Category Archives: About Bible Study

Examining methodologies and rationals

Bible Reading Plan

Yikes, another Bible reading plan! At first blush that was my reaction as well. Had it not been for an intriguing comment on another Reformed blog I would likely have dismissed it summarily with a polite yawn.

That would have been most unfortunate, and I am very thankful that the Lord prodded me appropriately.

The plan in question is called Professor Horner’s Bible reading plan. It has a web site and a facebook page if you Google for it.

In a nutshell, it proposes that one read one chapter from each of ten lists of Bible books each day – that is 10 chapters from 10 different books, daily. The ten book lists cover the whole Bible and are chosen by the good professor to reflect various New and Old Testament divisions and areas of importance.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? But it works!

Each of the lists are different lengths, so over time the juxtaposition of books and chapters read daily changes. The result is a unique contextualization.

Here is the original article.

I made one modification. Acts was on a list by itself, while Romans was grouped with other Epistles. Given the Reformed doctrinal significance of Romans, I moved it to join Acts. This increases the frequency of Romans somewhat.

Here is a speadsheet of my version, which makes it easier to follow the program. Notice that the days have numbers, not dates, so you can start any time.

My opinion is that his predication about the effects are both correct and wonderful. It is very profitable.

Try it…


The bible study wrap-up

I am convinced that one of the primary responsibilities of the local assembly is the pro-active, ongoing equipping of all believers for individual bible study, and further that this responsibility is not being addressed throughout the evangelical church. Numerous conversations with other believers, both new and more mature, indicates that I am not alone in these conclusions and that church leadership and programs are seriously off the rails, out of touch and in denial on this issue.

I have briefly examined three approaches: deductive, inductive and supported enhanced reading. Let us summarize the discussion and take a stab at some conclusions.

Virtually all congregational activity is of necessity in the deductive mode. It can be and is used to good result in many cases to edify believers, assuming the presentation is Gospel and Christ centered and delivered with little embellishment (possibly a large assumption admittedly). In terms of equipping the Saints in their developing relationship with the Lord, however, this is insufficient, and this equipping should clearly be an overriding church priority.

Next we have Inductive Bible study. Much Bible study training in church related groups, bible schools and independent organizations such as Precepts, has centered upon various implementations of these methods, which are designed to support independence and to work directly from the text. Though somewhat involved in some formats they are historically quite effective in going directly to the text of Scripture and empowering the individual to divide the Word. If there would be a weakness in this approach it would only be in the volume of technique imposed and the possibility that this might stifle revelation in some learners. Nonetheless, this approach is a proven and widely supported.

The final approach considered was a modified form of simple bible reading. The suggestion here is that close reading of the text be supported through the use of quality background cultural, genre and contextual commentaries, and teamed if possible with subsequent group comparative analysis. This design supports pre-reading of Scriptural background documentation, close reading of the text with the work of the Spirit in mind, and subsequent sharing of thoughts within the group. The goal is too allow room for revelation while still compensating for time and cultural factors in an organized fashion.
So what is best (or worst)?

The worst approach would be to continue in the growing deductive-only, authoritative leadership model format. This does not effectively equip the members of the body for independent growth or challenges in or out of the church. Good intents notwithstanding, it encourages dependency upon the church as a ministerium, which will in the end weaken that same body. The deductive paradigm is perfect within the framework of doctrinal and theological teaching, and plain expository preaching, but not exclusively in the equipping of the individual to divide the word.

On a related note, the ubiquitous small group Bible study framework, as implemented in most churches, does not effectively address this issue. It is quite effective in providing demographic based fellowship, but is does address the present issue. In fact, it can mask the issue in allowing leadership to assume that it is being addressed. The reality is that it is not and denial will not change that.

A correct approach would appear to be the implementation of inductive or supported enhanced reading approaches. I do not think that either approach need be implemented exclusively, but they need to be put in place universally as a primary church priority. Variations of the two methods will suit different people and the availability of teachers for each method will effect delivery. In the initial stages when more people need to be brought on-board, availability of both approaches would be optimal.

Just as important as the availability of training is a buy-in to this need by church leadership. Simple acknowledge and consideration is not enough. In many cases this requires acknowledgment of a weakness and a challenging change in direction of vision. As such it may be the single largest hurdle faced by those who would benefit from it but have little real input to assembly direction. For the real equipping of the local body to study the
Word, that work must become a very high priority. This supported must be pro-actively on all fronts, particularly from the pulpit and secondarily with the budget.

So, what about any financial cost?

Compared to most program activities, implementation of this should be low in cost. Book and Bible costs are traditionally born by the participants. Instructors are either volunteer or of minimal cost on the organizational level. So cost is not a legitimate excuse. If the concept is accepted as a priority, then minimal program money is always available.

So there we have it. The need is real and pressing for all levels of people – adults, youth and even children. The people of God must be exhorted and supported in their ability to divide the Word for themselves as a first priority. This is the direct responsibility of the local church. Without this, the local church is implicitly denying the significance of having the Word freely in our hands and of the Reformation that allowed that to be the case. Local leadership must acknowledge this need and pro-actively address it.

Action, not just talk.

Contrary to what might be feared organizationally, developing a majority of individuals and groups who are able to divide the Word for themselves can only strengthen and build the local body for what is to undoubtedly come. This is the only type of relevance that matters.


What about supported, enhanced reading?

A third approach that should be considered is one used formally by some smaller denominational and independent assemblies, as well as by many believers in private study (again let us remember that we are not addressing casual devotional reading here). I have termed this enhanced bible reading, though it does not have a name per se, and those who practice it would definitely shun a label.

What is involved here is bible study encompassing simple group or individual bible reading, with sharing of insights as moved by the Spirit. There is little or no deductive or inductive methodology. The Scripture is read and interpreted directly with no intermediate hermeneutic process. That is, instead of the usual exegesis -> theological formulation -> interpretive/application paradigm, the reading of the text here leads to immediate interpretation in the present. Past to present is a direct jump. This presumes that direct interpretation can be drawn directly from the text, irrespective of the translation (though in most cases the translation used would likely be KJV or NKJV) or any historical-grammatical considerations.

The underlying assumption is that interpretation and application are Spirit driven and revelatory in nature. As such, though the reader does the interpretation, it is assumed that the Spirit is driving it. With a group, the work of the Spirit is the combined revelation of the group through the reading and sharing process. Additionally, in some cases the use of commentaries and such occurs to add additional information after the fact, but this is minimal and not consistent.
With, as previously discussed, a growing church dependence upon a new ministerium of Pastors (which is historically why this reading methodology emerged in the later 19th century) on one side, and with today’s emerging church and its pursuit of experiential faith on the other side, there would seem to be much to recommend this more fundamental and faith driven approach. I would agree, especially since I consider the work of the Spirit to be largely undervalued today.

Having said that, however, there are problems that can not be overlooked.

Though I think that in other methodologies the essential and overarching work of the Spirit is often either overlooked or underplayed, to assume that no other assistance or work on the part of the reader is needed to divide the Word correctly is fraught with danger. In the case of the basic Gospel the perspicuity of Scripture is unquestionable, but much other important material does not easily or automatically make the transition from the Scriptural writer’s pen to our modern linguistic and conceptual understanding unaided. To assume that revelation alone will bridge that divide, without additional effort or assistance, is a recipe for error or even heresy. The Scriptures are both infallible and inerrant in their autographa. However as active readers of translations we are most certainly not. Further, it must be born in mind that nearly all historical heresies were the result of unintentional error based upon Scripture.

It would seem that plain reading has value but only within limits. It is unable to facilitate correctly dividing the Word on a consistent basis. But more significantly, it brings the danger of miss-reading and miss-interpretation without the safeguards of methodical study, even when the accountability of group work is factored in. This can lead to inappropriate doctrine and inaccurate theology over time.

I must stress that this is not a blanket condemnation of this approach. It is more of a caveat. Enhanced reading in a devotional setting is greatly encouraging and opens a necessary venue for the acknowledgment of the Spirit, something that is glaringly missing in many assemblies.

That said, can this method be modified to yield a better probably outcome?

I would suggest that it can. Collaborative enhanced reading combined with some of the tools of inductive study, such as a good background/cultural commentary and a guide to literary genre, might yield the best of both methods. This could honour the plain meaning and revelatory nature of the text while providing support for the differences imposed by centuries of time.

I have found that though the formal inductive methods seems to have much to offer, the techniques can be excessive, somewhat unworkable and seemingly stifling to personal revelation. Though many do not find it so, this has proven to be a common comment. The result for many is that it is not used consistently, and an unused method is no method.

Within this in mind, enhanced reading combined with limited inductive support tools, may offer an effective combination. In fact, I have just recently discovered that some seminary classes now even present some form of this combination under the title of inductive study. For our purposes, though, I will call it Supported Enhanced Reading.


Considering Inductive study

As we have seen, deductive bible study is in essence passive. Despite the participation of the individual, the primary points are supplied by an outside authority and the conclusion is one way or the other guided, often authoritatively. The Scriptural study is in support of the predetermined points to be addressed, not to facilitate fresh discovery of those points directly from Scripture.

On the opposite side we have Inductive methodologies. In this case, irrespective of the actual inductive method used, the purpose is essentially to come to the Scripture and discover the original meaning, timeless principle and present application, in that order, for oneself. This is accomplished individually and is up close and personal with the Scriptures, so to speak.

For a Biblical perspective let us recall John 1:1 where it states “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”. We are reminded here that the Word is the Lord. It does not just represent the Lord, nor is it just part of the Lord. It is the Lord. That being so, when we are up close and personal with the Word, we are likewise with the Lord.

If that isn’t a reason to rejoice, I don’t know what is. But it should also be a very sobering thought and a clear indication of how important this matter of individual bible study, and by implication the equipping for it, actually is.

Our relationship is not with external sources which exposit the Word for us, but with Him who is the Word. Since our relationship is not arms length, neither should our study be. It is with Him (The Word) directly. So our work with Him and with the Word are at the root synonymous in nature. All other sources, however important, informative and explanatory they may be, are second hand! Therefor we must equip for the direct interaction first and foremost.

With this in mind, it seems to me that a primary responsibility of the local church as an equipping body is to instruct and encourage deductive methodology in all forms. This is not an endorsement of one particular inductive form but the recognition of the absolute need.

Let me again stress that the use of this approach does not remove the need or value of outside exposition, commentary and other helps to understanding. These are vital and we are certainly called as part of the community of Saints to take heed of the work of our Church fathers, mentors, Pastors and others. However, the first level of responsibility in the post Reformation believer is to their relationship with the Lord directly. And since the Word is the Lord, to the appropriation of that Word for ourselves.

Recall 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” The dividing of the Word is first an individual responsibility in our relationship with the Lord, even if there is collaboration afterwards as there should be. It can not be wholly received from without.

The skills to divide the Word and determine its implications are deductive skills that must be acquired through training, collaboration and practice, and facilitation. In my view this makes a clear case for the pro-active teaching, encouragement and support of this activity as a primary responsibility of the local church.


Considering deductive study

Let us first consider the Deductive approach.Looked at objectively, most church activities and gatherings which examine the Scriptures are based upon deductive approaches. By this I mean that even great expository preaching (again, I must comment, a growing rarity in the face of the emergence of ‘relevant’ preaching), small group ‘bible study guide’ based ministry, Sunday school curricula, and so on, can be observed to be deductive in approach. All have a point to make and use deductive methods to make it. This approach is by far the most efficient at disseminating understanding and doctrine in limited time since a knowledgeable source provides reliable information in a predigested form, at an appropriate level. This is also the basic structure of most formal educational frameworks.

In the church setting, however, this is often the only participatory Bible study that most participants will experience. With that in mind, what is the result? The result is an assembly of believers that, though possibly well versed or even articulate in selected verses and theologies, are almost completely dependent upon some more knowledgeable, authoritative source for the ideas which support their beliefs. Their ability to think through or articulate that underlying support structure is very limited. This renders them not only largely unable to defend their beliefs at any depth, but more significantly, at least somewhat shaky in their own hearts about those beliefs. One must ask if this was what intended in our receiving the Scriptures? Moreover, to be more pointed in the our question, was the Reformation and the placing of the Bible directly into the hands of God’s people accomplished only to yield a future where those people look primarily to a new magisterium for edification rather not to the Bible directly? I think not.
Even more ominous is the question – What is to happen to this flock in the tribulations to come? When false prophets and doctrines abound, preached in the name of the Lord, with a false magisterium in place, how will these discern the truth for themselves? Though the sovereign surety of salvation is not in question, the roughness of the ride definitely is.

With these considerations in mind it must be concluded that only deductive study, even the best of it, is not sufficient to equip God’s people for fully actualized faith and practice. Recalling also that the Confessions of the Protestant church (in all their variations) consider the Scriptures fully sufficient in all matters of faith and practice, the personal equipping of each Saint to receive that instruction is of paramount importance.

Let me close this section on the deductive approach with a comment on the need for expository preaching. Some of the above discussion might lead one to think that I may not consider it vital. In the words of the Apostle Paul “May it never be!” (Romans 2:6a).

Good, solid, bible based, unvarnished, unadorned, undramatized, unmodernized expository preaching is an ABSOLUTE necessity for the edification of the faithful. It enhances (note, enhances not replaces) the personal understanding of Scripture, supports correct doctrine and much, much more. It is also sadly rare, and growing more so, as the church considers it insufficient for today (but that is another article for another time).


Must we study, and how?

Let us muse about modes of Bible reading and more particularly, study. What is sufficient to facilitate the fruits of being ‘in the Word’?

There would appear to be three approaches: Deductive study, Inductive study and modified plain reading. Just to be clear, we are not talking about devotional or casual scripture reading, though that certainly is important in its own right. We are examining how the believer can effectively and individually approach personal study – understanding and assimilating God’s Word for himself or herself.

Let us start by mentioning that in some branches of the faith this activity is in effect considered ill advised, improper, not possible, or worse. If we look at the Roman Catholic traditions (flowing from the pre-Reformation church and developed to present day), and possibly the Eastern Orthodox church, each of these huge groups do not consider study and understanding of the whole Bible by the individual to be reasonable or desirable, though for very different reasons. In the former case we have an authoritative magisterium based approach that led to the Reformation, while in the latter the emphasis is more apophatic, centered upon individually meeting God experientially, through worship (bear in mind here that I am not an expert in either area).

Post Reformation Protestant traditions, particularly Evangelical ones, place a high value upon individual Bible study and the meeting of God through His Word as given to us personally. If we are to experience this, and to be equipped for a Biblically based life, how is this to be facilitated?

Scripture states, speaking of the Bereans in Acts 17:11 “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” So here we have a model which lauds the ongoing study of Scripture, both individually and within community. Not only that, but surely we would want to be as the Bereans, as opposed to the Thessalonians.

Clearly we believe that we are called to study the Bible individually and in assembly.