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Entries in Bible Study (110)


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. 


What is the goal for women's bible study?

That question was the one of the first questions we discussed last week at my seminary class. Before we could even begin to discuss how to write a bible study for women, we had to ask ourselves what is the goal. The way the question was phrased at one point in our discussion was, "What kind of women we do want to be?" The answer was that we want to be women who love the word of God. Any bible study we undertake should leave us loving the word of God. 

Get into the text

As we discussed how to implement a study that would leave a woman as one who loves God's word and wants to meditate upon it day and night, we concluded that the study must contain a lot of interaction with the text. While there is room for preaching (where others exposit the text for us), there is room for women interacting with the text themselves. Therefore, bible study should contain a lot of interaction with the text. A lot.

But bible study is more than an academic exercise. What is the point of having in-depth interaction with the text if it does not change us? That is another goal of bible study: to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. That means that bible study must be done with a mind to applying the truths to our own lives. Application is based on observing and interpreting the text, and that takes work.

As we studied the bible passages with the goal of producing lessons, we practiced observing the text, interpreting the text, corrrelating the text, and then applying the text. This can be a very lengthy process. One of my assignments will be to develop a set of flow questions, which include observation, interpretation, correlation, and application questions, on Mark 5:21-43. I began working with this passage in class last week, and I'm still working on it. Reading and re-reading, looking for things like contrasts, cause and effect, progression, comparisons, etc. This is similar to Precept's approach; it's inductive study.

We concluded that a good bible study will have the student engaging in a lot of observation before interpreting, and that the student will work toward her own interpreations, even if she does need a little help. Of course, commentaries are not suggested until the student has done her own study, and that's always how I have worked.  

Reviewing other bible studies

On the last morning, we reviewed bible studies which are published. We were each given one to look at, and were encouraged to flip through it and evaluate the study based on the balance between biblical depth and group dynamics. Of course, many were good with group dynamics and light on interacting with the text. Many of them asked more "feeling" type questions than they did observation and interpretation questions. 

One of the women had a study by Beth Moore, her study on James. We actually spent a fair bit of time discussing that as she gave her report. Many of the women there had done Moore's studies before. What was seen was that while Moore's studies do focus on a passage of Scripture, frequently there contains more of Moore's commentary than there does opportunity for the student to dig into the text, especially when it comes to thoroughly observing the text. In one example, the student was asked two or three questions, but that was followed by Moore's commentary. It was basically like watching Moore exegete the text, not having the student do it. Commentary is always more meaningful when we've done our own indepth study first. 

Doing studies with Moore may be good for a new student of Scripture, who feels uncertain about doing her own study, but for someone who really wants to dig into the text, we felt it wasn't the best option. A number of the women there said they started out doing Moore's studies, and ended up leaving them for something with more interaction with the text and less commentary. There was never anything negative said about Moore, and the other aspects of her ministry which has often been critiqued were not mentioned. We looked at it strictly from what is the best way to get a woman into the text of Scripture.

I have worked through a couple of Moore's studies. I have concerns with them. But from now on, when someone asks me about doing them, I will mention what I have learned. For getting into the text, they just aren't the best option. If you're not looking to engage deeply with the text, but want to watch someone else exegete the material, that's a different goal altogether.


Exalted Christology

I've been reading from Peter O'Brien's commentary on Ephesians as I prepare to teach on Sunday. I'll be looking at Ephesians 2:1-10.

In v.6, Paul tells his readers that they have been raised with Christ and seated in the heavenly places with him. Earlier in 1:19-22, Paul described the power of God as being evident in his raising Christ and seating him in the heavenly places. What God has done for Christ, he has done for believers.

Being in "heavenly places" is more than a reference to a future with the Lord. We are seated with Christ right now. The immeasurable power of God which raised Christ is active in our lives right now. O'Brien elaborates on this:

According to 1:19-22 Paul praises God's incomparably great power by which he raised and exalted Christ to a position 'far above' every level of the powers. Now this exalted Christology is applied directly to the readers of the letter. Because they  have been identified with Christ in his resurrection and exaltation, they, too have a position of superiority and authority over the evil powers. They no longer live under the authority and coercion of the 'ruler of the kingdom of the air' (2:2). The implications are clear: since they have been transferred from the old dominion to the new reign of Christ, they do not have to succumb to the evil one's designs. The power of God which raised Jesus from the dead is now available to them as they live in the world.

This is good news for us. We do not have to be dragged down by sin. We do not have to be victims of the sin in the world. We do not have to be tarnished by the brush of ungodliness. It's a choice to forsake those things that are evil, even the smallest thing. It may mean making hard choices, but we are not powerless to do this. We were powerless to bring ourselves back to life from spiritual death, but now that we are in Christ, we can rest in his power.