How do I teach Bible study?

I have found that many who think they know a lot about the Bible really do not know how to study it; they know “catechism” answers or Sunday School answers: “I don’t know but the answer must be Jesus, grace, or heaven” – but they don’t know how to wrestle with the text. They want someone to give them the answer.

To move people beyond that shallow approach I use a method similar to what my NT Professor, Robert Hoerber, used in his classes at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He took us through the Biblical material using leading questions to get us into the text itself. Such Bible study encourages regular use of the Bible, rather than relying on a study book. I have outlined an initial Bible study curriculum for a congregation that builds on that approach.

I start with a “Basics of the Christian Faith” class following the outline of Luther’s Catechism; this Bible study usually takes 20-26 weeks depending on class discussion – and I allow any question. The handouts list only Bible verses, so that we are forced to look up the Biblical text, which we then discuss. That process does two things: 1) it gets them familiar with the Bible and 2) it gives them confidence in finding passages. Many of the people who have gone through this course have no Christian background and do not even know why there are large numbers (chapters) and the raised numbers (verses) in the text.

Then, as a follow-on to the Basics class, I developed a 12 week course, “How to Study and Understand the Bible”. The basic idea is to cover proper principles of interpretation. An excellent additional resource is the book by David Kuske (see Resources at the end). Again, my study primarily uses an outline form with Biblical references only. I introduce the students to aids to Bible study, such as concordances, atlases, word studies, etc.

These two courses are followed by two Bible studies I wrote (back in 1991 based on LifeLight model) that complement one another and build upon the knowledge of the previous two: “Old Testament Survey” (covering ~60% of the Old Testament) and “New Testament Survey” (covering most of the New Testament). Each Bible study is a 12 week course, ~40 pages in length. The study pages have Bible references for daily readings and questions related to those texts – nothing else. Prior to the class meeting each participant reads the assigned Biblical texts and answers three pages of questions for the week. They have to read the text in order to answer the questions; there are no short cuts. This type of Bible study is very intense because there are Biblical readings/questions everyday. These two survey classes give them the sense of the themes, unity, theology, and direction of God’s revelation (and both are very Christo-centric studies!). Added benefits are that they develop confidence in their own ability to participate fully in Bible study, and that they develop a regular Bible study time in their daily lives.

These four courses form the foundation for more detailed Bible study, specifically concentrating on individual books of the Bible.

When we study the actual books of the Bible, I seldom use a handout, unless there is a specific need (for instance, a table form that the people fill out for the churches in Revelation 2-3 or the plagues in Exodus 6-10). That is, we use the text and work through it. My own study notes range anywhere from 75 pages single spaced for a smaller book like Ephesians to 100-200 pages for Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Matthew, John, Romans, Revelation…

Again, I allow any kind of question, if it’s related to the text in some way, which causes the people to think through the text and its meaning, and ultimately its application. If they don’t ask questions, I do! But I don’t always answer right away. I will typically respond with “How would we go about finding the answer?” – not referring to the location in the Bible, but the method of study (cross-references, concordance, dictionary, atlas, etc.). Then we work through it. Such Bible study encourages personal study and growth.

So my goal for Bible study is two-fold: 1) force everyone into the text itself, and 2) question them, so that they begin to use the tools, or point to the tools that will aid them in understanding the text.

Additional Resources:

Reading the New Testament for Understanding, Robert Hoerber (CPH)
Biblical Interpretation: The Only Right Way by David Kuske (NPH)
LifeLight Series (CPH)
Teaching Bible Classes: A Top Priority by Eldor Haake
Reading the Bible with Understanding by Lane Burgland (CPH)

Does Doctrine Matter?

Francis Pieper offered some guidelines to examine doctrine (teachings of the Bible), Christian Dogmatics. The Fundamental Doctrines distinguish Christians from non-Christians. Secondary Doctrines flow from the Fundamental Doctrines,a nd distinguish one Christian group from another.

Fundamental Doctrines (essential to faith)

A person is saved by God’s grace alone, by what Christ has done alone, and is received by faith alone. Therefore, saving faith includes:

1. Knowledge of sin and the consequences (eternal damnation)
2. Knowledge of the Person of Christ (true God and true Man)
3. Knowledge of the Work of Christ (redemption)
4. Faith in the Word of Christ (faith accepts the forgiveness of sins offered by the Word)
5. Acceptance of the bodily resurrection of the dead and eternal life
6. Belief in the Triune God as revealed in the Bible

Secondary Doctrines (supporting faith)

The secondary doctrines are important. Denial of these can lead to serious problems with the fundamental doctrines. Often there is a felicitous inconsistency, that is, someone believes in a wrong teaching regarding these secondary doctrines but still has faith in God’s grace through Christ. Secondary doctrines include:

1. Baptism
2. Lord’s Supper
3. Communication of Attributes (divine and human in the Person of Christ)

Non-fundamental doctrines (serving faith)

These Scriptural truths are neither the foundation of faith nor the object of faith, but these are doctrines which should and do concern the Christian. Denial of these non-fundamental doctrines may endanger faith. Non-fundamental doctrines include:

1. End times theology
2. Angels
3. Pastors (only men may serve)

Open Questions

Scripture leaves many issues untouched. Therefore, we cannot elevate a statement to doctrine unless Scripture clearly addresses the issue. Open questions include:

1. How did sin originate?
2. How is the soul created?
3. Crux Theologorum (why are some saved and not others)
4. Worship practices (as long as they do not contradict nor detract from established doctrines)
5. Role of women in the church (i.e. Voters’ assembly)

Some good food for thought. Sometimes, we find ourselves caught up in some of the non-Fundamental Doctrines, when we really need to focus on the Fundamental Doctrines.

Strengthening Pastors

Wow, nine months since the last post. Much has happened. I no longer work at Sprint; I have been full time working for the AALC National office in a variety of roles. Most of my time has been spent strengthening pastors and providing leadership training for them. It is exciting, challenging, and rewarding.

Strengthening pastors …. focuses on helping them grow in their knowledge of God’s Word and grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Thus, I exhort them in reading and studying that Word at five levels:

1. Personal reading: It is amazing how often pastoral pressure leads to ignoring this particular intake of God’s Word. Personal reading and study is not meant to be sermon prep time, nor Bible study prep. Rather, the goal is to routinely (daily) ground oneself in the Word of God, being under the influence of God’s personal Word to each of us to shape, mold, guide, form, and inform us.

2. Reading with Wife: This is entirely different than the first because we are reading orally, which is necessarily slower. This means that each has to sacrifice the pace of reading for the sake of the other person. But the benefit of doing so is well worth the time.

3. Pastoral Bible Study: Here the pastor studies the texts, preferably in the original language texts, also examining translations, and historical commentaries on how this Word has been understood in previous generations. But this also involves working with other pastors who can share insights, and who can encourage and support one another in this vital task.

4. Bible Study: Here the focus is on Bible study with others within the congregation. Here the pastor has significant influence on many others in their spiritual lives. The pastor grows by reading, studying, and reflecting on the texts – long before the class ever takes place. But the pastor can benefit from class participation learning how each is perceiving the text, how it can be applied to daily living.

5. Liturgical Use: The regular pericope readings offer great opportunities to incorporate the liturgical life with the worship life of the congregation.

So the challenge for pastors is to grow in consistency in each of these areas. As God works through that Word, pastors grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. May God bless all our pastors as they do so.