Category Archives: Christian Education

Bible Reading 101

As Christians, Bible reading is an important aspect to our faith. We believe the 66 books of the cannon of Scripture make up God’s word to us. Therefore, it is important for us to have a healthy reading diet. However, the challenge we face is how should the text of Scripture, God’s word to us, be read? This kind of question can actually fill volumes and be argued and debated so much so that a person would have a difficult time knowing what’s right. To add to our complexity many people just choose not to attempt to understand basic Bible reading. Obviously, we all know how to read, what else is needed?

I don’t mind discussing some of the fine points of Biblical interpretation (formally known as hermeneutics) but at this point, what is really needed is just some very basic understanding of key concepts to help analyze and understand the text. Therefore, I will be looking at three very fundamental points to help understand what is being read in the Bible. They are, what I call, reading redemptively, exigetically, and eisegetically. I will go into definitions of these terms below.

Redemptively, goes without saying. We cannot deny the work of the Spirit in our lives as well as in our Bible reading. No one approaches the Bible autonomously or without influence. If you are a believer you will read the Bible from the perspective of God’s sovereign authority. The natural man, as Paul tells us, suppresses the truth that he/she has about God and thus reads the Bible from the perspective of their own ultimate authority. Reading the Scriptures redemptively does not guarantee you a perfect read because we aren’t perfect people but it is the start point.

Reading the Bible exegetically, remember this ten cent term, trust me you are going to want to cash in on it some day. Reading the Bible exegetically is a descriptive approach where one seeks to understand the text apart from any opinions, feelings, stream of consciousness type stuff, etc. In other words one attempts to remove any subjectivity from their understanding of the text and attempts to read what the text is communicating. Just look at the exegesis, the prefix “ex” means to “come out of”. In exegetical reading, the information comes out of the text. If you are in a building that’s on fire what do you look for? The “ex”it sign because you want to come out of the building. CAUTION, this is a very disciplined task and requires patience and an inquisitive mind on the part of the reader. Some of the questions one might ask himself/herself are:

  • What type of genre (style of writing) is this?
  • What is the context? (this one is a biggie)
  • What do these certain words mean?
  • What is the author communicating?

There are others you might come up with but this is a good list to get you started. Remember, the goal is to think about the text on its own terms without imposing assumptions.

Lastly, one can read the Bible eisegetically. To be perfectly candid, this is the one that gets many Bible teachers in trouble, let me explain. An eisegetical reading of the text will always communicate what the reader thinks of the text as opposed to what the text actually says itself. Think of the prefix “eis” which means “into” because one is positing their thoughts “into” the text. This is dangerous business.

Now that I have given the precautionary warning  I am going to back peddle a bit. The reason is, there are situations where an eisegetical reading is warranted. The first one that comes to mind is once there has been a thorough exegetical reading. An impatient reader would rather bypass the exegetical reading and go straight for the eisgetical reading. However the best forms of eisegesis will showcase a thorough exegesis. One easy way to look at this is exegesis will ask what the author believes. Eisegesis on the other hand asks what the reader ought to believe.

This is a basic approach to reading the Bible. There are many sub-issues that would fall under these three categories or redemptive, exegetical, and eisegetical but for the purpose of this post one would do very well if he/she would keep these in mind during Bible study.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Education, Hermeneutics

Bible Sufficient For Meaningful Living?

These numbers look to be a little low. However, something to think about; with the Church focus on attracting the “younger generation” over the past decades these numbers are ironic. Could it possibly be that our efforts at making amends with the “younger generation” has actually had the reverse effect?

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Christian Education, Church, Preaching

BOOK REVIEW: Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook

ITPBTITLE: Interpreting The Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook

AUTHOR: Gary V. Smith

PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (214 pages).

I was very interested to see Interpreting The Prophetic Books(ITPB) as part of the Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis (HOTE)series. If you have not yet been exposed to this series it is well worth considering. The HOTE series attempts to provide students of the Bible with basic interpretive skills for Biblical exegesis. The HOTE series editor David M. Howard explains that “An appreciation for the rich diversity of literary genres in Scripture is one of the positive features of evangelical scholarship” (ITPB 15). It appears that consideration over genre is fairly recent in contemporary scholarship which makes the HOTE a very timely series. Moreover, one of the important areas where genre comes in to play is the interpretation of the Prophetic Books of the Bible. It has been a long held suspicion of mine that the neglect of the prophetic books in day to day preaching and teaching today is due in part to a lack of interpretive tools necessary for a proper interpretation of the text. Prophetic books can be demanding and without some of the proper interpretive tools teaching preparation can be a very daunting task. Gary Smith has I believe successfully provided the necessary tools to help students get the best and most out of their study of the Prophetic Books.

The book (ITPB) itself is a very manageable 214 pages of well written and understandable prose. It is broken down into six chapters that deal with The Nature of Prophetic Literature explaining the prophetic genre itself, Major Themes in the Prophetic Books providing a big picture perspective of the prophetic books, and while this book is not a book on homiletics the remaining chapters Preparing for Interpretation, Interpretive Issues In Prophetic Texts, Proclaiming Prophetic Texts, and From Text to Application are in essence instruction in homiletics. Some of the features of ITPB are a helpful outline at the beginning of each chapter that lays out the direction of the discussion. There is also a very helpful glossary of about 70 common terms used in OT studies as well as scripture and subject indices in the back of the book.

In chapter 1 Dr. Smith explains the genre of prophetic literature. He explains that prophetic literature of the OT was vitally important for the NT church because of their teachings on law, the coming Messiah, and God’s kingdom. However, the challenge for modern day readers is grasping the context of the prophetic books. The difficulty is that we are not only separated from the OT prophets by time but they wrote from various political, socio-economic, and religious settings. Because of this it is an over simplification to approach the prophetic literature the same way in every case without causing a distortion of the text. In order to keep the prophets teachings in their proper contexts Dr. Smith explains the use of various interpretive concepts that emerge from the prophetic text to assist the reader with analysis. Tools such as Temporal Categories of Prophecy, Genres of Prophecy, Parallelism, and Imagery help provide the way in which the Prophetic text ought to be examined and understood.

Chapters 2 and 3 are discussions that I would categorize as “preparation”. One of the pitfalls in a book like this which seeks to help students with interpretation is to impose an interpretation. ITPB works very hard at providing the framework without providing the interpretation. So in chapter 2 for example the reader is given a broad overview of each of the prophetic books with attention to the primary themes without offering too much by way of interpretation. Chapter 3 restricts itself to only providing background information about the prophetic books to include the use of textual criticism and further resources to assist one with the study of the prophetic books.

Chapter 4 deals with the thorny complexity of Interpretive Issues in Prophetic Texts. This chapter discusses some of the errors that we tend to make in interpreting prophetic books to include: is prophecy literal or metaphorical, metaphorical interpretation of prophecy, difficulties between prophecy and its New Testament fulfillment, and is prophecy always fulfilled. This isn’t a complete list of the discussions found in this chapter but they are some that I found very helpful.

While this isn’t a book on homiletics (the method of sermon preparation) chapters 5 and 6 provide a very good homiletic outline useful for anyone in the role of teaching. Chapter 5 covers more of the process of teaching preparation while chapter 6 has more to do with the practical application of prophetic text. Chapter 6 is lengthy but very important in that this process of practical application has demonstrated itself to be challenging for modern day teachers. While most teachers want to give practical application many times it is at the expense of the text. This is where ITPB demonstrates its merits by demonstrating how one can provide practical application without compromising the content of the text.

PERSONAL REFLECTION

There is so much substance in the prophetic books. Smith makes the point that “the prophetic books were of great importance to the New Testament church” (ITPB 23). While it is quite understandable why some are apprehensive about teaching the prophetic books because of their complexity, I think the ITPB reader will be pleasantly surprised by how helpful this volume can be to them in their teaching ministry. PERSONAL RATING: 5 Stars out of 5 ________________________________________

This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Book Review, Christian Education, Hermeneutics, Homiletics, Preaching

The State of Theology h/t Ligonier and LifeWay

TheStateOfTheology-Infographic

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Education, Theology

New Poll By Life Way Finds Gaps In Christian Ed

Bad news in the area of Christian Education. Apparently a survey was conducted by Life Way for Ligonier that showed many “evangelicals” are confused about the beliefs of the Christian faith. While there was some good findings like belief in the resurrection, salvation in Christ alone, there were other areas mostly pertaining to Christ’s nature, the order of salvation, and the Holy Spirit that received low scores. One of the quotes I found interesting explaining this phenomenon was by John Stackhouse:

John Stackhouse, professor of theology and culture at Regent College in Vancouver, agrees. “We continue to hold adult Christian education in low regard,” he said. “A sermon on Sunday morning and a conversational Bible study during the week won’t get the job done of informing and transforming people’s minds along the lines of orthodox Christian belief.”

I think Stackhouse has a point with one caveat. The challenge isn’t with the quantity of meeting opportunities but more with the quality. He mentions for example “conversational Bible study”. A conversational approach isn’t necessarily the problem. I have seen conversational approaches done well and I’ve seen them done very poorly. The purpose of the conversational approach is to help people internalize the answers. However, it should not be used as an opportunity for “stream of consciousness” or subjectivist Bible study where everyone has a thought and they’re all correct (This reminds me of Paul’s criticism of the Corinthians).

At any rate you can read about the survey conducted by Life Way here. Feel free to leave any comments.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Education