Michael Boling – Avoiding Sound-bite Theology and Bible Study

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There is a recurring theme I notice when engaging in conversations with people on social media. This theme presents itself when a passage of Scripture is being discussed, more often than not, a verse or set of verses that is typically well known. Perhaps the issue resides in our familiarity with such passages. Have we read them so many times that our minds tend to gloss over the details and the underlying message being presented, let alone any connections to other similar passages with related themes found elsewhere in Scripture?

I often wonder if this is a result of our sound-bite approach to approaching God’s Word. We tend to think of passages of Scripture in short tweet like concepts, hoping to some degree to have a clever quip to provide someone on social media to win an argument or to demonstrate that we can pull a verse (or at least a portion of one often out of context) from the back of our minds to demonstrate our knowledge of Scripture.

The question we must ask ourselves is this a demonstration of a real commitment to studying the Bible? Are sound-bites the answer or is spending time digging deep into the pages of Scripture, analyzing the details while paying attention to how those details form the mosaic of the larger presentation what God expects from us? I submit it is the latter and here is why I make such a suggestion.

Recently I have been spending a great deal of time digging into the first four chapters of Genesis. Now these are chapters most believers would readily admit they are quite familiar with, especially since most valiantly begin their pursuit of reading through the Bible in a year with these chapters. Most have likely lost count of the number of times they have read the creation story, the account of the fall, or the murder of Abel at the hands of his brother Cain. These events (i.e. creation, fall, etc.) are familiar to us and we can recite from memory the “big ideas” if you will regarding what those events are all about. However, there are a plethora of important details that are often overlooked and questions that often go unasked and unanswered again likely due to our familiarity with these chapters. Questions such as “Why was Eve not surprised when a “Serpent” engaged her in conversation?” or “Why was it important that Adam and Eve saw they were naked and made fig leaf garments to cover themselves?” or “If God said when they ate of the fruit they would die, why did Adam and Eve not immediately die?”. These are just a few questions I have been asking of late and exploring. I will readily admit the study of these questions has resulted in some informative and important connections being made to key issues that flow throughout Scripture.

If taking the time to ask some simple yet probing questions about the text in the first four chapters of Genesis can lead to such depth in Bible study, just imagine what taking the time to engage the rest of Scripture on that level will lead you. Such an approach of course requires far more than sound-bite theology and Bible study, It requires time, patience, the honesty to rethink at times our positions, and a desire to follow the trail of truth wherever the Holy Spirit takes us through the course of our studies.

Here is an example of how this might work. The topic of the New Covenant often comes up in the course of discussion on many Facebook forums I belong to. The statement many make is that Old Covenant being labeled as old necessarily implies this Old Covenant has zero value or relevance for the New Testament believer. A response I typically provide to such a statement involves a series of probing questions designed to focus the conversation on investigation of the text or texts in question. I often ask “What is new about this covenant?”, “Who does Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 10 state this new covenant is made with and why is that important?”, “Where is this new covenant being written and by whom”?, and “What are the terms of this covenant and why is it significant to understand it in terms of a marriage covenant?”. Given these questions interact with key statements in Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Hebrews 10:15-16, the purpose of asking these questions is rooted in focusing the discussion back on the text instead of what we often think the text is saying.

After these questions are addressed and some discussion takes place, the next step in the process is to start looking at what key words such as “new” and “covenant” mean. All this requires is taking a look at a quality Bible dictionary or perhaps an online tool such as www.blueletterbible.org where words meanings and other instances where that same word has been used elsewhere in Scripture can be analyzed. This also provides the opportunity for patterns and principles to be recognized and for the overall flow of thought in Scripture to impact our understanding. This may also require reanalyzing the answers to the questions that were initially asked. Do our answers still remain valid based on the further study of the passage in question and related passages.

This necessarily leads to a focus on application. Once again using the new covenant concept as an example, how does the understanding that has been gained impact how I love God and others? If this covenant is a marriage covenant, how am I being faithful to the terms of that covenant or am I? If the answer is I am not being faithful, what changes need to be made and what does Scripture have to say about that? What is the foundation upon which this marriage covenant is established and why is that important? This of course may certainly lead to another set of passages, another series of probing questions, another analysis of word meanings, and another set of questions regarding application.

This is the nonstop flow of what it means to study, understand, and apply the truth of Scripture to our lives. Does this take time and effort? Absolutely but this is after all what God commands of His people and if we truly love God, spending time in His Word should be a joy and not viewed as a chore. Digging into Scripture versus sound-bite/one-liner Twitter type study should be a no brainer. Spend time in God’s Word. There is a lifetime of treasures to be discovered. Sound-bite theology more often than not leads to half-truths and confused theology. It must be avoided.

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Matthew Harmon – 4 Questions You Should Ask When Reading the Bible

What Questions Are You Asking?

What we get out of the Bible largely depends on the kinds of questions we ask when reading the text. But how do we know what are the right questions to ask? Jesus provided a good starting point when he summarized the two greatest commandments: (1) love God with our whole being, and (2) love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:34–40). From these two commandments we can ask four basic questions to help us grow in our relationship with God.

What Do We Learn about God?

God is the main character of the Bible, the hero of the story. So it makes sense that the first question we ask is what we learn about him. Scripture reveals who God is in at least three different ways.

First, it shows us his character, or his attributes. Sometimes the Bible states these directly (e.g., Isaiah 6:3). At other times you need to infer truths about his character (e.g., 1 Kgs. 22:1–40). Even in a book like Esther, where God is never directly referred to, there is much to learn about him.

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George Guthrie – 4 Simple Steps for Doing Bible Word Studies

George Guthrie

Do you know what you call a person who speaks 3 languages? Trilingual. Do you know what you call a person who speaks 2 languages? Bilingual. Do you know what you call a person who speaks 1 language? An American! (My European friends, most of whom are bi- or trilingual, love that joke). I hope you, if you are an American, are the exception, but the vast majority of us, as Americans, are pretty isolated linguistically, many of us flat out intimidated by languages other than our own. Add the words “Hebrew” and “Greek” to a discussion and we slap the nearest seminary student or permanently ban the word “Lexicon” from ever being spoken in our presence again. I was sitting on a plane a couple of years ago, grading a Ph.D. seminar paper that included a good bit of the original language of the Old Testament. The lady sitting next to me glanced over and said, “It’s Greek to me!” I smiled and responded, “Actually, it’s Hebrew.” Thankfully, she laughed.

But even if you consider yourself linguistically languid, or you can’t tell a Hebrew aleph from a Greek alpha (those are letters of the alphabet), YOU CAN do basic word studies on the Bible. Here’s how.

1. In your passage of choice, pick out 3-4 words to study.

“Which ones?,” you ask. “Such as these,” I reply. (a) Look for words (beyond conjunctions, prepositions, articles, etc.) that are repeated, which is one clue that they contribute in some way to a theme in the passage. For instance, the word normally translated as “content” in Phil. 4:1-13 crops up in verse 11 and again in verse 12. It is an important clue to that passage. (b) Zero in on words that you don’t understand. If you are reading Hebrews 2 and stumble over the word “propitiation” (HCSB) in verse 17, translated as “atonement” by the NIV and NET, write it down as a good candidate for a word study. (c) When you see different translations render a word differently, as in point “b,” that too flags a good word to study. If the translators vary on how best to translate a term, it probably has interesting nuances that will reward probing.

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Ryan Higginbottom – You Are Smart Enough to Study the Bible

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The Quicksand of Comparison

We live in a culture of experts. And in the church we propogate more of the same.

We cite brilliant philosophers and commentators in our sermons. We watch polished teachers on video in Sunday school. Over and over we see examples of those with great training, ability, and insight. They make the Bible come alive.

We compare ourselves to all-stars and find ourselves lacking. How can we compete? If I can learn from experts, why should I study the Bible myself? I’ll never learn as much on my own.

This argument is easy to believe but important to reject. Gifted scholars and communicators are blessings to the church, but they do not replace the need for individual time with the Bible.

Bible study is never about bare facts or ideas. We study the Bible to know Jesus and have eternal life, to love God and obey him. We aren’t cramming for a test; rather, we need God’s truth to sink deep into our souls. Instead of borrowing the work of others, we need to digest and rejoice over the Bible ourselves.

Here’s the bottom line. You don’t need to be smart to study the Bible. As Peter wrote, Bible study “should be simple enough to engage young children yet profound enough to occupy erudite scholars.”

You don’t need seminary training. You don’t need a full bookcase or years of experience or an understanding of Greek and Hebrew. You don’t need a high IQ or a big vocabulary. You don’t even need a high school diploma.

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David Mathis – The Red Herring of Bible Application

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Aringa Rossa

In Dan Brown’s (in)famous The Da Vinci Code, Bishop Aringarosa is the intentional distraction. Throughout the story, he is carefully presented as a suspicious character, but in the end, we discover he is Brown’s pawn to tempt his readers toward wrong conclusions. The bishop was tricked by the real villain. However, perhaps it came as little surprise to those who know Italian, and their literary devices: aringa rossa is Italian for “red herring.”

A red herring is something that distracts, whether intentionally or not, from the real purpose and goal. It can be a logical fallacy or a literary device. Either way, a red herring misleads the audience, or the argument, by presenting itself as plausible, yet does not prove to be what it seems.

I find the same can be said of the common Bible-reading advice that we make sure to take away specific points of application every day. It sounds plausible, but in the end it can be an important distraction.

What Is “Application”?

The common advice is appealing because we all want to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). Who wants to feel the failure or share in the shame of being pegged like one “who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror . . . and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23–24)? It would seem, at first glance, that Bible application is an essential spiritual discipline to consciously pursue every time we encounter God’s Word—but that depends on how we define “application.”

The key question we need to answer is what effect should regular Bible intake have on our hearts and lives—and how does it happen?

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Michael Boling – Doing Investigative Theology: Asking Proper Questions of the Biblical Text

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A result of the trend towards biblical illiteracy and sound-bite approaches to theology is that of the difficulty many have with proper interaction with the biblical text. The big nerdy term for how to interpret Scripture is called hermeneutics. Subsumed within the “big idea” if you will of the discipline of hermeneutics are a number of methodologies for doing sound biblical exegesis. One important method is something I like to call investigative theology – asking the correct questions of the biblical text.

In journalism school, future news reporters are taught the basics of asking the big five questions: who, what, when, where, and why. These questions are intended to ensure all the facts are gathered and reviewed, the important players identified, background information understood, and the reason for what is being reported upon fully grasped. Once all those questions have been asked and the information resulting from asking those questions collated, a news story takes shape and can then be shared.

We can utilize this same approach to investigative journalism to our study of Scripture. Asking the correct questions will help lead us to a proper understanding of what God is telling us in His Word. Now mind you simply asking questions and hoping the answer will magically jump off the pages of your Bible without putting in any level of effort is likely not going to happen. Doing good Bible study takes time and effort and avoiding sound-bite theology is essential. After asking each question, one may find themselves asking additional questions that will lead to related texts that provide another piece to the overall biblical mosaic.

Let’s use the shortest verse in Scripture as a test case for what investigative theology looks like in practice.

John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.”

Who – The first inclination is to respond with the “who” being Jesus. After all, it is Jesus who is weeping. Part of asking “who” involves noting everyone involved or being impacted by the text. In the case of this passage, Jesus is weeping for a reason. Sometimes establishing the rest of the “who” will reveal itself over the course of asking the remainder of the series of questions. This verse is an example of such an instance.
What – The response to this question identifies the action taking place. What do we find Jesus doing in this verse? He is weeping. At this stage, the reason for his tears are not known; however, continuing with the rest of the questions will soon reveal the reason for Jesus’ tears. At this point, merely identify the action taking place. In this case as we have noted, Jesus is weeping.

When – This question explores the timing of the event. In the case of John 11:35, at what point in the ministry of Jesus did this even take place? Even matters such as the time of day, time of year, or any other timing markers that may be provided in the text should be identified. In our test text, there are now indications of when. This will require us then to look at the surrounding context for an answer. Jesus wept after he saw the dead body of his friend Lazarus.

Where – When asking where, the need is to identify the location of the event. Our text does not provide a location so once again, we have to look at the surrounding context. If you scan up to John 11:18 it is clear that Lazarus lived in Bethany. Jesus journeyed from Jerusalem to Bethany.

Why – This particular question involves digging into the immediate and surrounding context in order to explore the reason Jesus wept. We have a limited understanding based on the previous questions, most notably that Lazarus had died and when Jesus saw the dead body of his friend, he then wept. If we simply stop there without asking any additional questions, we will miss some important matters found in the overall context. When asking why, there is the inherent need to first engage the immediate verse and after looking at all the facets of what that verse provides, to then step back to the surrounding verses for information and then to even step back to the overall chapter, book, location in the overall biblical text, and even as far back as how this verse fits into the overall flow of Scripture.

In fact, asking why is arguably one of the most important questions one can ask of the text. A warning though when asking why involves staying rooted in the information provided in the verse, context, chapter, book, and Scripture. Why can sometimes lead people down rabbit trails. At times, those rabbit trail journeys are worthwhile provided it properly informs the understanding of the text. For instance, there is much to be gleaned from even a two word verse such as John 11:35. It is a power packed passage that speaks to the humanity and divinity of Jesus. He identified with our sadness by weeping over the death of his friend while at the same time revealing his power of death by raising Lazarus from the grave. Asking why leads to the identification of those two important truths. Asking why helps us understand the reason Jesus delayed in coming to Bethany. Those are rabbit trails that are of value. On the other hand, if you ask the question of why and it leads you in this case to a study of the social structure of ancient Bethany, then perhaps you have gone done a rabbit trail that does not provide information germane to the immediate text you are engaging.

Doing investigate theology is not the end all of sound Bible study and exegesis. It will however enable you to identify key information about the text. That information can then serve as a solid foundation for further and more in-depth study. I encourage you to practice doing investigative theology with smaller passages such as John 11:35 and then move on to more complicated texts once you have the hang of working through these questions. Keep track of what you discover as many times what you discover in one text will inform and grow your understanding of other related texts.

So get out there and investigate God’s Word! It is well worth the time and effort.

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Michael Boling – Reflections on and Encouragements for Reading Scripture

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At the beginning of 2015, I set out on a quest to read through the entire Bible in a year. I chose to try and read the text chronologically, and to blog my thoughts each day. Unfortunately, about halfway through the year I had to step aside from that quest due to an increased load at work and a variety of events taking place at home. I intend on picking up where I left off and to continue that journey through Scripture however long possible during 2016, so be on the lookout for that in the New Year. We will see how far we can make it through Scripture next year.

I wanted to share a few thoughts on what that journey through Scripture earlier in the year taught me. Hopefully these thoughts will help you consider embarking on your own walk through Scripture.

1. All parts fit into the larger whole. It is often tempting to take apart Scripture thematically or to split it into two unrelated halves. This approach presents itself for instance when we study something like sin and salvation. The temptation is to race to Romans without first establishing why sin is an issue, something that can only be done by rooting oneself in Genesis for a time. The underlying message of redemption weaves its way through all of Scripture. Even when reading the Old Testament prophetic books or those seemingly boring chapters in Leviticus on how God wanted His people to deal with skin rashes, one can note the flow of the promise of redemption. Never neglect the greater whole in your zeal to engage the specific parts of Scripture.

2. The more you read the Bible, the more you discover. I have been reading Scripture since I was a young lad. Now I am not the oldest feller on the block as I am only 42. But over the years, be it in Sunday School as a child or attending Seminary as an adult or be it simply reading a passage I have read 50 times before, there is always something new that jumps off the page. There are connections that can be made and lessons learned anew which proves God’s Word is active and pierces down to the innermost parts of our lives.

3. God’s Word is never boring. Arguably, the part of Scripture where most become derailed on their yearly Bible reading journey is the books of the law with Leviticus likely being the greatest stop off point. This used to happen to me as well. Either I stopped reading or I hurried through that part of Scripture so I could get to the action packed books of Joshua and Judges. Even Ruth was often considered boring as it was in the way of getting to the story of David and Goliath. It was not until I took the time to walk verse by verse through Ruth that I discovered the aforementioned reality – the message of redemption is woven through every single book of the Bible. Paying attention to that truth helped me realize that the dietary laws and the seemingly endless chapters on the sacrificial system are not boring. They play an important part in the greater message God reveals to us in His Word.

4. There is great value in setting aside the commentaries and simply reading the Bible. I have written on this issue several times before; however, I feel it is important to state yet again the value in simply reading Scripture and setting aside the commentaries for a bit. Keep handy a quality Bible dictionary and a concordance and use the tools provided in a good study Bible. Let God speak to you through the Holy Spirit and be a diligent workman. Don’t let others do your thinking for you right off the bat when it comes to the more difficult (or even easier) passages. Do the hard work of reading, meditating, making the needed connections, and most importantly, applying the truth of Scripture to your life.

5. Application is key. Head knowledge is not what reading the Bible is all about. We are to hide God’s Word in our hearts so that it permeates our life in order for its truths to be reflected in how we think, speak, and live. One can know all the intricacies and can be able to give a talk on all the really cool nerdy aspects of Scripture yet fail to know anything about Scripture. Seem conflicting? Not really. There is a difference between knowing and knowing God. We can know His Word in the academic sense, yet fail to know Him in the relational sense. When we read Scripture, look at it as God having a conversation with you. In your zeal to dig into the specifics, don’t forget that in the end, the more we know about Scripture the closer it should draw us to a deeper relationship with our Creator.

God’s word is never dull. The more I read it the more exciting it becomes and the more I want to learn about it, and the more I want to share with others what I am learning. As we get closer to 2016, I encourage you to begin thinking about how you will embark on your own journey through Scripture next year. There is no requirement to get through the whole thing in a year. Perhaps you might want to do a little biblical theology and trace a theme wherever it leads you in Scripture. You could root yourself in a book you have never read before such as that long forlorn Habakkuk. Maybe you might want to study a particular individual in Scripture such as Abraham, David, or Peter. There are a number of approaches one can take. The most important thing is that you do something besides letting your Bible sit on the coffee table or bookshelf, only to be removed on Sunday mornings as part of your church outfit. Make it a part of your daily life for it is food for our souls and is an unending well of living water to those who will take the time to eat and drink from it.

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D. A. Carson- How to Read the Bible and Do Theology Well

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It’s been said that the Bible is like a body of water in which a child may wade and an elephant may swim. The youngest Christian can read the Bible with profit, for the Bible’s basic message is simple. But we can never exhaust its depth. After decades of intense study, the most senior Bible scholars find that they’ve barely scratched the surface. Although we cannot know anything with the perfection of God’s knowledge (his knowledge is absolutely exhaustive!), yet because God has disclosed things, we can know those things truly.

Trying to make sense of parts of the Bible and of the Bible as a whole can be challenging. What kind of study should be involved when any serious reader of the Bible tries to make sense of the Bible as a whole? Appropriate study involves several basic interdependent disciplines, of which five are mentioned here: careful reading, biblical theology (BT), historical theology (HT), systematic theology (ST), and pastoral theology (PT). What follows looks at each of these individually and shows how they interrelate—and how they are more than merely intellectual exercises.

Careful Reading

“Exegesis” is the word often used for careful reading. Exegesis answers the questions, “What does this text actually say?” and “What did the author mean by what he said?” We discover this by applying sound principles of interpretation to the Bible.

Fundamental to reading the Bible well is good reading. Good readers pay careful attention to words and their meanings and to the ways sentences, paragraphs, and longer units are put together. They observe that the Bible is a book that includes many different styles of literature—stories, laws, proverbs, poetry, prophecy, history, parables, letters, apocalyptic, and much more. Good readers follow the flow of texts. For example, while it is always worth meditating on individual words and phrases, the most important factor in determining what a word means is how the author uses that word in a specific context.

One of the best signs of good exegesis is asking thoughtful questions that drive us to “listen” attentively to what the Bible says. As we read the text again and again, these questions are progressively honed, sharpened, corrected, or discarded.

Biblical Theology

BT answers the question, “How has God revealed his word historically and organically?” BT studies the theology of individual biblical books (e.g., Isaiah, the Gospel of John), of select collections within the Bible (e.g., the Pentateuch, wisdom literature, the Gospels, Paul’s letters, John’s writings), and then traces out themes as they develop across time within the canon (e.g., the way the theme of the temple develops, in several directions, to fill out a “whole Bible” theology of the temple). At least four priorities are essential:

1. Read the Bible progressively as a historically developing collection of documents. God did not provide his people with all of the Bible at once. There is a progression to his revelation, and to read the whole back into some early part may seriously distort that part by obscuring its true significance in the flow of redemptive history. This requires not only organizing the Bible’s historical material into its chronological sequence but also trying to understand the theological nature of the sequence.

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Dr. John MacArthur – How To Enjoy Bible Study

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How to Enjoy Bible StudyThere’s nothing I enjoy more than studying the Bible. Yet it has not always been that way. My real passion for studying Scripture began when as a college student, I made a commitment to explore the Bible in earnest. I found that the more I studied, the more my hunger for Scripture grew. Here are three simple guidelines that have helped me to make the most of my study time.

Read the Bible

First, I begin with reading the Bible. That seems obvious, but quite frankly, it’s where many people fail. Too many Christians are content with a second-hand knowledge of Scripture. They read books about the Bible instead of studying the Bible for themselves. Books are good, but collateral reading can never replace the Bible itself.

There are many good Bible reading plans available, but here is one I’ve found most helpful. I read through the Old Testament at least once a year. As I read, I note in the margins any truths I particularly want to remember, and I write down separately anything I don’t immediately understand. Often I find that as I read, my questions are answered by the text itself. The questions to which I can’t find answers become the starting points for more in-depth study using commentaries or other reference tools.

I follow a different plan for reading the New Testament. I read one book at a time repetitiously for a month or more. I began doing this when I was in seminary, because I wanted to retain what was in the New Testament and not always have to depend on a concordance to find things.

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Jen Wilkin – Why The Sermon is Not Enough

If you’ve spent much time in church, you may have noticed that more seats are filled on Christmas and Easter than on an average Sunday. Many of us may have grown up as church CEOs—Christmas and Easter Only attendees—sharing in the mindset that by attending on these dates we had fulfilled our religious duty for the year. If you think about it, that’s a little like a college student who shows up only for midterms and finals thinking he’ll be able to pull off a passing grade.

But even faithful attendees of weekly worship can overestimate what our attendance accomplishes, particularly if our weekly investment in learning Scripture begins and ends with listening to a sermon. In doing so, we’re a bit like a college student who comes to lecture every week but does nothing outside of class to reinforce what he learns. Neglecting the syllabus, this student just shows up each week, listens to the lecture, and goes home. No matter how good the lectures are, his grasp of the subject will only go so far.

Going Deeper
It occurs to me that the children of God have been given a syllabus: love God’s law, meditate on it day and night, hide it in your heart, reap the profitability of all of it. Yet many of us are content to just show up each week for lecture. We might do a Bible reading plan or a devotional time during the week, but do we make an earnest study of the syllabus material?

What if we became more like the college student who comes to the lecture but also takes time to dig deeper? Who broadens his understanding of the lecture by personal study time and dialogue with other students?

Because the sermon is not enough to teach us the knowledge of Scripture.

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