The Mailbag: BSF (Bible Study Fellowship)


What are your thoughts on BSF (Bible Study Fellowship)? Is it doctrinally sound? Is it a good way of studying the Bible?

According to the BSF web site, “BSF is an in-depth, interdenominational Bible study that helps people know God and equips them to effectively serve the Church throughout the world.” BSF Bible study groups are held in various local churches and are open to anyone.

I have never participated in BSF myself, but I am somewhat familiar with it through a couple of friends who have been very involved.

While I totally support the idea of delving deeply into the Scriptures with other women, there are a few of aspects of BSF that concern me. Let me start off by saying that every BSF group is different, so I’m sure these may or may not be issues with every group depending on the leaders and participants.

First, the amount of time required for BSF homework and other responsibilities may not be a fit for every participant. Some women have the hours required for these things and embrace it, but many do not. For the women who do not, this can become discouraging. They may come to view studying the Bible as a chore. They may sometimes neglect their husbands, children, homes, churches, friends, etc., in favor of completing the assignments. They may even give up on organized Bible study all together, assuming that all classes require the same investment of time as BSF. For these reasons alone, I would probably not recommend BSF for a new believer.

Next, BSF is limited to studies of only ten books/topics. I understand why BSF may have to do this from a logistics standpoint, but if BSF is a woman’s only form of personal or group Bible study, that’s leaving out a lot of the Bible. We need all of the Bible for all of life.

Concerns have also been raised by BSF participants and leaders that BSF may be headed in an Emergent and/or contemplative direction considering BSF’s recommendations of materials by authors who subscribe to these false teachings and BSF’s increasing use of The Message (a very shoddy paraphrase of Scripture) rather than a reliable translation.

Finally, my major concern with BSF is that it is ecumenical. It is my understanding that BSF is open to, and led by, people from all denominations (and non-denominations) that call themselves Christian. This is a problem because there are many churches and denominations which call themselves Christian but whose doctrine is not in compliance with Scripture (for example, Catholics, Oneness Pentecostals, Mormons, and New Apostolic Reformation).

BSF could be very helpful in this regard if it would require its leaders to hold to sound doctrine (our doctrine colors the way we teach Scripture) and would allow its leaders and members to discuss correct biblical doctrine, but the way it has been explained to me, “BSF doesn’t teach doctrine, it just teaches the Bible.” That statement, if an accurate representation of BSF’s stance, demonstrates a fundamental flaw in their view of Scripture and its regulation of the church. The Bible is doctrine. There is no way to teach the Bible without teaching doctrine.

What if, during a discussion of that day’s lesson, one of the Catholic members says, “This verse seems to say that praying to Mary would be wrong. Have I been sinning all these years?” or a Mormon says, “This passage indicates that we can be baptized for the dead. We should all be doing this.”? These are doctrinal issues, whether BSF sees them as such or not, and from a biblical standpoint these members need to be taught that praying to Mary and baptism for the dead are unscriptural and sinful. But, according to what I’ve been told, BSF will not correct people’s false doctrine in order to remain open to people of all “Christian” faiths. In fact, I’ve been told it’s against the rules for members/leaders to even disclose which church they belong to. Nor, for the same reason, can anyone recommend (or warn against) any pastor, author, or teacher, despite the fact that his/her materials might be very helpful (or harmful) to someone in the group. BSF leaders are also told not to use any Scripture other than what is being studied that day, which is most unhelpful, as one of the basic tenets of sound hermeneutics is that “Scripture interprets Scripture” and that unclear passages are to be understood in light of clear passages. Cross-referencing Scripture could help clear up doctrinal issues.

The Bible tells us that the job of a pastor (and by the extension of this principle, Bible teachers) is to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9b). It also says Christians are not to yoke ourselves together with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Those who claim to be Christians yet deny the essentials of the faith (the Trinity, salvation by grace alone, etc.) are just as much unbelievers as atheists and agnostics (Matthew 7:21-23). It seems to me that there is something foundationally wrong with a Bible study in which genuine believers and false converts, people who hold to sound doctrine and people who hold to false doctrine, can sit side by side with neither being offended or corrected.

Mature, discerning believers can probably attend BSF without being swayed to believe any false doctrine (and, just to be clear, I’m certain it’s not BSF’s intention to teach false doctrine). However, I imagine that those mature, discerning believers would find it difficult to abide by the rules of keeping quiet on issues of sound doctrine as those issues arise.

Additional Resources

BSF Leader resigns; warns members about 2018 Study at Naomi’s Table

BSF, Jesus Calling and a plea from the heart at Berean Research

BSF as a “Vision-Casting” ministry? An open letter from a leader at Naomi’s Table

If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

UPDATE: I’ve received numerous comments on this article. About half have disagreed with some or all of it and the other half have said it’s spot on. As mentioned in the article, “every BSF group is different, so I’m sure these may or may not be issues with every group depending on the leaders and participants.” Comments are now becoming redundant, and some of them downright ugly, so I’ve closed comments on this article. (Just to save you some time, please don’t go to another article’s comment section and attempt to comment on this article there. It won’t be published. I also will not be responding to e-mails/social media messages about this article.)