Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Theology versus Bible Study

Studying the Bible is critical for believers. Nothing else can be substituted -- not sermons, not Christian books, and not theological study. Some would say that when you study theology you are studying the Bible, but not necessarily. Theology is largely a study of how man views God. Depending on who's theology you are studying your understanding of Bible passages will vary, and that's why some have said that a strong theology should precede Bible study. Denominations are built around differences in the way people interpret the Bible. The problem is that if you don't know what the Bible says you are doomed to believe whatever your Bible teacher proclaims. Remember you personally can and should study the Bible to determine the truth of what you're hearing regardless of the source.

For new believers this feels like you are taking the long way around. It's so much easier to have someone else study for you and just give you the Reader's Digest version. Sadly such shortcuts stunt the growth of your faith and limit your understanding of much deeper concepts found in the Bible. Soon you will find large gaps in your understanding of the Bible, and that's what leads to false conclusions from Bible passages taken out of context. Like the layers in an onion, each time you study the Bible on your own you are peeling back another layer, discovering wider meaning and deeper truth. It all begins with a general understanding of what the Bible says, and that means taking the time to read it for yourself.

Basic Bible 101 is designed to help you tackle the first layer of the Bible -- literally what does it say? Who said it? To whom? When? Where? Why? Our purpose is not so much to tell you how to believe, but where to look to figure out what you believe. If you are a believer in Christ, or are considering becoming one, the best place to begin is with a general overview of the Bible. Much like studying history, it helps if you start at the beginning. If you try to jump into the middle it's like missing the first 15 minutes of a movie -- it's very easy to get lost in the sub-plots. So Bible students, I encourage you to be patient and take the time to study the Bible for yourself. Yes, it will be difficult at times, but perseverance pays off.

Use the Basic Bible 101 podcasts to keep you on course and the workbook to help you cement what you've read. Every few weeks review what you've learned. Before you know it you will be building on a strong foundation of Bible understanding. Then when someone tries to tell you that Jesus and Satan were brothers you can think back on what you've read and say "where does it say that in the Bible? I don't remember reading that," and you'll be right. Faith must be built on truth, and truth is found in the Bible. It's a treasure worth the time and effort to discover.

Friday, July 10, 2009

In the beginning...

I started this Basic Bible 101 project in the summer of 1993 with a small group of about 8 people in a little church in Flower Mound, Texas. Some in this group were new believers, some had been out of church a long time, and some were just trying to find a more digestible way to tackle Bible study. It's true, studying the Bible can be confusing, overwhelming, and sometimes boring. Most people will tell you to start with the book of John. But who's John? You can't even get through the first verse without confusion -- "The word was with God, and the Word was God" Huh? What Word? So you see the problem.

Using the Student Bible (by Zondervan) I outlined what I thought were the most important highlights in the Bible, you know, the stories and characters that you frequently hear about in sermons. Starting with Genesis we covered one of these highlights every Sunday morning for a year, and finally finished an overview of the entire Bible. Needless to say the class was a hit and as more people heard about the course requests for another year-long class were overwhelming. Again I covered the same main stories, but this time I added a few twists -- for one the class would have reading assignments and questions for homework each week. Second, I added some pop quizzes as a review, and a short quiz after each section. Finally, I handed out a review sheet after we finished each testament and gave a final exam the next week.

It's true, when you have to prepare for a test you study harder, and hopefully you commit the info to long term memory. That seems to have been the case, because most of group members who took the course went on to tackle tougher classes, and some are Bible teachers today. So my challenge to anyone who is considering taking this class, or leading a group through this class, is take the assessment test on the website If you score high enough then move on to a more challenging Bible study. If you bomb the test then order the student workbook, listen to the podcasts and get busy. God does want to teach you his Word. Here's your opportunity to learn.