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Studying Scripture

May 28, 2012

Several weeks ago on the Gospel Coalition Blog, Jen Wilkin wrote a compelling post on why Bible study doesn’t transform us. She discusses ineffective habits of Bible study, and points out that if the Bible isn’t transforming us, it’s not the Bible’s fault:

There is no deficit in the ministry of the Word. If our exposure to it fails to result in transformation, particularly over the course of years, there are surely only two possible reasons why: either our Bible studies lack true converts, or our converts lack true Bible study.

Wilkin’s point flies in the face of most contemporary sensibilities regarding the study of Scripture and even our approach to corporate worship (or anything at all, really). We generally approach most activities with a consumer mindset- how is this going to affect me? How will this benefit me? How is this going to make me feel better?

Though it’s true that reading the Scriptures will often make us feel better, it’s worth it to ask if that’s really the point of reading them at all. Often, reading the Bible will make us feel pretty uncomfortable, and sometimes, that’s appropriate.

What if the Bible isn’t a self-help manual, or a magic 8 ball that exists to help you make tricky decisions? What if it’s a grand and compelling narrative that we find ourselves in- a true story in which we play a part, but aren’t necessarily the main characters? What if it’s God’s means of communicating with his people?

I wonder if it would’ve been helpful, after pointing out the six ineffective habits of Bible study, for Wilken to address six effective habits of study? There are ways of reading the Bible that are truly helpful for any lay person.

Have you heard of the Charles Simeon Trust? If you’re a Wheatonite, or just a young restless reformed geek, you may have. The Trust exists to train folks to read the Bible using the principles of exposition (linked here for your handy reference), and interestingly, there are six principles to help us “read the Bible for all it’s worth”.

If you’re feeling landlocked in your approach to Scripture, or you feel like it takes some kind of guru to understand it at all, you’re not alone, and you’re not stuck. It’s true that the ministry of the Word is effective, and that ministry isn’t relegated to people with MDivs or collars around their necks. It’s for you.

If the principles of exposition themselves are a little intimidating for ya’, check out the good old-fashioned classic How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (Zondervan, 2003). I had a customer walk in to the store the other day and explain that he’d been reading the Bible for quite some time now but struggled with feeling like it was really inaccessible for him. This is always my first go-to suggestion. Check out the blurb on the back of the book:

Understanding the Bible isn’t for the few, the gifted, the scholarly. The Bible is accessible.

It’s true- this handy reference is a good thing to keep by your side as you crack open the Bible for yourself. As you learn to read it, you begin to see that there are all kinds of crazy rumors about the Bible and “what Paul said” and “what Jesus really meant”. Only when you start to read some of these things in context, using your brain and listening to the Word on its own terms, do you begin to see that there are lots of really wild misconceptions about the Scriptures. Is the Bible really misogynistic? Was St. Paul terribly intolerant? Did Jesus really think he was God, or was he just a really great moral example? Until you take the time to sit down and see for yourself, you might never know, and you might never realize how many crazy rumors have been keeping you from encountering the living and active Spirit of God in the first place.

There are other really awesome resources for approaching the Scriptures in our store. Related to the Simeon Trust is Vaughn Roberts’ God’s Big Picture (subtitle: “Tracing the storyline of the Bible”) (IVP, 2002). This is a great overview and a favorite of some of our staff for understanding, well, the storyline of the Bible- how the different parts fit together and how it’s all about Jesus.

Speaking of the different parts, it’s also worth it to check out Fee & Stuart’s companion guide to How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. The companion book is How to Read the Bible Book by Book and helps readers navigate the many different types of literature in the Bible. Did you know that the Bible is a collection of different books and different types of literary genres? Do you read a letter the same way you read a story? Do you read a pithy, wise, saying the same way you read poetry? If not, then it’s important to know when you’re reading which kind of literature, right? This is a great reference for that.

And speaking of how it’s all about Jesus, there’s a new addition to the Fee/Stuart collection: How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens by  Calvin prof. of Old Testament Michael Williams (Zondervan, 2012). Williams goes through the Bible book-by-book to help readers see how all the Scriptures find their “yes” in Jesus. We hope to have an event in the store sometime to support this title and really hear how Williams–an Old Testament professor nonetheless–sees all the books of the Bible as connected to Christ.

We hope that you don’t avoid the Bible because of archaic language or just a plain feeling of inadequacy. As you explore the Word for yourself, you’ll find that the metaphor of a deep, deep ocean is a fairly apt one for approaching the text. No matter how many times you’ve read it, there are always new depths to sound.

Mention this post at Johnsen & Taylor and receive 20% off any of the listed titles! (Offer good until June 30, 2012).

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2012 8:40 am

    When are you going to post again? You really inform a lot of people!

  2. June 9, 2012 12:40 am

    Thanks for another great post. The place else could anybody get that type of information in such a perfect approach of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such info.

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