We need a lot less Bible study …. and a lot more Bible action!

[Unklee from Down Under has a great blog going at the Way?.I hope you enjoy this taste of what he has to offer, and that you’ll head on over to his place to continue reading the series on Bible reading he started earlier this week.]

***

Bible study has become one of the main activities of evangelical Christians. Many of us get together weekly to study the Bible in small groups, we listen to Bible teachers in sermons every Sunday and on our iPods, and get more in best selling books. And if we’re properly spiritual, we read and meditate on the Bible every day.

It certainly leaves us full of knowledge, but how well does it serve God’s purposes?

Knowledge is not a goal

The Bible is clear that knowledge is not an end in itself, for “knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1) – our understanding of the scriptures must lead to action, so we are doers as well as hearers (James 1:22).

Jesus’ last command to his followers was not just to teach, but to make disciples who obey (Matthew 28:19-20).

Obeying what is clear

There are many things about the Bible that are not clear, and too often we argue over them. But surely we should first get on with obeying what is clear, and give the difficult matters and arguments a much lower priority?

Some calls to obedience and action

There are many calls to action in the New Testament, and especially in the life of Jesus, that are very clear, yet they are not always given the same emphasis in modern western christianity.

Here are some challenging teachings which are taught in several passages, not just the ones I’ve referenced:

• the dangers of wealth ( Luke 12:13-21)
• peace and non-violence (Matthew 5:38-42)
• forgiving over and over again as we want God to forgive us (Matthew 18:21-35)
• loving our enemies and praying for them (Matthew 5:44)
• helping the poor (James 1:27)
• allowing the Spirit to direct our lives, avoiding legalism and rules (Galatians 5:16, 2 Corinthians 3:6)

The challenge

If we did followed these clear teachings instead of arguing over disagreements, we would be more loving and caring, more united, less self-centered and more like Jesus (John 13:34-35) – and the world might take more notice of us.

***

Questions to ponder (from Tim, not unklee so don’t blame him!):

Which passages of Scripture do you think Christians are least prone to disagree over?

Why do you think Christians disagree over those types of passages anyway?

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15 Responses to We need a lot less Bible study …. and a lot more Bible action!

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for this post!

    ‘The Bible is clear that knowledge is not an end in itself’. True. But isn’t there an extent to which the knowledge itself can be transformative (if it doesn’t naturally lead to action) in the vein of Romans 12:2?

    I guess I believe that thinking right things about God can help us worship Him better, which may not always have a tangible result.

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  3. Jeannie says:

    Very interesting post. I’ve been reading John Ortberg’s book Who Is This Man? and he quotes (supposedly) Mark Twain, who, when a pompous friend said he was going to the Holy Land so he could read the Ten Commandments at the top of Mt. Sinai, replied, “I have a better idea, why don’t you stay home and keep them?” I love that. And I really like your point that if we obeyed more of the teachings that are clear, we would have more of an impact and be more like Jesus.

    To say we need LESS Bible study, and to equate Bible study with arguing over unclear passages, is going a little farther than I’m comfortable with. Studying the Bible with sincerity doesn’t (or needn’t) just fill us with knowledge, it helps us know the heart of God, so that our actions come from a relationship with Him. Action AND contemplation. So I think it’s both/and, not either/or. I still appreciate your challenging us, though — it’s very easy to get complacent and entrenched in our Christian lifestyles & positions.

  4. Tim says:

    Unklee, thanks for sharing your insights with us here today.

    Your call to unity reminds me of a line I recently read in Jeremy White’s The Gospel [un]Cut – “While there are clarities in the Bible that have held Christ’s followers together for centuries, there are also divine mysteries and human limitations to be dealt with in approaching the infinite mind of the God those Scriptures reveal.”

    With that in mind, one of the things I wonder about is how the concept of forgiving-as-we-want-God-to-forgive-us coincides with the statement that our forgiveness in Christ is complete and completed (Colossians 2:13-14), which strongly suggests that because of the completed work of Jesus there is nothing left to be forgiven for. Thoughts on reconciling these?

    Tim

  5. Laura says:

    Hi unklee and Tim! I agree…and disagree with this post! haha. I completely agree that faith is to transform our lives. Our beliefs should lead to action. I also like this statement a lot: “…surely we should first get on with obeying what is clear, and give the difficult matters and arguments a much lower priority?” – Amen! Too often Christians are majoring on the minors! The challenge at the end is one we all need to hear. And I love the Mark Twain reference by Jeannie.

    But regarding Bible study being one of the main activities of evangelicals. Here in the USA, it seems to me that too much of so-called “Bible study” isn’t actually Bible study. Too much of it seems fluffy or superficial. Or its “how to” type stuff. Or its going through a “popular” Christian book by this or that author, instead of actually studying a book of the Bible. Etc. I find the Bible knowledge level of way to many believers (here in USA at least) to be really lacking. And not having a proper understanding of what you believe can lead to misguided or improper action.

    So…maybe we need more Bible study that is actually Bible study? With an accompanying emphasis like in this post! Just my 2 cents. : )

    • Tim says:

      I agree…and disagree with this post!

      Me too! As Elizabeth said, the words of Scripture are transformative so there is a reason to study it diligently. There certainly is not too much Bible study going on, that’s for sure. And as you pointed out, the issue really is making sure it’s Scripture we’re studying and not fluff. Has true Bible study ever interfered with abiding in Christ as a branch abides in teh vine? I don’t think so. And then it’s up to Christ as the vine to produce his fruit in us as we abide in him.

  6. unklee says:

    Jeannie said: “To say we need LESS Bible study, and to equate Bible study with arguing over unclear passages, is going a little farther than I’m comfortable with.” and Laura said: “maybe we need more Bible study that is actually Bible study?”

    Thanks for your comments. The title was meant to be a little provocative to make a point. But i do actually mean it seriously, for several reasons:

    1. Most of us live busy lives, and have to prioritise our time. When I look at my own life, and the lives of other christians and even whole churches, I generally see an imbalance of time – more spent on looking after myself, both in practical ways and spiritually, than in looking after the needs of others, churches spending more time on maintenance than on mission. If that is generally true, and our time is limited, we need to re-order, even if it means spending less time in ‘Bible study groups” to free up time to serve others.

    2. I believe we learn best “on the job”. Sitting in a Bible study group is very theoretical and there isn’t much evidence that Jesus taught his disciples this way. Instead, he seemed to teach them a lot “on the road”, as things occurred. I suggest we need less of the passive Bible study and more of the learning on the job, as we prepare for mission and actually serve people. That’s the knowledge that will change lives!

    • When Bible study is ‘chat about what we think this passage or that means,’ then I’d have to concur with Unklee. However, study that is revelatory – undeniably quickening the Spirit in us to a renewed mind then I think we need more not less… as with good wine, quality not quantity matters. (And in case that comparison is provocative – Paul did recommend to Timothy a little wine for ailments…. everything except God in moderation.
      Blessings!

      • Tim says:

        Good point, Sarah. It takes studying what is valuable (2 Timothy 3:16) so that we can be equipped to do what is valuable (2 Timothy 3:17).

    • Jeannie says:

      I wasn’t sure if I should comment again here … but this just kept nagging at my spirit. Jesus used his time very inefficiently by our modern-day standards. He walked everywhere. He spent a great deal of time talking and storytelling — sometimes one-on-one, sometimes to small groups, sometimes to crowds. “Freeing up time” didn’t seem to be something he worried greatly about. The statement that “we have busy lives, and have to prioritize our time” is certainly true; God calls us to wise stewardship of all our resources. Yet there’s an underlying sense of anxiety and urgency here that to my ears sounds more typical of our Western desire for achievement and results than of Jesus. So I suppose I see the original post as somewhat ambiguous in its ultimate purpose: it appears to be making a simple “Put your beliefs into action” statement which NO ONE (in any era, of any culture or society) could disagree with, but I wonder if it’s actually prioritizing a particular kind of lifestyle. Anyway, the fact I’ve thought about this beyond what is often considered the usual shelf-life for online content shows that you’ve definitely struck a nerve. And that’s a positive thing. We need to be stretched. So thanks (really!).

      Oh and by the way I can certainly guess who’s the Calvinist and who’s the Arminian. It’s pretty neat how well you two get along, actually!

      • Tim says:

        I thought about that “prioritizing a particular kind of lifestyle” thing too, Jeannie (although I didn’t articulate it to myself quite that well!). The lifestyle we are called to is one of abiding (or resting) in Christ so he can produce fruit through us, according to Jesus’ words in John 15. Knowing God’s word better helps me to focus on him and understand him better, making it that much easier to rest in him.

  7. unklee says:

    Hi Jeannie,

    “I wasn’t sure if I should comment again here”
    I don’t see why not – if you have time! I appreciated both your comments and the spirit in which you made them.

    “Yet there’s an underlying sense of anxiety and urgency here that to my ears sounds more typical of our Western desire for achievement and results than of Jesus. …. I wonder if it’s actually prioritizing a particular kind of lifestyle.”
    That is an interesting comment, and I don’t have a particular answer for it. But I will share a memory that was in my mind when I wrote the guest post.

    About 10-15 years ago, we attended a small church where we had opportunity to minister to, and with, a number of people facing difficulties in life – alcoholism, mental illnesses, unemployment and addictions. A few of us ran a “cafe church” on Sunday night which about 10-20 people attended plus the “team of 5. Most of them needed friendship and attention that the 5 of us couldn’t always give – we were all working and this was just one thing in our week. Some of them came to faith in Jesus during that time, and needed extra discipling. Meanwhile, my wife was occasionally meeting friends from a big evangelical church who would comment to her that they had had “excellent teaching” in their sermon on Sunday or at their midweek Bible study. She would occasionally come home to me and comment: “Yes, but I wonder what they’re doing with it!?”

    They had good Bible teaching at least twice a week, while we had people needing ministry who we couldn’t help as much as we would have liked. We could have used those good christians, and there seemed to be an imbalance. It was then that I first thought that they could have profitably given up some teaching and used their understanding in ministry.

    But I will finish by saying we are not into legalism, and I cannot say what anyone else should do. Each of us has to pray and decide how the Spirit is leading us. I am glad my words have encouraged some of you to think further, and that is all I hoped to do. Thanks for all your responses.

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