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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Teaching Scripture

A decade ago my wife and I moved to a new state. We began the process of picking out a church home. We visited quite a few churches. I noticed something interesting that, as far as I can tell, seems to be the trend rather than the exception. No one teaches the Bible anymore.

Now, now, I know that's an overreach. Take it as hyperbole, an exaggeration to make a point. And, sure, many are still "teaching the Bible" ... but not in the sense that I'm talking about.

Let me illustrate. We went to one church where the pastor was good -- preaching sound doctrine expositionally -- and it all seemed right. But when we asked about joining a smaller group -- adult Sunday School or "life groups" or whatever was available -- it turned out that this group was studying so-and-so's book on finances and that group was reading through this-other-guy's book on the Gospels and ... lots of good stuff, I suppose, but no one was "studying Paul's Epistle to Rome", for instance. And when I asked the pastor about it, he was confused. "Sure we're teaching the Bible," he told me and pointed out all the studies of all the books on biblical topics. "I'm asking if anyone is teaching the Bible. You know, teaching the text so others can get deeper into it. That sort of thing." "I don't know what you're talking about," he told me. "Every church I know of is doing what we're doing."

In another church my wife participated in the Ladies Bible Study. As it turned out, the "Ladies Book Study" would have been a more appropriate title. They would buy a book at the beginning of a season, read the book together, and discuss it. They were Christian books with Christian topics and sometimes even about biblical things, but at best the ladies were reading books about the Bible, not the Bible.

At the church where we are members we are in a small group that is using a book series called Explore the Bible, currently going through Genesis. This book is for "Fall 2015". It is a "Personal Study Guide" that is doing a survey of Genesis (not a study -- it skips around) that gives some texts, makes some observations, and asks some questions. All well and good, but the thing is -- the thing I'm noticing is -- that the teacher is not teaching Genesis; he is teaching the Explore the Bible book about Genesis. It makes the observations and asks the questions a teacher might offer, but the teacher doesn't teach it. He simply follows along.

This isn't necessarily a complaint. Indeed, given the prevalence of false teachers and false doctrines and false teaching in churches today, reliable books may be a reasonable safeguard. I've a feeling there are far more tares than wheat in American churches today on the whole. I'm just observing that it seems to me that very few churches or other Christian gatherings for learning are actually teaching (I'm not talking about preaching; I'm talking about teaching) the Bible where a teacher is examining the Scriptures and explaining it to others. I'm not sure why that would be. Laziness? Fear? Some might chalk it up to "humility" where teachers would say, "I don't know enough to expound on the Scriptures, so I'll let the 'experts' do it." Indeed, many today no longer call themselves "teachers". They prefer "facilitators". That presupposes that teachers are their own sole source, doesn't it? You know, as opposed to having the God-given gift of teaching with the leading of the Holy Spirit?

Whatever the reason, it seems to me that Bible teaching in the churches today is diminishing. It is getting broader, perhaps, given all the books available, but much, much shallower. I suspect this could be a reason why Christians in America today seem to be much, much shallower in their understanding of Scriptures. Which, of course, makes them much easier targets for the skeptics and the liberal "Christians". Or, in other words, makes them much more susceptible to the roaring lion seeking to devour them (1 Peter 5:8).


Bob said...

i recall the last time i was in a home bible study group and i ask a question about john chapter one. the lady of the house corrected me by saying " i know that you are a Calvinist bob, but we are Baptist, and we adhere to Baptist doctrine. i asked where is the Baptist doctrine so i might read about it. she pointed to the "study book" and said from these books that we are reading. the book we were reading was "christian behavior in the work place" now i am not a Baptist or a Calvinist, But is it remotely possible that if we keep using these books to determine what sound doctrine is, that we will at some point we will resemble neither Baptist nor Calvinist.

Stan said...

Given the human propensity to water down Scripture until we're perfectly happy understanding "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" to mean "live a happy and contented life" (just an illustrative example), it is my conclusion that watering down books that have watered down the Scriptures to pablum will likely make us look like Baptists, Calvinists, or even Christians.

Josh said...

I am very interested in this question. I write the bible study questions for our small group ministry. We are currently studying through Nehemiah, and we are not using another book. I just form the questions and send them out to the other leaders, as this has always been my preference. I have asked our lead pastor if I could throw the responsibility on the other leaders to develop their own questions for a week, but he didn't seem to think them up to the task.

Here are some thoughts and questions I have:
- I think people are up to the task, but we are scared of letting them struggle and fail from time to time.
- In certain situations, especially a smaller church, you may have more small group leaders than you have people with the gift of teaching.
- If we don't teach people to struggle with the text and figure out the best way to teach it to a group we do our churches a disservice.
- If we are not willing to put our leaders into situations in which they are uncomfortable, maybe we shouldn't be surprised when they give up at the first sign of trouble.
- Do you really think that we are shallower in our knowledge of scripture? I ask because all the people I thought were spiritual giants when I was young, turned out to be normal people with a nominal handle of scripture. I wonder if we have a pie in the sky view of how well scripture was known in the past.
- Finally, I think using a book study is a cheap and easy replacement for discipleship. It is much easier if we can give our "leaders" a book to lead from and not actually expect them to teach and lead.

Bob said...

we all laughed when readers digest suggested making a bible. well someone beat them to the punch, doesn't seem so funny now.

Stan said...

Dear Dan, the "roaring lion" of Scripture is NOT the "liberals". It is Satan. The reference here to the "roaring lion" is not to "liberals". It is to Satan. Now, following the watered-down, unbiblical "liberal" perspective will indeed make people more susceptible to the "roaring lion" (Satan). Get a grip.

Stan said...

Josh, I think you're right that many are scared of struggling, possibly failing, sometimes. I also think that our current cultural climate encourages, even demands this fear. "What makes you think you have the right or ability to 'speak for God'? That's not humble! All you have is your 'hunches'." I think you'll find that many think that "facilitator" rather than "teacher" makes them sound more "humble", that "teacher" just sounds "arrogant".

I think that God provides sufficient teachers for the task, but that many (most?) churches have opted out of encouraging the use of spiritual gifts (like teaching) except for maybe the gift of service because every church needs people to set up chairs and greet newcomers, but teach? No, leave that to the "professionals".

I wholeheartedly agree that we are doing people no service by not teaching them to work through the texts. My concern exactly.

Yes, I think that there is a dearth of biblical depth. I think there was more in the past, although my suspicion is that I'm thinking of "the past" in this context as much before even my time. Trot out a Jonathan Edwards or a Charles Spurgeon alongside the vast majority of preachers today and it will be pitiful to see.

For the most part, then, I agree with your comment, Josh.

Yes, Bob, it's all fun and games (Hey, let's do an abridged version!") until someone gets their eye put out, isn't it?

David said...

What's even more sad about teaching those books is I doubt anyone is even critically thinking about even those, let alone what they are teaching, if anything, about Scripture

Stan said...

Good point. "It's a Christian book sold in a Christian bookstore written by people who should know what they're talking about. Why should I question it?"

Marshall Art said...

I am happy to say that I am unaware of the types of books from which some study groups draw their topics of discussion. The life group of which I am a "member" has only used one Book (variations aside). The comments here make me feel all the better about it. When we found this congregation, all I knew for sure was that my previous church home was not getting it done based on my own understanding of the faith. The preacher there often read from whatever book held his interest at the time and often based sermons on the "message" such books seemed to provide him.

Now, the pastor(s) at our current place of worship seem to relish in diving into chapters of Biblical books and dissecting them for instruction to the congregation. My wife and daughter have benefited greatly since they aren't as keen in simply reading for themselves. But they are "lured" into doing so more often by the manner in which this church hopes to teach and educate.

Another thing for which I can be grateful on Thursday (as I am every day).

David said...

And to Dan's apparent confusion, any true student of Scripture would have caught that reference to mean Satan. Guilty conscience much? Or just so full of oneself that all these blog posts have you in mind.

David said...

Stan, I wonder how much of that is a symptom of our culture. We are spoonfed information in such a way that we never analyze it, just accept it. Watch any tv show for long enough and logical errors show up and we accept them as true. Think about any police procedural, they solve crimes in a matter of hours or days with techniques that are not possible, but we then expect real cops to have those same tools. No critical analysis leads to shallow thought.

Stan said...

Marshall Art, nice way to work a Thanksgiving theme into the comment. Well done. I believe there are still churches out there that teach the Word and preachers out there that preach the Word. Glad to find that yours is one. Truly a blessing.

Stan said...

Another good point, David. Whether culture or just being human, we tend to simply absorb what we're fed. Music, TV, any media at all. Our political choices are generally based on appearance (they say Kennedy beat Nixon because Nixon was sweating in the first televised debate) and soundbites. "No critical analysis leads to shallow thought." And sin leads to the "debased mind". That explains a lot of the problems we see, doesn't it?