Facilitator

Not long ago, the church began a new Bible Study program where every 1.5 months, the courses switch to a new subject lead by a new facilitator. We started off with Simplify by Bill Hybels, we skipped the next set of options, and went through If You Want To Walk on Water You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg. Yet again, we’re skipping the current offering. The first one we skipped was largely because of A Confident Heart by Renee Swope and the second was because of The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst. Hopefully the next time around there will be some better options to choose from.

I often find it difficult to really interact on these Bible Studies. For one, the facilitators are regular people who volunteered to read the material, run the DVD, and lead the discussion. I’m not entirely sure they would welcome annoying questions like: “When was this book of the Bible written?” “What might have the intended audience believed was the message that the author was trying to convey to them?” “Should this passage be viewed as a description of the past or a prescription for the future?” I’m afraid that they would feel offended, after all, they’re going through a lot of effort that they didn’t have to and might feel that it’s not appreciated.

That’s one reason why I resist the opportunity to be a facilitator. I don’t want to read the prepared material, run the DVD, lead the discussion, ask preselected questions, or give out stock answers for expected questions. I want to go deeper by actually studying what different versions of the Bible says, by finding out the historical context, the cultural context, the socioeconomic context, by figuring out what the Greek says, by understanding a verse in the light of it’s paragraph, section, chapter, book, and testament, and by investigating it in it’s totality.

I’ve had enough of those Bible studies where each week we get to memorize one verse and spend more time talking about anecdotes and metaphors than we do with an open Bible. I’m tired of emotion-centric or logic-driven gender specific Bible studies. I want more than random books written by random Christians that spiritualize random things. The thing is, not everyone else might want to join me on this deeper journey in to the Bible. After all, some people who have gone there have only found their way out of Christianity.

It’s also somewhat intimidating to try to be open to being debated and questioned in a public setting particularly with material you are learning as you are teaching it. I know that I’d try my best not to feel offended if somebody vehemently disagreed with when a particular book was written or by whom, but it’s still pretty scary. I think that the first thing’s first, before I can teach – I must learn. Which means I actually have to read books and have some idea of which books to start reading to have a better foundation for understanding Christianity. The thing is, I’m not really a reader. My track record of reading books for the past decade is about a dozen books (most likely much less than that.) So any books that make the list can’t be scholarly or it’ll go over my head.

Do you know of any books that explain the facts of the Bible? (When the books were written, author’s intended audience, etc.)

Do you know of any books that explain the context of the Bible? (Historical, Cultural, Regional, Social, etc.)

Which books do you think that every Christian should read to get a better understanding of the Bible in terms of what it meant back then and what it means right now?

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8 thoughts on “Facilitator

  1. “How to read the bible for all its worth” is one I’ve found helpful so far, but I’m still looking for a good, simple to understand resource for timelines, authors, cultures, etc.

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    • Thanks! It’ll be the first book on the list! I plan to add a page where I have a list of books I have read to encourage me to keep on reading. I know it’s odd that I’m not that great of a reader given the extent of my blogging activities. But I think it’s the only way for me to really improve from where I’m at.

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  2. Sorry in advance for how long this is. I am also not a fan of the emotive bible studies, as we’ve discussed in the past. The body of Christ needs expository bible study most of all, verse by verse diligence through the entire word of God. I often think, too, that we spend more time trying to find books to read about the bible than reading the bible itself (don’t get me wrong, i love books! lol). There is nothing wrong with reading other books as long as they are not compromising your reading time (and i struggle with this myself!).

    On your list:

    It is probably more realistic for you to pick up a few books that will approach the bible both from a “forest and trees” standpoint. Because each book of the bible is its own, although the books all hold together in terms of theme, etc. So I’m listing books that give an overview of a testament, but then provide specifics on each book – but do it in a way that is not overwhelming (imo).

    Introducing the New Testament: A Short Guide to Its History and Message – D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo

    An abridged, simpler and easier to read version of Carson and Moo’s New Testament monograph. This is nice because they walk through the aspects you are looking for (historical background, culture, contextual concerns – the who, when, where, why, to whom), but do it in an introductory rather than overly academic way. There are nice and helpful overview outlines which are very helpful. There are also recommended reading lists based on easy, intermediate, and advanced level of interest/reading.

    http://www.amazon.com/Introducing-New-Testament-History-Message/dp/0310291496/ref=pd_sim_14_4?ie=UTF8&refRID=1N70SYNEJM2N6MV8NZ38

    Introducing the Old Testament: A Short Guide to Its History and Message – Tremper Longman

    Again, an abridged version made easier to read than Longman’s original monograph. Which is good because he’s intense lol.

    http://www.wtsbooks.com/introducing-the-old-testament-tremper-longman-iii-9780310291480

    I have also found http://biblehub.com/ very useful in terms of accessing the original languages, parallel translations, etc.


    You wrote: “Which books do you think that every Christian should read to get a better understanding of the Bible in terms of what it meant back then and what it means right now?”

    I’d encourage caution with this approach to the bible in the sense that you can end up with the mindset “what does this verse mean to ME?” rather than “what does this verse MEAN?” I’m not saying you ARE thinking this way, but merely offering thoughts on the danger of it. God’s word (written) is timeless and outside of culture. It is not more or less relevant to us in the 21st century with all our super technology and different demographics than it was in the time of the apostles. It is still God revealing Himself and it is not our experience, emotion, or perception that determines that knowledge, but His word (living: Jesus as revealed in the written: the bible). I knoiw we want to see “what’s in it for me” and we do that with application, but always with caution about putting our agenda on top of the scripture (eisegesis). Probably I am being overly analytical on your question, but felt I had to say that :p

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    • That is a great point – it’s a tough to balance reading the bible and having a variety of sources to double-check what it says. Unlike the Bereans (Acts 17:11) we don’t really have a great modern foundation for understanding what was written intuitively. I’ve learned a lot about translator bias; particularly in the English. So I think some resources are necessary to anchor my study of the Bible in things like history and cultural context.

      Thanks! I’ll add them all to the list, I’m particularly looking forward to acquiring the D.A. Carson and Douglass Moo books, they sound exactly like what I need.

      I deal with a lot of Biblical literalists and inerrantists who have oftentimes told me that I wasn’t a Christian because I didn’t agree with their favorite interpretation. So I often think about the difference between what a verse would have meant to the original hearers and the modern application of that verse. I probably could have phrased the question differently – but I’m often perplexed at how the literalists and inerrantists arrive at their teachings because they seem to make everything apply to them. I’m not always sure that they’re right, but I’m not sure that they’re wrong either. After a conversation, I’m always left more perplexed and usually feeling a little guilty for not being a super Christian like they are. I totally agree with the need for caution on that reguard and I’ll try my best to not go there.

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  3. I can relate to a number issues you’ve justifiably raised in your blog and am enjoying following this. Regarding books- I am also a ‘sketchy’ reader (except for my Comic Book collection-guilty pleasure) but would suggest ‘Getting The Old Testament’ by Steven L Bridge. In this he exams the seemingly contradictory or lurid passages of the Old Testament (as beloved by the more fierce atheists for ‘evidence’) and places them in the historical context and the mind-set of the authors. There is also ‘God’s Word to Women’ by Katharine C Bushnell a very enlightened and scholarly thinker who at the turn of 19th/20th century produced these 100 essays, which using biblical evidence proves it is not God’s Will that women ‘should know their place’-this one you can download free as a pdf https://godswordtowomen.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/gods_word_to_women1.pdf.
    Hope that info is of use.
    Best wishes

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  4. I am inclined to agree. I’ve recently spent some time on a UK ‘religious forum’, the majority of contributors being atheistic and ironically their arguments are often based on a literal interpretation of the Bible and some seemed quite unwilling to accept that there is a depth of meaning; their counter-argument as it were being that literal word-for-word interpretation . Taking a stand was not helped by contributions from ‘believers’ with a stern and unforgiving view of the world. So I could not really blame my fellow contributors when the strident voices who quote biblical verse but not its message have such a prominence in the media and provide such good ‘copy’

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    • Given the nuanced world we live in – I think that’s something that would have existed especially in New Testament times. The early church was caught in-between Roman officials and Temple priests – one holding political power and the other spiritual power. Odds are they weren’t happy about the situation but were powerless themselves to really put up much of a fight … partially because Jesus had told them not to fight culture, but to live peaceably and honorably. The literal reading just takes the ancient nuances and makes us miss the mark entirely. We also forget how poetic ancient metaphors used to be with our modern tendency towards matter-of-fact communication.

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...Anyway, that's just how I feel about it ... What do you think?

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