Bible Study

You’re Not as Dumb as You Think You Are: Five Reasons to Put Down that Devotional and Pick Up the Actual Bible

Originally published July 17, 2014

Bible Five Reasons

As a women’s Bible study author and teacher, I have the unique privilege of talking to women from all kinds of backgrounds about their spiritual lives. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had women share with me that they didn’t grow up in church, or they grew up in a church that “didn’t allow” them to read the Bible, and now they have to use a Bible study or devotional book in their quiet time or they’re afraid they won’t be able to understand the Bible. My heart goes out to these ladies because they desperately want to learn from God’s word, but somewhere along the way, someone or something has convinced these perfectly intelligent women–I haven’t met a dumb one, yet– that they’re not good enough or smart enough for God’s word.

As Colonel Potter used to say:

ColPotter MM

Ladies, you are not dumb. God created you smart enough to understand the Bible, and He created the Bible to be understandable. He loves you and wants you to read, embrace, and apply His word to your life. So don’t be afraid to throw that Daily Bread out the Open Windows of your Upper Room and read a chapter out of your Bible instead. Why?

1. Because you need spiritual nutrition, not mind candy.
The other day I was asked my opinion of a popular women’s daily devotional web site. I read a few of the devotions, and the basic format of what I found was a Bible verse (or worse, part of a Bible verse) followed by an inspiring or poignant personal story. Frequently, the Bible verse had little or nothing to do with the story. There’s nothing wrong with reading a good story, but that’s not the same thing as studying God’s word. Other “Bible” studies are built largely on the author’s opinions. You’ll find that I think… or I believe… far outnumber God’s word says… (quoted verbatim, in context, and with a chapter/verse reference). Still others are basically advice or “life tips” books.

Don’t let the fact that a book, magazine, or website bills itself as a “Bible study” or a “devotional” fool you. If all you’re reading is the author’s unsubstantiated opinions, advice, or anecdotes from her (or someone else’s) life, you are studying her story, not God’s story.

There are many good, doctrinally sound studies out there that can be a fine supplement to your regular study of God’s word, and there are many more “Bible studies” and devotionals that are merely feel-good stories, or worse, contain teaching that actually conflicts with the Bible. But how will you know the difference if you don’t know what God’s word says by reading it?

If you don’t know enough of what God’s word says to use it as your measuring stick for other books, you’ll end up doing the same thing a child would do when offered anything in the world that he wants to eat. He’ll choose what looks and tastes good (which might be candy or it might be poison) instead of what’s good for him. When you pick up a Bible study or devotional, you might not know what you’re getting, but when you pick up your Bible, you can be sure you’re getting the very words of God, and that’s what your spirit needs to feed on to grow up healthy.

2. Because King James has been dethroned.
No disrespect intended. The King James Version of the Bible is a good translation, and the language is beautiful, but if you have trouble with 1611 English, it’s not the only game in town anymore. Some of our modern translations (please note: that’s translations not paraphrases) are actually more accurate than the KJV because thousands more biblical manuscripts have been discovered since it was first published, allowing translators to be more precise. Two of these, which I highly recommend, are the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV).

If you can read books, recipes, magazines, instructions, and Facebook (good heavens– if you can decipher certain Facebook posts, you can comprehend anything), and understand them, there is a Bible translation out there that you can understand. You can even check most of them out for free at BibleGateway.com.

3. Becase the Holy Spirit promised to help you.
I always find it heartwarming to hear someone say, “Before I was saved, I read the Bible, but it didn’t make any sense to me. But now when I read it, I get it!” What changed? The Holy Spirit now lives inside that person. He convicts us of sin, leads us to love the things of God, and shapes us to be more like Christ. One of the ways He does that, according to 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, John 14:26, and 1 John 2:27 and other passages, is that He helps us understand and apply God’s word to our lives.

Before you start reading your Bible, take a moment to pray, confess and repent of your sin, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand and obey His word. He’ll do it, because He keeps His promises.

4. Because you can get by with a little help from your friends.
While the Holy Spirit illumines our understanding of the Scripture, it’s both immediate and a process, so sometimes, you’ll run across a verse that stumps you, a word you don’t understand, or passages that seem to conflict with each other. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is (and was) at work helping other godly men and women to understand the Scriptures, too, and one of the ways He can help you is through their study and hard work.

Cross References:
Take a look at your Bible. See any little superscript numbers or letters in the text? Find the corresponding letter or number, and you’re likely to see the reference for another related Bible verse. Look it up. Clear passages of Scripture interpret unclear passages, and it will probably shed some light on what you’re finding confusing.

Study Bibles:
I almost hesitate to recommend study Bibles because there are so many shoddy ones out there, but if you can find a good one they are extremely helpful. Good study Bibles contain the entire text of the Bible plus notes and explanations on most of the verses. They also often contain historical, cultural, and background information on each book and author, maps, charts, glossaries, etc. As to the shoddy ones, generally speaking, stay away from “theme” Bibles (the Bible for teachers, for athletes, for petroleum engineers who eat waffles for breakfast–yes, I’m kidding– the environmental Bible, the NASCAR Bible, the Duck Dynasty Bible– no, I’m not kiding), and from any Bible whose title contains a televangelist’s name (such as the Bibles T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen have put out).

For my “hard copy” Bible, I use and strongly recommend the MacArthur Study Bible. It is my understanding that the Lutheran Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible are also very good, although I have not personally had a chance to check them out myself. (I do not, however, recommend the ESV Women’s Study Bible.) And there are some phenomenal (and free!) study Bible apps out there. I absolutely LOVE the Faithlife Study Bible and the Bible study app from Olive Tree.

Commentaries, Dictionaries, and Bible Study Helps
Commentaries are a Bible scholar’s written explanation of Scripture. Bible dictionaries will help you with definitions of certain words and phrases. And there are many other notes, outlines, and other Bible study helps you can use to better your understanding of Scripture. The resources page at BibleGateway.com contains several of these, including Matthew Henry’s commentary (my favorite). The Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) has a treasure trove of thousands of resources to help you study. And Logos Bible Software has a great free app that has dozens of resources. (As always, read discerningly. Every now and then you may find a resource at one of these sites that isn’t doctrinally sound.)

5. How badly do you really want this, anyway?
Nobody ever won a medal at the Olympics by practicing her sport for five minutes a day. Edison didn’t invent the light bulb by messing around in his garage for a few hours on the weekend. And, despite the titles of some Christian books, nobody ever grew to spiritual maturity by spending five minutes a day reading a devotional.

Think about the things you spend your time on. Work, cooking, cleaning, TV, social media, novels… If asked, we would probably all say that our relationship with Christ is more important than any of these things, but do our day planners reflect that?

Anything worth having is worth investing time and effort into. It’s worth working at it and sharpening your skills. And nothing–nothing–is more worthwhile than growing closer to Christ. Is Christ worth some time and effort to you?

So, ladies, this is probably going to sound strange coming from a women’s Bible study author*, but you don’t need my book, or anybody else’s, to study the Bible. Just pick up the Scriptures, pick a book, start reading at the beginning, and keep going until you get to the end. People did that for thousands of years before Bible studies hit the scene. They did just fine, and you can too.


*My women’s Bible study, Jacob, Journaling the Journey is no longer in print, and that’s a good thing! I wrote it before learning good hermeneutics and how to handle God’s Word properly. You can probably still find copies of it at online merchants, but I would not recommend that you buy or use it. If you want a good Bible study, the best thing is to simply pick up the Bible and study it for yourself. Right now, I have no plans to rewrite Jacob for future re-release.
Bible Study

Throwback Thursday on Wednesday! ~ Rightly Dividing: 12 Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Bible Study

Family stuff, church stuff, a hurricane in the Gulf, and a speaking engagement this coming weekend, means I needed a little flexibility in the blog schedule, so I’m flip-flopping Wednesday and Thursday this week. Today, I hope you’ll enjoy this Throwback Thursday article, and, Lord willing, Lesson 10  of Ezekiel will be coming your way tomorrow.

Originally published August 19, 2014

12 dos donts

Bible study. As Christians we want to do it, we know we’re supposed to do it, but have you ever stopped to think that there are right ways and wrong ways to do it? Let’s take a look at a few do’s and don’ts of “rightly dividing God’s word” in Bible study.

Do use a good translation, not a paraphrase. You want to get as close to the original wording as possible. There are a number of easy to read, accurate translations out there. The English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) are two of the best. Try some translations on for size at BibleGateway.com.

Do read the entire Bible from cover to cover at least every few years. It will give you a better understanding of the “big picture” of the Bible and how all the little pieces inside it fit together. (I highly recommend a chronological reading plan since the books of the Bible aren’t always arranged chronologically.)

Don’t neglect the textual context. Every Bible verse has what I call a “micro-context” (how it fits in with the verses immediately before and after it) a larger context (how it fits in with the chapter and book it’s in) and a “macro-context” (how it fits in with the big picture of the Bible). When we fail to take verses in context, we are mishandling and misappropriating God’s precious and holy word.

Do consider the cultural context. Who wrote the passage, and what do we know about him and his perspective? To whom was the passage written- Jews or Gentiles? Those under the Law or those under grace? Men or women? Pastors or lay people? How did the culture at the time view the topic the passage is about, God, Judaism, the church, etc.? At what period in history, in which country, and in what language was the passage written? A good study Bible or study Bible app can be a tremendous help here.

Don’t confuse descriptive texts (passages that describe something that happened to somebody) with prescriptive texts (a command we’re to obey). Just because you read that Noah built an ark or that Judas went out and hanged himself, doesn’t mean that God is telling you to do the same (thank goodness!). Those are descriptive passages. God is simply telling the story of what happened to someone else because it somehow fits into His bigger story of redemption.

Do consider the type of literature and literary devices you’re reading. Is this book of the Bible history? Poetry? Law? Prophecy? Epistle? Is the particular passage a song, metaphor, hyperbole, comparison, allegory, parable? The Bible uses various vehicles to drive truth home, and they must all be understood in different ways.

Don’t feel like you HAVE to use a Bible study or devotional book or workbook. It really is OK to just pick up the actual Bible and study it. God made His word understandable, made you smart enough to understand it, and gave you the indwelling Holy Spirit to illumine your understanding.

Do, if you decide to use one, choose a Bible study book or workbook that treats Scripture as the “swimming pool” you dive into and swim around in, not the “diving board” the author springs off of into a pool filled only with her own personal stories, anecdotes, and opinions.

Do read the Bible in orderly chunks, not in single verses. Think about the way you would read a magazine. Do you pick it up each day and read a random sentence or paragraph? Do you read the third page of an article before you read the first page of it? You’ll best understand a book of the Bible if you start at the beginning and read the chapters in order to the end.

Don’t give in to the temptation to read yourself into Scripture. The Bible isn’t our story. Approach every passage remembering that the Bible is God’s story of redemption through Christ from His perspective, and we study it to learn about and draw closer to Him.

Don’t underestimate how helpful your Bible’s cross-references to related verses can be. Reading several different passages on a particular topic you’re studying can give you a broader understanding of what the Bible has to say about it.

Do let clear passages interpret unclear passages. This is another reason cross-references are so handy. If you come across a passage you just don’t get, try reading related passages that are clearer, and understand the unclear passage in light of the clearer ones.

Lengthy tomes have been written on the topic of biblical hermeneutics and Bible study methods, so I’m sure I could go on at length, but it’s your turn:

Have you ever found it difficult or daunting to study the Bible?
What are some of the benefits of rightly handling God’s word?
How has a right understanding of Scripture helped you to grow
in your walk with the Lord?


THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT SATISFACTION THROUGH CHRIST.
Bible Study

Throwback Thursday ~ 10 Simple Steps to Plain Vanilla Bible Study

Originally published April 22, 2016.

plain vanilla

Baskin Robbins is one of my favorite places to get ice cream. Not only is their ice cream good, but they boast a plethora of flavors to choose from. I love to start at one end of the counter and work my way through all their offerings, getting a little “taste spoon” here and there if a particular flavor piques my interest.

Flavor_Enlarged_Peanutbutter'nChocolate2
Photo courtesy of BaskinRobbins.com.

Having a myriad of options is great when it comes to ice cream, but when it comes to studying the Bible, the tsunami of materials, methods, and other choices out there can be overwhelming. Where do I start? How do I know if a certain Bible study book or teacher is doctrinally sound? Is the study method I’m using in line with good hermeneutics?

It can be enough to make you throw your hands up in the air and head for your local Thirty One Flavors to drown your sorrows in Peanut Butter ‘N Chocolate.

Sometimes it can help to get back to plain old, simple, vanilla Bible study. I’ve been saying for a while now that Christian women should, for the most part, put all the “canned” Bible study books, workbooks, and DVDs aside and simply pick up their Bibles and study them in a systematic way. After all, up until somewhere near the latter half of the 20th century, that’s generally how people studied the Bible. And it worked. People grew in their faith to godly maturity just fine. So, why can’t it work today?

It can. It does. It will.

Unfortunately, the blessing of lots of options, methods, resources, and information, and the marketing of that blessing by celebrity Christians and Christian retailing, has bred a generation of Christian women who are fearful that they aren’t as smart or as capable of reading and understanding God’s word as all the “experts” out there. They look at the simplicity of picking up their Bibles and studying them like calves looking worriedly at a new gate.

“What does that mean?”

“How do I do that?”

“I’m scared I’ll get it wrong!”

It absolutely breaks my heart to hear this angst from women who, I’m certain, genuinely want to study God’s word correctly so that they can know Him better and grow in their faith. And it makes me livid at the churches who haven’t trained them properly, the plantation-style women’s “Bible study” marketing that has kept them ignorant and dependent slaves to Christian retailers, and whatever other forces have conspired to keep these precious ladies away from the pure milk of the word.

So let’s reboot, get back to basics, and get as many women digging into the Word as possible.

First, it’s important to start out with a biblical perspective:

1. God is kind, and He loves you.

Yeah, I know, that’s pretty basic. But it’s worth bringing to the forefront for this discussion. This is a God who loves you and wants you to know Him. He has revealed Himself to you through creation, through Christ, and through His written word. He has indwelt you as a believer with the Holy Spirit to help you understand Scripture. He has told you that you can ask for wisdom and promises to provide it. In His kindness God has bent over backwards to provide you with ways to know Him. He is not some mean ogre sitting up there just waiting for you to get something wrong so He can chastise you. He wants you to understand His word.

2. The Perspicuity of Scripture

There’s this really great, comforting, reassuring doctrine called the perspicuity of Scripture. The gist of it is that Scripture is, for the most part, clear and understandable, especially for believers, because of the aforementioned indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But even lost people tend to understand a lot of what Scripture says (that’s why you hear so many of them arguing against it – they couldn’t do that if they didn’t at least partially understand it).

So, by and large, if you’re reading the Bible in an orderly way you should be able to understand it fairly well. You don’t have to have a seminary degree or be an “expert.” There are dirt farmers and country preachers out there who have a better grasp of Scripture than some celebrity pastors in multi-million dollar churches with thousands of congregants, and a string of seminary degrees behind their names.

OK, now that we have a biblical perspective on studying the Bible, how do we do it in a systematic or orderly way?

3. Pray

Don’t see this as childish or unimportant and skip it. Start your Bible study time by asking God to help you understand His word, to learn what He wants you to learn from it, and to obey its instruction. Even if you’re pretty well versed in the Scriptures, praying like this before opening God’s word will remind you of its holiness and your proper place of humility and submission to it.

bible-1089968_12804. Read the Bible the way you would any other book.

When you pick up a novel, do you read one sentence out of the middle of chapter 4, followed, the next day, by a paragraph from chapter 37, and, the next day, a couple of lines from chapter 1? Of course not. You wouldn’t know what was going on and what the characters meant by what they were saying. If you wouldn’t read something as inconsequential as a novel this way, why would you read the Bible in such a haphazard manner? Yet this is precisely the way people often approach daily Bible study.

My pastor said something awesome about this in his sermon the other day:

The Bible isn’t Google for self-help.

And he’s so right. We don’t just parachute in to a random passage, hoping to glean a nugget of truth. Pick a book of the Bible (maybe Genesis or one of the gospels if you’re new to all this), start at the beginning, and read a little each day until you reach the end. It’s really that simple.

5. Context, context, context

It’s important to read and understand Scripture in its context: how a verse fits with the verses immediately surrounding it, within its chapter, within its book, and within the overarching narrative of the Bible. This is really the biggest key to comprehending Scripture. Fortunately, the main way to do this is by reading the Bible in an orderly way (see #4- You did already read #4, right?)

Another invaluable practice is to make use of the cross-references and footnotes in your Bible. Cross-references will help you get a better idea of how the passage you’re reading fits together with other, related passages. Footnotes are there to add a touch of clarity to particular words and passages.

6. Get a plan, Fran.

If structure helps you, choose a good Bible reading plan. For the beginner, start off with one of the shorter plans so you won’t get overwhelmed. When you’re ready, I highly recommend the chronological plan. It is extremely helpful for learning the big picture of Scripture.

If you decide to choose a reading plan, though, hold its schedule loosely and don’t be beholden to its time frame. Work through the readings at your own pace. Take the time to let the Scriptures sink in and spend as long as you need to on any given section. God doesn’t give gold stars for finishing the Bible in a year.

7. Understand the background and setting.

There are some passages in Scripture that are a little more difficult to understand if you don’t know the customs of the time or what was going on historically and politically. In these cases a good study Bible, commentary, and other resources can be beneficial. I’ve touched on the specifics of some of these resources here. Many of these helpful materials can be found on-line for free.

8. Take notes on the text.

Hmm…an orderly method of reading…footnotes…extra resources…taking notes…this is starting to sound like…well…studying! Yep, that’s the idea. Isn’t it interesting that we often take a more serious and scholarly approach to studying for a class or a test than we do to studying our Bibles?

If you were a better student than I was in high school and college, you probably took notes on your text books as you read them. You wrote down things you wanted to remember, things that seemed important, things you didn’t understand and wanted to work on more later, things that were especially meaningful, even questions that occurred to you. Those are all good things to write down as you study your Bible, as well.

presenter-1206345_12809. Listen to good preaching.

As a Christian, you should already be doing this at least weekly at the church you’re a member of. But try to sneak in some extra listening – to your own pastor or another doctrinally sound pastor – as often as you can during the week. Listening to someone rightly handle and explain God’s word helps you to understand it and trains you to rightly handle it yourself as you study.

I once read that children who read a lot are better spellers. Not because they study spelling more, but because they’re exposed to more words and have the correct spelling of words constantly in front of their eyes. They sort of soak up good spelling by osmosis, and when it’s time for the spelling test, they simply write down what they’ve absorbed. Listening to good, expository preaching can have the same kind of helpful impact on your Bible study skills.

10. Practice makes perfect.

Studying the Bible is just like any other skill. You’ll probably fumble around a good bit when you’re first getting started, but if you stick to it, you’ll find that it gets easier and you get better at it as time goes by. Don’t be afraid to start. Jump right in there and try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

 

Ladies, simply picking up the Bible and studying it each day is such a joy. I have been doing it for years, and I love it. The excitement of “digging for buried treasure” in God’s word and uncovering the truths of Scripture for myself has been far more meaningful to me and has grown me so much more than any workbook or curriculum I’ve ever used. I hope you’ll put aside your book studies and devotionals, and give it a try yourself!

Bible Study

Bible Book Backgrounds: Why You Need Them and Where to Find Them

Originally published April 19, 2017

It’s time for your daily Bible study. You’ve decided to study Habakkuk or Philippians or Lamentations.

When you pick up a random book of the Bible to study it, how do you know…

…what’s going on in biblical history at the time the book was written
…when the book was written and by whom
…who the intended audience was
…where, geographically, the action takes place
…cultural aspects of the period that will help you better understand allusions and customs?

Unless you’ve done a considerable amount of study in the field of biblical history and the ancient Middle East, the answer is: you probably don’t know all of those things. And, as a result, your study of the book you’ve chosen probably isn’t going to be as fully-orbed as it could be.

Not having done any advanced study in those areas myself, I learned a while back to rely on those who have, and who have taken the time to share their knowledge with the rest of us. When I study, teach, or write a study on a book of the Bible, I always start out by delving into the “story behind the story.” How?

Macro Bible Study 

Reading every book of the Bible is the best way to get a good grip on the meta-narrative of Scripture. Because the books of the Bible aren’t always arranged in order of the events they contain and because many books overlap in their events and timing, I highly recommend a chronological read-through of the Bible at least every few years.

Pay Attention to the Text

Sometimes the details you’re looking for are in the text itself. Perhaps a certain month and day are mentioned, or “during the reign of King ____.” If the text specifies a certain city or country, look it up on a good Bible map to get your bearings. Sometimes a particular custom or expression is explained as an aside, such as in 1 Samuel 9:9. Some books specify who they’re written to in the first few verses. Also be sure to use your Bible’s footnotes and cross reference notations, and look up any related verses that can bring clarity.

Footnotes explain wording.
Cross references suggest related passages.
(BibleGateway.com)

“Bible Book Backgrounds”

This would be an overview, or survey, to read before you begin the book of Scripture you’ll be studying. I’ve found it’s helpful to use a survey of the book as a foundation and framework for subsequent study of the text.

While some commentaries contain an introduction to each book of the Bible, many do not. But I’ve found several online sites that provide helpful Bible Book Backgrounds:

Bible Introductions at Grace to You- A thorough overview of every book of the Bible, written by John MacArthur. These are the same introductions you’ll find in the MacArthur Study Bible.

Bible Book Overviews at Reformed Answers- Just put the name of the book you’re looking for in the search bar, followed by the word “overview.” You’ll also find overviews of the literary divisions of the Bible, such as an overview of the epistles, wisdom literature, etc.

Bible Surveys at Got Questions- Use the search bar to find the book survey you’re looking for. All surveys except the four gospels are entitled, “Book of ____ – Bible Survey.” You’ll find Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as, “Gospel of ____.”

Dig in. Study. Search it out. Doing a “background check” on the book you’re studying is a great way to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of God’s word.

Bible Study, Church

McBible Study and the Famine of God’s Word

Originally published November 11, 2016

mcbible-study

“Why can’t we just be taught a book of the Bible?” I heard this again today from a Christian woman hungry for her church to teach her the truth of God’s word. It’s a cry being raised by women from all over, scrounging through the dumpster of “Bible” teaching their church currently offers, searching for something – anything – that will nourish their hearts, minds, and souls with biblical truth so that they might actually be able to grow in Christ.

What’s going on here, church? Pastors? Women’s ministries? Why are godly women starving for the word of God at their own churches? This is a problem. And it’s not a small one. And it’s not going away. It’s getting worse.

amos-8-11

My family is a one income family. My husband works hard to provide for us, and we’ve made a lot of (completely worthwhile) sacrifices so I can stay home and raise and home school our children. One of those sacrifices is that we rarely get to eat out, even at a fast food restaurant. That means I cook. A lot. Fortunately, I happen to enjoy cooking, but it does take several hours of work a week. And sometimes, at the end of a long day, I’m tired and not particularly in the mood to spend a couple of hours on my feet chopping and mixing and sautéeing and stirring and roasting. I’d much rather chuck it and have my husband pick up McDonald’s on his way home. In fact, if we could afford it, and I couldn’t cook, and I thought it was healthy, my family would probably eat fast food for supper three or four times a week. I like fast food. My kids LOVE fast food. And why do all that work if you don’t have to and there’s an easier option, right?

But that’s no way to feed a family. It makes people obese and can lead to all kinds of other physical problems like heart disease, hypertension, and digestive ailments because the majority of fast food is high in the bad stuff (cholesterol, sodium, fat) and low in the good stuff (fiber, vitamins, minerals). Not to mention that having other people do the work God has assigned me is the lazy way out.

Yet while it’s easy to see how detrimental and unhealthy it is to feed a family a regular fare of fast food in the physical realm, this is exactly what most churches are doing in the spiritual realm when it comes to their Bible study menu.

“My pastor asked me to teach a women’s Bible study class. What’s a good book to use?”
“Why don’t you just teach them a book of the Bible?”
“Oh, I don’t feel equipped to do that.”

“Our Sunday School class is looking for a new curriculum. Any suggestions?”
“How about just working through a book of the Bible?”
“Our teacher works a lot of hours and doesn’t really have the time to study and prepare like that.”

screenshot-2016-11-10-at-12-31-44-pm-editedI hear this kind of thing over and over and over again. Churches aren’t even attempting to train people to properly teach the Bible, and Bible study “teachers,” (often through no fault of their own) either don’t know they need to be trained, or don’t have training available to them, or they’re unwilling or unable to put in the time and effort to be trained and to prepare lessons.

We have classes that need teachers, so we take whoever is available and willing, and we stick them in front of a group of people, hand them a take out bag of McBible Studies written by the celebrity Christian du jour and say, “Here. Feed the church family.”

That’s a problem in and of itself, first and foremost, because relying solely on pre-fab studies due to the fact that no one is trained to instruct the people of your church in the word of God isn’t biblical. The Bible says that pastors, elders, and teachers in the local church body should be “able to teach.” Not facilitate. Not read aloud what someone else wrote. Not “able to work a DVD player.” Teach.

But recruiting “teachers” who are unskilled in handling God’s word to lead a pre-packaged study often morphs into another dangerous problem, especially in the area of women’s Bible study: importing false doctrine into your church. Here’s a list of LifeWay’s top selling books for 2015. Every single non-fiction book on this list that’s likely to be used for a women’s group or individual Bible study (seven of the twelve by my count- which is a staggering proportion considering LifeWay also sells men’s studies, theology books, training manuals, “Christian living” books, and a wide variety of other non-fiction topics, but I digress) is written by a false teacher. Every. single.one.

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In my research of women’s Bible study authors and teachers, I estimate that approximately ninety-five per cent of the the female authors and teachers on the shelves at your local Christian retailer are false teachers. That goes way beyond a biblical “diet” laden with cholesterol and fat. Now, we’re talking about spiritual food tainted with E.coli. If you’ve got a woman in your church who’s facilitating a class using materials by one of these false teachers because she’s not competent enough in God’s word to teach the Bible, how in the world is she going to be able to catch and correct the false doctrine these Christian celebrities are teaching her class?

The answer is: she’s not. In fact, her awareness of her own incompetence in Scripture and her assumption that the Christian celebrity knows what she’s talking about (Because, after all, she’s a celebrity and LifeWay sells her materials, so she must know what she’s talking about, right?) will have the exact opposite effect. She will downplay and keep quiet about any nagging doubts – assuming she knows her Bible well enough to even have those doubts – in her own mind that the Christian celebrity is teaching things contrary to sound doctrine, and she will affirm the false doctrine that’s being taught. Then, this harmful bacteria of false doctrine will spread from woman to woman and class to class, and discerning women, knowing that the kitchen is contaminated, will grow emaciated from a lack of clean cuisine to feed on. We end up with a church full of “Bible” study and Sunday School classes that teach fluff and false doctrine instead of the unadulterated word of God. To borrow from Coleridge: “Food, food, every where, nor any bite to eat.” We’ve got a famine of God’s word, right in His very own house.

 

Church, pastors, women’s ministries- we’ve got to put a stop to this. People teaching Sunday School, Bible study classes, and, particularly, women’s Bible study classes must be trained in basic hermeneutics, the competent handling of God’s word in context, and the ability to teach sound doctrine as well as to refute the false. Do we not believe Scripture, or somehow think our church is exempt from it, when it says:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

or

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1

Where is our fear of God and our obedience to His word? We would never think of letting an untrained, incompetent teacher teach our children math or science in school when all that’s at stake is their academic education. Why are we satisfied to let untrained people teach the Bible at church when people’s eternities are at stake?

It doesn’t take years of seminary training. I never went to culinary school, but I’m still able to cook and feed my family a healthy diet because of what I’ve learned from others. Pastors can train teachers. Skilled Bible teachers can train others to teach. There are even great materials (like this one that was used in a training session I participated in last year) that can help as you teach people how to teach the Bible.

A doctrinally sound book study can be a fun, interesting, or useful supplement to the regular, straight teaching of Scripture in a Bible study class, but even these shouldn’t be used in place of training teachers. The best theologian out there isn’t a living and active member of that class. He doesn’t know the strengths and weaknesses of the class’s theology. He can’t address their current struggles and questions. He doesn’t love them, care about them, pray for them, and labor in the Word for them.

Only real life, trained, biblically competent teachers can do those things. They are vital and they are irreplaceable.

So let’s quit shoving Happy Meals into the hands of women who are starving for the pure milk and meat of God’s word. Let’s offer some cooking classes and set the table so the members of our churches can sit down to a healthy, home cooked diet of nourishing food that will help them grow to spiritual maturity in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And, now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go start supper.