Why Aren't We Teaching Christians How to Study the Bible?
If someone were to ask you, “How do you begin studying the Bible?” would you know how to answer? Would you be able to explain how to analyze and interpret a chapter, to look at the historical context and setting of the book containing it? Would you be able to explain how to use the cross-reference system found in many Bibles? Have you, on your own, ever sat down and tried to make sense of an entire book of Scripture without the aid of sermons, internet articles or other books?
In my childhood and early years as a Christian, I had no idea how to do the above things. I put a lot of weight on what my pastor said and on the spiritual living books I read, but I didn’t really know how to study the Bible on my own. Sure, I would read small sections of the Word and copy down verses that really stood out to me and even memorize some of them, but any interpretation and application of the Scriptures was given to me by trusted spiritual leaders; I didn’t know how to seek it out for myself.
It wasn’t until later in my Christian life that I was finally given the tools to study the Word of God on my own, to drawn my own conclusions about what Scripture said and to modify or correct those conclusions as I discussed them among other faithful believers and as Scripture revealed a better interpretation.
My early lack of understanding on how to study the Bible is not an uncommon problem. As Jen Wilkin notes in her recent post, The Assumption We Cannot Afford, there is a terrifying trend in our local churches in which in the Body of Christ has no idea how to interact with the Word on their own. She writes:
Church leaders, I fear we have made a costly and erroneous assumption about those we lead. I fear that in our enthusiasm to teach about finances, gender roles, healthy relationships, purity, culture wars, and even theology we have neglected to build foundational understanding of the Scriptures among our people. We have assumed that the time they spend in personal interaction with their Bible is accumulating for them a basic firsthand knowledge of what it says, what it means, and how it should change them. Or perhaps we have assumed that kind of knowledge isn't really that important.
So we continue to tell people this is what you should believe about marriage and this is what you need to know about doctrine and this is what your idolatry looks like. But because we never train them in the Scriptures, they have no framework to attach these exhortations to beyond their church membership or their pastor's personality or their group leader's opinion. More importantly, they have no plumb line to measure these exhortations against. It never occurs to them to disagree with what they are being taught because they cannot distinguish between our interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself, having little to no firsthand knowledge of what it says.
And they've been in church for years.
Why do you believe what you believe? I think there are many, many Christians with incredibly deep convictions who may never have once opened their Bibles and read what God has to say about those convictions. They simply believe something to be true because a parent, pastor, Sunday school leader or book told them. We (myself included) often elevate the teachings of our local church leaders, celebrity pastors and best-selling books above the Word of God itself. That should not be. It is dangerous ground to tread that, unchecked, leads to the words of man becoming unquestioned interpretations of the Word of God.
Of course, our church leaders and their sermons and books are incredible resources which I believe can and are used fruitfully for spiritual growth. But spending time wrestling with Scripture on our own should be paramount. And knowing how to spend time in the Word should be a lesson taught in every Christian church and a priority of every Christian leader to pass on to those whom God has given them to lead.
As believers, the importance of being able to read and understand what our Bible says should be of utmost importance. And church leaders, if you haven’t made it a priority to teach your congregants how to read the Word, do so. As Jen says, it requires resolve, but the reward is great.
Looking for a place to start learning how to study the Bible? I agree with Jen, that giving you a link to a reading plan isn’t sufficient. But maybe you can take a few of these resources to a trusted leader in your church or your Bible study and begin to unpack how to study God’s Word.
- John MacArthur’s article, Simple Steps to Solid Scripture Study is a helpful 5 step process for reading a passage of Scripture.
- This article from Kay Arthur is a good intro on Inductive study- a method of reading the Bible that helps you observe, interpret and apply what you are reading in the Scriptures.
- This article from Charles Swindoll has some great question to ask yourself as you study the Word (what are the promises in this passage?, what are the commands?, etc.).
- Finally, this article from Alex Crain is a helpful guide to getting into the Word and then what to do with what we’ve just read.
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.