Two Fallacies of Bible Study
I am sharing with you a series of posts focused on teaching. When it comes to teaching in the church, we cannot continue as we are. Teachers are the tongues of the church. Even though they comprise a small part of the congregation, relative to the number of students, what they say and teach carries a great deal of weight within the congregation. So how do we improve our teaching?
In teaching the overriding goal is to teach what the Bible says as opposed to what I think it says or even what I think is relevant. Because we fear that we may “bore” our students with intricate Biblical detail or deep theological discussion we like to merely use the Bible as a moral reference point. The Bible provides a text that makes mention of our topic for the day, then, as a teacher it is up to us to fill the class time with relevant stories and piercing discussion questions. A cool class time this may seem, but great teaching this is not! This may be a meaningful way to treat Aesop’s fables, but it is not the way we should approach the Bible.
Studying the Bible isn’t easy. It is a great fallacy to believe:
- Since the Bible is the Word of God it should be easy to understand. The problem here is that God has never been easy to understand. We are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to comprehending the mind of God (Rom. 11:34-36). At the same time we should be careful to say that the Bible is understandable. God has not communicated to us in code. He wants us to “get it!” Mark Twain said, “It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
- The more spiritual you are the more of the Bible you will understand. This fallacy leads to two others:
- I am having trouble understanding the Bible which means I must have a spiritual problem.
- I am spiritual enough that I do not have to do the “unspiritual” work of academic study. I just need to read it and teach it.
If you suffer from fallacy 2A, see fallacy 1. Your problem is not spiritual as much as it is that you are probably an English speaking, Western Cultured person living in 2012 (I will say more about this issue and how it impacts Bible study later). If you suffer from fallacy 2B I prophecy that given enough time you will become a cult leader in the plains of west Texas and will have a fiery confrontation with the forces of Janet Reno. If your fate does not go to that extreme end I would prophecy that at the very least the people you teach are being cheated and misled. That glare on your student’s faces is not from sheer amazement at your spiritual prowess, it is the natural reaction of stunned shock and confusion that results from hearing a lesson that is nothing more than a gobbledy goop mess of errors.
Again, our goal as teachers is to “Say what the Bible says.” Obviously then we must understand what the Bible is saying. This comes, not from super spirituality, but from faithful, prayerful study. Paul told Timothy:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)
The term “do your best” is literally, “work hard at it.” Timothy was Paul’s protege. He was a pastor. He had to work hard at it - just like the rest of us. Though great sermons can sometimes be mesmerizing to laypeople (as if the preacher has done something super spiritual), I promise you, great preachers are not naturally talented or super spiritual. Great preachers do the hard work of studying the Bible. If you are going to be a good, faithful teacher it will take more hard work and humility than super spirituality.
More to come. . .