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Entries in Bible Study (113)


The Ouch Factor

In my ongoing study of Proverbs, I read this today:

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion. (18:2)

For someone like me, who spoke early as a child, have always held strong opinions, and was accused of "wording" people to death, this gave me cause for squirm.

It was a good kind of squirm.



History of Redemption

In Graeme Goldsworthy's book Gospel and Kingdom, we learn that the Old Testament is the history of redemption.  The key to the Old Testament is not the part that Israel plays, but the part that God plays as his plan of redemption is unveiled.

There are three features of the history of redemption:

  1. It is progressive.
  2. It is incomplete without the New Testament.
  3. It is to be interpreted. 

The interpretation of the history of redemption begins with the New Testament and drives us back to the Old Testament:

The New Testament establishes for us that the Old Testament involves promise and hope of a goal which is fulfilled in Christ.  It thus directs us to take account of 'the dynamic', the living process and movement, of the Old Testament which leads us on to the Christ of the Gospels.  Because the New Testament declares the Old Testament to be incomplete without Christ we must understand the Old Testament in the light of its goal which is Christ.  Jesus is indispensable to a true understanding of the Old Testament as well as the New.

I found this really helpful.  It is as if we work backwards from New to the Old. 


Caution in the "character study" approach

I started reading a book which was recommended at the Gospel Coalition website in a post Kathleen Nielson wrote.  It's called The Goldsworthy Triology, and contains three volumes, Gospel and Kingdom, Gospel and Wisdom, and The Gospel in Revelation.  The content of the book revolves around the question of the unity of the whole Bible.

In the chapter "Bridging the Gap," a caution is issued with regard to the "character study" approach used in teaching the Old Testament narratives.  We are all familiar with Sunday school curriculum which centres around a figure, such as David or Moses.  Goldsworthy notes:

The danger in the 'character study' approach is that it so easily leads to the use of the Old Testament characters and events as mere illustrations of the New Testament truths, while at the same time giving the appearance of being a correct exposition of the meaning of the Word of God.  But if the real substance is drawn from the New Testament, and it alone, we may well ask what is the point of applying ourselves to the Old Testament; why we may not just as well use non-biblical material to illustrate the New Testament.  To make this criticism is not to deny the value of Old Testament narrative in illustrating New Testament principles; but we should not assume that such an approach uncovers the primary meaning of the text.

I actually have been in sermons where the New Testament principles were demonstrated by use of non-biblical sources; from novels or television shows or movies.

When it comes to teaching children, it is so easy to fall back on a "dare to be a Daniel" theme. I guess we just have to be careful how we present these stories, so that the students don't see them as mere object lessons, but as part of something bigger.


I liked this

In her book Bible Study:  Following the Way of the Word, Kathleen Nielson points out principles for Bible study:

  1. The Bible is God speaking.
  2. The Bible is powerful.
  3. The Bible is understandable.
  4. The Bible is a literary work.
  5. The Bible is one story.

With these principles in mind, she indicates what is distinctive about this approach:

The distinctive of this approach is that it begins with the Bible itself and what it asks of us, rather than what we need and would like to "get out of" Bible study.  Many bible study groups these days start with some sort of poll, seeking to know what the people in the group desire from the study, and then the study is designed or chosen according to that poll.  It is indeed important to recall that what every human being needs most fundamentally is to hear God's voice - to take in the food of his Word, which is a more basic need even than daily bread. 

This has characterized too many of the studies I have attended.  Those studies were not the ones with the lasting impressions. The ones with the lasting impressions were Word centred, and sought to reveal more about God through His word.

I sometimes wonder if what people want out of Bible study -- and I am thinking of women, especially -- is a kind of counselling.  Women attend Bible studies to help them with issues and problems.  I don't think that ought to be a goal in a group Bible study.  There is a place for biblical counselling, but it is not within the group Bible study venue.  Looking for therapy in a Bible study is probably not the best goal to have.  If our goal is therapy, we will try to bend and shape the Scriptures to answer our questions rather than taking Scripture for what it is.


Bible Study Basics

I'm really enjoying the book Bible Study:  Following the Ways of the Word, by Kathleen Nielson.  I like her writing.  She is accessible, but at the same time, she is clearly very well-read herself, and she writes with a lot of clarity.

The first chapter is called "If the Bible is God speaking, then how should we listen?"  She presents three implications from this truth that the Bible is God speaking: 

  1. The nature of Bible study:  it is personal.  As we learn from the Bible, we do it in a relationship, a relationship with our Heavenly Father and with those around us.  I guess this is similar to remembering that we don't learn from Scripture in a vacuum. 
  2. The goal of bible study: for people to know God through listening to him speak.  While there is much personal spiritual development in our studies, we need to remember that what we learn contributes toward the process of making disciples.
  3. Our attitude during study:  humility.  Plain and simple, we need to approach this book with a humble heart. 

One thing that Nielson pointed out with regard to the personal aspect of bible study was the risk of becoming too personal in our bible study.  While the bible cannot be reduced to simple propositions, neither can it be reduced to personal growth maxims.  Her comment is this:

Many Bible studies these days emphasize this aspect of personal relationship, but too often the relational elements are separated from the elements of textual study, with the assumption that it is more sensitive an fulfilling to talk, pray, and encourage each other than to enage in intellectual analysis of words on a page.  Such a false dichotomy thrusts aside a love letter from the one being whose words can pierce and fully satisfy a soul needy for loving relationship.

I have been in bible studies when this focus on the relational is emphasized.  What ultimately happens is speculation and eisegesis.  Instead of trying to find out what the author is saying to us, the participants spend time trying to see themselves in the Scriptures.  I've also been in studies when as we have picked apart the text, the inevitable comments arises:  "Well, I'm not a scholar...." and then the participant kind of pooh-poohs the notion of analyzing the Scripture, but looks instead for the quick application.

In the next chapter, "If the Bible is powerful then how should we approach it?" Nielson builds on this principle of focusing on the text with these two implications: 

  1. We should respect the words:  in these section she discusses the need for good translations and for good observation.
  2. Scripture is sufficient:  we should not have "itching" ears and look beyond the Scripture for instruction in godliness. 

I think if we take to heart those two implications then perhaps the tendency to over personalize in our Bible study time could be reduced.  However, it is hard in a group of twenty women to convince them that individual words are important.  There is often a real fear of becoming "too intellectual,"  and I have been teaching classes when I have sensed this skepticism in being analytical with Scripture.  I think the job of a good Bible teacher is to make this analysis more simple so that people aren't so turned off by it.