what follows is the first of a three-part series on studying scripture in community it is produced by ambleside schools international in cooperation with Shepherds house the mission of ample site schools is to create and serve a worldwide community of parents teachers schools and training centers that provide what Charlotte Mason called a living education guiding and empowering persons to author lives which are full and free rich and relationship to god self others ideas and of all creation similarly through the ministries of thrive life model and joy starts here Shepherd’s house seeks to equip people with the maturity skills necessary to change their lives and the lives of those around them the presenter dr. bill st. Cyr is the executive director of ambleside schools international and serves on the board of directors of shepherds house consider with me how we study scripture particularly how we study Scripture and community much of what I’m going to say is also applicable to individual Bible study but the focus here is on small group studies throughout the years I’ve been involved in countless Bible studies of many sizes shapes and forms these studies may be classified into five models the first model Bible study as soft data mining the second bible study is serious data mining the third Bible study of self-expression fourth Bible studies lecture and finally Bible study has shared attention to God’s mind in the first part of this three part video series I’ll describe the first four of these models exploring their strengths and weaknesses in the fall of 1977 I was a junior at Louisiana State University and leading a bible study in one of the freshman dorms each week we’d gather with our Bible in one hand and study guide in the other opening the Bible guide to the week’s lesson perhaps entitled prayer we would find an inspirational introduction and several sub sections each titled with a question such as how should we pray you matthew 66 or the subsection could contain a series of closed questions questions that required a very specific short answer also with an adjacent Bible verse for example to whom should we pray open parenthesis Matthew 66 closed parenthesis the task given to study participants was to look up the verses and record the right answer as the intended answer was almost always self-evident rarely was there any serious engagement of the text itself the study was in fact not so much an exploration of Scripture as the systematic unfolding of the ideas of the author of the study guide now I cannot be anything but grateful for such studies having no doubt of their positive impact on countless lives they have a certain catechetical utility efficiently disseminating fundamental biblical truths but like my freshman level sociology class which was all about getting the right answer on the test I can’t help but believe that this method misses something important it seems more informative than formative identifying the correct answer what at times generate tangential conversations such as personal difficulties experienced in maintaining a consistent prayer life or the personal importance of a prayer life I suspect that the more spiritually formative parts of our time together were these tangents in which we connected on something more than just the right answer as important as the right answer might be serious data mining is usually an individual task the pastor in his study or professor at his desk but I’ve seen small groups attempt something of this process and it often goes by the name of inductive bible study now in popular usage the phrase inductive bible study often simply implies a thoughtful

systematic approach to understanding the meaning of a text and there certainly can’t be any objection to this it’s the use of inductive method in the technical sense as applied to Bible study that I questioned in 1859 James Lamar wrote a book entitled organ on of scriptures or the inductive method of biblical interpretation organ on is the greek word for instrument or tool and is the name given to the collection of Aristotle’s six works on logic in 1620 Francis Bacon published Novum organum new organ on in which he proposed a new system of logic an early form of the scientific method that he believes superior to Aristotelian logic in lemars organ on he joins bacon in his critique of the quote old method of philosophizing close quote and asserts scripture is to be studied by means of an inductive method consistent with that of bacon what bacon did for the study of nature llamar sought to do for the study of Scripture in other words just as a chemist applies his reason by means of the inductive method to draw conclusions from experimental data Solimar claims quote the Scriptures admit of being studied and expounded upon the principles of the inductive method close quote the question we must ask is does this kind of autonomous left-brain rational method that has worked so well in the study of nature also apply to the study of Scripture given the success science has had and explaining the workings of nature it is tempting to hope for a similar method nonetheless when applied to scripture the inductive method proves itself to be inadequate for two reasons first we’re not principally rational creatures we’re relational creatures almost invariably our relational commitments Trump any alleged neutral objective commitment to a rational method thus those with strong relational ties to communities that advocate infant baptism find strong biblical evidence for infant baptism while those from communities that advocate adult baptism find strong biblical evidence for adult baptism likewise those with strong relational ties to communities that advocate the Secession of charismatic gifts find strong biblical evidence for this while those from communities that recognize the continued operation of the charismatic gifts find strong biblical evidence for their belief occasionally based upon personal Bible study an individual does come to the conclusion that a prior way of thinking has been an error but when this occurs it’s almost always anchored in two things a measure of emotional pain as old understandings are found to be an adequate to deal with the exigencies of life for example Martin Luther’s angst regarding sinners before a righteous God was answered by a new understanding of romans 1 17 the righteous shall live by faith second a relationship with someone from outside of the person’s original community as Augustine’s relationship with Ambrose Bishop of Milan the main point here is that relational commitments and emotional allegiances always trump deductive or inductive reasoning a second reason for the inadequacy of the inductive method is that Christians believe that God is the author of the Bible like any author God has in his mind ideas that he seeks to communicate to the mine the reader or hear of his word thus bible study is something qualitatively different from a scientist studying nature it is the process by which one mind seeks to understand the communication of another mind there are skeptics among us who believe that communication between two minds is not possible but this can’t be the position of a Christ follower we hold that as persons created in the image of God we can know the mind of God for this is eternal life that you know the only true God even if our knowledge is imperfect for we see through a mirror dimly but is the way we come to know the mind of another principally a rational process analogous to the way a scientist understands nature or is it something quite different development of a systematic theology might be accomplished through a method of systematic reasoning it certainly was

for Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin but for most of us even in the case of systematic theology to the extent that we’ve learned systematic theology we’ve learned it neither by a deductive nor an inductive process but by a cata catechol one a trusted community member instructed us the instruction made intuitive sense to us and thus we accepted it we humans have the capacity to know the mind of another person although our knowledge of another’s mind is usually but not always mediated through a set of sense experiences this knowing the mind of another is not strictly speaking a rational inductive process for example some months ago I was on a plane taking off from Washington Dulles Airport the light of a bright Setting Sun shone through the window striking the face of the passenger in the seat immediately in front of me he looked back grimace to the Sun and turned forward I reached up and shut the window cover he turned smiled and said thank you now two things stand out first i clearly understood something of my fellow passengers mind the second it was much more a relational intuitive process than a rational one even though afterwards I could give a rational explanation as to how I came to understand the other person’s desires it doesn’t change the fact that my coming to know was based on a relational intuitive process not a rational one if this is a representative example of how a human mind usually comes to know another human mind then it’s likely the way a human mind comes to know the divine mind and if we examine our experience we find this is the case I’m absolutely convinced that God loves me but the way I came to this conclusion was not a rational inductive one it was intuitive in relational I was 15 it was Sunday evening and my parents had just returned from a marriage retreat that would transform their lives in the life of our family as they walked in the front door I can honestly say that I’ve never seen two people more in love my father caught me up into his arms held me close and said son I love you I have no prior memory of him holding me that way or saying I love you in that manner that night lying in bed tears coming down my eyes I kept thinking my dad loves me my dad loves me then the thought came to me perhaps God loves me like my dad loves me immediately I knew it to be true raised in a Christian home I never doubted the fundamental Christian doctrines but from that moment I knew something of the mind of God towards me in a way that I had never known before that I can give a rational biblical defense of the doctrine of the love of God does not change the fact that my coming to know was a relational and intuitive process not a rational one if we each consider how we have come to know what we know of the mind god we will find that it is principally through this kind of relational intuitive process scripture says seek and you will find knock and the door will be open to you not reason and you will understand now this does not imply that thoughtful systematic study of Scripture is unimportant a relational intuitive capacity to know another mind is inhibited by human finitude and weakness thus we humbly engage in an ongoing process of seeking to understand ever more clearly and as my wife has made absolutely clear to me knowledge of another’s mind is best facilitated when one is humble patient and careful to understand both the meaning and context of another’s words likewise in attending to the mind of God if we are careful to discern the meaning of scriptural words and the historical context of a passage we will gain a clearer understanding of the ideas he wishes to communicate thus I found my limited knowledge of New Testament Greek to be very helpful and great riches can be found in the insight of scholars who spent a lifetime studying the historical and cultural context of Scripture reason does have its essential functions when our intuition suggests more than one understanding of a text we engage in a rational process to evaluate the pros

and cons of possible interpretations seeking to discern that which is most plausible finally scripture exhorts us to be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you what we know of God we should be able to rationally justify but such justification is secondary to the relational intuitive apprehension of his mind the Bible study focused on self-expression usually begins with a reading the scripture passage followed by some form of the question what does this mean to you and most things of life there’s the possibility of erring on the left or airing on the right if the error on the right is to understand scripture as a data set to be processed through a rational inductive process the air on the left is to understand Bible study is primarily a forum to explore one’s own thoughts and feelings such groups make the mistake of focusing on personal reactions to the text rather than on discernment of God’s thoughts feelings and actions it’s worth noting that in human relationships the lack of proper attention to another’s mind quickly leads to relational breakdown when my wife is sharing her heart and mind with me it’s a mistake for me to focus on what I think or feel about her words she insists that my primary focus beyond understanding her and she’s right to do so for me to do otherwise is to respond not to her but to my own internal processes true there’s a time for me to explore my reaction to what she is saying but that times only after I’ve gained some understanding of her mind in like manner it is important to examine our reactions to a scripture text but that examination must be secondary to attending to the mind of God perhaps counterintuitive in a narcissistic culture any personally meaningful bible study must begin not with what i think feel and do but with what God thinks feels and does at times groups convened for this kind of study have proved to be very helpful to the participants but in my experience the helpful component was rarely actually the study of Scripture rather it was the presence of an and caring community lecture implies a single teacher doing the great majority of the talking most of us have on occasion heard a powerful life-changing message we left seeing as we had not seen before but to be transformative a teacher preacher must clear a very high bar he or she must possess a greater understanding of the ideas presented in Scripture than the majority of those in the room be able to effectively communicate those ideas and a manner that holds attention overcoming our cultural a.d.d without degenerating into showmanship that sacrifices knowledge for hype be sufficiently wise to suggest relevant personal application no wonder inspirational teachers are either extraordinarily gifted or spend an enormous amount of time in preparation while perhaps a pastor possesses the necessary gifting or is able to spend the need of time is it realistic to expect the leaders of small group bible studies to do so probably not there are far too many Sunday School classes led by committed well intended teachers but those attending do sell out of a sense of obligation rather than inspiration and personal growth there’s a second problem with lecture as helpful as an inspirational idea rich lecture maybe lecture does have an inherent liability for most of us it encourages mental passivity if we consider the last time we heard a sermon even a very good sermon and we inquire as to the extent of our minds activity we will likely discover that the great majority of the time our mind was quite passive even if our attention to not drift which likely it did there was little active questioning on our part little active seeking to know and to understand we SAT waiting for some idea to strike us or for something the preacher said to impress us perhaps our passivity is a cultural artifact born of spending far too many hours in front of an mind-numbing TV or in schools where the classwork was

sheer drudgery we can think back to the Puritan preachers in colonial Massachusetts who preach four hours to highly attentive congregations who had then returned home for lunch and a lively discussion of the morning sermon but such is not the case today and we must recognize the inherent weaknesses of the culture in which we live relatively few of us are strong at giving proactive attention to a lecture thus in addition to good preaching we need the kind of Bible studies that require us to think and consider is this not the model of Jesus in the Gospels at times he provides the crowds with an inspirational lecture and at times he invites a smaller group to think consider and dialogue each of these four models has its strengths and certainly has been used in the lives of many but each also has significant weaknesses in the second part of this series will propose a better way