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Kay Arthur on Inductive Bible Study: Observation, Interpretation & Application

  • Christy Tennant Contributor to Bible Study Magazine
  • 2011 1 Aug
Kay Arthur on Inductive Bible Study: Observation, Interpretation & Application

Kay Arthur is no stranger to sorrow and disappointment. Her testimony, which she has shared over the years through books, interviews and messages, is that of one who has trusted God through some very difficult circumstances. The result of this persevering faith is a trust in God that grows stronger with each passing day. Through her writing and teaching, one thing is crystal clear: Whether she is with her eleven-year-old granddaughter, whom Arthur is helping to raise since her daughter-in-law passed away last year, or strangers she meets while she is ministering, Arthur sees every circumstance in life as an opportunity to encourage people forward in their walks with God.

Kay Arthur lives to know God and help others to know Him too.

As a writer of over one-hundred books and Bible studies, Arthur traverses the Bible day after day, constantly discovering timeless truths, written thousands of years ago, yet still as fresh as if they had been penned this morning. One of her most recent projects is an inductive study course on the book of Jeremiah, which she feels is particularly timely for today. "We are a nation that, like Israel, has turned its back on the Lord. We're living in a society that will call on God in the day of calamity, but forget him when the calamity is over."

"If we're really going to understand God's Word in a way that makes it the core of our being, we need to know without a shadow of a doubt that it is what God said. We don't need secondhand knowledge, we need firsthand knowledge, and to me, the way to get that is through the inductive method," says Arthur. The method, inspired by Psa 119:102, involves a careful scrutiny of every word of a particular text—combing through, making observations via repeated readings, and ultimately discovering how to apply what the text says in a practical way that changes one's thinking so that it lines up with God's Word. Arthur's ministry, which she co-founded and leads with her husband, Jack, offers many books and resources teaching the pedagogy of the inductive method.

Arthur is not opposed to using commentaries or other study aids, or listening to other teachers. In fact, she is the first to admit that she learns much from other teachers. The key is knowing what the Bible says so that one can listen to teachers and discern whether they are preaching biblically-based messages. "I'm not going to know they're on target if I do not know what God said myself. So that's the purpose of inductive study."

When it comes to the application of God's word, Arthur contends that it does not simply mean taking action, like going out and feeding the poor. "It is first of all changing my mind so that it lines up with the Word of God, and then going out and living accordingly. All of that equals the one goal that God has in all of this, which is that, as we behold Him, we are changed from glory to glory, into His image. That is the redemption process—to redeem me out of the slave market of sin, to cleanse me, set me free and transform me into the image of the Son. And that begins with the washing with water through the Word." Referring to Rom 12, Arthur points out that being able to present our bodies as living sacrifices begins with being "transformed by the renewing of our minds."

Renewing her mind through a consistent study of God's Word has been Arthur's primary education. Though she is recognized worldwide by many formal educators as a trusted Bible teacher, she has not completed any degrees of higher education, a fact that she sees as further proof that her work is something from God, not man.  Her example shows that one need not rely on formal education in order to know God's Word, and this is the very basis of her passion for the inductive method: anyone can do it. All it takes is a Bible, a packet of colored pencils, a notebook and time.

While the inductive method is fundamental to Precept studies, Arthur did not come up with the method herself. Instead, it was something she discovered as a foreign missionary, when she was asked to work with teenagers. "I thought to myself, ‘they just need to know the Word.' Around that time, someone sent me the Methodical Bible Study by Robert Traina and Irving Jensen's Independent Bible Study. It was then that I began to see the importance of the context Scripture. Eventually, God just showed me how to write these courses. I don't have a background in education. Nobody showed me how to do it. In fact, I would say I didn't do it; God did it."

Arthur's passion for Bible study does not lie in a thirst for knowledge, however. According to her, we do not know Scripture unless we apply it to life, and Arthur herself can attest to how powerfully the Word of God helps people in difficult circumstances. She and the members of her team at Precept, who serve as writers, teachers and administrators, have all seen how the Word brings life in the face of trying circumstances. Arthur, whose first husband committed suicide shortly after she committed her life to Christ, has relied upon the healing nourishment of God's Word for most of her life. To that end, she believes that negligence of studying the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament, has left modern generations unequipped to face some of the life's hardest trials. "One of the reasons the church is not impacting our society more is because we don't know the Old Testament," she says.

Arthur's book on Jeremiah is largely born out of her desire to see more people studying the first thirty-nine books of the Bible, because, in her words, "that is where you meet God." She points out that the trials that have faced God's people through the ages are, in many ways, the same today as they were back then, and the answers found in Old Testament Scripture are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago. "If we don't know the Word, we don't know God, and we're just tossed to and fro by any doctrine we are presented with. We've got to understand and know His ways, which also helps us to understand the times we're living in."

Scripture's ability to help people understand modern day circumstances was evident at a recent prayer gathering where Kay Arthur spoke. A woman came up to her afterwards to discuss some insights she had gotten while Arthur was reading from the book of Ezekiel. "She said, ‘when we were reading Ezekiel today, I noticed that it kept talking about the land, the land, the land.' And I said, ‘you're right. That's a very good observation.' We were reading it aloud, marking the text, and when you go through the Bible, starting in Genesis, and you mark every reference to the land of Israel (the land that God plans to give to Abraham as a covenant, as an everlasting possession) suddenly the Middle East situation and the idea of Israel giving away part of their land seems wrong, because they're going against the Word of God." In this way, students of the Bible develop their systematic or thematic studies directly from Scripture, rather than through the lens of a particular denominationally-based interpretation.

Equipping people to find truth for themselves through Bible study is a recurring theme for Arthur, who laments the fact that people, especially young adults, are in general reading less as time goes on, and therefore not studying the Bible. While she sees the value of teaching ministries, with her preaching on the radio and sermons available for download on the Internet, she is adamant that listening to teaching should never be a person's primary source for learning the Bible. "You can do it that way (listen to tapes, etc.) if you want to, but why would you prefer to listen to another person's take rather than teach yourself how to study and read the Word of God? I watch people's faces in the audience while I'm teaching, and many times, I can tell they are not thinking, ‘this is the Word of God.' Many times they're thinking, ‘I wish I had a dream, I wish I had a vision, I wish God would speak to me.' But He has spoken in the Word. Those are the very words of God, and if He's given me this Bible, why would I want to just sit and listen to other people teach?"

Arthur also bristles when she hears people differentiating between "devotions" and "Bible study," which she believes can and should be understood as one and the same. "Somebody said to me once, ‘I feel bad, because I'm spending time studying the Bible, but I need to have my devotions.' Well, what is ‘devotions,' but hanging on God's every word and wanting to know what He says and how to do it?"

"My goal is to get people to open their Bibles. I know many people use PowerPoint now, so that people can just look at texts on the screen. Yet, when I leave church, I'm not going to have that PowerPoint, but I will have my Bible. And when I mark my Bible and make it my own, and know what side of the page those verses are on, I have my tool with me all the time. So I tell people, even if they're using PowerPoint, take your Bible. Open it. Look at it. Check out the context of the passage—what comes before it, what comes after it on the page; it's so important. I find when I read through the Bible, book by book, the Holy Spirit begins to cross-reference the Word of God for me, bringing other Scriptures to mind, and then Scripture becomes the interpreter for Scripture."

Realizing that her life has not been easy or free of painful tragedies helps one to fully appreciate Kay Arthur's love of Scripture and passion for imparting that love to others. When her daughter-in-law died last August, Arthur had been studying the book of Job. "I remember telling God, ‘I don't understand this book. I'm going to have to read it again.' But just moving through and seeing those things about God and reading Job say, ‘this is my consolation' and ‘I rejoice in my unsparing pain that I have not denied the words of the Holy One,' I see now that God was preparing me for what was to come."

This truth became very practical recently when Arthur was with her granddaughter. "We were outside and it was about to rain, and she wanted to get back in the house, and I said, ‘yes, we'll go inside, but first, come here for a few minutes.' I took her out and the wind was blowing and we could hear the thunder in the background, and I said to her, ‘I want to read to you from Job.' I read from where it talks about the thunder in God's voice and the lightening in His hand.

You're sitting there reading these things about God, and all of a sudden everything else in life falls into place—you know that everything is under God's sovereign hand. As you read through a book and linger over the words, not rushing but savoring them, it's like food. When you eat fast, you take in more, but your insides don't have a chance to really digest the food well. Likewise, when you read quickly through a passage, you don't have time to fully digest it and allow it to nourish your spiritual person. We need to take time to savor the truth."

Something Arthur is doing to help her granddaughter learn to savor God's Word is to read through the book of Proverbs with her. At thirty-one chapters, many people make it a practice to read one chapter for each day of the month.

"We don't have time to read the whole chapter, but each morning at breakfast, we'll take a verse or two and read them and then discuss them." Arthur is convinced that if more people lingered over even one or two verses, rather than quickly breezing through bigger chunks of Scripture, they would be more ready to face the day.

God continues to bless the work of Precept Ministries, whose resources are now available in over seventy different languages and are being distributed to over one-hundred-fifty nations. With the growth of her impact overseas, Arthur is more mindful than ever of the unique challenges facing Christians, especially vocational ministers, in hostile nations. There, where pastors are often leading multiple underground churches under the intense scrutiny of governmental authorities, the need for encouragement and times of refreshing is great. Arthur's advice to these men and women is the same advice she would give any Christian facing fatigue or weariness in ministry: Seek renewal in the word of God.

"I walked out of the house this morning to take out the garbage, and I heard the call of the geese. I stopped and looked up and watched them, flying in formation, and I thought, ‘Lord, how awesome you are.'" These moments of simply standing in quiet awe of God have given Arthur an appreciation for the early Desert Church Fathers, who spent a lot of time alone in contemplation, and her advice for the weary begins with taking time to ponder God's word in quiet.

"I would tell anyone to guard their time of quiet. It's so hard, and boy, do I understand the challenges facing many women now, because I have an eleven-year-old girl. I'm fixing her lunch in the morning and getting her off to school. She'll be home at four, and then we'll get homework started. And so the pressures and things that fill your time can be so great."

Spiritual nourishment is not the only part of Arthur's message; she also adds physical nourishment to her counsel for running the race with endurance. "Rest," she advises. "If you're in prison, of course, this can be nearly impossible. But as much as is possible, we must get rest. God has designed us to need rest—physical rest. He designed us to need eight to nine hours of sleep a night, and it would be presumptuous to think that because I am serving Him, I can break His laws and get exemption status. So we need to guard that. To me, sleep is a guard against depression and exhaustion."

This wisdom comes from one who is running the race with endurance and perseverance. While co-leading a worldwide ministry and being a devoted wife, mother and grandmother, Arthur is preparing to lead "study tours" to Israel and Greece in 2009 and to Rome in 2010. In the meantime, Arthur continues to study, pray, write, speak—and to experience God, whether she is addressing an arena full of people, or simply taking out the garbage.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Each issue of Bible Study Magazine provides tools and methods for Bible study as well as insights from people like John Piper, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll, Kay Arthur, Randy Alcorn, John MacArthur, Barry Black, and more. More information is available at http://www.biblestudymagazine.com. Originally published in print: Copyright Bible Study Magazine (Jan-Feb 2009): pgs. 11-15.

Publication date: July 28, 2010

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