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Entries in Kathleen Nielson (5)


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.  



From Bible Study:  Following the Ways of the Word, by Kathleen Buswell Nielson:

How amazing that God has not turned away and withdrawn his word to a human race that has been made up of rebels against that word since Adam and Eve disobeyed his command in the garden of Eden.  But God did not stop speaking.  He came to Adam and Eve and spoke a promise that one day the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the evil serpent who introduced sin into the world.  The entire remainder of the bible reveals the working out of that promise, ultimately fulfilled in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ the Son of God.  God overflows with words for us.  He doesn't hide; he reveals himself and pours himself out through his word as he speaks to us, by his Spirit, ultimately through Christ.


Becoming better bible readers

At the Gospel Coalition Conference,  I attended both of the workshops by Kathleen Nielson.  They were both excellent, and all too short, despite being an hour long.  I found myself wishing that the entire week was devoted to learning to better study the bible.

Nielson had available a handout that listed resources to help us read better.  In addition to this, Nielson reminded us of the value of reading over and over again.  There is no substitute for it.  All of the resources to help us read more effectively will be of little use if we only read the bible in sporadic bites.  We need to read long sections when we have the time.  Of course, this is easy for me to say, because I don't have small children, nor do I have employment outside of my home.  I am blessed (and I know I am blessed!) to have more time to do this now.  Of course, it was not always this way. I had my season of raising small children, and I know it is hard.  However, I would encourage young mothers to evaluate how they use their time.  We definitely don't want to neglect our children in order to read more; I don't think God expects us to do that.  But I have known young mothers who bemoan their lack of study time to say in the very next breath how they are getting together "with the girls" to scrapbook or do stamping, or read Jane Austen together.  It is often a matter of priority.  Okay, I'm off my soapbox now.

Nielson's second session was about poetic forms, and the importance of understanding those forms as a means to understanding the large amount of poetry found in Scripture.  It was her assertion, and I agree, that today we have a general lack of poetic understanding.  Poetry today seems to be relegated to the venue of the English major rather than as an enjoyment for all.  That is in part because we are not in an oral tradition any longer.  Most people would rather skim the poem online rather than read it out loud and savour the sound. Poetry is an auditory vehicle.  It is aimed at the ear.  There was a time when families may have enjoyed sitting down together to listen to poetic reading.  If you tried that at a dinner party now, I'm afraid it would not go over well.  I remember in the movie Sense and Sensibility, Edward Ferrars is reading Shakespeare's "Sonnet 116" out loud and Marianne Dashwood critiques him.  Scenes like that rather remain in the movies.  Even in literature classes today, the poetry is "survived" by the majority of students rather than savoured.

In her handout, Nielson recommends reading a book of poetry.  She suggests an anthology of poetry for students to read to be re-acquainted with poetic forms.  The intent is not to pick the poem apart; the intent is just to become familiar and relish with the sound of language.  I have decided to work on that myself.  I do like poetry, but no, I don't read it much anymore.  When we homeschooled, we did read poems out loud and we memorized.  I want to return to that again.  I don't plan on purchasing a new book for myself, because I have enough books like that already.  I have lots of poetry books, too.  What I did find was the poetry anthology I used in my last year of high school, An Anthology of Verse.  There are selections from a wide variety of time periods and styles.  I'm going to try and read a poem every day, silently and out loud.  

The bible is language, and language is alive.  We have become a people who sees language as only a means of transmitting information, not as something to be pondered over more deeply.  I often wonder if that has not spilled over into how we read the bible.

Without further adieu, here is a poem I read this morning, "Sonnet," by William Wordsworth:

The World is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gather'd now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. - Great God!  I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn, -
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight ofo Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. 


The importance of words

I came home from the Gospel Coalition Conference with books.  There were lots of freebies.  Actually, the majority of the books with which I came home were freebies.  I did, however, pick up three copies of Kathleen Nielson's new book Bible Study.  Following the Ways of the Word.  I purchased two for my friends and one for me. If I had come away with nothing else but this book, I would have been happy, because that was the only book I really wanted.  The other were rather like icing on the cake.

This book seeks to answer the central question, "What is Bible Study?"  Nielson points out in the introductory section that many people are engaged in bible study, but that the kinds of study have a wide range.  There are students who have little working knowledge and there are those who have a lot.  Nielson's goal is to determine what general criteria are essential for what can be called bible study.

I like that question, and I think it's important.  Right now, many bible studies consist of reading someone else's view of the bible and then studying that book.  Just take a look at the various curriculum based on the book of someone else.  Please don't misunderstand; I do see merit in studying, for example, a book like The Gospel According to Jesus, by John MacArthur.  I know there are study books based on that excellent volume. However, there is also a place for serious focus on the text.  If it's one thing I've become quite conviced of it's that I need to look at the text more, and that may involve actually becoming familiar with the original languages if need be.

In this introductory section, Nielson talks about perceptions we have as we approach this topic, approaches concerning the role of the church, the role of authority, and the place of words, specifically how we regard words.  Nielson points out that in our current society, we tend to interpret words from the starting point of our own personal contexts rather than from an objective view of truth and meaning.  She believes that there has to be some sense of a common understanding of what words mean.  She refers to Vern Poythress's book In the Beginning Was the Word:

Poythress reminds us that words, any words, have meaning only in relation to the God who exiss and who spoke the universe into being by his Son, with the breath of the Spirit.  Human beings use words meaningfully because they image God their Creator, whether they acknowledge this or not.

She goes on to comment on the implications of this:

The implications of all this for Bible study are huge.  If we study with the assumption that we as readers use our individual contexts and experiences to shape our own meanings from the words, then Bible study will consist mainly of a series of personal reactions and opinions.  The dance will be chaotic and, in the end, narcissistic.

Clearly, words, and their meanings, are important.

I'm looking forward to diving into this book.