Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Beginning Bible Study

Tonight at my church we begin a yearlong overview of the Bible.  

We're using a very, very basic set of texts called The Old Testament and The New Testament from Scratch.  All these books offer is the most basic summary of what's in the Bible.  They don't contain any of the pertinent critical methods for studying the Bible and they aren't formational types of study ~ none of the depth of the Methodist Disciple Series or the Presbyterian Kerygma series.

They represent a beginning.

To give my congregation credit, several of our members have been wading through a fairly dry study of the Gospel of Mark in Sunday School since January. I suggested that we try a study of the lectionary gospel text for the year, and offered some suggestions; the class teacher made the final selection.  I might have chosen otherwise had I realized (a) that no one would read during the week; that we would read aloud together from our little study book each Sunday, a couple of pages at a time, discussing each question posed as we went, so that it would take us until October to complete a book of less than 80 pages and (b) that no one had the kind of familiarity with the gospels that would enable them to approach one of them topically rather than chronologically.

But, as I say, I truly have to give my folks a lot of credit for making their way through unfamiliar material in an unfamiliar way, and getting into some excellent discussions along the way. 

Tonight we'll be introducing ourselves and talking a bit about our own connections to the Bible: how we were introduced to it, how we study it, how we spend time with it.  I'm pretty sure what kinds of things most of the class will say -- and they do vary widely.  Some people are intensely curious and deeply thoughtful, but have had little exposure to the world of Biblical scholarship, and others have a few favorite verses and stories with which they pray.

For me, although I was sent to Sunday school on erratic and rare occasions as a child and attended a Catholic boarding school for grades 7-9, my real introduction to the Bible came in my 10th grade Old Testament class at Northfield (now Northfield Mount Hermon) School, when our teacher tossed a college text on each of our desks and wrote the letters J,E,D, and P on the board.  In the words of my classmate Barb who, like me, arrived in a large Protestant mainline church in adulthood only to discover that most of what we had learned  fifteen years before was routinely ignored in both sermons and adult classes, "Can you believe how fortunate we were?  That we were taken so seriously at the age of fifteen?"

That has not been the case for my church members.  And I am going to try hard to remember well Cindy's words of a couple of posts back:

"But what if we are called to speak the difficult or the challenging? Not the hurtful and spiteful, I'm not talking about that. I don't think of that as God's way (not in my universe of God)...but as Purple says about challenging foundational beliefs. What do we do when after careful scrutiny, reflection and spiritual direction we know that the next few steps are, indeed, going to challenge someone's foundational belief and that it is highly likely that there will be pain?"

Me, every time I learn about a new set of questions regarding Scripture, I am excited and challenged. Every time that new historical material, a new literary lens, a new possibility for interpretation emerges, I can hardly wait to read and discuss.

But I also know, from my own Disciple classes in the Methodist church twenty years ago, that there are people who simply cannot absorb the news that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible.  That that news is, quite literally, painful for them ~ because it violates what was passed down by beloved grandparents and Sunday School teachers.  And that's only the first page.

So: Gently, gently; that's my mantra. 


  1. Bless you, Robin, as it is a fine line that we walk when we desire to help others to learn the true meaning of the Word and yet not destroy their faith. I am certain you will find gentle words and gentle ways to walk that journey with your people.

  2. I have on occasion been glad that my family did not set foot in a church until I was in my teens because it has meant less unlearning of oversimplified and sanitized stories in adult Sunday School contexts. (It does cause another set if problems when called on to lead children's music because I don't know the songs that "everyone knows"!) Our little congregation has been working through a Bible in a Year type plan and people are surprised at what they find in stories they thought they knew!

  3. Why do I have the feeling that God has thrills in the works for all of you? What a privilege, to be able to share this dynamic, important adventure - like a trip to Egypt for exploration! - with your precious flock. May His Word be the Teacher which speaks to each heart what each one needs to hear from Him. God bless you!

  4. Our congregations are very similar. Reading the study outloud...yes the women's organization does that.

    Hold on to their 3rd grade Sunday School stories...yes...and this it is good...yes.

    Surprised to learn that Moses did not write the first five books? Yes

    Surprised to learn that Jonah is a fable? Yes

    I continually remind our Wednesday evening Scripture Reflections that the Bible is not a seamless story...that many people had a hand in crafting the various books of the Bible...

    And it goes on...gently...very gently.

  5. It went really well. A lot of people talked about their early experiences with Scripture before we ran out of time; I hope that those who didn't will come back and share theirs next week.

    It seems as odd to me as it has ever since I returned to church that folks will invest decades of their time in attending and supporting an institution without developing a deep curiosity about its foundational text, but hey - they're there now.

  6. I have not used them directly but I know a number of folks who have really liked the "From Scratch" resources.

    I love the use of the phrase "From Scratch." I think it's just about perfect.

    Never cared for calling classes "Bible for Idiots/Dummies" that I recall being used back when those series of books were popular in the wider culture. On the other hand calling class Bible 101 is too intimidating for some since it assumes you have passed high school Bible.

  7. Years ago a friends started a Bible Study group doing an overview of a book of the Bible once a month. I joined the group at Psalms and am currently preparing this month's on 2 Peter. The group is ecumenical. I'm a Roman Catholic, one member of the group has a Calvinist background and we have a few Anglicans and non-conformists in between. We take turns to lead and so it is always interesting!

    Doing the Bible in order has been a very good experience. Going from the prophets, comparing the situation in Israel with the Messianic promises God was making straight into the Gospels was very powerful. Also doing Paul's letters in order is interesting. Month by Month I could see his themes building and his experience of God began to shine through. I hope you groups get as much out of the studies as I have, although I won't wish on you some of the more 'interesting' discussions we have had!