After the last post on Bible study Phil C. asked:
Thanks for this post. It describes how I've been approaching studies for a long time. I've been trying to break out of the "analyse-and-understand-the-text" mode but am struggling.
Any practical advice?
Here are a few thoughts. When I am preparing a Bible study, message or even a lecture from the Bible I start with two questions that will be very familiar to those who have had some training in a conservative British environment:
1. What did this passage say to it's original hearers?
2. What did this passage mean to its original hearers?
Good questions that take into account the fact that we need to think as clearly as we can about the context to which scripture was originally given. Lots of my early teachers encouraged me to construct out of these a "theme sentence". Can I sum up in one concise statement the main thrust of the passage. Also a good exercise.
The problem that I faced for years was that I stopped there. I spent so much time on this - admitedly important - part of the preparation that I didn't have time or inclination to go any further. Which led me in the direction of delivering historical lectures rather than really good Bible studies and sermons.
Now, however, I add some additional questions. The first two are still crucial and I never bypass them. But I believe they are insufficient on their own. Here are my additional questions:
3. What was this passage written in order to achieve?
4. How does this part of God's word intend to draw forth faith from my heart and my hearers hearts?
This leads me to construct some additional sentences. Moving on from my "theme sentence" I like to also write a "power sentence" - asking what is the power of this passage, and why does it have that power? And an "aim sentence" - "how will my Bible study let the passage achieve what it was written to achieve? How will my Bible study lead to faith rising in people's hearts as they encounter God in the word?"
These latter questions need to form the heart of any Bible study because the aim of no passage of scripture is that we merely understand what it meant to its original hearers. It is that we meet God and become doers of the word. If we leave our preparation with the first two questions our studies will be unapplied, interesting (perhaps) but essentially an exercise in education. Instead they need to be an exercise in discipleship. We need to know what it says in order to follow, and the following and the worshipping is the desired end result, not the comprehension.
I finished the previous post saying we need to comprehend for the sake of applying to our lives for the sake of adoation, faith rising, worhsip and discipleship/following. We need to cast an eye over our Bible studies and ask ourselves whether they are achieving this end goal. This application is the whole point of doing a Bible study. The aim of no text of scripture is that we merely know stuff. Those starting to learn how to do Bible studies need to spend a lot of time getting to grips with how a passage works, but they mustn't stop there assuming that when they do the job is done. That's only half way there.
And over everything we need to worship over the Bible as we prepare, bow the knees of our hearts before God as he reveals himself, and pray that he will so reveal himself in our studies that others will worship and bow as well.