Back in my day…
I know, all you young whippersnappers cringe when us old fogeys start talking about how it used to be, about the good old days when we walked five miles to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways. And I know that we often see with the fuzzy eyes of nostalgia. In fact, I’m convinced that there are many ways in which the church of today is healthier and better than the church of my youth. A true curmudgeon would never admit such a thing, of course, so I’ve not arrived at that place yet.
Having said that, I’d like to point out a modern trend that I find slightly disturbing.
It seems to me that simple Bible study – when we open a Bible and study it together – is slowly vanishing from the church.
Oh, we have studies and we call them Bible studies, but the primary source of the study is often a book or curriculum about the Bible, not the Bible itself. The Ladies ministry has “Bible Studies” but they are really studies the thoughts and writings of Beth Moore or Mary Kassian or Lysa TerKeurst or Liz Curtis Higgs or some other well-known author and speaker. I’m not particularly offended by any of those ladies and I’m sure there is lots to be gleaned from their books and study guides. Men gather and study some book about being godly men and there’s nothing wrong with that! I even hear of preachers who do series based not on a book of the Bible, but based on someone’s book about the Bible. Small groups use this book or that study. And, in full disclosure, my life was radically changed at a pastors’ conference when we studied Henry Blackaby’s “Fresh Encounter” series, and later the “Experiencing God” curriculum was instrumental in a time of revival in my church in Cedar Rapids.
I am not opposed to Christian books, discipleship curricula and such things.
But I am just wondering, “Where did all the Bible study go?”
Back in college, I was a young loudmouthed preacher boy. Some folks asked me if I might “teach a Bible study” on a weekly basis. I took a crack at it. I was a Bible study novice and the only thing I knew to do was get a Bible, study it, and teach it to the unfortunate people who showed up. I tackled the book of James. Somewhere, I still have the notes from my study and it’s embarrassing to read them. But we had a Bible Study and we studied the Bible. We had no video curriculum (believe it or not, this was prior to the days of the VHS and no one had ever heard of Microsoft), no study guides, none of the aids that we depend on so much today. I just dug into my Bible and tried to share what I learned with others. There was a time when that was what Sunday School was. People studied the Bible, not quarterlies, and taught God’s Word to God’s people.
I realize (as I said, I still have the notes, so it is painfully clear) that my Bible study on James in 1976 was nowhere near as deep or insightful as the 100s of Bible curricula available today. But it was the product of my labor in the Word and I think there might be something to the process of actually digging into the Word, not just someone else’s insight into the Word, that is healthy. Could there be value to a teacher sharing the fruit of his own studies of God’s Word as compared to just being a “facilitator” for a discussion of opinions about the third chapter of the latest John Piper book?
I’m trying to avoid dogmatism on this. I recognize the value these books and curricula have. But I’m not sure that what we gain from them is always worth what we lose when our teachers have invested more time in understanding the words of the latest bestselling author than they have in mining the Word of the Author of life.
Dr. Howard Hendricks had a little saying in our Bible Study methods class.
“It’s amazing how much light the Bible sheds on commentaries.”
Cute, I know, but he makes a crucial point. He reinforced it by not allowing us to use study Bibles in that class. All we were allowed was a bare text. He emphasized observation of the text as the first step in understanding God’s Word. No, he didn’t emphasize it – he drove the point home with a 10 pound sledge hammer. Read the text, observe it – before you check other peoples’ opinions and insights. Let the Spirit be your first teacher. After you have studied, after you have labored over the text and figured it out, then you consult the wisdom of the wise (often to see where you went astray).
Permit me to make a point that was recently highlighted in the international journal, “Duh!”
Bible Study should probably begin with and focus on studying the Bible!
Beth Moore or David Platt or Henry Blackaby or whomever else melts your butter can give you some insights into the Word, but ought we not be studying the Author, not just the authors who write to illuminate the words of the Author?
Maybe I’m just getting old…