I think I am approaching something of a paradigm shift in my approach to preaching and Bible study. Its too early to say yet, but here is what started it off. Last week it hit me like a bolt out of the blue that the way I approach the Bible - and in particular the methods with which I train others to approach the Bible - are often not expressed in biblical categories.
For example I often get to train preachers or Bible study leaders. One part of doing this is to get them to analyse and interrogate the text of scripture, pursuing understanding in order to teach it. And there is nothing wrong with that, its vital. But I am wondering if the tools I use to do it are more academic and technical than biblical. Training people to observe, to consider a text in its context, to interpret, to ponder how to draw lines of application, exegesis, hermeneutics, homiletics. Are these and other tools with which so many of us approach scripture, in themselves scriptural tools?
What would it look like to re-cast them in biblical categories and biblical language? Will it help us if rather than thinking in terms of training in "observation" (a technical exercise, with the capability of doing it to gain knowledge in the abstract) we trained in "gazing" or "meditating on scripture."
Rather than thinking about the meaning of a passage with a category of "biblical interpretation" (which is a grisly concept anyway because it can give the impression that the Bible is some kind of code to be cracked by the expert interpreter) we might do so with a category like "learning to fear God" or "trembling at God's word". The biggest hindrance to understanding the Bible isn't lack of learning or the need for good interpretive tools (godly learning and good interpretive tools are both very positive), it is sin. And the biggest help is fearing God, because the Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and that the one to whom God looks is the contrite person who trembles at his word.
Most of all, will it help us to redefine our end goal of Bible study from the technical category of "understanding" to the spiritual category of "worship"? (This one is a no-brainer).
Maybe I find myself responding to a non-existent issue (except in me!). But with all my heart I don't want to see Bible studies that are a technical exercise in comprehension, but a spiritual exercise in obedience, worship and discipleship. I don't want people leaving after a sermon saying "that was good because I understood" but "we met God." I don't want people saying "I realise that holiness is important" but "I am yearning and aching to live a beautifully holy life."
And I don't want people to understand the extent of their Christian maturity in terms of how much they know, but in terms of how much they love and obey. The Bible says that knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Paul prays not that the Philippians will abound in knowledge but that their love would abound in knowledge and depth of insight.
Perhaps, as I think some more, I will find that is the category I am searching for: Bible studies that aim at love-that-abounds-in-knowledge, because their remit is not primarily developing understanding about God, it is knowing God and delighting in.