- Linda Smookler Guest Author, MARK, INC
- 2005 22 Feb
Several years ago, there was a movie that women could not wait to see. It was considered to be one of the most romantic films of our times. It contained the usual beautiful people, gorgeous costumes, enchanting dialogue, and wonderfully romantic musical accompaniments. However, when you took all of that away, you were left with this basic story line:
Irresponsible, uneducated aspiring artist practices his “art” by painting nude prostitutes. He secures tickets to another country by unseemly means. He meets a beautiful young woman, but she has agreed to marry a man that she does not love because he is wealthy. The young duo discovers lustful feelings. He paints a nude picture of her and they commit adultery all within the span of three days. A freakish event occurs. He drowns the next day, unrepentant and unsaved. She barely escapes death, continues the journey, marries another man she does not love, and grows old spending a lifetime yearning for the dead boy. The movie ends as she drops an extremely valuable necklace that she stole from her first fiancé into the ocean to commemorate the site of the boy's death.
The AMAZING thing is that Christian women flocked to see this movie and thought that it was a story of love!!! What had happened to their thinking? How were they persuaded? Why are we so easily swept away by the world's view of life, that sometimes we don't even see the waves coming?
What does this have to do with evaluating Bible Study material? We must realize that we are daily assaulted with the perversions of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and there is but one recourse.
For Christian women, the daily challenge is to THINK BIBLICALLY!
We are thinking Biblically when no matter what else the world is saying, we are hearing God's perspective!
We are thinking Biblically when we are alert to the real messages being conveyed to us, and we are not being swept along by another person's agenda or even Christian jargon. We are thinking Biblically when we are evaluating each statement or event by the Word of God alone.
When it comes to evaluating material for our local women's ministries we must be very careful for a number of reasons. FIRST, of course, is the Scriptural injunction in James 3:1 that those who teach are held to a higher standard. When we stand before women and say, “thus says the Lord,” we had better be sure that we are conveying truth. The church is called to be “the pillar and support” of the truth. That's our first concern. Is it truth?
But SECONDLY, we must look at what is important and USEFUL for our women. In our local church Bible study, we have only one opportunity per week for eleven to twelve weeks to convey truth. The material that we use must treat that time as a trust given to us by these women. Time is valuable, and we need to consider the specific long-term and short-term goals of our study. Our women's ministry purpose statement directs the goals for everything we do. We often have a yearly theme, and if possible we coordinate with a sermon series or Sunday School focus. The material that we choose cannot be simply accurate, it must be purposeful.
THIRDLY, we consider whether the material can be easily taught by our leaders. Some books, although they may be basically true, are “murky” in their theology and premise. We choose materials that our leaders can look at and say, “This is the important central truth of this lesson for everyone to take home with them today.” We avoid books that delve into issues for which our leaders are not prepared.
Once we have determined the specifics of our goals, there are some basic observations that we consider when previewing and selecting material.
1. IS SCRIPTURE THE CORE: How much Scripture does each chapter contain? The best books are full of Scriptural quotations and are built around Scriptural principles. Then Scripture is used to explain and support Scripture in a clear patter of building precept upon precept. One truth builds on another, and the Word of God makes its own case. Contrast that with books that give you a hypothesis and then pull one or two Scripture quotations out of context to support it.
2. HOW IS SCRIPTURE TREATED: Is it the final authority? Is it put on the same level as experience or emotional response? Are the Scriptures the only authority or is some person's “new revelation” treated as equally valuable with Scripture? Is experience evaluated by Scripture or Scripture subjected to varying interpretations and experiences?
3. Is the PREMISE AND FOCUS of each chapter the Word of God? Is each principle “provable” by Scripture or is the premise someone's theory, discovery, or opinion?
a. Is the subject matter of each chapter appropriate for our use?
b. Is it easily taught?
c. Will our leaders be able to communicate the ideas in each chapter?
d. Is there a workbook or can lesson plans be easily composed from the chapters?
e. The focus of this book will equip our women to ……….
4. WHO IS THE AUTHOR: What do you already know about the author?
a. What is their background or reputation?
b. Is the author a “personality” or a theologian?
c. What else have they written? (Are you recommending all of their other work by choosing one of their books?)
d. As you read the book, what is revealed about the author's worldview, personality, decision-making skills, charter qualities, maturity, and giftedness?
e. How does this author view women and women's role in the church?
f. What is their agenda? Do they state their purpose?
g. What is the level of writing… basic, easy read, in-depth? Does it require an understanding of difficult vocabulary?
h. Who do you “hear” as you read - Do you just hear the author, or is the book written in such a way that the Scriptures speak primarily and the author clarifies, explains, and illustrates?
5. RECOMMENDATIONS: Who recommends this book? What do they say it about its usefulness?
6. PUBLISHER: Take notice of the publishers. Some are almost always good. Some are very careful about what they publish. Some will publish anything.
7. QUOTES: Whom does the author quote? Are they secularly or theologically known? What is the denomination of the person quoted? What are their primary theological beliefs? Do they quote the Giants of the Faith, the Puritans, the Classics, or familiar trusted names like Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Packer, Sproul, Ferguson. Are ALL of their writings generally trustworthy? You want to know whom your author reads!
8. Is the writing MAN-CENTERED or GOD-CENTERED? Is it about how man can get what he wants from God, from the world, how he can be satisfied, happy, etc., or is it about finding ways for man to become more conformed to the image of God and give God the Glory? Is it about living comfortably or fathering fruit for the kingdom?
9. DOCTRINE: Does it compromise anywhere on the essentials of the faith, creation, fall of man, virgin birth, sinless life of Christ, atonement, physical resurrection, etc. Does it violate any of the “solas” Scripture alone, grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone?
10. SALVATION THROUGH GRACE: Does the book compromise on or support the NEED FOR REPENTANCE, RECONCILIATION, AND RELIANCE? Does it confront the sin nature, focus on our fundamental need for reconciliation and our responsibility to be a witness to a lost world? Does it make clear the reality of the necessity of total reliance on grace as a lifestyle and using various means of grace (worship, prayer, Word, fellowship, communion, meditating, memorizing, Biblical mentoring/counseling)?
These are just some of the questions you will want to ask of any topical text you consider using in Bible Study. Many books on the market today have problems in one or more of the above categories. It is hard to find a perfect book, but if there are more than a few very small questions about a book, we do not use it. If a book needs a lot of explaining to go along with it, what will happen to the woman who comes once or twice and doesn't return? We don't want to put something into her hands that will confuse her thinking or leave her with a series of half-truths to build her life upon.
We use “topical” books for one reason. They do a great deal of work for us by putting in order what the Scripture has to say on a particular subject and give us careful explanations and the author's accumulated illustrations. Writing such a book takes more time than you can imagine if you have never tried it. Women today do not have large amounts of expendable time. We want to equip women with the essentials of the faith, careful explanations, and illustrations that will support them and enable them to fulfill their various callings - PARTICULARLY as WOMEN in the church, so they will become rooted, grounded, and built up to maturity, and that we will fulfill OUR calling to be Titus 2 women to them.
This article is a sample of the resources on the Treasures of Encouragement for Women web site, produced by MARK INC Ministries. Visit www.markinc.org and click the Treasures of Encouragement link for more resources like these. Receive a free gift for introducing your friends to this site or submitting your women's ministry ideas. Visit the site for details and an opportunity to respond to this article.