, choose to read Scripture. Even if it means forsaking reading that new book that "everyone" is talking about. We cannot adequately discern whether a writer is making good arguments if we don't know Scripture ourselves. You can read all the "how to" books in the world to advise you on what is good reading and what isn't, but if you don't know Scripture, you start off at a disadvantage. We cannot adequately feed our souls apart from Scripture.

Knowing Scripture ourselves keeps us from becoming more a disciple of the writers we read than of Christ himself. Reading Scripture is to be taught by the Spirit. It is communion with God. Make it a priority.

Wednesday
Jul202016

Back it up with Scripture

The first assignment I had in my seminary course this past semester to was to disscuss the importance and implications of the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. I always feel uncertain about first assignments, because one does not know how the prof will mark. I'd had this prof before, but it was a Bible survey course, and we had exams instead of writing essays. 

When I got my paper back, I was relieved that I had not completely fouled it up, and I was happy with my mark. However, there was a comment from the prof saying that the strength of a few of my arguments would have been bolstered with some references to Scripture. That is not a new thing. I had that observation from my hermeneutics prof. I can be lazy with that.

Sometimes, when we've been in the church a long time, we know the general principles, but we may not know exactly where to find biblical support. That means getting out our Bibles and looking. I've done it myself on previous occasions while writing something.

When I was in high school, I had a really excellent history teacher, and he advised me to write as if the reader knows nothing about my topic. Of course, depending on our audience, it could possibly come across as patronizing, but I think the principle is a good one. We can't always assume the reader understands. When it comes to writing biblical content, we most definitely cannot assume that everyone understands. Levels of biblical literacy vary from person to person. Furthermore, we have to ensure that our understanding is biblically based, so when we write, showing our readers our sources is advisable.

In teaching my Sunday school class this spring, I asked my students (all who have been in the church for many years, most since they were children) if they knew who the Moabites were. No one could tell me. There are women in that class who have been in studies in Genesis and Exodus, and they did not know. I took them to some passages in Scripture to show them. Especially when we teach, we need to show the students how and where we drew our conclusions. It's part of modelling good teaching.

I can be lazy about providing the proper references myself in within the body of a blog post. When I make assertions about the nature of God, I should provide support. It's a good exercise, after all. In the 2016/2017 academic year, I will be taking Theological Foundations. I'd better get used to providing support for what I write.

Monday
May232016

When you have to show your cards

I'm in the midst of writing a paper, due on Friday. It's a review of the book Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. As an aside, let me just say that the books in the "Counterpoints" series, from which this book comes, are excellent. I have read a few, and they are really well done.

My responsibility in this assignment is to summarize each of the three views, by Walter Kaiser, Darrell Bock, and Peter Enns. After summarizing those views, I have to state my own views, with attention to these issues:

  1. The use of Sensus Plenior as an appropriate way of explaining the NT use of the OT

  2. The best way to understand typology

  3. Whether NT writers take account of the context of OT passages

  4. Whether NT authorsuse of contemporaneous Jewish exegetical methods explains the NT use of the OT

  5. Whether 21st century Christians can replicate the hermeneutical and exegetical methods used by the NT authors. 

Considering that each author has expressed his views clearly, given good Scriptural examples, and been rebutted by the other authors, a reader should have an idea where she will land on the matter. I know where my views are, but coming out with a position with the appropriate amount of Scriptural support and careful thought it always a bit daunting. I have done my reading, including some extra research, and I have come to some conclusions, but it's always hard to articulate things well.

In class, there was a moment when our prof asked us, "Do you think we should use the same interpretive methods as the NT authors?" There was silence. No one wanted to brave an opinion right away. Of course, the two gents who tended to dominate the discussion eventually spoke up. I, however, did not, but when asked, I said, "Do we have to use their methods?" i.e., is it necessary in order to gain meaning. My prof said it was a good point.

It's always a scary process to lay out what we think. When reading the book, I was able to agree on various points from all three authors (yes, despite the controversy surrounding Enns, I did agree with him on some points). It is so easy to just agree with what sounds best without a thorough examination of things. This is about more than endorsing one view; it's about coming to my own conclusions, and most of the time, I feel woefully inept at such things. 

Today is a holiday here in Canada, and soon, we're off to enjoy some family time. Starting tomorrow, though, it's time to get busy. I want to do well, and on my last assignment, the prof noted that he wanted to hear more of my own views, so it's time to stop being timid. He's not there to evaluate me as a colleague; I'm his student, and if I am not as smart as Kaiser, Bock, and Enns, he'll understand.

Tuesday
Apr262016

Sin isn't going anywhere

One of the lessons I keep learning is that sin isn't going anywhere. Of course, that is a no-brainer. But I think on some level, I believed as a younger woman that somehow, sin would become less of a factor as I got older. Surely, Christian maturity would mean sin would magically become less of a problem. That has not happened, of course. While it may be packaged in different scenarios than previous years, sin is still there. 

When we have our sin pointed out, or are convicted by our sin, we have two choices: confess it or deny it. In order to deny sin, we must also reject what Scripture says, because Scripture tells us that if we deny sin, we make God out to be a liar (I John 1:8). To be a Christian and to deny sin means we must change our attitude toward Scripture: perhaps it's wrong in places; perhaps it's not really inspired; perhaps that is just a cultural mandate. In the extreme, we may reject Scripture altogether. It's easier to deal with sin if we reject the existence of a standard.

In Psalm 32, the Psalmist gives details about what his unconfessed sin wrought:

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
for day and night your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer (v.3-4)

That last phrase reminded me of Psalm 1, where the one who delights in the law of the Lord is compared to a tree by a river, well-watered and refreshed (Ps 1:3). When we are aware of unconfessed sin, how easy it is to avoid the very words which will convict us. The consequence of avoiding God's word is dryness, not refreshment. It's a slow fade from unconfessed sin to complete apathy toward God.

Sin has consequences. Aside from the reality that it separates us from God, like the Psalmist, we can experience physical symptoms. Guilt can be deadly. And yet, in our current culture, we are discouraged to feel shame and guilt for our sin. And I understand why that is. Many people are made to feel shame and guilt for things that are not their own sin, and it can eat away at a person to feel shame and guilt for past abuses at the hands of other people. When it comes to or own sin, though, we have to resist the temptation to deny our culpability.

If we are out of God's word, away from the sound of biblical preaching, and secluded from the fellowship of the church, how easy it is to think God doesn't care about our sin. How easy it is to stick our fingers into our ears and cry, "la la la la," and go on our merry way.

If we truly believe in a holy God, we can't pretend that sin isn't a problem. If we want to be reconciled to him, we can't ignore it. But thanks be to God for I John 1:9, which promises us forgiveness for confessed sin. When the Psalmist confessed, he received forgiveness:

I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,"
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (v.5)

While many of the dispositions of my heart stubbornly cling to me, I know that God will not refuse forgiveness. That gives me hope.