Other places I blog




web stats

Follow Me on Twitter

Entries in Bible Study (112)


Lots of heart, but where's the theology?

One of the assignments I have to do is review three bible study booklets. These titles were given to us:

Nehemiah, Overcoming Challenges, Bill Hybels
God's Comfort, Jack Kuhatschek
Romans, John MacArthur

The assignment is to do the second chapter homework for the book and then evaluate the material based on the balance of observation, interpretation, correlation and applications questions. There also must be a good balance between those "heart" questions, and the the other kinds of questions. We are also to evaluate it on whether it looks like it would promote good group dynamics.

I have never heard of the second author. I know who Bill Hybels, but have never read anything by him. And, of course, I'm very familiar with MacArthur. We used his study guides when we taught teens. 

I had a look at the Hybels study guide last night. The second lesson was based on Nehemiah 4, where Nehemiah and those who are rebuilding the wall face obstacles, mostly from the ridicule and malice of Sanballat and his cronies. Nehemiah and the people persevere so much that at one point, they have tools in one hand and weapons in the other to protect the work.

The theme of this chapter is killing momentum. There are four momentum killers: ridicule, threats, fatigue and discouragement, and frontal attacks. There is one correlation to other Scripture passages, to Ephesians 6:10-18 and 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, which definitely fits in with the theme of protection from enemies. 

The lesson definitely focuses on how a person can put these principles into practice in his own life. How does this example look in my life? Who is ridiculing me, and how can I react? Where do I see attacks on what I'm doing? How can I encourage others when they are feeling tired and discouraged. Nehemiah is seen as an example of how to overcome the momentum killing that goes on in our lives. And those things are good things to know.

What is totally missing from this study is the place of this narrative in the larger picture of Scripture. Generally, application follows interpretation, and I didn't see a whole lot of that. Why is the book of Nehemiah in the bible? What does it say about God's redemptive purposes? I recognize that I have only looked at one chapter. I may go back and see what the remainders are like; there are only six in the whole book. But if this is representative of the study, then I think it's missing something. There wasn't really much about the background of the book provided in the introductory section.

In the opening pages, the study promises much in the way of developing community:

We all long to know others deeply and to be fully known by them....The first section of these six studies creates a place for deep knowing and being known. Through serious reflection on the truth of Scripture, you will be invited to communicate part of your heart and life with your small group members.

When I read that out loud to my husband, his reaction to that was, "NO!" He really is not the typt to share the most intimate recesses of his heart with a group of people in a bible study. This would not be the study for him, I suspect. What I found interesting in the introduction was the absence of a promise to know God better, or that it was even a goal. There was talk of celebrating God, but there was little in the way of talking about how the study would help one know God better.

On the upside, the Scripture was focused on in some detail, and even though I think the student should have been asked to do more than he was asked, at least there was focus on that. 

I think I'll do the MacArthur study next. It ought to provide an interesting contrast.


Writing needs speaking

I've been working on a big assignment which is due on April 18. I have to do worksheets for four passages, with questions and answers. This is not as easy as one might think. I am limited to 10-12 questions, and for a passage like Colossians 3:1-17, that is limiting. If I was preparing to teach that passage, I'd have a lot more. I'm more an incremental teacher, building on small pieces. The approach this course is taking is that a good observation question should have many answers. A yes or no question is not good. I asked a yes or no question on my James assignment, and I was reminded not to. I don't know as if I agree with the general principle that a question with a yes or no answer is always a poor question.

Yesterday, as I was working on a passage from Philippians, I was struggling with my questions. The questions are supposed to be written in such a way that they direct the conversation. This means that I must be envisioning how the discussion will go. One thing I have learned from teaching is that often, the act of speaking can bring into the dialogue things that we don't think of sitting in the quiet of our studies, preparing lessons. Over and over again, while teaching, I have had occasions when, as I speak, something else comes to my thinking. The input of the class members, the discussion, and the act of responding often brings up something I never thought of. When I prepare for teaching, I will often talk through my lessons out loud to myself, and there are many times when more ideas will come to mind as I speak. I'm sure some expert out there could probably explain what kind of cognitive processes are going on in the act of speaking. Whatever it is, speaking often helps writing.

So, here I was yesterday afternoon, struggling with feeling that everything sounded so contrived and scripted, but I finally finished. I did manage to finish one assignment and am half done with the next passage. I stil have to work on a passage from Esther and Luke. I am wondering if I shouldn't be talking to myself as I think of these questions. 


A bible study resource Christian women need

Have you ever tried to find a good bible study for your small group, or for a bible study class? While there is definitely a place for a book study, if you want something that is strictly a bible study, it can be really difficult.

Currently, I am working with a group of young moms, and the study I was given is friendly enough, but the lack of biblical depth is discouraging. There are verses taken out of context, and most verses are just given in isolation without checking the context. It is a topical study about stress and worry, and therefore, much more work than just going through a book of the bible, or even exploring a topic such as forgiveness, grace, or mercy, where there are more concentrated passages that can be explored rather than grabbing a verse and seeing how it fits with the theme. So far, I have managed to work with what I've been given, but it's been a challenge. The study was purchased in good faith by the organizers of the class, but time constraints meant there wasn't time to look closely at it. Some of the women in the study have mentioned that they would enjoy something with more in-depth teaching.

This book is not the only one of its kind. During my time at my seminary class last month, we evaluated many, and there were a lot of studies that while great for opening up sharing and discussion, were light on the biblical content.

As women who want to know God more, I don't see that one must sacrifice biblical content in order to generate meaningful application and discussion. There was one lesson that my co-teacher had to work with which was really just a collection of verses without any unifying thread. She has not had a lot of teaching experience, so it was a challenge for her.

While there are bible studies galore out there for women, I think what needs to be created is material to show a woman how to take a passage of Scripture, study it for herself, and put together a lesson. The course I am taking at the moment is about desiging bible study curriculum, and it does envision a larger scale project, but I think the principles can be used for someone teaching a small group. What I've learned so far has certainly helped me in the preparation of my own lessons.

At the very heart of writing bible studies for women is the study itself. The one who writes the study must love the study, and her study time must be thorough. Her goal should be that her student have solid, biblical understanding. I know there is a real desire among women's bible studies for everyone to share stories, and to develop relationships, and I agree that those things are valuable. But if the majority of the content is simply discussing stories and experienes, when does the understanding of the material come into play? 

I'm sure Christian publishers would be loath to see a slow down in bible study books written for women. Just check out any online Christian bookseller, and you'll see how many there are which are directly geared toward women. How is a woman to choose? He does she know what she's getting? Having well-known Christian writers doesn't necessarily mean the study is going to be rich in biblical content with a balance of personal application. From the studies we reviewed in class, most lean toward either extreme.

Another benefit of women developing their own study material for their local church is that they know their students. Yes, some women will teach hundreds of women, and maybe some students will come from other towns just to participate, and in that case, one must be more general in how she teaches the material. But there are still those of us who teach small, intimate groups, and designing our studies with the women in mind is a valuable thing. There have been many times when I have deliberately directed my lesson a certain way because I know of the needs of my students.

Where I live, there are no big Christian booksellers. I can't just walk into a local bookseller and find a large array of studies for women and look at length at the content. The table of contents does not suffice when looking online. In the past few years as I have been teaching, there is not one book I have purchased that I have not ultimately tailored toward my own students; and that includes the good studies I've purchased.

I hope to continue to learn how to put together bible study material, and share that with others. Many women want to know how to lead a small group and teach, but don't know where to start. They end up relying on leader's guide notes, and in the end, I don't think that is sufficient. The teacher must begin as student.


The us and the we

One of the passages I'm working on for my seminary class is I John 4:7-21. I chose this one myself, since I was given the option of chosing one for the two teaching passages that are due on April 18. I love the book of I John, with all of its imagery of light and dark, and the discussion of love.

One of the first things I have to look for is key words. Of course the word "love" is a key word, but just as important is the word "us," it subjective equal "we," and the possessive "our" are important. There are 21 occurences of such words in this passage. Here are just a few of them: 

  • God manifested his love among us so that we might live through him. (v.9)
  • God loved us and sent his son to be a propitiation for our sins (v.10)
  • If we love love one another God abides in us and his love is perfected in us (v.12)
  • We abide in God and he in us; he has given us his Spirit (v.13)
  • His love is perfected in us so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment (v.17)
  • We love because he loved us first (v.19)

These are very personal references. God's love for us. God's love for me. I've been thinking about that a lot in the last little while. When we go through struggles and stress, others will tell us that we can trust God for the trial because of his love for us. But we do throw that word around a lot. It has almost lost its meaning. To ponder on how God loves me means to look closely at my own life and see the evidences of his love. To ponder on God's love for me means to know how that love was displayed, as v.10: on the cross. And of course, we've just spent the weekend thinking about  that.

I love the study. I love the picking apart of the text, but I have been reminded lately of how easy it is forget how very personal the cross is. It demonstrated God's love for us; for me. May I think about that and may it live inside of my heart.


Finding the meaning

I recently handed in a couple of assignments for my seminary class. I had to take two passages of Scripture, a narrative and a teaching passage, and I had to first observe thorougly, and then develop a set of flow questions that involve observation, interpretation, correlation, and application. Obviously, they had to "flow," i.e., follow a progression that led to the point of the passage being taught.

I found the teaching passage (James 1:1-18) easier to develop interpretation questions for than I did the narrative passage, which was from Mark, the healing of Jairus's daughter and the woman who was bleeding. Jesus healed them; what does that mean? It took me a lot more time and thought.

When we study the bible, attend bible studies, and read books about how to study the bible, I really think understanding how to interpret is pretty important. How the passage meets us where we are and brings biblical principles to bear upon our lives depends on interpretation. There are so many factors involved in interpretation: genre of the text, literary elements, the place of the text in redemptive history, context within the passage as well as within the entirety of the bible. Before we even attempt to interpret, we have to ask ourselves quesetions about the author. What is his intent? How do we discern that?

Hermeneutics textooks abound. I will be taking a hermeneutics class at seminary, but I'm not aware yet what the text is. I have two books on my shelf, both big and daunting, that are on the "read next" section. One is Andreas Köstenberger's Invitation to Biblical Interpretation and Anthony Thiselton's New Horizons in Hermeneutics. I don't know when I'll get to them. Last year I read Kevin VanHoozer's Is There a Meaning in This Text? That was a heavy read. Later today, I hope to take out 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, by Robert Plummer, to refresh my mind with regard to a few interpretation issues.

 When we teach, we want to do more than say, "Look at this pasage; isn't it great? Is there anything we can learn from this?" As teachers, we have to be ready to have an answer ourselves. And teaching is more than just reviewing the story and looking for interesting tidbits that make for entertaining bunny trails. It all comes back to discerning why that was included in the Scripture. What does God want us to understand?

If one is not really interested in plodding through heavy books on hermeneutics, then she must check her conclusions somewhere, and that means a good commentary. There is great value in seeing the work someone else has done. It's great to have many "how to" books on getting into the text, but interpreation is something we must learn as well. And that takes a bit more work. If we don't have the time for it ourselves, we do have to look to those who have the time and ability. I'm really thankful for good commentaries.