The Trouble with “Bible Study”

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When I was a little girl, which was roughly 30-35 years ago, depending on how you define “little,” I was occasionally taken along with adults in my life to a Bible study.  In these gatherings, which were boring and didn’t really include me, I would be set up somewhere near the grownups with my toys and my books and told to be quiet and on my best behavior.

The grownups would all sit together in someone’s living room, say prayers, and read from the Bible aloud.  This is what Bible study looked like every time, no matter which group of adults I was visiting.  I witnessed such gatherings between Baptists, non-denominational Protestants, Roman Catholics, and once, by a circumstance I no longer recall, a group of Presbyterians.  My point is that the entire Body of Christ in the United States understood “Bible study” to be a gathering of people who came together to study the Bible.

In fits and starts through my life from about the age of 12 to the age of 40, whenever I felt pulled to read my Bible, I never got any devotional books, study guides, recorded sermons, or self-help books involved.  I didn’t know such things existed for most of that time, so I never went searching for them.  For me, it was just a Bible, a highlighter, and the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes, there would be a notebook and pen involved, but that was it.

Apparently, this isn’t how we do things in the Body anymore.

Small Group Isn’t Always Bible Study

The way we study the Bible in America has changed.  In 1980, Bible studies were virtually always a gathering of people who spent a couple of hours reading the Word together and praying, and that was it.  There was nothing else involved.  In 2017, Bible studies are virtually always a gathering of people who spend a couple of hours watching pre-recorded lessons, write some words in blanks in books that are not the Bible, and then talk about “discussion questions” at the end of the video.  People share feelings and stories, end with a prayer, and then everybody goes home.

I have participated in seven Bible studies between October 2016 and May 2017.  In four of them, no one so much as cracked the cover on his Bible during the “Bible study.”  This confused me.  How can it be a Bible study if nobody’s reading the Bible?

Well…it can’t.  It should be obvious that it can’t, and I submit to you that this is why we’ve seen the change in lingo from “Bible study” to “small group study.”  It’s called a small group study because it isn’t a Bible study.

It’s a group therapy session or a political sounding board with some handpicked Bible verses scattered throughout to make it all feel churchy, but it isn’t a Bible study.

Are you still with me on this?  I sure hope you are because this is important!

I believe the authors and producers of such materials have their hearts and intentions in exactly the right place.  I believe this is all a response to the growing biblical illiteracy in America.  It is the church’s collective scramble to keep people somehow connected to the Word in any tiny way because our leadership knows that a majority of us would otherwise refuse to read the Bible…at all.

Americans revere the Bible but, by and large, they don’t read it, and because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” – George Gallup and Jim Castelli

I get that.  I feel their desperation and their desire to pull us back in, but I think it’s gone way too far, and I think we need to stop calling it Bible study because it isn’t Bible study.

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The Danger in Misuse of Good Tools

I don’t think devotionals, video lessons, or Christian small group sessions are inherently bad.  I think they do a lot of good when kept in their proper places, and I think they get believers together in fellowship and help us aim at considering God’s will in our daily choices.  That is a beautiful thing!  There’s nothing even remotely bad or dangerous about that.

I’m not suggesting that any of us stop participating in life application studies.  I’m not suggesting that we can’t get useful quiet time from a poem or anecdote in a devotional book.  I have a devotional book I love reading on my own and another I go through with my daughter sometimes.  I love, Love, LOVE my women’s small groups in my church, and when we did a life application study about the Sabbath (it was “Breathe” by Priscilla Shirer), we were all extremely blessed and moved to better, more godly behavior by it.  These groups bring me joy; they bring me fellowship with my sisters in Christ; and they reinforce that armor we all have to put on when we leave the comfortable and safe nest of the church to go out into daily life.

I’m not suggesting that any of what we’re doing is bad on its own.

What I am suggesting is that many of us have replaced the Word of God and our responsibility to study it with those other things.  That, my brothers and sisters, is something I need to say again:  Many of us have replaced the Word of God and our responsibility to study it with those other things.

Anybody pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down here?

That is a bullet straight out of the Enemy’s arsenal, and it has hit its target squarely in the heart.  Satan doesn’t want us to read God’s Word.  He doesn’t want us to spend time talking to God, learning about the nature of God, absorbing God’s will for our lives, or getting convicted by the Holy Spirit in those pages.  Satan will do anything to keep us away from fellowship with God.

The best way to make good Christians with good hearts and good intentions fall into that trap is to trick them into thinking that they are studying the Word, that they are communing with God, and that they are fulfilling their obligations to Him.  So we put down our Bibles and we pick up a DVD.  We stop reading the Bible and we start reading touching stories and emotional poems.  We stop studying the Bible together and start studying life application books together…and then we call it Bible study so that we can tell ourselves we are still in the Word.

Can you see it?  Please tell me you can see it.  Satan wants to keep us out of Our Father’s book, and his schemes are working.

We own more Bibles than we will ever use, but we are slowly starving to death because we have lost our appetite for Scripture.” – Krish Kandiah, director of Churches in Mission for the Evangelical Alliance UK

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Putting the Bible First

Don’t throw out your devotionals.  Don’t stop reading books written by fellow Christians to share testimony and solid advice that we can use in our lives.  Don’t stop enjoying those weekly small groups with video-driven life application lessons.  That isn’t the point, and getting rid of those tools would not fix the problem.  We don’t need to blame the media we are using.  We don’t need to get legalistic about what we should and should not read.  This is about what we are not using.  We need to blame our own laziness, our own rebellion, and our own rejection of the Bible.

I would never suggest that people stop reading Jesus Calling or toss out a beloved stack of study guides from small group.  I’m asking that we put the Bible in front of those other resources.  Put the Word of God first and never use those other resources as an excuse to avoid reading Scripture.

A sinner wrote, recorded, and published every single one of those books, videos, guides, and devotionals that we use and enjoy.

A sinner is typing out these words you’re reading right now.  She is typing them with fear and trembling, but she is a sinner whose works are but filthy rags before the Lord.

God produced the Bible.

So which one are you going to count on for solid truth and solid faith?

Get back in the Word.  Get back in it today.  If you don’t know where to start, I recommend the She Reads Truth/He Reads Truth apps.  They will give you a schedule and all you have to do is read it.  No frills.  If it’s been a long time since you read the Bible more than one or two verses at a time, then don’t focus on anything but the reading.  Read the Bible in entire chapters.  They’re never more than a page or two at most.  You can do that much.

We’ll talk about how to study the Bible and how not to study the Bible and how to deal with the questions and discomfort and modern unbelief that pops up for all of us when we study the Bible in this fallen age.  For now, however, just get started.

Don’t be afraid.  You will have questions.  Write them down.  You will probably have doubts.  Admit them to yourself and face them.  You will probably have to wrestle with parts of Scripture before you can accept them as truth.  That is okay.  It is more than okay; it is necessary.  How can your faith be strong if you never allow it to get deeper than a puddle?  If you don’t ask the questions and work through the doubt and discomfort, you cannot say you have faith and you cannot trust it in times of testing.  Do not be afraid of the Bible.  Pick it up.  Get your Bible in your hands.  Open it.  I don’t care where you start, but open it.

Now, read.

We’ll work out the rest together.


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