Top 10 KW Posts of 2014

San Churchill (2007), Creative Commons

San Churchill (2007), Creative Commons

‘Tis the season for reflection and celebration. So to join the fun, here are the 10 most-viewed posts of the year. Be sure not to miss them; this could be your last chance.

10. How to Honor God with Your Money

A Bible study on Proverbs 1:10-19 that gets specific with application.

9. 10 Old Testament Books Never Quoted in the New Testament

Part of my series analyzing every explicit NT quotation of the OT. This post lists all the OT books never explicitly quoted (though most of them are certainly alluded to) by NT authors.

8. The Best Wedding Sermon Ever

A recording of the sermon preached at my wedding, from Song of Solomon 2:1-3:5. I’ve been to a lot of weddings, and this remains the best sermon I’ve ever heard.

7. Top 11 Old Testament Verses Quoted in the New Testament

Another installment in the NT-use-of-the-OT analysis. Could this one be so popular because we like to know what the Apostles’ favorite memory verses may have been?

6. Details of the OIA Method

This post serves as a table of contents to all my posts about the OIA method. When new visitors find the site, this post shows them the way to all the nuts and bolts of OIA Bible study (observe, interpret, apply).

5. Teach Bible Study to a 2-Year-Old

Who wouldn’t want to teach their littlest ones how to study God’s word?

4. Teach Bible Study to a 4-Year-Old

Last year, the 2-year-old post was more popular, but this year, the post about 4-year-olds edged it out.

3. Summary of the OIA Method

This post’s popularity doesn’t surprise me, as I link to it all the time. It is the centerpiece of the site, and I want to direct readers there early and often.

2. 3 Disciplines to Develop Wise Speech

This post from the “how to lead a Bible study” series brought a huge surge in traffic late in the year when Tim Challies linked to it. I’m delighted to see readers willing to focus on character in addition to learning skills.

1. 10 Reasons to Avoid Sexual Immorality

In March, I compiled this quick list of observations of Proverbs 6:24-35 about all the good reasons to avoid sexual sin. My usual blogging time had been cut in half that week due to other pressures of life, and I just wanted to get something out there for my ongoing Bible study through Proverbs 1-9. I didn’t even have time to write a proper introduction with a decent hook. To my utter surprise, though, Tim Challies, and then many others, liked the post and linked to it, and many more shared it on social media. The post quickly became the most-viewed post in the history of this blog.

May the sure promises of God’s word guide us, and may the Lord himself rescue us in those times when we consider doing something stupid.

———————–

And for your reading pleasure, here were the next 10 most viewed posts:

11. What Frozen Taught Me About Bible Study

12. How to Lead a Great Bible Study

13. Why I Don’t Like Inductive Bible Study

14. Why Did Jesus Feed the 5,000?

15. Easy Sex Will Keep You From Being Wise

16. Sample Bible Study Leader’s Notes

17. Four Modern Versions of the Bible that are Ruining the Bible

18. How to Recognize Sowers of Discord

19. Ask Good Observation Questions

20. What Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2) Taught Me About Bible Study

Please let me know if you have any ideas for topics you’d like to see in 2015. Only one rule: It must in some way help ordinary people learn to study the Bible.

5 Common Small Group Myths

At the Gospel Coalition, Steven Lee writes about “5 Common Small Group Myths (and the Truth to Help Transform Your Group).” He expands on the following 5 myths:

  • Myth #1: A successful small group will not be relationally messy.
  • Myth #2: Small groups exist for others to meet my needs.
  • Myth #3: Trust and transparency take many years to cultivate in a small group.
  • Myth #4: Small group members should become best friends.
  • Myth #5: Small groups should focus only on Bible study, not sharing sins or engaging in outreach.

I certainly struggle with #3, and I feel pretty guilty if #4 doesn’t take place. Can you relate with any of them?

The full article is worth reading. Check it out!

3 Gifts to Encourage Bible Study

People buy Christmas gifts for different reasons. Parents choose a special toy to bless their child with genuine delight as they play. A wife selects socks for her husband because she is tired of seeing him pad around the house with a big toe peeking through his threadbares. A teenage boy purchases a gift card for his older brother because, well, he needs to get him something.

FutUndBeidl (2012), Creative Commons License

FutUndBeidl (2012), Creative Commons License

Gifts With a Purpose

A courageous few will buy a gift to encourage a behavior or habit in a friend, in a loved one, or in themselves. Gym memberships, spiral planners, and alarm clocks may all fall into this category.

Perhaps you know someone you’d like to encourage in the Christian life. There’s no better way to grow as a Christian than reading and studying the Bible. Here are three gift ideas to consider if you want to encourage Bible study. (Be sure to read all the way to the end, because you will see a gift idea that requires you to spend exactly $0.)

  1. A Bible — Perhaps this is obvious, but it is difficult to study the Bible without a Bible. Though there are an abundance of Bible resources available in online and mobile formats, some people prefer to have a hard copy in their hands. Also, some may be reluctant to write in or mark up a Bible that has sentimental value. So why not give a Bible expressly for the purpose of Bible study, and with this give your friend permission to dig into the Good Book with ink and graphite?

    There are thousands of Bibles available online. I won’t give a specific recommendation (though commenters should feel free), but consider these factors as you make a purchase: pick a good translation (ask a trusted friend or pastor, or ask me in the comments), make sure the font is large enough for comfortable reading, and consider how much space is available in the margins. (I realize there is much more I could write about how to choose a good Bible to study. Look for an upcoming post discussing just that!)

    Bonus suggestions — Here are some smaller, stocking-friendly suggestions that pair nicely with the gift of a Bible: a notebook or special pen for Bible study notes, colored pencils for marking up the Bible, or fun post-it notes to mark out significant passages or hold longer personal commentary. None of these are necessary for personal Bible study, of course, but I’ve found that when people enjoy the tools they are using, they are more likely to pursue the related activity.

  2. A book — For most Christians, lack of personal Bible study is not due to the absence of a Bible. Far too many Christians have dusty, unopened Bibles propping up other books on their shelves. These Christians need to be persuaded that personal Bible study is necessary and that personal Bible study is doable. We should not leave Bible study to the professionals — to preachers and authors of commentaries. God intended his word to be read, known, and studied by all his children. In fact, this is how he delights in making himself known to us!

    If only someone had written a book as an introduction to a solid method of Bible study! If that book taught readers the Observation-Interpretation-Application method of Bible study, such a recommendation would be even more appropriate on this blog. If only such a book were widely available and inexpensive! If only such a book had easy-to-find cover art — we could put it in the sidebar of every page on this blog!

    (Two notes: I must point out that this recommendation is not being written by Peter. He is far too modest to claim that his book is outstanding, so I’m doing it—not because he wants me to, but because I really think it is great. Second, there are other fine books written to instruct readers in Bible study. The point here is to find a trustworthy book that points people back to the Bible and equips them to study the Bible on their own.)

  3. An invitation — Perhaps you want to give a gift but your budget doesn’t have much room this year. Or maybe you just want to give the most personal gift on this list. Consider inviting a friend to study the Bible with you! I’m not speaking of starting a Bible study group (though we have resources to help you with that). What if you simply met with a friend once every week or two to study a portion of Scripture? Pick a book of the Bible together, set aside an hour, and dig in! This could be a low-stress way to sharpen your own Bible study skills, encourage your friend in solid Bible study methods, and deepen your friendship, all at the same time.

Any one of these gifts, given in the right spirit and within the right relationship, could provide just the spark that a friend needs to know God better. What suggestions do you have for gifts that encourage Bible study?

My New Cohort

In my effort to become all things to all people (1 Cor 9:22), I’m pleased to announce that I’ve discovered arm-twisting to be a viable strategy for persuasion. My dear friend Ryan Higginbottom has succumbed to my righteously coercive tactics and agreed to become a co-contributor to this blog.

Like Baruch, who blogged frequently with the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 45:1), Ryan may be tempted to believe the Lord has only added to his pain. Joining with me may make him weary with groaning, until he finds no rest (Jer 45:2-3). But, as with Baruch, Ryan may yet find his life as a prize of war for all his toil (Jer 45:5).

What does this mean for you, dear reader? You can expect to see regular posts from the good Dr. Higginbottom fortnightly, beginning on the morrow. If you’d like to learn more about this tall, dark, and handsome fellow, please refer to the About page. With a solid grasp of basic observation skills, you’ll have no trouble finding the relevant information you seek.

Move the Group Toward the Main Point

The best piece of advice I received as a beginning blogger was to make sure each post had just one main point. I’ve not always followed the advice perfectly, but I’ve generally seen greater success when I do.

The same goes for Bible studies. Have you been part of a discussion that felt directionless? Have you tried to lead a discussion without being sure how to rein things in? You know you’re there to study the Bible, but how do you balance flexible compassion (giving people freedom to speak what’s on their hearts) with intentional leadership?

The difference often lies in having a clear main point to work toward.

This isn’t the place to explain how to come up with a strong main point. I’ve done that in my series about how to study the Bible and with these 3 skills. I’ve argued that the main points are the ones worth fighting for. In this post, I’d like to show how to lead a group toward the main point.

The Main Point about the Main Point

One principle drives me: If (what I think is) the main point is truly the (biblical author’s) main point, then I should be able to trace a path from any observation of the text to that main point. Therefore, I don’t need my group to follow exactly the same path to the main point that my personal study followed. Therefore, I don’t have to force the discussion into a certain rut, exhausting the group members and guaranteeing that I will remain the authoritative guru who has all the answers. People will never learn Bible study on their own that way.

czechian (2010), Creative Commons

An Example

Let me illustrate. In a recent small group meeting, we studied Romans 2:1-16. My main point was: “God’s wrath is revealed against moral, upright people who cannot practice what they preach.”

The chief observations that had led me to that main point were:

  • Romans 2:1 contrasts with Romans 1:29-32. Paul shifts from those who approve of evil behavior to those who disapprove of it.
  • Repeated words: practice, righteous, condemn, does, law, judge/judgment.
  • Paul’s use of Psalm 62 in Romans 2:6.

As we got into our discussion, however, group members mentioned few of my observations. Other things in the text affected them.

  • Romans 2:4 describes a lack of repentance as contempt for God’s kindness.
  • Repeated contrast between Jews and Greeks in Romans 2:-16.

One woman got particularly hung up on Paul’s claim in verse 11 that God shows no favoritism. “If he shows no favoritism,” she remarked, “then why does Paul keep saying ‘to the Jew first, and also to the Greek’!?” Others jumped in to assure her that Paul gives Jews first dibs on both reward and judgment, but she still struggled with the supposed claim to impartiality.

I could have tabled the discussion to get them back to the observations I thought most important. But the discussion was so juicy, and the members were forced to dive into the text to answer each others’ questions. I didn’t have the heart to cut that short.

But my key principle kicked in. If I was correct about the main point, I should be able to steer us in that direction even from this discussion of God’s impartiality. When I thought of it that way, I could celebrate my loss of control, and guide the group gently to the main idea. It wasn’t difficult to ask why Paul is so committed to clarify God’s impartiality. God’s wrath plays no favorites! He’s just as mad at the “good” people as he is at the “bad” people! All of them need the gift of his righteousness.

A Few Suggestions

Ryan Higginbottom already covered some of this ground in his excellent guest post on asking good interpretive questions. Here are a few of the skills that have served me well.

  1. Come to the meeting prepared with a clear direction (a strong main point for the passage).
  2. Hold your pathway to that main point loosely. Let the discussion take on a life of its own.
  3. If the group sees things you hadn’t considered, be willing to reconsider what you thought was the main point.
  4. Keep asking “why?” questions until you help the group arrive at a clear main point.
  5. State the main point simply and clearly.
  6. Connect it to Jesus and move into application.

People need you to lead them. They need your help to learn these skills. So please lead.

Don’t lead with such an iron fist that the discussion becomes an exercise in reading your mind and feeding your ego. But lead in a way that inspires them with confidence to continue their study on their own. Your leadership will thus become far more effective.

The Bible Study Tim Keller Never Forgot

Last week, Collegiate Collective published a guest article I wrote about campus ministry entitled “The College Ministry Method that Should Never Change.” College ministry must constantly change to keep up with cultural trends, but in the article I write of the one thing—study of the Bible—that must never change lest ministry lose its moorings.

I got the idea for the article from an interview Tim Keller did with Bible Study Magazine, where he described one particular meeting he’s never forgotten since his undergraduate days:

Keller describes a retreat where InterVarsity staff worker Barbara Boyd gave the students 30 minutes to list 50 observations from a single verse: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men’” (Mark 1:17). After 10 minutes, they began to feel saturated, but she encouraged them to press on. When they regrouped to share their findings, they could not believe how many jewels came from this single mine. “Boyd closed her exercise by asking the students how many of them had found their deepest insight in the first five minutes of thought. ‘No one had,’ says Keller. ‘And I’ve never forgotten that.’”[1]

Have you ever been in such a Bible study?

If you’d like to read my full article, check it out!

————————–

[1] Bible Study Magazine, Vol. 5 No. 3, March/April 2013, pp. 12-13.

Women of the Word

I once had the privilege to meet with a reasonably well-known man who edits Bible study curriculum. My chief questions for him were: What is your vision for publishing Bible curriculum? Why do you think we need more curriculum, instead of simply greater Bible literacy? How do you avoid creating a dependence with your subscribers, such that they turn to you and your materials instead of going directly to God’s Word?

Now, I may have caught this fellow on a bad day. And our appointment was cut a little short due to factors outside of his control. So I don’t want to blast him for a single conversation. But I must admit I was terribly disappointed that he had nothing for me better than, “The curriculum helps people.”

I pestered him with follow-up questions. Helps them with what? Helps them how? Why must we produce more and more curriculum that only decreases people’s confidence in their ability to read the unmediated text of Scripture? But he confessed to having no answers for me.

A Very Different Answer

Some time later, I came across a guest post by Jen Wilkin about this very problem: training Christians (especially Christian women) to rely on commentary and Christian books more than the Book of books. I couldn’t be any more delighted by her thesis.

I explored Ms. Wilkin’s website and discovered that she, too, wrote her own Bible study curriculum. I couldn’t see how that practice fit with the point of her article, so I contacted her directly to ask her the same questions I had asked the first gentleman. Her answer was far less pragmatic than his and came pregnant with a compelling vision:

I write curricula with the intent of training women how to use the tools…At the beginning of each of my studies I tell the women that, while I hope they will learn the book of the Bible we are studying, my greater hope is that they will better know how to handle their Bibles on their own once we are finished.

Eventually, I hope my women will rely on a curriculum less and less, having learned by repeated use how to ask good questions and honor the learning process on their own.

Here was something I could get excited about. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Wilkin’s new book Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both our Hearts and our Minds, and Crossway was willing to provide me with a complementary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I could not fault her intentions; would she be able to deliver on them?

Women of the WordMoney Moments

I’m happy to say Wilkin does, in fact, deliver. Her little book is a powerhouse of training, inspiring and equipping ordinary people to study God’s Word. I benefitted greatly from this book, even though Wilkin’s target audience is Christian women. The only time I felt like she wasn’t speaking to me was in the last chapter where she gives counsel for women who teach women’s Bible studies.

Here are some of the many highlights that stuck with me:

  • Right thinking will lead to right feeling, not vice versa. Too many of us get this backwards.
  • “If Bible literacy is our goal, we need an honest evaluation of what we are currently doing to achieve it.” I’m addicted to what Wilkin calls the “Xanax approach” to the Bible: I feel guilty if my time in Scripture doesn’t make me feel better in some way.
  • The Bible tells one Big Story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. We’ll understand each passage best when we see how it connects to this larger story arc.
  • Finding historical background is not merely an intellectual exercise. Good Bible study depends upon it. And it can be fun!
  • The desire for instant gratification is mortally dangerous to our Bible study. Sometimes we get nothing at all from a single reading session. We need to have more patience over time to see the benefits.
  • “It is good for us to earnestly attempt interpretation on our own before we read the interpretations of others. And this means we must wait to consult commentaries, study Bibles, podcasts, blogs, and paraphrases for interpretive help until we have taken our best shot at interpreting on our own.”

Some Caution

I have two minor differences with the book worthy of comment.

  1. Oversimplification. Wilkin covers a lot of ground with a very low word count. This fact occasionally leads her to oversimplify unhelpfully. For example, her discussion of literary genres contains little nuance and, without caution, may set some on false trails: “Historical narrative uses language to give a factual retelling of events. It intends to be taken at face value…Wisdom literature uses language to communicate principles that are generally true, though not universally true. Reading a proverb as a promise can lead to heartache and doubt.”
  2. Cross-references. Wilkin puts more stock in cross-references than I’m comfortable with. She includes the looking up of cross-references as a critical step in interpretation, but again I think this approach can at times generate more smoke than light. The original readers of James didn’t have access to Paul’s letters to help interpret James’s letter (Paul’s letters weren’t even written yet!). I believe it’s more important for us to understand James in his own right first before we begin the work of connecting his ideas to the rest of Scripture. Accessing cross-references too soon can actually take us down the wrong track and cause us to miss the point at hand.

Conclusion

My minor differences shouldn’t dampen enthusiasm for the book. I’m happy to recommend it to you. I learned from Wilkin’s ability to communicate complex ideas in simple language. And she made a compelling case for the need of more women teaching women in the church. Women teachers have something to offer Christ’s body that no men can provide.

In my email correspondence with Ms. Wilkin, we joked that we must be twins separated at birth and that we wish we had crossed paths sooner. If you have been helped by this blog, you will find much of benefit in Women of the Word.

How to Lead a Bible Study

For several months, I’ve reflected on many skills involved in leading Bible study groups. I’ve now arranged the posts into categories and created a table of contents for the series to make it easier to find stuff.

You can find the contents page in the top menu under “Leading” > “Adult Bible Studies”. I grouped the posts into the following categories:

  • Why lead Bible studies?
  • Getting the group started
  • Preparing to lead
  • Leading the meeting
  • Outside the meeting
  • Training others to lead

I haven’t yet completed the series, so I’ll keep the contents page updated as I go.

Check it out!

What the Dictionary Taught Me About Bible Study

I don’t watch many videos online. I almost always skip them when people link to them. But when blogger Mark Ward says, “This video is fantastic,” I pay attention. Mark shares my love for linguistics and for careful, contextual Bible study, so I respect his recommendations on such things.

So I now share with you Anne Curzan’s TED talk entitled, “What Makes a Word ‘Real’?” And I echo Mark’s evaluation. This video is fantastic. Watching it may be your best-invested 17 minutes all week. I believe you’ll find the video to be quite impactful, and I wish I had some way to incentivize your watching of it.

Curzan explains how language changes over time, and she peels back the curtain on the editing of dictionaries. I appreciate her comment that the dictionary is probably the only book we’re trained never to think critically about. But we should. Below the video, I’ll trace some implications for Bible study.

What does Curzan’s presentation tell us about Bible study?

  1. Because languages can change drastically every hundred years, word studies are far less important than book studies when we come to the Scripture. Our chief goal should be to understand how each author uses his language; our goal should not be to tap into the history of the Bible’s vocabulary.
  2. “No dictionary is the final arbiter of what words ‘mean.'” This is no less true of Bible dictionaries and lexicons than it is of modern English ones. The difference, of course, is that biblical languages are now dead and no longer changing. But those languages (particularly Hebrew) changed so much over the time the Bible was written that it’s irrational to think we can look back over their millennia of use and identify the single “true meaning” of any biblical word. Just think of the American Heritage Dictionary’s contradictory entries for the word peruse.
  3. Just like in contemporary word usage, biblical authors felt free to make up new words to suit their purposes (I think of “more than conquerors” in Romans 8:37 as an example). In such cases, they likely were aiming more at emotional impact than technical precision.
  4. We must be careful not to read current theological categories back into the words of Scripture. The Scriptures must stand on their own, in their own context. For example, when the New Testament uses the word “church,” the authors do not always have in mind what we think of as “church” (a local congregation, meeting at least weekly for worship services, with a pastor, a budget, a building, a set of by-laws, and an annual meeting). “Preach” is not always referring to the sermons presented by the ordained minister on Sunday morning.

Words are beautiful things, as long as we notice how they’re used and don’t expect them to carry loads they simply can’t bear. Consider this video your invite to a fruitful understanding of basic linguistics. And please don’t defriend me over it.

Check it out!