I still don't know whether provocative titles like this one are such a good idea...
I think I have decided I don't like what passes for a lot of Bible study.
Let me be VERY clear: I LOVE the Bible. What I am starting to find a little bit suspect is the "study" part. Not because we shouldn't pour over the scriptures, meditating on them, hiding them in our hearts, thinking about God's word day and night, grasping the meaning, earnest to appropriate it and live it and obey it. But rather because I am not sure that "study" has those connotations for a lot of people.
In our current educational climate "study" more naturally carries the connotation of dissection-for-comprehension. Rather than searching in order to meet God. It suggests that coming to the Bible is primarily an exercise in increased knowledge rather than increased love for God.
You might think I am making a mountain out of a mole hill. Well, maybe. But here is where I think the issue becomes very important: when we are training leaders, especially Bible study leaders. Our understanding of the desired end result will completely affect how we train them. If we think that comprehension is the goal, that will determine the content of our training. If we think that encountering God, exulting in him, adoring and obeying and witnessing is the goal then the training will look different.
One mistake I used to make when training students and student leaders was to come at the process from the wrong end. I reasoned thus:
1. My end goal is to get people to the point where they can approach the text with sufficient skill that they can teach it. That's a good and important thing to be able to do, but it is a bad mistake to assume it is the end goal
2. Therefore the curriculum circulated entirely around exegetical tools. Good exegetical tools are essential to have in the Christian leader's tool box, but they aren't the only ones. The tools I gave people assumed that their task was to teach comprehension. And because that was the tools they had, that was what they did
3. And here is the nub - because that was my curriculum, and because that was what they subsequently taught, that was what we assumed the end result should be. We assumed that was the goal because that was what we knew how to do. The assumption became systemically built in. It was a perfect example of not being able to see the fault in your system because it ran right to the foundation. Having assumed the foundation was correct I assumed everything built on it was correct too.
We all build from our foundational assumptions. Having built a lot on top of them it becomes increasingly difficult to consider whether they were correct. Too much is at stake. We always need to be able to check foundations. Here is my foundation now: God's chief goal is the display and magnification of the glory of his grace so that he is worshipped, adored, followed and obeyed. Therefore Bible reading is a servant of that task. Therefore Bible group leaders are servants of that task. Therefore my training of Bible group leaders must help their goal be God's chief goal. Therefore if I stop at merely helping them underdstand how to teach the workings of the text my training is insufficient and possibly misleading.
There are two main sorts of Bible study in the new Testament. We find examples in Matthew 22 or John 5 where Jesus tells extremely scripturally well-versed religious leaders that they don't know the scriptures. He can't mean that they don't know what the text says - they could recite it perfectly. He means that they missed the whole point because they obsessed about the text rather than who is was about.
And we find the contrasting example in Acts 17 where we are told that the Bereans received the word with all eagerness, searching the scriptures to see if it was true.
That is the difference: you can search the scriptures uselessly because you are merely interested in comprehending the text, or you can search with all eagerness to your eternal profit because you have received the word in your heart.
What word shall we use that carries better connotation that "study"? Enjoying God through the Word? Bible searching groups? Bible-for-adoration sessions. All a bit of a mouthful. Maybe there isn't a better phrase than Bible study. But if we use it let's make very sure people get that it is about knowing and worshipping God rather comprehension. Understanding leading to application leading to adoration.