Thursday, August 9, 2012

Learning and Study Bibles

As I awoke this morning in contemplation of tonight’s small group focus on the Gospel of John it occurred to me that in school, whether elementary or graduate, no teacher ever gave us the answers. No textbook ever had the answers. Oh I suppose some books had answers to exercise questions in the back of the book or of the chapter, but those answers were to be consulted after the exercises. The point is that we weren’t taught by being given the answers and we didn’t learn by being provided answers before doing our work.

Also, simply giving the teacher an answer often wasn’t enough, we had to either demonstrate the answer, as in math or science, or we had to give a reason for our answer, as in civics or history or literature.

And yet…and yet…we encourage Christians to use Study Bibles that have the answers. I’m not speaking of historical or geographical notations, I’m talking about interpretative answers. This approach is not designed to encourage learning and engagement it is often designed to sell books. Its result is monetary success for publishers and arrested development for the reader. How can it be that Christians who have been reading the Bible for decades haven’t been reading the Bible? Often it is because they have never read the Bible except through the lens of someone else’s commentary. The benchmark is not growth in Christ, it is not learning the Bible in fellowship with other Christians; it is rather whether or not the Christian spouts the correct answers to questions; the correct answers are often defined by the subculture in which the Christian finds himself.

We don’t just want instant coffee and microwave pizza (ugh!), we want instant Biblical understanding. This is nuts. One may learn data this way, but one does not develop this way. Speaking of coffee, some folks take longer to brew a nice carafe of French Press than they take to ponder a Biblical passage. They’ve learned that French Press is better than instant coffee but they haven’t learned that direct engagement with the Scripture is better than instant interpretive answers to Biblical passages.

When is the last time a Sunday School class or a small group engaged the Scripture without an intermediary in the form of a Study Bible or a Bible study book driving the interaction? It is rare, chances are we’ll sight Nessie before we sit in a group of Christians who are willing to wrestle with the Biblical text. We really don’t have Bible studies, we have studies of books or notes about the Bible.

I suppose I should say, to try to mitigate misunderstanding, that I am not opposed to commentaries and other Bible helps. What I am opposed to is using “helps” prior to engagement with the Scripture. It is only after we have wrestled and struggled and submitted ourselves to the Biblical text that we should consult the writings of others and then those writings should be in context – not in the form of “notes” – how can someone touch the depth and sacredness of Scripture with a note here and a note there?

Nor am I suggesting that learning is individual and isolated; while we need individual engagement with Scripture we also desperately need collective engagement for we are the Body of Christ. We grow individually and we grow collectively – they are reciprocal. One of the beauties of life is to witness people learning and growing together – it is wonderful outside the Kingdom, it is exhilarating within the Kingdom.

Psalm 1
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!  But his delight is in the law of the Lord,  and in His law he meditates day and night.  He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

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