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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

31 inspiring interviews for bible study- by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

The Bible in the Real World

Sea of Gallilee

31 Inspiring Interviews

Edited by Rebecca Van Noord, Jessi Strong, and John D. Barry
The Bible in the Real World: 31 Inspiring Interviews

Copyright 2014 Lexham Press
Adapted with permission from content originally published in Bible Study Magazine.

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All rights reserved. You may use brief quotations from this resource in presentations, articles, and books. For all other uses, please write Lexham Press for permission. Email us at

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture references are the author’s or speaker’s own translation or paraphrase.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.

Assistant Editors: David Bomar, Rebecca Brant, Lynnea Fraser, Abigail Stocker, Joel Wilcox

Table of Contents

The Bible in Personal Study
Ruth Graham
J. I. Packer
Peter Flint
Mark Goodacre
Howard Hendricks
Joni Eareckson Tada
Scot McKnight
Albert Mohler
Margaret Feinberg
Norman Geisler
Justin Taylor
Jeff Bethke
Charles Caldwell Ryrie

The Bible in Everyday Encounters
Gary Chapman
Voddie Baucham, Jr
Sally Lloyd-Jones
Sherry Surratt
Dennis & Barbara Rainey

The Bible in Christian Mission
Lindsay Olesberg
Brad Lomenick
Jim Liske
John Ashmen
Christine Caine
June Hunt
David Powlison
Don Moen

The Bible in Extraordinary Places
Lisa Welchel, Joel and Michelle Pelsue
Jeff Totten
Jeff Ryan
Jeff Struecker

We encounter the Bible at church. We study it in small groups of Christians. But how does Scripture apply in a broader context? In its first six years of publication, Bible Study Magazine interviewed Christians who minister in all walks of life: entertainers, scholars, non-profit leaders, authors, and more.

These 31 articles stem from interviews that were conducted and originally published from late 2008 to early 2014. The stories have not been updated, but appear in their original format, and as such are snapshots in time. While those featured here may have moved on to new ministries, ventures, and projects, their thoughts on life and Bible study highlight the timelessness of the Bible as it changes lives. We hope these stories of faith encourage you to deepen your relationship with Christ and engage the Word of God more fully.

Jessi Strong
Senior Writer, Bible Study Magazine

The Bible in Personal Study
Ruth Graham

“The Bible Is for Relationship”

Cynthia Hyle Bezek

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine July–Aug ’09
It’s no surprise that Ruth Graham, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, is passionate about God’s Word. However, Ruth never aspired to be a great evangelist like her dad. In fact, theological discussions were not even part of her childhood. Instead, Ruth says the focus was to love the Word of God and Jesus.

“The Scriptures are about the heart. If you and I are going to get to know each other, we’re going to meet together and learn what makes each other laugh, cry, and worry. And isn’t that the way we need to approach God?” says Graham. “We need to get to know God. It’s a relationship. We can study about him, we can learn what other people have to say about him, we can watch him work, but what about a relationship where he comes down to our level? I think that has to underlie everything we do. It has to underlie our study, our views, and our dogma, because if you know about God but don’t really know God then there’s something missing. His heart longs for a relationship and for us to know who he really is.”

Still when Billy Graham is your father, don’t serious theological discussions go with the territory? Ruth says no.

“He didn’t burden us with his intense study. When he studied, he was in his office. He was reading … that was what he did. But he didn’t sit at the dinner table and say, ‘This is what I studied today.’ My father is an intellectual. People don’t understand how brilliant he is. But he didn’t draw us into his theological studies.”

Talk around the Graham dinner table centered on changed lives. “Daddy would be away on a crusade and he would call Mother and talk about this person and that person and what had happened. He would relate those things to us so we knew what was happening, but it wasn’t a theological discussion. It was about changed lives.”
Start Early

Daily Bible reading—which Ruth makes a point to call “devotions,” not “Bible study”—was nonnegotiable in the Graham family when Ruth was growing up. “When we were young, we knew we could skip breakfast but we could never skip devotions. The Scriptures and prayer were priorities in our home. We had a box of Scripture verses printed on different colored cards on our table. Each of us would choose a card, read our verse, and then pray short sentence prayers. That taught us how to pray out loud.”

“Jesus was a great storyteller,” Ruth says. “He told simple stories without big words. Sometimes theologians and intellectuals get carried away with themselves—but Jesus was very simple so that anyone could understand. We can go through homiletics and we can divide the Word of God and all that, but it really comes down to storytelling. We need to do that with children—we need to do that with everybody.”

When Ruth’s mother, Ruth Bell Graham, was growing up in China, her parents would read her Bible stories from a book written by Charles Foster in the 1850s. Ruth Bell carried on this practice, reading from the same book to Ruth and her siblings.

In 1980 when Ruth’s three children were young, she rewrote Foster’s Bible stories in modern language and continued the tradition with them. Another update followed for the fourth generation of Graham children last year: “When I pulled it out for my grandchildren I realized that it needed updating again.” The result was Step into the Bible: 100 Bible Stories for Family Devotions.

One way to gain children’s interest in the Bible is to let them see you enjoying it, Ruth says. “My mother used to say, ‘If children see you enjoying your vegetables, they’ll enjoy their vegetables.’ It’s important not to say, ‘Sit down, we’re going to have family devotions.’ They’ll hate that. You want them to feel welcomed and comfortable. Keep the time brief and interesting. As you read to them, engage them. Invite their questions. Children are going to wiggle and giggle, they’re going to get up and walk away, and they’re going to fight with each other. But you have to move through that. Something is still going in and it will be profitable in the long run, so don’t get discouraged.”

Still, Ruth cautions that having family devotions doesn’t come with a guarantee. “My children didn’t sail through life. They had some serious issues after my divorce. One suffered from bulimia, one took drugs, and one had two babies out of wedlock. Devotions are not a panacea—‘We have devotions and therefore we’re this happy little family, we go to church and isn’t it wonderful?’ That’s not what it’s about. It’s about knowing that God is faithful—we don’t give up on God and he doesn’t give up on us. My children have taken some detours, but they have found their own faith journey. And I’m really proud of them.”
Make It Real

As for Ruth’s own approach to engaging the Bible, she usually starts by journaling. “I begin by writing out what’s on my heart and mind, events that happened, questions or fears I may have, or anger that I may be dealing with. Then I say, ‘Okay, God, this is where I am. I’m going to open the Scriptures and I want you to speak to me in this situation. Give me something that applies today.’ Invariably he does.”

Ruth spends most of her time with the Scriptures only. “I just don’t think there’s a substitute for the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to really show you what the Word of God means,” Graham maintains. “But there are certainly some people that I trust, writers like A. W. Tozer, C. S. Lewis, and Philip Yancey are some of my favorites. One of the finest references is a dictionary. We think we know what a word means but very often the dictionary will shed a different light on it.” Ruth likes Charles Spurgeon’s notes on specific books of the Bible, such as his work on Psalms. She also uses The Pulpit Commentary.

“I’m a big proponent of just studying the Bible and letting God speak to you through it,” says Ruth. “I want to commune with him and he wants to commune with me.”

“If I miss a morning I don’t beat myself up. The point is not the habit. The point is the relationship.”

J. I. Packer

A Balanced Bible Study Diet

John D. Barry

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Nov–Dec ’09
Nutritionists everywhere tell us that a well-balanced diet fuels our bodies, yet many of us continue to ignore their advice. The same is true for our Bible study habits.

We know that nourishment for our souls lies in the pages of the Bible, but we are often lazy about maintaining our study routine. However, unlike nutrition, many of us don’t know the key to a well-balanced Bible study diet. Learning the key may be the cure to our problem. Dr. James Innel (J. I.) Packer offers us some pointers.

J. I. Packer has spent over 60 years celebrating his personal commitment to Christ and is considered one of the most influential evangelical theologians of our time. His classic 1973 book, Knowing God, is a seminal work for popularizing Christian theology, and a must read for anyone who wants to study spiritual certitudes and the true character of God.

Born in 1926 in Gloucester, England, Packer always loved books, a fondness which he later put to good use as an undergraduate at Oxford University, when he was caretaker of the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union library. After graduating, he taught classical languages until he decided to become an ordained minister within the Church of England. In 1954, he received his doctorate in theology at Oxford, which led to his first published work, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (1958). Over 170 publications have followed including Knowing Christianity, Truth & Power and A Quest for Godliness.

An active participant in the resurgence of Anglican evangelicalism, Packer accepted a position at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada in 1979. Currently he serves there as Board of Governors Professor of Theology. In 2005 he was named by TIME Magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America.

As an advocate of Bible study for over 60 years, Packer tells Bible Study Magazine he has long believed Christians should read the entire Bible thoroughly at least once every year. To help facilitate Bible study, he recommends tools such as The One Year Bible, where passages from the New and Old Testaments, Psalms and Proverbs are part of a 15-minute daily reading. “I find that variety, along with the cross references they suggest, keeps my heart fresh and alert in Bible study. I suppose you can compare it to a balanced diet.”

Packer served as theological editor of the 2,750 page English Standard Version Study Bible (2008), which he says is the most comprehensive study Bible ever published. Packer says, “It contains a whole series of articles on living the Christian life and bearing Christian witness in the modern world in an attempt to make sure every potential difficulty is explained. It’s a tool that will give you wisdom for living a Christian life in our very bewildering, multi-religious modern world that says we are all climbing the same mountain by different paths, but you shall meet at the top. Well, I don’t believe that, nor have Christians as a body believed it until very, very recently. And Christians who are still, shall I say, in the mainstream Christian heritage, still don’t believe it. There are useful articles in the ESV Study Bible that explain why that shouldn’t be believed.”

“The Christian life is absolutely different from all the rest of the world’s religions. The people who are trying to assimilate Christianity into other faiths are on the wrong track entirely. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Through the power of his resurrection, he leads us and guides us. This takes faith in him and the fullness of life which it brings.”

“In Christianity the founder lives and he entrenches us as we read and study the Bible. He leads us to faith in him. It begins with his love for us and it becomes a circle completed by our responsive love to him. He ministers personally to each one of us and he leads us into the life that he died to win for us—the life of pardon, the life of peace, the life of hope, the life of joy. Even if you feel alone, you aren’t alone. He is with you. ‘I am with you, even to the end of the world’ (Matt 28:18).”

When Packer studies a passage from the Bible, he says he is “reflecting on what God appears to be doing in this passage and how we can relate to it.” As to how Bible study can nurture daily prayer, he feels all Christian prayer should start with the Lord’s Prayer. “It is working with the outline and words that start with adoration and a God-centered petition—‘Your will be done, Your name be hallowed’ (Matt 6:9–10). In other words, glory be to you, Lord, in everything that happens. Then there are personal prayers, prayers for daily bread, prayers for daily forgiveness, and prayers for daily strength against temptation and all the pitfalls of life (Matt 6:11–14). I never get beyond that pattern.”

“The relationship to God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the work of the church affects Bible study. Balancing the ups and downs of daily life for believers is ‘a large issue,’ ” admits Packer. “We are disordered human beings in our creative complexity and so you can’t help but wonder if there’s always a danger of head and heart or intellect and emotion getting out of sync with each other. But one of the purposes of God in redemption is our renovation in the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, himself, is God incarnate. He is spoken of in the New Testament as being in the image of his Father, as well as setting a model of perfect humanness.”

“All the power to become like the Lord Jesus comes from the Holy Spirit. The Christian calling is a calling to be renewed in the image of Christ who is the image of God. By image I mean morality—virtue, love, faithfulness, holiness, truthfulness and so on. One goes through the list of the elements constituting the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life. You can track each one of them in the gospels—love, joy, peace, suffering, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control (Gal 5:22–24). These are all moral properties which you see in the Lord Jesus and which the Holy Spirit reproduces in us.”

“How does he do it? Well, when we become believers, the Lord Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to take up residence within us in both our heart and head. It involves reintegrating the disordered complexity of our human make-up so that ordered complexity takes its place—again in the model of Jesus himself.”

“You can’t properly read the stories of Jesus’ ministry until you discern that there’s joy in the Father’s love and obedience to a loving Father underneath all the burdens and pressures of ministry in which Jesus clearly delighted to fulfill. The crowds pressed around him and the sick were all brought out of their homes on stretchers. They clamored for healing—cripples all around him, lepers all around him.”

Packer says that although Jesus had come to Earth to do more than simply heal the sick, there were times when he healed an entire group. Packer terms this compassion in action. “If you look for what undergirded Jesus’ compassion,” he offers, “the answer is not resentment, which is what sometimes undergirds compassion and action in Christian ministry. In the case of the Lord Jesus I don’t believe that. I think what undergirded his compassion was the joy of doing good, the joy of serving his Father by doing good, and the joy of fellowship with his Father. Out of these had come his commitment to service—service of love and laying himself down for the benefit of others.”

“I believe Christian hearts—the hearts of people who are being renewed and have the Holy Spirit in them—are bigger than other human hearts. When it’s a Christian grieving the death of another Christian, well, we know that other Christian has been taken to a greater joy than any of us actually have ever known down here. So we’re not grieving for them as if they’ve gone through something terrible. We are grieving for ourselves because the loss of them leaves such a big hole at the center of our personal being. And grief is the right and proper reaction. But a Christian can be grieving the loss of someone they loved and rejoicing in the Lord at the same time. Focus your thoughts on the Lord and his goodness, and the joy will begin to flow.”

The best advice Packer can offer a Christian beginner who is studying the Bible is “get to know your way around Scripture as a unit. The first thing I say to you is read the four Gospels, then read all the epistles (New Testament letters), then read the four Gospels again, remembering that they were written for people who already knew most, if not all, of the doctrine taught in the epistles. Then read key books from the Old Testament: Genesis, the book of beginnings; Exodus, the book of the covenant; Isaiah, in which the prophecies deal most with the people of God in trouble because of disobedience, and with promises of a Savior—the Savior whose coming is set forth in the Gospels, with blessings for both the penitent people and believers in the Savior King whom God has sent. It is all there in the book of Isaiah. Then read, read, and read the Psalter because there you’ve got patterns of praise and prayer—they should become part of the shape of your life.”

“Most importantly, get the big picture. Don’t worry too much at first about specific sentences you don’t quite understand. The details fit when you’ve got the big picture. That is my first and fundamental exhortation with regard to Bible reading and study.”

Peter Flint

The Great Isaiah Scroll

John D. Barry

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Nov–Dec ’08
In 1987, as the Dead Sea Scrolls publishing controversy captured the world’s attention, a graduate student by the name of Peter Flint moved from South Africa to the United States. He took a doctoral fellowship at the University of Notre Dame and began to study under one of the figures at the center of the controversy, Eugene Ulrich, the chief editor of the biblical Dead Sea Scrolls.

By 1997, Dr. Peter Flint had published the second-largest portion of the biblical Dead Sea Scrolls: the Psalms Scrolls. This publication was full of discoveries that soon changed Bibles, Bible study and biblical scholarship. Today, Flint is an editor of the largest intact Dead Sea Scroll: the Great Isaiah Scroll.

Since the Great Isaiah Scroll’s discovery in late 1946, an Indiana Jones-like story has followed it. The scroll has journeyed through the heart of war-torn Israel, Palestine and Jordan, through the hands of Bedouins, priests and scholars.

The Great Isaiah Scroll tells the story of how we got our Bible. Because of this, nations and individuals alike have felt connected to the scroll, but very few people have felt as connected to this ancient artifact as Dr. Peter Flint.

Flint took the time to answer some questions for Bible Study Magazine about the Great Isaiah Scroll’s impact on Bible study, and what we know about the original Bible.

BSM: What type of work do you do?

FLINT: I’m involved in publishing and researching the Dead Sea Scrolls. But I have a second calling—to take the Dead Sea Scrolls and demonstrate the importance of them to our lives and the Christian faith.

BSM: Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls important to the Christian faith?

FLINT: The Dead Sea Scrolls are the greatest find of our time. They affect our understanding of the Bible and they confirm the accuracy of Scripture. They enhance our understanding of Jesus and help us interpret the New Testament.

The past can be confusing, but if one understands the relevance of the Scrolls to the Christian faith, it is quite illuminating. One example of this illumination is the Great Isaiah Scroll. In many ways, the scroll affects the Christian faith and our understanding of the Bible.

BSM: Can you provide some examples of how the Great Isaiah Scroll affects our understanding of the Bible and the Christian faith?

FLINT: Yes. I have a beautiful example from the Isaiah scrolls. Do you remember the Suffering Servant of the Lord, the man of sorrows? If you go to Isaiah 53:11, it says, in reference to the Servant, “He shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied. By his knowledge my righteous servant shall justify many. For he shall bear their iniquities.” According to the KJV (King James Version), which follows the traditional Hebrew text, the Servant will suffer, he will die, and he will be content. It’s Good Friday, right?

Now what do we find when we turn to the scrolls? I went to the Great Isaiah Scroll in Jerusalem and I discovered there is a different reading. Not, “He shall see of the travail of his soul.” Instead, there’s a new word there, “Out of the travail of his soul he will see light.”

That is explosive. In that verse we do not only have Good Friday, we have Easter Sunday. Hope, life, resurrection—there it is in the Great Isaiah Scroll. The sermons will have to be repreached, the commentaries will have to be rewritten.

Some might say, “You know what, Dr. Flint? Just hold on. Maybe ‘he shall see light’ is there because this community thought they were the ‘sons of light.’ Maybe they added it.”

I reply to that by asking, “Is this a good and supported reading?” Well, there are two other scrolls that have this, which would seem to suggest it is.

Imagine your minister saying, “I’ve got good news for you—the scrolls tell us the Suffering Servant will not only find satisfaction, but ‘will see light.’ ” This reading is based on the oldest copies of the Word of God in the world.

BSM: What do readings like Isaiah 53:11 tell us about the accuracy of the Bible?

FLINT: The Scrolls demonstrate that your Bible is 99 percent accurate. We are confirming the Word of God and getting to that 1 percent of readings that are difficult. The NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) adopts 85 readings like the “he will see light” reading. The NIV (New International Version) has adopted 22. At this early stage, there are about 100 better readings discovered in the Scrolls that have been proposed for English translations. Some of the Bibles that adopt these readings are the RSV (Revised Standard Version), NRSV, and NIV. However, there are some that stick to the traditional Hebrew text, like the KJV. Those translations will not adopt the 1 percent better readings.

We now are getting the earliest readings of the Word of God. And sometimes, if these readings help, they go back into modern Bible translations. Scholars who love the Scriptures are not easily convinced to make changes.

We don’t want to mess with the Word of God. When we find the earliest readings that clear up problems, or contain better readings, they become strong contenders for a modern Bible

The addition of that one word in Isaiah 53:11 is the subject of an entire sermon. Just a word can make all the difference. Verses like Isaiah 53:11 are faith-affirming and encouraging.

BSM: We all have our favorite books in the Bible. What books are the favorites of the Dead Sea Scrolls community?

FLINT: The people of Qumran, who scribed many of the Dead Sea Scrolls, had three favorite books: Isaiah, Psalms and Deuteronomy. Interestingly, in the New Testament, the three most-quoted books are Isaiah, Psalms and Deuteronomy. What is it about these three books that the early Christians and people of Qumran loved?

You can imagine why they loved the book of Psalms. The psalms are about worship. It was the hymnbook of the Second Temple period (516 BC–AD 70). In the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the New Testament, many psalms are interpreted to be about the Messiah. For instance, Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is quoted by Jesus on the cross.

Why was Isaiah so popular at Qumran and in the New Testament? In Luke 4, Jesus opens the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19 ESV).

Isaiah was an important book in the New Testament because the early Christians believed it was about the Messiah. Both communities loved the book of Isaiah and believed it was a prophecy pointing to their own time.

The book of Isaiah is both the key to understanding the New Testament and the key to understanding the Essenes at Qumran.

QUICKBITS: Isaiah and the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Great Isaiah Scroll contains more than 25 percent of all the biblical text among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is almost completely preserved. Virtually every part of all 66 chapters of Isaiah are found in the Great Isaiah Scroll.
Nineteen copies of Isaiah have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, along with five commentaries, known as pesharim, on Isaiah.
For over forty years, the Great Isaiah Scroll was under lock and key, deep underground in Jerusalem. In 2006, for the 60th anniversary of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery, the Israel Antiquities Authority displayed the scroll.

BSM: Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls important to Bible study?

FLINT: In 1947, Professor William Albright announced to the world the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He made an astounding claim: “The Dead Sea Scrolls are the greatest archeological find of our time.” I have discovered in over 20 years of research that there are five reasons why the Dead Sea Scrolls can be considered the greatest archeological find of modern times:

They were found in the land of Israel. For Jews and Christians, it doesn’t get any better than that. That is our Holy Land.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were written in the very languages of Scripture: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.

They include our oldest biblical manuscripts, the oldest copies of the Word of God. What can be more important?

They give us new information on Judaism during the time of Jesus: the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and another group called the Essenes.

They give us information on Christianity. We have scrolls that contain words similar to those of Jesus, quoted over 100 years before Jesus.

BSM: How can someone incorporate the Dead Sea Scrolls into their study of the Bible?

FLINT: First, go through a brief introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then, take a book like Isaiah and say, “This is a wonderful book. Now, why was it so important to the early church and the people of the Dead Sea Scrolls?” The answer is: Because they interpret it to prophesy about the Messiah’s suffering and redemption. Next, take readings like Isaiah 53:11 and say, “This is what we had before the Scrolls and this is what we have now.” Many modern Bibles are restoring Scripture as originally given.

Essentially, anyone who does this is saying, “Look here, this is confirmed. But, have a look here—there’s a problem-reading. With the Scrolls, we’ve solved the problem.”

Before the Scrolls, if you encountered a problem-reading, some smarty-pants person would say, “Well, you know, maybe God left it out.” Now we can go to the Scrolls and say, “I have the original. There’s the solution to the problem.”

We have certain readings now which are different, but they’re not new readings, they’re old readings that are just now being discovered.

BSM: What does the Great Isaiah Scroll tell us about how we got our Bible?

FLINT: The Great Isaiah Scroll gives us some insight into how the book of Isaiah was finalized.

Many scholastic studies tell us that the book of Isaiah was divided into two parts: First Isaiah (chapters 1–39) by Isaiah of Jerusalem, and Second Isaiah (chapters 40–66) by a writer living after the Hebrews returned from captivity in Babylon. As a reaction to these kinds of studies, many people ask the question, “Is there a division in the Great Isaiah Scroll between chapters 1–39 and chapters 40–66?” And the answer is: No. There is no division at that point.

However, what is very interesting is that the Great Isaiah Scroll is neatly divided into two parts: chapters 1–33 and chapters 34–66. Some scholars are now beginning to think, “Maybe the original division of Isaiah was between chapters 33 and 34.”

BSM: Above all, what do you want people to understand about the Great Isaiah Scroll?

FLINT: The Great Isaiah Scroll, and all the Dead Sea Scrolls, are faith-affirming, life-giving, and historically accurate.

Mark Goodacre

Open the Gospels

John D. Barry

Originally published as a three-part series in Bible Study Magazine Nov–Dec ’08, Jan–Feb ’09 and Mar–Apr ’09
Part 1

In September 1998, Dr. Mark Goodacre launched what would become one of the most visited biblically-oriented websites: the New Testament Gateway. Today, Goodacre is a highly-requested media guest and consultant on TV and radio broadcasts by the BBC, HBO, and the Discovery Channel. Who would have thought that a three-time graduate of the University of Oxford (M.A., M.Phil. and D.Phil.) would find his way into prime-time productions by talking about Jesus and the Gospels?

Dr. Goodacre took the time to answer some questions for Bible Study Magazine about how he reads the Gospels.

BSM: Is teaching in the U.K. different from teaching in the U.S.?

GOODACRE: Yes. For 10 years, I taught in a Theology and Religion department at the University of Birmingham, U.K. where New Testament Greek was an important (though not required) part of the degree. Here at Duke, I don’t teach any Greek. My undergraduate students come from a variety of different areas of interest and only a small fraction of them are religion majors. It is rare to have anyone who knows biblical languages. For this reason, we often look at contrasting English translations of key passages. I will sometimes focus on a particularly misleading or difficult-to-read English translation, like the RSV of Galatians 3 (which is a mess).

BSM: What are the Synoptic Gospels and what does the term “synoptic” mean?

GOODACRE: The Synoptic Gospels are the first three Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John is distinguished from the first three because it has a different structure, order, and approach. While there are extensive verbatim (word for word) agreements between the Synoptic Gospels, there are very few between the Synoptics and John. The Synoptic Gospels can be viewed together in three columns in what is called a “Synopsis.” The word synopsis means “to view together.” Appreciation of the difference between the Synoptic Gospels and John opens up the study of “the Synoptic Problem.” This is the investigation of the similarities and differences between the Synoptic Gospels, with a view toward understanding the relationship between the Gospels. I have spent an unreasonable amount of time in my research on this problem. It is one of those areas of study that either fascinates you or really turns you off. I find it endlessly fascinating, especially because I think that one of the elements in the dominant solution, which proposes that there was a lost source for Matthew and Luke known as Q, is wrong.

BSM: If I do not know Greek and I want to study the Gospels, is it possible to do good comparison work between them?

GOODACRE: When studying the Gospels, it is possible to do some good work with English translations. In 2001, I wrote a book on the Synoptic Problem for people new to the study of the Gospels. In the book, I used no Greek at all, and my approach there echoes my teaching on the subject—there is a lot that can be done with English translations. I often produce my own synopses of particular passages, which I give out to students. I encourage them to color them and reflect on the similarities and differences in their accounts. I try to help them think about what the differences might tell us about the texts and their authors.
Part 2

Dr. Mark Goodacre is an Associate Professor in New Testament at Duke University and a three-time graduate (M.A., M.Phil. and D.Phil.) of the University of Oxford. Even with all these credentials, Goodacre is most widely known through his website, The New Testament Gateway—an online collection of study resources.

Dr. Goodacre took the time to answer some questions for BSM about how he reads the Gospels.

BSM: Why do you read the Gospels as synoptic (parallel) accounts? Should we avoid harmonizing the Gospels?

GOODACRE: Actually, harmonizing the Gospels is fine in certain contexts. I recently acted as historical consultant on a BBC/HBO co-production called “The Passion,” which was broadcast on the BBC in March and which goes out on HBO this year. When one puts together a drama based on the Gospels, harmonizing is inevitable, in fact desirable, unless you are going to do what Pasolini did and create a film based on just one of the Gospels. In its proper context, harmonizing therefore has a role to play. When my kids were in nativity plays, I did not stand up and shout out, “But you are mixing up Matthew and Luke!” Of course, in that context, it is the right thing to harmonize the Gospels. It is good story-telling and great drama.

QUICKBIT: Comparing the Gospels
Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the first three gospels). The word synoptic means “to view together.”
Harmonization: The combining of the four Gospels into a single account of Jesus’ life. Each Gospel harmony essentially creates a new version of the story of Jesus’ life and sayings. For this reason, they have often been frowned upon by the church and biblical scholarship. Tatian’s Diatessaron (ca. AD 175) is an early harmony of the Gospels.

On the other hand, harmonizing in academic circles is rarely, if ever, acceptable. If I see a student’s work that confuses details from different Gospels, or who is unaware of the importance of distinguishing between them, that student is unlikely to get a good grade.

In fact, I think that one of the problems with some work on the historical Jesus is that it jumps too quickly to conclusions about the texts before it has got clear the distinctive nature of each of the Gospels.

A lot of scholars find the Synoptic Problem dull, and therefore try to avoid it when they do their work in other areas like historical Jesus research. But ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS: The Baptism of Jesus
Matthew only Mark only Luke only Matthew and Mark agree Matthew and Luke agree Mark and Luke agree Matthew, Mark and Luke agree
Matthew 3:13–17
Mark 1:9–11
Luke 3:21–22
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptised by him. But John prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptised by you, and yet you come to me?” And Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. And when Jesus had been baptized, he arose immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to him and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him; and behold a voice from the heavens saying, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”
And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And immediately, having arisen from the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the spirit as a dove descending into him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”
And it came to pass that while all the people were being baptized, Jesus also having been baptized was praying, and the heaven was opened and the holy spirit descended in bodily form as a dove upon him, and there came a voice from heaven, “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

BSM: When studying the Gospels, how important is it to recognize the differences and similarities in how they record the same event(s)?

GOODACRE: Well, for academic study of the Gospels it is very important because the beginning point of serious historical work is the study of the texts themselves. Recognition that there are different versions of the same story in the different Gospels enables the interpreter to ask questions about the relationship between the texts. Which one came first? Is one, broadly, a copy of another? But it is not interesting just for the historian. The literary-critic is naturally interested in what a given text says, what its own particular message is.

Appreciation of a text begins with an understanding of what is in that text. And although I do not think of myself as a theologian, I do recognize the importance of appreciating the similarities and differences in the texts as part of the theological enterprise. There is something fascinating about reflecting on the conversation that is already going on within the canon about the significance of Jesus.
Part 3

The Gospel writers often record a particular event in Jesus’ life differently. These differences have resulted in long quests to find the historical Jesus, who is supposedly “behind” the Gospel accounts, as well as many scholars devoting their entire lives to understanding the particular theological message behind each Gospel writer’s account. Since grasping the complexities of the Gospels is often a difficult task, Bible Study Magazine posed a set of questions to a world-renowned expert on the Gospels as synoptic (parallel) accounts, Dr. Mark Goodacre, associate professor of New Testament studies at Duke University.

BSM: Can you provide an example in the Gospels that illustrates the importance of reading each Gospel on its own merits?

GOODACRE: The most obvious example is the depiction of Mary Magdalene, who today has become a composite of a variety of figures from the four Gospels: a fictional, harmonized creation of the prostitute who repented and followed Jesus. She is variously thought of as three or four different women in the Gospels: the anonymous sinner of Luke 7:36–50, the Samaritan Woman of John 4, and the Woman Caught in Adultery in John 8. None of these women are ever called Mary Magdalene. What we actually know about Mary Magdalene is rather limited, but we do know she is never called a prostitute. It’s a good case of Christian tradition warping the way that we read the Gospels—for a long time no one really noticed that interpreters were doing this.

Right up to the present, Mary Magdalene is depicted this way in films and fiction (e.g., most recently in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ). I was delighted that in the recent BBC/HBO production The Passion, Mary Magdalene, for the first time in a major production, was not depicted as a prostitute!

BSM: Generally speaking, what are the theological slants each Gospel writer puts on their work?

GOODACRE: This is not a quick and easy question to answer, and I am always a bit wary of attempts to try and put the Gospel writers’ agendas into a nutshell. Such attempts are rarely satisfactory and tend to draw wedges between the Gospel writers while oversimplifying their Gospels. In spite of the importance of looking at each of the Gospels as a text in its own right, I think it is actually easier to describe what they have in common. All four share the same basic plot and structure and agree that Jesus is the Messiah, that he taught about the kingdom of God, healed people, died and rose again on the third day, and will come again. The theme of the suffering Messiah in fact dominates all four Gospels, even if it is manifested in different ways in each.

BSM: If someone is speaking to their church, Sunday school class, or small group, how should they go about teaching on a passage that is recorded in parallel accounts in the Gospels?

GOODACRE: I am not a minister or a church leader of any kind, nor have I been trained as one, so I would not presume to make suggestions about how church leaders do their work. Nevertheless, when I am asked to speak to church groups about such things, I like to explore the world of parallel accounts a little by showing people the richness of understanding the way that different evangelists tell the same or similar stories. Let’s take an obvious example, the annunciation of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1:18–25 and Luke 1:26–38.

Both have clear features in common, not least the announcement that Mary will give birth to a son who will be called Jesus. Nonetheless, there are substantial differences: Matthew’s Gospel has an announcement to Joseph and Luke’s Gospel has an announcement to Mary, each giving reflections on Jesus’ future that are characteristic of the way each Gospel writer portrays the narrative of Jesus’ life.

BSM: Should readers be distraught about accounts in the Gospels that appear to disagree with one another?

GOODACRE: It depends on your perspective. Since I am not, nor have I ever been, a kind of biblical literalist, I have always been a bit puzzled by those who struggle with places where the Gospels disagree with one another or, for that matter, other places in the Bible where there are disagreements. Ignoring the disagreements does not make them go away. What is enjoyable about studying the Gospels as a historian is that one is trained to take disagreements seriously, rather than harmonizing them. I tend to feel that taking the Gospels seriously shows a respect for their integrity as texts. If one is interested in texts that many regard as sacred, then it is important to take those texts seriously, and that includes taking seriously places where they disagree with one another.

Howard Hendricks

Four Bible Study Steps

Tim Newcomb

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Mar–Apr ’10

Dr. Howard Hendricks passed away on February 20, 2013.
When people are taught how to study the Bible, they “get the excitement of actually discovering stuff,” says Dr. Howard Hendricks. “That is what is lacking today. We give people all the answers. If you don’t have the basics, you are not going to get that much out of Bible study. Once people are taught how to do something, they can see the value of it.”

Hendricks has trained thousands of Bible students at Dallas Theological Seminary, including Chuck Swindoll and David Jeremiah. For a period, he was even the chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys. For much of his life he’s been a traveling evangelist for Bible study—ministering in over 80 countries. Now 85, Hendricks serves as Distinguished Professor and Chair of the seminary’s Center for Christian Leadership.

Author of over 15 books—including Living by the Book, a handbook on how to study the Bible effectively—Hendricks is finally scaling back for health reasons. He now teaches two courses: “Bible Study” and “Advanced Bible Study.” “All of my courses are built on the basic pattern of observation, interpretation, application, and correlation (or communication),” says Hendricks. “I have been teaching that for 60 years. I love it. It opens up the Bible for me.”

Hendricks says he begins teaching people about how to study the Bible by showing the power of the Bible. However, he has observed an unfortunate trend: “Christians are less and less knowledgeable about Scripture and decreasingly motivated to be so. Understanding the Word’s power is no longer a given. Only after someone believes the value of the Bible can they really start to study.”

People who grasp the meaning behind what they study, says Hendricks, are the ones clamoring to talk about it with professors, other students and everyone they meet. “The Bible is changing their life and changing the way they interact with the people around them. People want to spend time with people like that.” Hendricks’ Bible study method will hopefully create more people who clamor to talk about the Bible.
1. Observation

“So many people are trying to interpret the Bible, but they don’t study it,” says Hendricks. “They don’t answer the question of ‘What do you see going on in the text?’ All of this wasted time is spent trying to find out what the Bible means without a basic understanding of what it says. If you can’t understand the text, then ultimately you can’t communicate it.”

According to Hendricks, our ability to observe the biblical text can be enhanced without a Bible in hand. “What were your co-workers wearing today? What was the title of the sermon on Sunday? Set up tests for yourself to encourage your mind to start observing everyday life.” Natural observation will spill into Bible study.

Ask questions of the biblical text while reading it, suggests Hendricks. “Who are the people? What are their relationships? What do those terms mean? What is the importance of the place they are in? Read the passage as for the first time. Look for things that are emphasized, repeated, related, alike, unlike and true to life.” Hendricks recommends observing the text in 10 different ways:

1. Thoughtfully. Be a detective.
2. Repeatedly. Read entire books at a time.
3. Patiently. Spend quality time in each book you study.
4. Selectively. Decipher the who, what, where, when and how in the text.
5. Prayerfully. Don’t copy others; ask God to reveal things to you.
6. Imaginatively. Think about how you might write the verse.
7. Meditatively. Reflect on the words.
8. Purposefully. Understand that the author used structure to send a message.
9. Acquisitively. Attempt to retain the text.
10. Telescopically. Understand the significance of the text in light of the entire Bible.
2. Interpretation

Under Hendricks’ rubric, once the steps of observation are completed, interpretation can begin: “Grasp how the context fits with literary genres, history, and culture. Also, what does the context say about the writer’s relationship with God, or even about the natural world?”

“Work to compare words, themes, phrases and styles of the text with other biblical texts,” says Hendricks. Then examine “the cultural setting of the book.” This will tell you if your observations fit the culture. Hendricks warns, “Don’t lose sight of the value of consultation in the process—using other resources to ensure your interpretation is accurate.”
3. Application

Application is about what the text means to you. Before we can be certain our application is correct, Hendricks says that each person “needs to know the text, relate it to life, meditate on its meaning, and then practice it.” Hendricks has created nine application questions to consider:

1. Is there an example for me to follow?
2. Is there a sin to avoid?
3. Is there a promise to claim?
4. Is there a prayer to repeat?
5. Is there a command to obey?
6. Is there a condition to meet?
7. Is there a verse to memorize?
8. Is there an error to mark?
9. Is there a challenge to face?
4. Communication

The correlation and communication step is simple. As a Bible teacher, it is about understanding and reading the audience you are speaking to.
Getting Started

If you haven’t practiced Hendricks’ method, it may seem stilted or philosophical. To fix this problem, Hendricks starts new students in the book of Mark because it is simple. But if the length of Mark is overwhelming, he suggests a shorter book: “Take a book like Jonah, for example, that has only four chapters. Take a good amount of time with it. Get so deeply involved with it that you can hardly wait for the next chapter.”

For small group Bible study, Hendricks suggests studying “individual books according to the group and its needs. If they ‘take off’ with it, even having never done it, their motivation keeps them going. I get them into something easier to handle and prove to them that they can study the Bible. Generally speaking, I find people at varied levels are not convinced they can do it. But in our classes at Dallas Theological Seminary, people who have never done this in their life come out with A-level grades.”

For veterans of Bible study, Hendricks recommends they learn to use the biblical languages. “Get Greek and Hebrew resource tools that tell you what a word means. For some people it is not important, but if you can weave that into your understanding, you can increase the value of your study. You can’t lose with that.”
Anyone Can Understand the Bible

Understanding the Bible like Howard Hendricks might seem like an impossible feat. But like everyone else, Hendricks’ biblical understanding started with simple hard work and dedication. In Hendricks’ second year of seminary he pledged to study the Bible for an hour every day. He has. Using the pattern he teaches his students, Hendricks works through one Bible book per month, hitting all 66 over a six-year span. While the hourly study is for his own spiritual walk, he says that what he learns often emerges when he speaks, writes, and teaches.

During his time at Wheaton College, Hendricks met Professor Merrill Tenney. When most students couldn’t handle more than one course a semester with the challenging professor, Hendricks took three. “He changed the course of my life,” Hendricks says. “I learned how to study the Scriptures. He motivated me right out of my socks.”

Hard work pays off at all levels, says Hendricks. He beams when he tells the story of an 80-year-old who came to Dallas Theological Seminary wanting to learn Greek. “I said ‘Are you sure?’ And he said, ‘I am just fascinated by this stuff.’ ” After four years, the man was so accomplished in Greek that Hendricks hired him to teach freshmen. He became one of the seminary’s most-loved professors until his retirement at the age of 93. It was this man’s excitement, fascination, and love of learning that got him studying the Bible in a new way. Hendricks says every Christian should have that same hunger for the Word.

Joni Eareckson Tada

Finding Comfort in God’s Word

Jessi Strong

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine May–June ’12
Paralyzed as a teenager, Joni Eareckson Tada has spent most of her life as a quadriplegic. Since the 1980s, she has served as an advocate for people with disabilities, working with the National Council on Disability and the Disability Advisory Committee to the U.S. State Department. An active speaker and writer, Joni has written books about suffering, like When God Weeps and A Place of Healing. Bible Study Magazine recently spoke to Tada about reading the Bible through suffering and despair.

BSM: What method do you use for studying the Bible?

TADA: Inductive Bible study is, for me, the most personal approach to understanding the Scriptures. Asking why, when, to whom, and what—along with prayer—reveals themes and insights from the Holy Spirit. I’m amazed at how both Old and New Testaments constantly repeat themes, stories, metaphors and religious practices that have to do with redemption—it’s the common thread throughout Scripture!

BSM: After your accident, how did your view of the Bible change? How did your Bible study change?

TADA: Before my accident, I viewed the Bible as a manual for righteous living. But after, I began to see the Bible as it describes itself: “the Word of life.” It’s not merely about living, it is life. As we study Scripture, it becomes “alive and active,” as we are told in Hebrews—reproving, correcting and shaping our lives. After my accident, I embarked on what has become a lifelong study of suffering—its purpose and God’s relationship to it. The theme of redemption is woven in and out of every passage pertaining to affliction. To me, that is very comforting.

BSM: What passages comforted you shortly after your accident? Do they still inspire you today, or do other verses have more meaning for you?

TADA: The Psalms provided a refuge for me when I was first injured and faced a life of total paralysis. I identified with saints who doubted and struggled against despair, yet turned their fears over to God. The Bible invited my questions, anger, and doubts. That helped immensely in my desire to trust God. Now, around 45 years later, I find myself drawn to the passages that speak to the ugliness of the human condition—if the core of God’s plan is to rescue me from my sin, I want to partner with the Holy Spirit in being transformed from “glory to glory.”

BSM: Do you find value in memorizing verses?

TADA: Sometimes, when I don’t quite have the words for prayer, I borrow God’s words. Memorizing whole passages instructs us on how to think God’s thought patterns—how to see things his way. Although I use the English Standard Version or the New International Version (1986) for Bible study, I like to memorize using the King James Version—the cadence and syntax read like poetry.

BSM: How can the Bible be a source for those battling with depression or despair? What advice would you give them for studying the Bible?

TADA: Life is hard, and it’s only human to be discouraged. But life frustrates us, so we look to the time when “sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa 35:10). I encourage people struggling with depression to memorize Scriptures about hope and heaven. I also direct people to the Psalms because they are anchors, keeping us fixed and floating above the fray.

Scot McKnight

The Heart/Mind Balance

Jeff Goins

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine May–June ’12
It can be tempting to pursue biblical knowledge for its own sake. Just as tempting is the pursuit of religious experience without a biblical foundation. As a well-respected New Testament scholar and university professor, Scot McKnight has experienced the tension of these pursuits.

McKnight grew up in Freeport, Illinois, a small town west of Chicago. He had what he calls “a conversion experience” in high school and later attended a Christian college. Although he had always planned to go into ministry and eventually become a missionary, he was drawn to teaching for intellectual reasons. “Teaching always involved, for me, writing and reading.” While attending Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, McKnight encountered professors and theologians who were talented writers. They served as models for him as a young scholar: “I wanted to be a writer—it became a part of my DNA.”

After receiving an MA at Trinity, he obtained a doctorate in theology at the University of Nottingham in England. For the past 25 years, McKnight has lived out his dream of reading, teaching, speaking, and writing. He now teaches at North Park University in Chicago, where he is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies.
Knowledge and Faith

“I love the independence of the academic life,” McKnight says. But Christian scholars can face formidable challenges to spiritual development. McKnight admits that these challenges became apparent when he experienced a faith crisis as a graduate student. “My faith became more intellectual—less experiential and personal. And my attitude toward the Church became cynical. I was critical of what I saw around me and thought things had to change.”

As his knowledge of ancient history grew, McKnight began to question certain tenets of the Christian faith—basic truths he had always taken for granted. Reconciling this tension was no easy task. It involved acknowledging the limitations of history, especially in relation to his own faith.

Led by his curiosity to ask “deeper questions,” McKnight recognized that historical work, though it has a part to play, cannot completely answer the question of faith. “I worked with academic scholars who were interested in the historical Jesus. I worked very hard, studying how Jesus understood his death.” McKnight realized that while he could prove Jesus saw his death as an atonement, he could not prove—historically—that Jesus’ death atones for sin. “It is faith and trusting in Christ that convinces me that his death forgives me. Historians cannot prove that Jesus’ death is for our sins; they can only prove that Jesus died. Historical work can only do so much.”

McKnight holds to his belief that we are the product of our intentional actions: “If you assume that science or history can answer all questions, before long you begin to think in such a way that you no longer need faith or God. Over time, this method of thinking builds habits in the brain. And then the brain becomes accustomed to thinking in such categories.”
A Historian’s Study Habits

For McKnight, there is no clear distinction between his personal and professional study. These pursuits are connected and interwoven: “I cannot separate my life of scholarship, and my life of faith. My faith is rooted in my scholarship and my scholarship is rooted in my faith. What I’ve learned, what I’ve studied, and what I’ve found in Scripture and in ancient history have become a part of how I conceptualize Christianity and how I seek to live my faith.”

Regarding his own study habits, McKnight says he is “a historian by trade.” His methods of learning involve a process that ends with application: “I study the text in its original language, outline it, diagram the Greek sentences, break it apart and read commentaries; then, I work it toward faith.”

Moving beyond intellectualism is also an important part of his study approach: “I’ve always tried to practice worship even in the midst of my academic study of the text. I’ve tried to let the text lead me toward worship and the significance of the text for Christian living—for my family, my world, my teaching—whatever I am doing.”

Currently, McKnight is writing a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. He recalls that there was not a day when he didn’t consider its personal application. “As I listen to the text, it’s speaking to me as I’m doing my work. It’s not something that I sit down and think, ‘Now, I have to be spiritual.’ I don’t think I can do one without the other.” He believes that study habits become formative and they work their way into a person’s character.
The Next Generation

As a professor, McKnight is sometimes surprised by his students’ lack of biblical knowledge. “I’ve come across a number of college students who, for the first time in their life, read stories they didn’t realize were even in the Bible. The story of Jephthah in Judges, for instance, is just a weird, difficult story. And the easiest way to deal with this is to never talk about it. If young Christians are going to understand these passages in relation to their own faith, we need to educate them from the beginning.”

McKnight adds, “I think our pastors could help by showing that knowledge is of value. Teaching that helps us acquire knowledge is good. There’s too little emphasis in our churches on knowing the Bible and its stories and too much emphasis on our favorite texts in the Bible. When teaching is reduced to the pragmatic—and it’s nothing other than life lessons—young Christians are confronted by a new Bible when they read it.”

But McKnight stresses that gaining knowledge isn’t an end in itself. “Of course, a sermon that only informs without exhortation or illustration is not the Church’s model of teaching.” He suggests an alternative: “When we are doing knowledge-shaped exercises in the Bible, it’s wise for us to withdraw for a few minutes and ponder the significance of the topic for our faith. For instance, when studying a passage about sin, we should ask, ‘How does this relate to what the Bible says about sin? How does this relate to sin in my life?’ ”

He believes the next generation needs to pursue Christianity as a lifestyle: “I think we can expect ebb and flow in our spiritual growth and in our intimacy with God. We should be pursuing faithfulness instead of experience. It is the ordinary habits of life that make the most difference. If you do the right things, because of habit, the big things will fall in place.”

Albert Mohler

Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Rebecca Van Noord

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Sept–Oct ’11
“Remember that it’s a letter,” is what Albert Mohler says about studying the book of Romans. “It’s not a dictionary.” Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains that if we focus too much on one idea or passage in Romans, we may misinterpret Paul’s letter.

BSM: What is the context of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome?

MOHLER: Paul exercises his apostolic authority and his pastoral ministry to get the Christians in Rome ready for his visit and to be more faithful until he could meet them. In Romans 1, Paul speaks about the commonality and the power of the gospel—it is the power to save, to the Jew first but also to the Gentile (non-Jew). While the church in Rome was started by Jewish converts, they had been expelled from Rome by the emperor. When the Jews were allowed back, there was this congregation that had been through this trauma.

BSM: What issues was Paul addressing in his letter?

MOHLER: The relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers was one of the most difficult issues that the early Church had to face. The big question in the book of Romans is whether the gospel requires Gentiles to become Jews first in order to be faithful believers—do they need to identify with Judaism in order to identify with Christ?… [But] there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. Paul is laying out the answer to that question and is giving the reasons why.

BSM: How do you understand the trajectory of Paul’s letter? Is he developing an argument? Is he writing a theological treatise?

MOHLER: It is a theological treatise, but it’s more than that. Paul focuses on one central doctrine—justification by faith alone. But he also deals with far more comprehensive issues. What we have is a great theological argument within the book of Romans that comes with pastoral application and Paul’s ambition to make certain those believers understood how those truths related to one another. So it’s about theology? Yes. It’s about doctrine? Absolutely. But it is also about the practical application of those truths to the life of the believer.

BSM: How should we study the book of Romans and apply what Paul was teaching?

MOHLER: The temptations that were present for first-century Christians are present for Christians today: legalism on the one hand and licensed kinship on the other hand—a temptation to confuse the gospel. And that is exactly why Paul is concerned that the church in Rome gets it right. He wanted those Christians to understand the gospel so they could be faithful … and live in unity together.

BSM: How do you think pastors and teachers should approach teaching the book of Romans?

MOHLER: Given the size of the book of Romans, it’s very tempting to teach highlights or particular passages.… I would just encourage pastors, teachers, and those who are involved in personal Bible study to follow the letter through.… Read it word by word, verse by verse, and pray that the Holy Spirit will apply it to your life.

Margaret Feinberg

Pursuing God

Ryan Pemberton

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine July–Aug ’12
“Daily, I pray for spiritual hunger that would stir up my heart and not let me become lulled or satisfied with the things of this world,” says Margaret Feinberg, Christian author and speaker. “Nothing satisfies that hunger like spending time in Scripture.”

Feinberg remembers having a passion for reading the Bible as a child. “I used to get nightmares, and the only way I could make them stop was to read the Bible every night before I went to bed. At 8 years old, I had this foundational reality: There is power in the Word of God.”

Her parents, a Jewish father and “Gentile” mother, embraced the Christian faith shortly before Feinberg was born. She attended a Christian elementary school where, she says, “I responded to the altar call so many times, one of the teachers actually had to pull me aside and explain, ‘You only need to go forward once!’ ”

However, Feinberg’s passion faded in college. Although she studied the Scriptures, prayed and attended church, she got distracted. “During my freshman year, I wandered away from him with a lot of foolish behavior. It wasn’t until the end of that year that my faith became my own. I remember my youth pastor called and said, ‘Margaret, there’s a Christian conference that I really think you need to go to.’ At that conference, it was like God grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said, ‘You are my child, and I’ve called you by name. Come back to me.’ ”

Feinberg knows that these “bottom-out places” are times that we need to pursue God even more: “One of the things I pray for daily, and have since then, is spiritual hunger. Even when I don’t really want to pursue him, I ask him to stir up the hunger for him and his Word.”
An Inescapable Calling

Feinberg’s pursuit has led her to write more than two dozen books, including The Organic God, The Sacred Echo, Scouting the Divine, and her most recent, Hungry for God. She also created a series of Bible study DVDs and regularly speaks about the relevance of the Bible in a modern context.

In 2005, she was named one of Charisma magazine’s 30 Voices who will help lead the Church in the next decade. And in 2008, Christian Retailing named her one of the “40 Under 40” who will shape Christian publishing. But despite these titles, Feinberg’s spiritual focus remains the same.

“My calling today is to love Christ with everything I am and allow that love to infiltrate my relationship with God. My writing is a joy and privilege, but my calling is to become more Christ-like.”
Bible Insights for Life

In order to fulfill that calling, Feinberg takes her Bible study time seriously: “For the last three years, I have been handpicking books of the Bible and diving in. I read them several times over, and then I think about how those themes and issues tie into the larger framework of Scripture. I find commentaries and authors that highlight facets of Scripture I never thought of. They set me off on my own trails and vistas—helping me make connections and see things in the text, my life and the world that I would not see otherwise.”

When she finds herself skimming rather than reading Scripture, Feinberg will turn to a different translation. “The importance of changing translations, for me, is fresh language. Suddenly you see words, phrases, and ideas come to life in a whole new way.”

She also recommends sharing Bible study time with others in order to glean new insights: “On any given morning when we’re home, my husband and I will spend time reading, praying and sharing what we’ve learned from Scripture. Sharing what we’re learning with someone else has a way of making it more memorable and impactful.”

“Scripture is the foundation and filter for all we hear from God.”

It’s that concept that fueled Feinberg’s research for her 2009 book, Scouting the Divine. While writing the book, she spent time with a farmer, a beekeeper, a vineyard owner, and a shepherd. “I opened up the Scripture with each person and asked, ‘How do you read this, not as a theologian, but in light of what you do every day?’ Their answers changed the way that I read Scripture. Not all of them were Christians, but they wrestled with the text and read portions without any preconceived ideas or understandings. Through their lenses, some passages came to light in a different way for me. I think such adventures with people—and they’re all around us—help us expand our capacity for seeing God and his Word afresh.”
Sabbath Rest

While her professional pace can become frantic, Feinberg views her time in the Bible as an opportunity to recover and grow. “My natural propensity is to fill the calendar with business, to engage in things that distract or satiate. The Bible anchors me in the reality of who God is and all he’s doing—things I so easily lose track of in our clanky world.”

One way she pursues study is through intentionally taking a Sabbath. For Feinberg, this doesn’t mean “sitting and staring at a blank wall.” Rather, it’s a way to remove distractions: “I want to minimize the everyday and carve out time to rest and enjoy God. Taking that extra time to read the Word and reflect helps me go deeper.”

She intentionally unplugs by turning off her cell phone and closing the lid of her laptop when she’s reading. “We live in a ‘blurt it’ culture—especially with technology and the Internet age. But what are you keeping for yourself? What passages are you savoring?”
Knowing God

Feinberg’s time in the Bible helps her prepare material for her next Bible study, book or speaking engagement. But her primary goal is to know God more. “Scripture is the foundation and filter for all we hear from God. We’re not just taking in more information about him. We’re really knowing him and recognizing where he’s leading and what he’s saying.”

Although she recognizes the value of community, Feinberg stresses the importance of personal Bible study for intentional living: “We shouldn’t simply accept something we’ve been told our entire lives or something that’s embraced in the culture of church without searching out the matter for ourselves in the Scripture. Too often, we allow others to do the hard work of Scripture for us. God calls us to spend a lifetime exploring who he is. When we begin diving into the Scripture prayerfully and thoughtfully, we not only search the Bible, but we allow the Bible to do the hard work of searching us. We can thoughtfully hold up the lens of Scripture and ask God, ‘What’s your heart on this matter?’ In that place, we encounter God, and we’re ushered into a place of radical transformation, life and growth.”

Feinberg has encouraging words for those who struggle to hear God speak: “When people claim they haven’t heard from God, I counter, ‘Have you ever read or heard Scripture?’ If so, God has been speaking. Keep praying, stay plugged into community and keep studying the Scriptures. It’s in those moments—and I’ve had plenty of my own—that faith grows in dimension and depth.”

Norman Geisler

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Arlyn Lawrence

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Nov–Dec ’10
The first step to effective Bible study is not to study. “The first thing I do is pray. Communication is a two-way street. God speaks to me through the Bible. And I speak to him through prayer,” says Norman Geisler.

For this Bible scholar, apologist, and philosopher, reading the Scriptures is not merely an intellectual exercise; it’s a personal encounter with God.

Geisler has authored or co-authored 70 books and hundreds of articles, and has spoken or debated in 26 countries on six continents. He has a BA, MA, ThB, and PhD (in philosophy) and has taught at some of the top seminaries in the United States, including Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Dallas Theological Seminary. During the 1981 “Scopes Two” trial, the defense called on Geisler as an expert witness to help promote the teaching of creation alongside evolution in public schools.
Humble Beginnings

Geisler’s parents were not Christians. On Sundays, at age 9, he would get up while they were still sleeping, and hop on a community church bus that would take him to Sunday school. “There was something inside me telling me to do this, which I later knew was the Holy Spirit.… From the first time I heard the gospel at age 9, I knew it was true.”

“I came from an uneducated family. My mother went through seventh grade and my father went through fourth grade. We had no books in our home. No magazines. My only interest in life was baseball. That is what kept me in school—that and girls. In 11th grade, they gave me a test and found out I couldn’t read. I made it through 12th grade without reading a book. The Bible may have been the first book I ever read, because I wanted to know the Word and learn more.”
Where We Go from Here: The Road Map

Geisler is adamant that studying the Bible for its meaning without personally understanding its significance is a futile endeavor. “You’re not dealing with just any book or piece of literature. You’re dealing with the words of the living God that created the universe.”

A key element of effective Bible study is approaching Scripture in context before examining it verse by verse. “You’ve got to stand back and see the whole picture. If you get too close to a given verse, … you [can] miss the overall message.”

And that overall message is Jesus. Each section of the Bible shows us Christ: “In the law, the foundation is laid for Christ; history: preparation is made; poetry: aspiration; prophecy: expectation.” All this leads up to the New Testament and the “consummation of all things in Christ.” Inside that broad theological structure, we can begin to find the significance of the individual books.
Don’t Stop at Interpretation

Geisler believes proper interpretation begins with looking at the text objectively. “The meaning is what the text says. The meaning is objective. It comes from a God who is absolute truth and has objectively revealed his truth in his Word in context.”

But we ought not to stop there. From meaning we must move on to significance. “The significance is how the Scripture applies to my own life, because circumstances change. There is one interpretation, but many applications.”

This process of understanding revelation, interpretation, and application depends heavily on the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Since the Spirit inspired those words in the first place, the Spirit can help us see the implications.
Missing Significance

Far too many people read a text without ever knowing its implications for their own lives. Geisler reminds us of 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The man without the Spirit does not ‘accept’ the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (NIV). Geisler notes that “accept” is a translation of the Greek word meaning “welcome” (δέχομαι, dechomai). The word literally means to “welcome them into his heart.”

“You know what really challenges me? It’s the verses like ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ and ‘love your wife as your own body.’ It’s the one about ‘thou shall not kill’ while we’re killing 1,000 babies every day by abortion in the United States. Those are the verses that bother me—the clear ones. I don’t care what the seven thunders uttered in the book of Revelation [really are]; I care what the thunderous voice on Mount Sinai uttered when he said things like … ‘don’t steal’ and ‘don’t commit adultery.’ ”
Bringing It Home

Geisler is not just speaking theoretically when he discusses such things. Through his struggles, the significance of the gospel in his own life has been tested.

“I had lost a father, a mother, a sister and a mother-in-law; I had buried a lot of people. I had seen death first hand as a minister and a pastor, and I’d thought I’d seen everything until our daughter died. When our daughter died, I really tested the reality of applying God’s truth to my own life, because at times like that it’s just you, God, and your basic beliefs. That’s what it boils down to.”

“When you lose a loved one … that close to you—and you know they’re not coming back, humanly speaking—either you do believe in the resurrection or you don’t. And the real test of it comes right then. If you thought it was just a fairy tale or a legend and it wasn’t rooted in history and reality, it would be of no comfort to you whatsoever. That’s when apologetics, theology, proper interpretation, [and] application all come to bear on real life.”

“I was out making funeral arrangements with my wife and I had cried … for hours and hours. I came back home and there were 11 calls on the phone from friends of mine.… They all said comforting things, but John Ankenberg said all four things that are comforting to somebody in grief like that. Number one: I love you. Number two: I’m praying for you. Number three: I’m sympathizing with you. Number four: It’s not your fault.”

“The comfort of those truths are all rooted in Scripture. [Because I know] that Christ rose from the dead, [I knew] we were going to be able to see her again—I can’t describe the incredible significance and comfort that truth brought to me.”

“I often give a test to audiences when I’m speaking on this problem of suffering.… I say, ‘How many of you have learned any enduring lesson in life through pleasure? Raise your hand.’ No hands. ‘How many of you have learned an enduring lesson in life through pain?’ All the hands.”

Looking back, Geisler says, “My disappointments have been his appointments. God has always been doing something through those [moments] in my life. And when I look at those I find that they were greater moments … where God broke through to me than any other.”

Justin Taylor

Blogging for Bible Study

Rebecca Van Noord

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine July–Aug ’11
As an influential blogger and a vice president of book publishing at Crossway, Justin Taylor has developed a reputation for locating what he calls “gospel-centered, biblically faithful” content. His Gospel Coalition blog, Between Two Worlds, offers commentary on contemporary Christian culture and advice on the latest books and resources. But Taylor is quick to say that studying the Bible is not just about locating a great resource. He told Bible Study Magazine that it involves more than that.

BSM: How do you approach reading the Bible?

TAYLOR: There are times that I just want to read the material to absorb it.… There may be things that I don’t understand, or places that I’m unfamiliar with, or things that are confusing. But in some ways, I just want to press ahead and get an overlay of the land. Then there’s this second level of reading where I want to be asking questions: even just the basic journalist questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how. I want to bring questions to confusing and ambiguous things in the text.

BSM: What steps do you take when you encounter a confusing biblical passage?

TAYLOR: Many of us learned, as kids, to memorize Bible verses. That’s helpful, but I think it can reinforce the mindset of taking verses—not just out of context—but in isolation. We forget that those verses are actually steps in an argument. They’re embedded in a larger train of thought. In Bible reading and Bible study, I’m looking for those arguments. I’m asking: What is the author responding to? What’s the main point that he’s trying to get across? What’s the heart of the passage, and then what are the arteries leading to the heart of that argument? The biblical authors are always trying to persuade and shape us.

BSM: How has editing shaped the way that you recognize a good Bible resource?

TAYLOR: When you’re editing, you’re trying to clear away the brush that might distract from the message.… When you’re talking about a Bible resource, the message is the Bible itself.… So I am looking for resources that aren’t pulling me away from the Bible.… I want resources that help me see more clearly the biblical message of grace, the centrality of the gospel, and the glory of God.

BSM: What should we consider when choosing a Bible resource?

TAYLOR: When we talk about studying the Bible … [there’s] usually an image that comes to mind: me in my room, by myself, with my Bible and maybe with a Bible help.… But I’d add two other keys: other people and prayer.

When choosing a Bible study resource, I would encourage people not to make that a private decision.… Don’t neglect going to somebody older in the faith. Humble yourself and say, “I don’t really understand this book and I need some help. Would you mind coming alongside me and sharing what you’ve learned?”

I also think people sometimes struggle with reading a Word that feels dry. It seems like it’s not penetrating the heart. It’s just black words on a white page and they struggle with how to apply it.… I would take the words of Scripture and pray them back to God. If there’s an exhortation in the Word, receive that as a challenge and pray to God for help. Pray for help on understanding a passage you’re confused about.… We can do a lot more of praying Scripture back to him. And I think when we do that, [reading the Bible] becomes more of a dynamic process.

Jeff Bethke

Spoken Word & God’s Word

Britt Rogers

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Nov–Dec ’12
On January 10, 2012, Jeff Bethke uploaded a spoken-word poem called “Jesus > Religion.” Within weeks the YouTube video went viral, eventually viewed more than 20 million times. In the video, the 22-year-old professes his love for Jesus Christ and rejects false religion, proclaiming, “If grace is water, then the Church should be an ocean. It’s not a museum for good people—it’s a hospital for the broken.” Bethke recently gave Bible Study Magazine his tips for personal Bible study and told us about the origins of “Jesus > Religion.”

BSM: Your poem “Jesus > Religion” stirred up both praise and controversy. How have you dealt with these reactions?

BETHKE: Receiving praise can be more dangerous than criticism; we can become enslaved to the praise of people. The best way I’ve dealt with this is by remembering the cross of Jesus. Nothing can critique me more than Jesus already has on the cross, and nothing can show me my worth more than Jesus already has on the cross.

BSM: How do you read and study the Bible?

BETHKE: I change my method a lot, but usually I read and pray about an hour after I get up so I’m focused. Most often, I study specific topics and try to listen to what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach me. If I’m in the Word and something starts to stick out to me, I try to find every book or reference on that topic by authors I like.

BSM: What value do you see in personal Bible study? What value is there in studying in community?

BETHKE: Personal Bible study lets you be with only God. Too often we let other voices into our study, and sometimes they become detrimental to what the Spirit wants to reveal to us. But that’s also where community comes in; we see a fuller picture of who Jesus is in community—it’s his body. Ultimately, we need both personal and community fellowship with Jesus.

BSM: What is something surprising about your Bible study habits?

BETHKE: That I actually don’t have set habits; I try to mix it up because routines can get stale. Sometimes I copy the biblical text into a document and remove all the chapter and verse markings, formatting it like an actual letter. When I do this, I start to see things that wouldn’t have been visible otherwise.

BSM: What is the greatest challenge facing the upcoming generation of Christians when it comes to reading and understanding the Bible?

BETHKE: This generation has made an idol out of business and social affirmation. Instead of searching for affirmation from God, we want others to tell us how awesome we are. Our biggest challenge is just carving out time; we are slaves to pragmatism. But we need to stay close to the Spirit and not make Jesus and his grace into a formula.

BSM: What passages have been most meaningful to you in your Christian walk?

BETHKE: Ephesians 1, hands down. It never says “do” anything; it’s all about what is true of us if we trust Jesus. My sin and failures all weakened when I realized who I am in Christ and how everything is about his behavior—not mine. We were sought out before we were even made. When all of those truths invade your heart, they just explode, and you’re never the same.

Charles Caldwell Ryrie

“More Is More”

Karen Jones

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Jan–Feb ‘10
Asking the man who edited the bestselling Ryrie Study Bible about the importance of Bible reading is like asking Bill Gates if you should buy a computer. The answer is obvious. “What is important is regular reading, variety of reading, and the freedom to choose your path through the Bible,” says one of the most prolific Bible scholars of our time, Dr. Charles Caldwell Ryrie.

The Ryrie Study Bible has helped millions of Christians worldwide understand the Bible’s basic truths. Although he did not realize the effect his notes would have on Bible study when it debuted in 1978, Dr. Ryrie tells Bible Study Magazine he is overwhelmed by its impact, particularly on laypersons. “Everybody tells me that it is very helpful for laypersons in studying the Bible, and by now, I am beginning to believe it. I think it’s the way God’s gift is operating through me and I am very thankful.”

Born in 1925, Dr. Ryrie came to Christ at the early age “of five or six” and was often allowed to attend his father’s home Bible study class—as long as he sat by his mother who would ensure his good behavior. He says the home Bible class exposed him to “excellent Bible teachings” while growing up—a foundation he was able to successfully build on throughout his life.

Although his original professional path was heading toward a career in business banking, Dr. Ryrie says a meeting with the eminent theologian Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, who took time out of his busy schedule to talk with the young college student, resulted in him going on a theological journey instead. This occurred while he was attending Haverford College near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Like many college students, Dr. Ryrie admits to being “very disturbed about the future at that time.” This changed after he attended a public forum featuring Dr. Chafer, which was held near the campus. “I requested a meeting afterwards and he said he would be glad to talk to me. He set up a time at his hotel for dinner. That night settled for me the two important questions of what I would dedicate my life to, and what I was going to do with that life. It was a call to ministry.” He adds that this sort of access to such an esteemed person would probably not happen today, “It’s so easy to say ‘I don’t have time for a college student.’ I have not forgotten that and hope I don’t.”

After Dr. Ryrie graduated from Haverford College, he attended Dallas Theological Seminary where he obtained a Th.M. and Th.D.; later he also earned another doctorate at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He has since served as Professor of Systematic Theology and Dean of Doctoral Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Ryrie has written a plethora of respected publications on theology and Christian life and is considered one of the most influential voices of evangelical Christianity.

After 30 plus years, the Ryrie Study Bible has seen many expansions and translations. It remains a key tool for Christians seeking a better understanding of Scripture. When asked how writing the original version impacted his own life, Dr. Ryrie replies, “I had always taught theology, but I had never taught through all the books of the Bible as a pastor might. Also, I had never outlined all the books of the Bible so that was a challenge, but a good challenge. I wanted the outline to reflect the content and be useful in showing readers how to apply the content. I am resisting saying that I wanted the outline to help with preaching. I really wanted it to be able to be used by anyone, and be helpful to a person who is just picking up the Bible.”

The Ryrie Study Bible has 10,000 concise explanatory notes and Dr. Ryrie offers that when compiling them, he often thought of the students who were attending his ongoing home Bible-study classes. “When I was writing the notes, I would often ask myself, ‘Would someone in my class need help at this point?’ In a class you get a pretty good idea of the level of what they know or don’t know.”

When queried about his personal Bible study habits. Dr. Ryrie says to offer a one-size-fits-all checklist and says it depends on his reason for studying the Bible. If, for example, he is preparing a sermon, he often tries to do something new. “I get a Bible passage in mind and I read it and then jot down things like questions, comments, ideas, and more. I note whatever comes to mind—I may do that over the course of a day or two. I will then organize and perfect it.” Although he says that everyone is different in the path they choose, one Bible study habit he will heartedly endorse is commitment. “The most important thing about reading or studying the Bible is to do something consistently. Even if it’s only half a chapter—be consistent.”

For those who may be new to Christ and just starting to read and study the Bible, Dr. Ryrie feels that advice on Bible study habits would depend on how the term “new Christian” is defined. “What’s the extent of his relationship with Christ? Has he been to church? Did he go forward at a Billy Graham meeting and that is his brush with Christianity? It’s hard to answer a question like that. I have a friend who always advises the newly converted to read the book of James ten times before you do anything else. I say keeping them interested in continuing to read and study the Bible, and knowing that you have the freedom to set your own agenda is very important.”

By freedom, he means the freedom of starting one book and, if not liking it, going onto another. Though he calls Genesis “an interesting book” he does not advise a new convert to start with the Old Testament. “If you think you are going to begin with Genesis and read the Bible all the way through, it will defeat you. By the time you get to Numbers, you’ll want to quit. Start in the New Testament. If it is a Gospel, fine, and I’d say aim at John. If not the Gospels, then some people are very attracted to Acts because it is lively. If you want to dip here or there in the Old Testament, try some of the Psalms or Proverbs.”

Another tool Dr. Ryrie considers important to good Bible study habits is, naturally, a good study Bible. “It not only gives you the text, but plenty of on-the-page help. Let’s face it, most of us are lazy and we are not going to get a separate book and read it, so if it is on the page, it will help.” Whether it’s his own study Bible, or someone else’s, Ryrie suggests reading the Introduction to learn more about the author. He also advocates reading the notes at the bottom of the page while reading the actual text.

Dr. Ryrie offers this tip for reading through the Bible: “I am more and more convinced that the best advice you can give anybody at any stage of life unsaved or saved, new or mature Christian, who wants to study the Bible, is to ‘just read it.’ There is no law that says you have to read ‘so much’ every day. And an entire chapter might be too long. It’s better to read a little regularly then a lot occasionally.”

The Bible in Everyday Encounters
Gary Chapman

It’s Personal

Heather M. Brooks

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Jan–Feb ‘11
“I always end with an application—what am I going to do with this? What is this challenging me to do?” says Dr. Gary Chapman. While Bible study methods vary, studying Scripture should always end the same way—with a response. “I try to make the application as specific as possible, not an informational application but an action application.”

Chapman is a senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He speaks in the US and internationally on marriage, family, and relationships. “A Love Language Minute,” Chapman’s radio program, airs on more than 100 stations nationwide. He has written more than 20 books, including The Five Love Languages and Love Is a Verb.

Chapman holds an MA in anthropology from Wake Forest University, and both an MRE (Education Administration) and PhD (Adult Education) from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Bible Study Magazine spoke with Chapman about applying the Bible to all areas of life.
Start with prayer, end with application

Chapman uses biblical reference books that allow him to explore the meanings and linguistic origins of biblical terms. He realizes, though, that not everyone shares his interests: “It’s okay to be who you are” when studying the Bible.

He keeps this in mind when preparing sermons and Bible studies—“The congregation can get lost in the process. I have to realize [that] not everybody’s like me, and if I’m going to communicate to people who are not like me, then I’m going to have to lose some of the details, and get into more of the things that relate to people.”

“First, I pray and ask God to speak to me. I say, ‘I’ll listen to you, and I’m asking for your guidance.’ Then I read the text. I underline points that jump out at me. I’m looking for the message, the main point and any sub-points. I’m not coming with a preconceived idea, but I’m looking for what the text says.… Then I’m asking myself, ‘How does this relate to other passages that I’ve read on a similar topic?’ ”

“The last thing I do is look for illustrations on this point in Scripture,” says Chapman. “If I’m preaching then I always end with an application—what am I going to do with this? What is this challenging me to do? And I try to make the application as specific as possible, not an informational application but an action application. What might I do, or what might we do, in response to this passage? I try to give people a challenge of at least one thing that they can do in response.”
Exposing ourselves to the life of Christ

Chapman says that life application is also important in individual Bible study. “We should ask ourselves, ‘What is my purpose in reading this passage? How do I apply it in my life, and then help other people discover this?’ ” He adds that individual Bible study also has its limits. The explanations of Bible scholars help prevent any misreading of the text.

“Studying requires more reflection. It involves asking more questions, and perhaps taking notes,” says Chapman. One possible note-taking method involves outlining or summarizing a chapter. For new believers, he suggests starting with the Gospels and “record[ing] statements Jesus made about his death, his resurrection, and how to live our lives.” Chapman says we should always “expose ourselves to the life of Christ.”
He says, she says

Respect is essential when studying with a spouse. Chapman says that it is vital for couples to “respect each other’s … orientation,” especially when one partner is of an analytical bent, and the other places more emphasis on application. “Recognize that both points of view are valid and useful.… Learn from each other.”

To make these study times effective and harmonious, Chapman recommends beginning with “a common denominator.” Couples should choose a devotional that reflects on Scripture while asking themselves: “What can we learn together?” They should concentrate on “looking at Scripture passages, reading them, answering questions about them, and then making an application to marriage.”

These sessions should not become times of theological argument. “The important thing is, ‘How can we encourage each other and help each other with what we’re learning in the Scriptures.’ ”
The responsibilities of leadership

Group Bible studies present special challenges. One of the tasks of a leader is to ensure that respect is maintained. “It’s important that the leader recognize that when you pull any number of couples together, you’re going to have people of all different levels. You’re going to have some that are already good Bible students, and you’re going to have some that hardly know where the book of Genesis is.”

Respect like this assumes special significance in a couples Bible study, especially if one partner is unenthusiastic about participating. That can change, if the circumstances are right. Chapman uses the example of a man attending a couples Bible study for the first time. “If we treat him with respect when he … asks a question, he gets comfortable being there—then it can become a learning experience. By the time it’s over, he may say, ‘I’m glad we did this.’ Atmosphere is the big issue in group Bible study.”

When couples clash in a Bible study, Chapman says leaders should set a tone of acceptance. “It’s easy to be critical, and to perceive different levels of biblical understanding from our own as ‘shallow.’ Think [about] where other people are [in their spiritual journeys]. We need to know where they are if we want to have any kind of ministry at all. We’re not there to ostracize.… And as we move along hopefully we can help them move along and we can all grow together in this process.”

Chapman says that leaders can also learn something along the way. “You’re there for a purpose. You’re there to minister to other people and, perhaps, be ministered to yourself.”

Voddie Baucham, Jr.

It Starts at Home

Cynthia Hyle Bezek and Rebecca Van Noord

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine May–June ’11
“When we disciple our children, we’re teaching them what to believe, why to believe, and how to apply that to the way they live,” says Voddie Baucham, Jr. “That’s what we’re instructed to do in Ephesians 6:4, where it says, ‘Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.’ We don’t want to do that based on the traditions of man. It’s got to come from the Word.”

Both Baucham and his wife, Bridget, are committed home educators. Baucham is also a pastor, a seminary professor, and a conference speaker specializing in cultural apologetics. He is the author of several books, including Family Driven Faith (Crossway, 2007).

Baucham first encountered the Bible when he was a football player in college. “A staff member from Campus Crusade started asking some exploratory questions. He tried his Four Spiritual Laws and realized—with me coming from this background of Buddhism—I didn’t even have enough context for him to use his presentations. So he backed up, and he picked up this Bible, and he said, ‘Okay, Voddie. This is a Bible,’ just like that old Vince Lombardi moment, where his guys need to be brought back to their senses, and he says, ‘This is a football.’ That’s where we started. He came back every day for three weeks until he answered all my questions; then he taught me how to find the answers to those questions. I tell people I was being trained in apologetics before I was converted.”

Two of his football teammates mentored him and bought him his first Bible. “They taught me how to read it and taught me how to study it. They taught me how to share my faith, and they gave me my first preaching opportunity. God used those guys. Sometimes it was formal—sitting down with the Word and answering my questions. Other times it was informal like coming up to me on the field and saying, ‘Hey, Voddie, you probably shouldn’t say that anymore.’ ”

When asked about his own Bible study habits, Baucham says that moving from studying to teaching is a streamlined process. “In seminary we were told, ‘If all you’re doing is studying the Word for sermons, and you’re not having personal time in the Word, then you’ll dry up.’ I was always convicted by that because I could not read the Scriptures without getting fired up about teaching it. That’s when I learn the most. After a while I just asked myself, ‘Why am I trying to force myself [to separate studying and teaching]? This is how I’m wired. I’m just being who I am.’ ”

Baucham says he is always thinking about how to teach something when he’s studying the Bible. “When I get in the Word, God is applying things to my life, and then I’m immediately thinking about how I can turn around and use it to be a blessing to other people.”

The Bauchams encourage their children to apply the Bible to every aspect of their lives. “Whatever we’re studying comes back to our stewardship of the gifts, talents, abilities, time and treasure that God has given us.”

“There’s a sense in which we teach the Bible as a course, and I think that’s important to a degree. But what’s more important is that the Bible permeates everything we teach,” says Baucham. “So when we’re studying science [with our children], we go to the Word and talk about how the heavens declare the glory of God. When we’re doing political science, we discuss what the Word says about the role and jurisdiction of the government. When we’re doing history, we ask what the Word says about God’s work in progress. And when Paul preaches at Mars Hill about how God made from one man every nation of men and appointed the boundaries of their habitation, we relate that to the study of geography. Everything has to come back to the Word of God.”

The Bauchams do not limit their Bible reading to biblical books that are accessible or child-friendly. “Second Timothy 3:16 says that ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,’ ” says Baucham. “There will always be parts that are more appealing to us—regardless of our age. What we don’t want to do is take this cut-and-paste approach to the Bible that gives children an unbalanced diet instead of the whole counsel of God.”

He believes parents should “invest in those things that make better readers, better worshipers, and better followers of Christ.” The Bauchams make this investment in their own family by teaching the basic Bible study skills of observation, interpretation, and application during family worship.

This begins with opportunities for their children to comment on the material. “We ask, ‘What did you hear? What stuck out to you?’ We just finished reading Job as a family. There’s deep stuff there. [Our son] Elijah observed one day: ‘Job is sad.’ We told him, ‘That’s a great observation.’ And then for the rest of the book, every day, his younger brother would raise his hand. We’d ask, ‘Asher, what’s your observation?’ And he’d say, ‘Job is sad.’ Already he had this idea in his head that after we read, everybody has to make an observation.”

The most essential element in the training of Christian families is also the simplest, Baucham says: family worship. “We just pick a book of the Bible and go chapter by chapter. We read and we find new nuggets every time. Sometimes it takes us 10 or 15 minutes. Sometimes we’re there for an hour and we realize, ‘Hey, we’ve got other stuff to do.’ But it’s just a natural outgrowth of who we are and what we’re committed to as a family.”

He stresses the importance of keeping Bible reading time simple. “If you make this too involved and too complicated, you’re not going to stay with it. You want it to be simple, so that everyone can be engaged in it. We’re not trying to reproduce what happens at church. We just want to worship God as a family.”

Sally Lloyd-Jones

Telling Stories

Rebecca Van Noord

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Mar–Apr ’13
“A story is like a seed. You might not see anything happening to the child who reads a story, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. In fact, everything is happening.” Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of the bestselling Jesus Storybook Bible and her latest title, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, believes stories have power. When telling children “the one big story” of the Bible, parents and adults don’t have to sum it up or turn it into a lesson for it to have an impact. Simply tell the story. And then trust the story to do its work—and trust God to do his work. In the end, “it’s all about God and what he can do.”

BSM: As a child, what was your perception of God and the Bible?

LLOYD-JONES: I thought the Bible was a book of rules you had to keep so God would love you. And that it was filled with heroes you were supposed to copy so he would love you. In short, I thought the Bible was all about me and what I was supposed to be doing.

I came to faith as a small child, but I began to think that if I was good, God would love me, and that if I stopped being good, God would stop loving me. I knew I wasn’t able to keep the rules all the time—so I thought God must not be very pleased with me.

BSM: How did this childhood experience inspire you to write the Jesus Storybook Bible?

LLOYD-JONES: Sometimes I go into Sunday schools and ask two questions of the children: “How many people here think you have to be good for God to love you?” and “How many people here think God will stop loving you if you stop being good?”

I wrote the Jesus Storybook Bible for the children who put up their hands. Unfortunately, quite a few do. And these are not children who don’t know the Bible. These are children who know their Bible stories very well—who could answer all the questions, who go to Sunday school. But somehow they’re missing what the Bible is all about.

BSM: What were you hoping to communicate with the Jesus Storybook Bible?

LLOYD-JONES: There are lots of stories in the Bible, but they are all telling the one big story of how God loves his children and has come to rescue them.… He is the missing piece in the puzzle, the piece that—when you find it—makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the great story of the Bible—the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. And at the center of that story is Jesus, the Rescuer.

BSM: What are some of the joys and challenges of writing Bible stories for young children?

LLOYD-JONES: It is an honor to write for children. And I am aware that it is a high calling—it carries with it a great responsibility. It takes all of your strength and discipline to distill something profound down into its core truth without dumbing [it] down. Being simple isn’t being simple-minded. It is finding language to convey the profound in words children can understand.

BSM: What advice would you give to parents who want to engage their children with the Bible?

LLOYD-JONES: Teach your children the Bible is not about them. It’s not mainly about them and what they should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done. We can tell the story and then let the story do its work. Don’t sum it up into a sentence or drill it down into a moral lesson—that will kill the story. Lessons come at you head on and leave you with your defenses up, but a story comes around the side and captures your heart.

Sherry Surratt

Bible Study Strategies for Moms

Elizabeth Vince

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Jan–Feb ’13
As every parent knows, no two children learn the same way. Yet we often forget that those differences carry over into adulthood. As Sherry Surratt notes, “one size fits all” does not apply to studying the Bible. “You need to try different ways to grow in God’s Word. You have to find what works for you. Find your rhythm.” As a mother of two and the president and CEO of Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS), Surratt recently spoke with Bible Study Magazine about overcoming isolation and studying the Word as a family.

BSM: How were you taught about the Bible as a child, and how did you teach your own children?

SURRATT: I learned the foundations of the Bible through reading Bible stories. In Sunday school I also participated in something called Bible quiz, where we would memorize a book of the Bible and then compete. I credit a huge part of my Bible learning to memorization.

We encouraged our own children to memorize one verse at a time, focusing on the meaning of the verse more than memorization. We really tried to teach our children to take it to heart, asking “What does this verse mean to you? What is God saying to you in your life?”

BSM: Did you notice any differences between your children’s understanding of the Bible?

SURRATT: God’s Word is very personal, and you have to find your own way of letting God speak to you. Our son took things at face value. Our daughter was more of a questioner. When we would get together as a family and talk about the Bible or what God was doing in our lives, our daughter would ask, “Why did God take so long to answer that?” Our son’s personality was, “Cool, God did that!”

BSM: What unique challenges do moms face when it comes to studying the Bible?

SURRATT: On average, preschoolers demand attention from their moms once every seven minutes. Many of the moms who join MOPS want to study the Bible, but they don’t have time. At MOPS, we agree not to judge each other because we know that time is a precious commodity. We don’t want a mom to skip coming because she hasn’t had a chance to read her Bible. We challenge mothers to make it their goal to grow closer to the Lord every day, but we don’t need to guilt people into pursuing a relationship with God or Bible study. He already loves us.

BSM: What is the benefit of studying the Bible with other moms?

SURRATT: Moms of preschoolers are often home alone with their children, and they have little opportunity for adult conversation. It can be very isolating. When moms come to the group and share their stories and struggles, it draws them together. A MOPS group is not a Bible study, but an important connection point where moms can find community and be encouraged to take that next step toward Christ.

When you study the Bible with another mom, you’re studying with someone who understands you, who may be experiencing the things you’re experiencing: frustration, depression, doubts about whether you’re a good mom or questions about your marriage. This common bond allows for discussions to take off. You’re not studying the Bible to memorize it; you’re studying it to understand your life and discover who God made you to be as a woman, wife, and mom.

Dennis & Barbara Rainey

Weathering the Storms

Christy Tennant

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine July–Aug ’10
Marriage “works best when two people are connected individually to God, walking with him, obeying him in the Scripture, and praying as individuals and as a couple,” say Dennis and Barbara Rainey. “If you push the spiritual dimension to the side, you are ignoring the very God who created marriage.”

The Raineys say that Jesus spoke about two different foundations for a life: a firm one that will withstand a storm, and a weak one that will be destroyed by any catastrophic event (Matt 7:24–27). Jesus’ “statements are equally applicable to a couple building a home together,” says the Raineys. You “need to build your spiritual house on solid stuff and … [you need a] way to support your life through increasing obedience to God and his Word. When you build your house on that Rock, you can withstand the cultural storms and the ‘currents’ of your selfishness and shortcomings.”

For the past 34 years, Dennis and Barbara have helped lead FamilyLife. The ministry’s mission is to “effectively develop godly marriages and families who change the world one home at a time.”

Rebecca Beidel, church planter and marriage ministry leader, shares a similar goal. She and her husband David have taught on marriage and provided counseling for missionary couples both in the U.S. and abroad. While Rebecca believes that biblical principles for marriage are counter-cultural, she points out that the Word of God has a powerful way of “cutting through much of the worldly wisdom we’ve grown accustomed to. Dates, romance, and friendship are all important components of a good marriage. Still, there’s nothing better for a marriage than the guiding, cleansing, healing, and cutting Word of God. It teaches, corrects, delights, and (ultimately) reveals God to us.”
Hindrances to Bible Study in Marriage (and Practical Solutions)

Both the Raineys and the Beidels have found that couples who study the Bible together are the exception, not the norm. There are several reasons why. According to Barbara, “One of the big hindrances is that couples today did not see [Bible study in marriage] modeled in their own lives growing up, so they don’t know what it looks like.” To solve this problem, Dennis suggests that churches not just mentor couples before marriage, but during the first five years of marriage. “You can set in place biblical patterns of how to deal with issues in the relationship that really make a difference in their marriage.”

Regardless of whether couples are working through simple communication issues or the betrayal of adultery, “we need to be honest about our struggles,” Dennis says, “and see the church provide grace, forgiveness, healing and hope through accountability, relationships, and authentic love.”

But “many couples say they don’t have time for each other, God, prayer, or small groups. This is one reason so many marriages are struggling,” says Rebecca. “Listening to a sermon a week is not enough for a soul, let alone a marriage.” Barbara adds, “It is very difficult to find time to set aside for family devotionals, or [time for] husbands and wives to pray together. It requires planning and prioritizing.”

The FamilyLife “Weekend to Remember” retreats, attended by more than 80,000 people in over 130 cities around the country, help many couples overcome this hurdle. By taking time out of their regular schedules and getting away together, couples are able to focus on their marriage for two solid days (Friday night through Sunday afternoon). They come home motivated to make Bible study together a priority. “I don’t think couples appreciate the value of [Bible study],” says Barbara. “The Weekend to Remember is a minitheology course. It teaches from Scripture the purpose of marriage (from Genesis). We teach how to deal with conflict, forgiveness, and other theological issues.”

“For many years, every time Dennis and I would go away to teach a Weekend to Remember seminar, I came home thinking, ‘I am so glad we did that!’ Those who teach the Bible to others usually learn more than their students. It is always good for me to be reminded of the truth,” says Barbara. “We’re trying to hammer out a marriage, and we’re all sinners just like everybody else. We’re living in a fallen world, and we have stresses and issues that we’re dealing with, just like everybody else.”

“About 80 percent of the people who come to our conferences are there to make a good marriage better,” says Barbara. “About 5 percent are there as engaged couples wanting to get the blueprint for building their marriage. But about 15 percent are there because their marriages are in trouble, and the conference is their last resort. We have had people bring their divorce papers to the conference and tear them up at the end, because all they needed was the biblical blueprint.”
Where to Begin

Bible study in marriage looks different from one couple to the next. After all, couples are comprised of two individuals, each with a unique personality and point of view. For example, Randy Alcorn, author of Heaven, and his wife, Nanci, have found that what works best for them is to study independently, and then spend time discussing what they have learned. Others prefer to go through a couples’ devotional guide together. Either way, “Couples need good tools for studying the Bible,” says Dennis. “FamilyLife Ministry has a library of approximately 20 different Bible-based studies specifically designed for couples’ small groups called Home Builders.” The Home Builders for Couples series deals with topics like preparing for marriage, building teamwork, improving communication, building one another’s self-esteem, conflict resolution, and overcoming stress—all from a biblical point of view.

Like the Alcorns, the Beidels have found that what works best for them is to spend time in the Word apart, and then discuss their findings. “David and I like to use devotionals by writers like A.B. Simpson, Charles Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers or A.W. Tozer. We approach our time with God so differently, but God always seems to have us in sync. David can be reading something, say from Isaiah, and maybe I’ll be reading Galatians. But when we discuss it later, we find that God is moving in our lives in ways that are complementary. God often uses these discussions to confirm and clarify his voice in our lives individually.”

For couples that have not built their marriages on biblical foundations, developing a Bible-centered marriage takes time and patience. “You have to begin with the men,” Dennis suggests, “calling and equipping them to fulfill their God-designed roles. If men love their wives the way they are supposed to, more women could embrace their role as partners and friends, growing together with their husbands in faith. However, when men don’t care for, nourish and cherish their wives, it is harder for their faith relationship to grow.”

For some couples, particularly those with unresolved tension, studying the Bible together can be risky. The Bible brings up issues couples may not have to deal with otherwise. “If there is a lack of good communication about bills, money, the kids, life, sex, etc., then Bible study is going to be loaded, and the transparency and honesty that makes Bible study valuable is going to be missing,” says Rebecca.

The Raineys encourage couples starting Bible study for the first time to do it with a group. “The group context can help new Bible students,” says Barbara. Such studies generally have a predefined time commitment, which also reduces the intimidation factor. Rebecca agrees: “It helps to know you’re not in the fight alone. It also offers accountability.”
The Benefits of Bible Study in Marriage

The rewards of studying the Bible together “are endless,” says Rebecca. Whether a couple is actually sitting with their Bibles open together at the table, or discussing a particular passage in bed before going to sleep, “There’s an incredible confidence that comes in knowing my husband loves the Word of God and is committed to being obedient to it. It takes the pressure off of me to feel like I need to change him or correct him. I know God’s Word is sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb 4:12), and if there is any heart surgery that needs to be done in him (and vice versa), the Bible is more powerful than any pressure I might put on him to change. I can let God be in control, let his Word be the light unto our paths, and trust that it will lead us where we need to go.”

“The ‘not what I think’ but ‘what God thinks’ mindset is good practice in marriage. It’s hard to argue with God,” says Rebecca. “When God says, for instance, that a ‘husband should love his wife like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (Eph 5:25), it puts petty offenses in the proper perspective. Blame shifting gives way to obedience. Then the other work of talking things through is efficacious.”

Dennis adds, “Marriage and family is central to what God wants to do on planet Earth. He begins with one man and one woman in Genesis 1:27–28, and he ends with an invitation to a marriage celebration in Revelation 19.” The best reason for couples to make Bible study a priority in their marriage comes from the words of Christ himself: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matt 7:24–26 ESV). Many marriages face storms, but through studying God’s Word and practicing what it says, couples can build marriages that will stand firm.

The Bible in Christian Mission
Lindsay Olesberg

One Faith, Many Cultures

Jessi Strong

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Sept–Oct ’12
College environments are a clash of culture, bringing together people from different backgrounds, faiths, and experiences. Parents often worry about whether their recent high school graduates will thrive in this new environment. How will their students create and maintain Christian community? Will they continue to study the Bible? Will they work to fulfill their Christian calling? For more than 70 years, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has sought to provide solutions to all these challenges by engaging students in Bible study. With their Scripture-focused approach to ministry, InterVarsity helps students see that the relevance of the Word transcends cultural differences.

“Studying the Bible is a cross-cultural experience. When we’re reading the Bible, we’re eavesdropping on a conversation that was happening much earlier, in a different context,” says Lindsay Olesberg, Scripture Manager for InterVarsity’s Urbana Missions Conference and author of the Bible Study Handbook. “When we engage his Word, we need to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes.”
On-the-Job Training

InterVarsity’s ministry began in 1877 as a prayer and Bible study group at the University of Cambridge. By 1938, the movement had spread to North America. Today, its mission is to establish and advance witnessing communities on college campuses. “It’s a very student leadership-driven ministry,” says Olesberg. Last year alone, the campus ministry reached more than 35,000 students within the United States.

“We train our students in relational evangelism,” says Olesberg. “Students build friendships in the dorms, bring around cookies, and get people together.” And as they build relationships with others, they also share the gospel: “We see students who are from non-religious or very nominal backgrounds get involved in our communities and then come to faith.” Students have the opportunity to develop in faith and leadership through training courses, retreats and short- and long-term missions programs.

Olesberg spent four years as an InterVarsity student before joining InterVarsity staff 23 years ago. Many staff members are former student participants who join InterVarsity after finishing college. They are trained in teaching Scripture, creating ways to engage the campus and developing student leaders.
Living Scripture

“Scripture Manager” may seem like an unusual job title, but it accurately describes Olesberg’s passion and role in helping both InterVarsity staff and young people engage with the Bible.

Olesberg has three goals in mind when teaching others how to study Scripture. “I want people to encounter Jesus in the Word. The Bible is a living Word, and Jesus is present and wants to interact with us. I want them to learn the content of Scripture. And I want them to grow in their ability to study so that they learn hermeneutical skills.”

Most of all, she wants people to realize the power of the Word: “Ultimately, I want to teach people to see Scripture as living and active. We’re bringing our whole self, our whole heart, to Scripture every time we study—we’re engaging actively with both our minds and our spirits. We’re expecting that God will influence our story through Scripture.”
Thinking Globally

InterVarsity also seeks to enable students to influence other people’s stories with the gospel. Through the Urbana Missions Conference, students have the opportunity to study Scripture in its cultural context while learning a biblical basis for mission. Olesberg says, “God always intended his kingdom to be about cross-cultural community. He used authors who were writing for communities they knew and cared about. When we study the Gospel of Luke, for instance, we need to ask about Luke’s audience: ‘How would this story about Jesus speak to the young, Gentile congregations in the Mediterranean?’ ”

The conference, held every three years since 1946, centers on an inductive Bible study approach. It’s a five-day event that challenges students’ perspectives to think globally. “We bring in speakers from everywhere so students get to hear what God is doing in the world. Some of our speakers are missionaries, but often the students hear from church leaders and voices they wouldn’t normally be exposed to.”

At the Urbana 2012 conference, which will take place in St. Louis in late December, a pastor from Nairobi will be teaching on passages from Luke. “It’s valuable to study Scripture with people who are different,” says Olesberg. “People from other cultures will notice different things about the text and ask questions that help push us beyond our own cultural lens.”
Manuscript Study

Each Urbana Missions Conference is built around a specific section of Scripture—often an entire biblical book. Once the focus passage has been chosen, Olesberg works with the conference’s Bible expositors so that the program provides a seamless, comprehensive picture of the conference’s biblical passages. She is also responsible for training InterVarsity staff to lead group Bible studies. “They function as the facilitators. Every morning of the conference, they lead students to build an interpretation of the text.”

Students construct interpretation through “manuscript study,” an inductive approach to reading Scripture. “The goal of a manuscript study is to strip away the elements that wouldn’t have been part of the original audiences’ experience. We’re trying to understand what the author was communicating to his original audience, and then we can ask, ‘How does that impact our lives?’ ”

Students receive a copy of the biblical passage without verse numbers or chapter headings. “We take out the interpretive work that publishers have done for us and train people to observe and answer questions from the text itself.” After students are given the context of the passage, they take time to read and study the text, looking for repeated words, noting characters’ speech and interactions and picking out anything they find intriguing in the text.

After study time, the facilitator begins compiling questions from the group. “We encourage the students to make observations of the text and start asking, ‘I’m curious about this. Why is this here?’ ” Olesberg emphasizes that the leaders don’t try to provide direct answers yet. Rather, students gather in small groups to answer the questions by looking at the text. When students come back into the larger group, the leader pushes back against speculative answers: “We always ask, ‘Does the text support that?’ The text is the authority. It’s a communal inductive process. The teacher is not explaining to people, ‘Here’s what this means.’ ”
The Path to Understanding

Olesberg calls the process of studying inductively the “path to understanding.” To stay within the ancient readers’ perspective, the only cross-reference materials used are writings that would have been familiar to the original audience. “We don’t use John to explain what’s happening in Luke. What is Luke trying to communicate here? As you go through this process of asking and answering, things become clearer until you come to the core message of the passage.”

Olesberg believes this approach makes reading the Bible a completely new experience because participants become active learners instead of passive recipients. “It engages people on a lot of different levels. It engages them visually. It engages them in an auditory sense—they’re hearing the text and they’re listening to one another. And it’s discovery oriented. We all know that people remember what they’ve discovered themselves better than just what they’ve heard.”

More than this, Olesberg says it also creates a “level playing field” among the study group. This is key when bringing in students from a non-religious background. “It provides a safe environment for people to engage with Scripture regardless of their level of biblical literacy. You don’t need to know a lot about the Bible to be able to look at the text closely.”

Olesberg also finds ways for students to get involved in their communities after the conference ends: “We issued a challenge for every student to take their manuscript back to their campus and invite nonbelievers to study Jesus with them. We’ve had more than 5,000 students commit to doing that.”

To encourage students’ global perspective, Urbana’s schedule includes more than 200 seminars on a variety of missions topics. More than 250 missions agencies send representatives to Urbana, which has taken on the function of a job fair for missions workers. “Every student should have the opportunity to hear God’s calling to global mission,” says Olesberg. “We want them to acquire a vision for the world.”
Unfolding Stories

Big-picture comprehension is vital for Olesberg because it enables students to be changed by Scripture: “Our approach to Bible study is very holistic. We’re trying to engage people emotionally, socially, mentally, and relationally. We want students to investigate how a passage changes their perspective. Do they see themselves differently? Do they see God differently? What impact does it have on their relationships? Our own personal lives are an unfolding story that God wants to influence, shape, and direct. When we look at the story of his people in the Word—how he interacts with them—it sheds light onto our own story, leading and directing us. Combining the biblical narrative with our personal narrative molds and influences us. We want everyone to come away from Urbana with a deep heart for God’s mission in the world.”

Brad Lomenick

Looking to Our Ultimate Leader: Jesus

Rebecca Van Noord

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Jan–Feb ’14
We are bombarded with distractions in our digital world, and if we aren’t, we’ll seek them out. How does this change the way we study the Bible? Brad Lomenick is leader and director of Catalyst, a movement that equips and inspires the next generation of Christian leaders. The author of The Catalyst Leader took time to share his own Bible study methods and discuss the challenges facing the next generation of Bible readers.

BSM: What is the importance of being in the Word regularly?

LOMENICK: When I’m not studying Scripture, I can tell that there are parts of my influence and my perspective that start to get muddy or tense. There’s a true cognitive effect on me personally—and particularly the way I lead.

It’s vitally important to be fed by Scripture because there are so many other things that are fighting for that time and attention. We’re so distracted as a culture. If we’re allowing the things that distract us—even good things—to become what we’re hearing all of the time without understanding it or realizing it, our internal lives are going to be fed by something that isn’t true or real. We all want to become more like Christ, yet we have to understand that there are steps to becoming the people God desires us to be. Discipleship means that you are in the Word. Discipleship means that you are living out the principles and the things you’ve been asked to do—that have been modeled by Jesus.

BSM: What is your Bible study method?

LOMENICK: I have several different study methods. One method involves reading for pure enjoyment—anytime, anywhere, and any place in the Word. That method helps me find texts that are pertinent to where I am that day. I also read through the Old or New Testament every year. That approach needs to be consistent—daily if possible. For Catalyst, I’ll do topical studies, which are built around leadership. Those studies are woven in with my regular study and involve in-depth study of a certain passage.

BSM: How do you create a routine for Bible study with such a busy schedule?

LOMENICK: Morning and evening are the times when I’m most alert. I tend to be most cognitively aware in the morning and most reflective at night, so I try to do my intense studying in the morning—it has to be early and consistent. And then I generally do my inquisitive reading in the evening.

BSM: What is the importance of studying and memorizing Scripture in a digital world?

LOMENICK: In general, there is an unfortunate, steady decline with Christian leaders who are spending time in the Word—whether studying it or memorizing it. So many millennials tell me, “Well, I’ve got this app on my phone, and I can pull up Scripture quicker than you can pull it out of your memory bank.” But when you’ve spent time in the Word, it becomes part of who you are. It’s really important that we get that back as a generation. It has to be part of what we do as leaders and as followers of Jesus.

BSM: How is mentorship valuable when it comes to Bible study?

LOMENICK: My mentor, Bob Foster, met me for breakfast every Friday morning for five years. Part of that mentorship included memorizing Scripture. He laid a foundation for me that Scripture is important. He told me, “Whether you go to seminary, business, or start your own non-profit—whatever—you’re called to understand Scripture.” As followers of Jesus, we have this as a mandate. We can’t simply hear the Word preached once in a while on Sunday mornings.

The reality that we have today is not altogether a bad one. There are people who are really hungry and need someone to help them understand the Bible. We can’t write this generation off. That posture is really dangerous. The church—especially those who are older—needs to make sure that we’re passing down what that pursuit looks like.

BSM: How does Scripture feed into how we function as leaders?

LOMENICK: We all bring a different perspective when we approach the Scriptures topically—whether it’s evangelism, discipleship, etc. For me, every character in Scripture is a lesson in leadership—through understanding their successes or understanding where they messed up. The Old and New Testaments give us all types of great stories and principles for leadership, but we should always look to the ultimate leader—Jesus.

Jim Liske

Bible Study within Prison Walls

Jessi Strong

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Jan–Feb ’13
“The number of inmates released from American prisons every year is equivalent to the population of the state of Wyoming,” says Jim Liske, CEO of Prison Fellowship Ministries. So when examining the problems facing prison inmates, their families and victims of crime, he doesn’t ask how to keep criminals off our streets and away from neighborhoods. Instead, he asks, “How do we bring good neighbors home?”

Prison Fellowship, founded by former convict Chuck Colson, intends to address this question by ministering to men and women behind bars. But Liske says the challenges are immense: “There are safety concerns for inmates that are so different from the outside world. There are also intense spiritual concerns that need to be considered. Many inmates behind the walls lose so much of their personal identities that they allow their souls to just go into neutral. Chuck Colson would say, ‘Their souls are corroding.’ We see inmates become very despondent.”

Incarceration also affects inmates’ social development. “We all learn how to communicate appropriately, but an inmate loses those opportunities. That hindrance to social development becomes a problem. We’re seeing the behavioral problems inherent in ‘idle hands are the devil’s workshop,’ as my grandmother used to say.”
Working toward Solutions

One of Prison Fellowship’s primary concerns is inmate safety. Liske says, “One in 10 inmates has reported a rape, and we know that even in the free world this is an under-reported crime.” For this reason and others, Prison Fellowship has a lobbying arm that advocates for safety in prisons. Often the lack of oversight in federal and state institutions that allows such problems to continue is due to a lack of program funding. Prison Fellowship’s programs fill the gaps left by budget cuts and shortfalls.

In response to the emotional and social challenges that inmates confront, Prison Fellowship’s network of one-on-one mentors and group Bible studies help to combat isolation and despair. Instead of adhering to a single curriculum, Prison Fellowship relies on their in-the-field volunteers to choose materials appropriate to each person’s circumstances. “We’ll make sure it agrees with our evangelical statement of faith. If a study matches those criteria, we’ll help them teach it.… We want inmates to learn how to read the Bible. They should be good interpreters of Scripture, just like we would want anyone in our churches to be.”
Ministering to Multiply

Prison Fellowship promotes a multistep process originally developed by Campus Crusade for Christ to empower inmates to minister to others. Liske describes it this way: 1) I’ll do it. 2) I’ll do it, you watch. 3) We’ll do it together. 4) You do it, I’ll watch. 5) You do it.

“It’s the difference between ministering to somebody and ministering with somebody,” he explains. Not only is this approach effective in creating more leaders to mentor future leaders, but it also “builds on the Great Commission: The ministry volunteer is asking, ‘Whom can I teach to teach? How can I multiply myself?’ By the end of the year, that inmate is teaching his or her own Bible study, and the leader is watching. The second year that leader can start over with another group.”

“While a ministry volunteer is there once a week, an inmate leading Bible study is there every day.… When we understand that the Word is transformational for people, we’re following in the footsteps of King David, who said, ‘I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you’ (Psa 119:11). It’s like Paul says in 2 Timothy 2: ‘And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.’ ”
Progress in Prisons

Surprisingly, it is not a challenge for Prison Fellowship to convince inmates that Christ’s redemptive work on the cross is relevant to their lives. “You don’t have to spend time talking to an inmate about how their life is not working out. It’s painfully obvious to them. In the free world, we have appearances to keep up, and there are a lot of ways we can fake it.”

“Inmates who’ve hit rock bottom usually respond from a place of deep pain: ‘Does God really love me? Is God like my earthly father who beat me, who left my mom? Is God like my earthly father who didn’t care if I ate or not?’ These are basic questions that those who grew up in fairly healthy homes don’t always understand. More people than not have these questions about life—wanting to know, ‘Can God forgive me?’ and ‘Can I forgive myself?’ ”

This basic humility—admitting the need for a savior—surprised Liske at first. “On television inmates are depicted as tough, ornery, unrepentant individuals, and I was really struck by those who’d come to Jesus, were involved in Bible study, and were growing as followers of Jesus. None of them came to me and said, ‘You know, I really didn’t do it.’ As a matter of fact, it was quite the opposite: ‘I did it, and I really want to learn what I need to know so that I don’t come back here when I’m done.’ ”

“They come to the realization that even with everything they’ve done and been through in life, a high and holy God can redeem them. They can actually be an asset to God’s kingdom, and their past doesn’t prevent them from serving. In fact, that may have been the beginning of someone’s true calling.”

“It’s incredibly refreshing to see the Holy Spirit bring change. In prison, men and women stand before God and sing his praises because they know he is their only hope. They have screwed up their lives so badly that there’s no fight left in them. When they come to Christ, these individuals hunger and thirst for the Word of God, and they have time to study and to seek the Word. The Word transforms them.”

Liske says the experience of ministering to inmates changed him personally: “I was very much humbled.… ‘I was in prison and you came to me’ in Matthew 25:36 really became poignant. I understood that when Jesus tells us to visit the prisoner, it’s really not for them, it’s for us. When we serve in that manner, we experience the humility of Christ.”

In prison, like everywhere else, not everyone who hears the gospel message is transformed, but for Liske, a negative response just affirms his commitment to sharing the gospel: “I have met some men and women who will spit at me before they’ll talk to me. Anger from what’s happened in their life merges with bitterness. Those are the people that I feel even more committed to. They have to hear of Jesus and hear that they can let go of the anger and bitterness that’s eating them up.”
Looking to the Future

As a way to invest in inmates’ spirituality and education, Prison Fellowship has partnered with an organization called World Impact, a Christian missions organization that facilitates church-planting movements. They’ve created satellite seminaries in prisons in California, Michigan and Florida. The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI), a ministry of World Impact, has been approved to start satellite campuses in 32 prisons by the end of 2014. Liske describes the program as “a full seminary education—at a master’s level—minus the Greek and the Hebrew. In the state of California, we’re opening 26 seminaries in 26 prisons. The doors are wide open for Bible study.”

“Two-thirds of TUMI graduates will leave prison within the next year or so. For those who stay—and some of them are there for life—Prison Fellowship wants them to help build the church inside the walls, like an indigenous mission. We won’t be visiting and doing ministry for them. We’re going to do ministry with them because they’re going to be the pastors and leaders of their churches. I think we’re going to see inmates from prison churches being sent two by two to other prisons to share the gospel. It’s not a new plan. It’s the book of Acts. It’s basic discipleship. It’s holding church in the prison world the way it should be done in the free world.”

“Once the inmates come out of prison, World Impact engages with them and helps them get an internship in a local church. We’ve now seen the first pastors leave prison and go into the free world and begin pastoring in churches in Los Angeles, and it’s been successful. Our first program graduate was released in California, interned at a church, and the church recognized his ability. They’re paying for him to go on to earn his Ph.D. in ministry.”
Adjusting to the World Outside

“Eight hundred thousand inmates are released from American prisons each year, and they’re back in neighborhoods. Ninety percent of those who are incarcerated will come home.”

Inmates who have participated in Prison Fellowship programs face the same challenges as their peers once they are released from prison. “There’s bigotry and fear that creates a frightening image of an ex-felon. A released inmate has to deal with the public’s image. Most don’t have a driver’s license, so transportation is a daily hurdle. In urban areas, unemployment is high, and a person coming out of prison may not be able to find a job. If an inmate is released into a parole or probation situation where they’re electronically monitored and limited in their movement, finding a job can be even more difficult. The problem of social acceptance within a new group of people often drives ex-felons back to the same group of people.”

As inmates are released, Liske says, “The Church is called to be part of the solution—to give people a new community. Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God the Father are in community with one another in the Trinity. The Church is built around community, and we must open up communities for these individuals who are coming back home. We have a great solution in the local church. Preferably, as the inmates come home, they’re going to bring revival to the Church in the free world also.”
Biblical references from ESV

John Ashmen

Helping the Hidden

Jessi Strong

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Sept–Oct ’13
John Ashmen, president of Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM), thought he had seen everything in homeless ministry—that is, until he met Ron, “the foot guy.” Ron worked at a community center tending the feet of homeless visitors. “Many of the illnesses that homeless folks suffer from are actually born in their feet,” Ashmen explains. “Gout, diabetes, and other diseases can be identified by screening their feet and treated before they become disabling.”

There are people like Ron ministering in Gospel Rescue Missions and homeless shelters all over America. Ashmen says the missions exist because many homeless people “need a life change before they need an address change. That change comes from understanding who they are and how Christ in their life can make a difference.” It is people like Ron, serving the poorest of the poor, who are in a position to share this message.
Meeting the Need

The Association of Gospel Rescue Missions comprises 275 facilities that provide meals, lodging and addiction recovery programs for those in need across the U.S. Each mission belongs to the association, but functions as an independent entity—financially and legally.

In the last 10 years, Ashmen has seen a shift in the demographic his organization serves. While homelessness and poverty associated with mental illness is still a problem, a new population is on the rise. “There are more people who have not been chronically homeless but are experiencing homelessness for the first time. The apartment complex that they are living in got foreclosed on. Or someone does not have enough money to make it from San Diego to Boston, where the rest of the family is, so they end up in a shelter.”

Families who come to missions for help have a separate set of needs, including safety, counseling or schooling for children in addition to food and shelter. “One-third of those coming to missions are family units. Fifty-one percent of families are women with children. That’s the fastest growing segment of the population appearing on the doorsteps of missions.”

Since the 2008 downturn in the economy, Ashmen has seen rescue missions flooded with newcomers. In some cities, people now email asking for reservations. “Every rescue mission that I know of is filled to capacity and uses even their common space to sleep people. They sweep and mop the floors in the dining room after dinner, fold up the tables and chairs and roll out mats.”

Most missions develop programs and extra resources as their capacity and support grows. A new mission might provide only a day shelter and a meal. As funding and support catches up with the need, missions begin providing overnight accommodations and emergency shelter for extreme weather, additional meals, addiction recovery programs, job training, and life-skills programs. Ultimately, they start providing housing support off campus for people who are in job training or life-skills programs.

Many missions also provide types of “new life” programs, which teach people everything from how to identify a safe person, to reconciling broken relationships, to exploring how Jesus would want them to live. Many also assign case managers to the people staying with them. The case managers counsel them and assist them with whatever their needs might be.
Bible Study and AGRM

While meeting physical needs for food and shelter is a Gospel Rescue Mission’s most immediate task, the spiritual component is integral to their life and vision. “Hellfire and brimstone sermons are a thing of the past,” says Ashmen. “Many people in the homeless community already feel like they are living in hell. So instead of the hell card, we play the abundant life card. When people in desperate situations know that they have not only immediate help but eternal hope, they respond in a different way.”

As most other people in ministries have observed, Ashmen has seen familiarity with Christianity and the Bible steadily decreasing in the people coming through the doors of rescue missions. “In the past, you could preach to someone, and you would be speaking to people who knew who Jesus was. Today we are talking with people who don’t even understand who Jesus was, other than a historical figure or a figure that is opposed to the religion they’ve been brought up with. It’s a very different premise for presenting the gospel in missions today.”

The work of Bible study and discipleship begins once a person moves beyond getting their basic needs taken care of to the point of joining a program like life skills or addiction recovery. “There are work activities and exercises, but Bible study in a mission is the critical part. Depending on the program, they often go through the gospel and talk about renewal and how to become a new creature in Christ. They may also study how to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord and how to be victorious in overcoming the things that landed them on the street. That is the most integral part of what goes on in an addiction recovery program.”

Just how essential is the gospel in rescue mission ministries? “The recidivism rate is much lower for people who go through an addiction recovery program that is Scripture-based rather than programs offered by groups who simply say there is a higher power somewhere. Every year in the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, we see 20,000–25,000 people graduated from addiction recovery programs. About 70–75 percent of them don’t return to their old lifestyle.”
Changing the Way We Minister

But Ashmen knows that rescue missions are just part of the solution. In a conversation with AGRM’s board of directors, he suggested that success for rescue missions would mean seeing fewer missions each year—not for lack of resources, but because more individual Christians would be “doing their part for the poor around them.”

For most Americans, homelessness is something seen from a distance. Often the only visible signs in our everyday lives are the men or women with cardboard signs at a busy intersection, or the occasional story in the news. “We don’t see it because the government and some mainline churches have made caring for the homeless a priority—others have taken care of it for us.”

One of the biggest barriers preventing Ashmen’s ideal from coming to fruition is isolation. In Western cultures, Ashmen says, our interactions have become almost completely controlled. “You turn on the news in the morning and are glad you have a security system on your door. Your entertainment and food can be delivered. People get into cars in garages and drive into basement parking lots underneath an office and go up the elevator. You can choose your friends and un-choose them very quickly if they don’t fit into your plan any longer. In a world like that, people don’t just go out into the street.”

Churches in non-urban areas might not see a great need because it isn’t present right in front of them, so instead they “plan missions trips where people fly somewhere else, do ministry and a little bit of touring, and then come home. The typical person sitting in the pew of a typical church today knows that Jesus said they had some kind of obligation to the poor. But a lot of them are too busy, or they don’t know how to engage. It’s easier to send in a dollar to an organization than it is to become involved.”
How the Church Can Help

So what’s the first step to helping the homeless? “First of all, be aware. We have to train ourselves to look—to see who around us looks like they are in need. Some people make their needs known, but what about the people who are embarrassed? How do you connect? You talk to them. I make a habit of ordering two or three sandwiches at a shop, then asking someone sitting outside if they’ve had anything to eat today.”

“Second, treat them like people. Look them in the eye and talk to them like they are human beings. I carry dry socks, gloves and bottled water in my trunk just to take care of the needs of some of the people I encounter.”

Most of all, Ashmen says, “we need to understand what Jesus said we should do and then start doing it. Rescue missions minister to more than just the guy on the corner with the cardboard sign. There’s the elderly couple whose social security checks aren’t covering their bills anymore, or the young couple experiencing foreclosure. These are the kinds of people the Church can start helping.”

Ashmen says the people who are in need of assistance, but aren’t necessarily on the street, can help the Church learn more about ministering to the homeless or impoverished. “They function as bridges to understanding the poor.”

When Ashmen describes how Ron washed feet, clipped and filed toenails, and cared for blisters, he does so with a sense of reverence. “After he cared for their various sores, he gave each person clean socks and a pair of properly fitting shoes.” Ashmen doesn’t really remember the rest of the facility tour he was given. “It was a fog. All I saw was Brother Ron kneeling at the filthy, hurting feet of the homeless, living out John 13 like no one else I’ve known.”

Ashmen’s vision is to see people like Ron in every community, serving the poor and caring for them. “We want to see people inviting in strangers. We want them to start programs in their communities, care for those in need, and take up collections to help those who can’t cover their utility bills. Those are things an organization can’t do, but individuals can. That’s what I hope for the future.”

Christine Caine

Scripture in Action

Jessi Strong

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine July–Aug ’13
Passionate, outspoken, and articulate, Christine Caine doesn’t seem like she was meant for a life in the monastery. Yet as a young girl, that’s exactly where she thought she would end up. Growing up in what she describes as a staunch Greek Orthodox home, Caine felt drawn toward service in the church. “I remember even as a 5-year-old being in church thinking, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ” There was only one place in her community for women to serve, so Caine assumed she would become a nun.

Yet, with church liturgy in Greek, Caine felt that she “never really knew what was going on.” As a teenager who “had no understanding” and no relationship with God, she soon lost interest in serving the church. Her next goal was to become prime minister of Australia. God had other plans: “I thought I would run the country, but I discovered a much higher purpose—one where I would be able to proclaim God’s truth and stand for justice.”

At age 22, Caine visited a Hillsong church. It was there that she understood the gospel for the first time. “I think there was a very definite drawing of the Spirit of God to me at a very young age. At 22, I yielded to that call with my whole life. I became a fully devoted follower of Christ.” Within months, Caine joined the volunteer staff at Hillsong. She worked in youth ministry and dedicated herself to spreading the gospel. “My life was radically transformed when I had access to God’s Word—and when it was given to me in a language I could understand. I discovered that I could not only read the Word, but apply it to my own life. The God of the universe made himself not only approachable, but obvious to me through his Word.”
From Understanding to Action

Her new understanding of God changed the course of her life. Today Caine is an author, speaker, and human rights activist. In addition to her staff position at Hillsong in Sydney, Caine and her husband, Nick, are the founders of Equip & Empower—a ministry dedicated to evangelism and church planting.

Recalling her early, impersonal interactions with the Bible, Caine is committed to getting the Word into people’s hands in a way that can help them experience transformation through Christ. “We travel more than 300,000 miles a year preaching and teaching the Bible. We want to build up the Church so that they can more effectively reach people.”

New areas of ministry seem to find Caine as quickly as she can get others up and running, but she welcomes the challenge. “Sometimes, out of guilt, we take on more than we’re supposed to, and our priorities get out of order. But I’m looking for a Spirit-filled life—a life of obedience to what the Lord has called me to do. What he’s called me to do, he’ll empower me to do.”

In that spirit, the Caines founded a new ministry in 2008, the A21 campaign. A21 is an anti-human trafficking organization based in Greece. It derives its name from its mission statement: “to abolish injustice in the 21st century.” The organization helps women by providing transition homes, counseling and career training to equip them for life outside of the sex industry. It also provides legal counsel and representation for women and works with law enforcement to prosecute traffickers. Caine remembers the moment she felt called to combat human trafficking. “I was walking through an airport in Thessaloniki, and I saw posters of young women and children who were missing. I found out these were alleged victims of human trafficking.… As the Church, it’s our job to set the captives free, and that’s what we decided to do. Five years later, A21 is a global organization. We’ve sent dozens of traffickers to jail and rescued hundreds of girls. What started with just a mom whose heart was moved has become a worldwide effort.”

Caine frequently travels to Greece for both ministries. Equip & Empower has focused its efforts in Greece and other Eastern European nations because of the religious decline in the area, while A21 originated in Thessaloniki because it is a major point of entry for traffickers. Caine sees a desperate need to revitalize spiritual life in this part of the world. “We’re passionate about getting alongside church planters to raise churches that are life giving, that empower young people and women, and that are Bible focused. In the Greek Orthodox environment where I was raised, we didn’t have access to the Word in a way we could understand. The Bible [is meant to] transform your life. You can be in a religious setting but still not really have access to God’s Word.”
Staying Saturated in Scripture

With travel, speaking, family time, and ministry, Caine finds that a personal Bible study plan is essential. “I just think it’s the be all and end all, to be honest. I don’t know how anybody can begin to survive without a systematic Bible study plan. I find that I’m a wreck without it.”

Her travel schedule still demands a certain amount of flexibility, but Caine finds the long hours on an international flight also make for a perfect study environment. “I have my time with the Lord wherever I am, however it works out. More recently I’ve used some of the Beth Moore Bible studies. I do the readings and homework, and then I have my own prayer time. I make room for a lot of journaling and time with the Lord. I find that because my life is in different countries all the time, having a regular, systematic study is the best way to keep myself in the Word.”

As a frequent speaker, Caine works to maintain time for personal devotions that is separate from research and preparation. “Working through a set curriculum gives me a way of making sure I’m in the Word for my own personal growth as a disciple of Christ, not as study material for a message. I can only teach from the outflow of my heart. If I am not ruthless with myself about having my own personal devotional time, then I’ve got nothing to give to people other than commentaries. And no one needs a commentary on a commentary. They need an outflow of a relationship with Jesus.”
An Undaunted Church

Beginning to grasp the enormity of human trafficking led Caine to question why people think they can’t make a difference in the world. While most people would commend her activity in raising awareness, one woman at a rescue house simply asked her, “Why didn’t you come sooner?” The question led to Caine’s latest book, Undaunted. “I think we’re daunted. We don’t feel like we’re good enough. We don’t feel like we’re equipped enough. We have too many fears. We love our comfort. But if we believe what we profess to believe, then there is no excuse.”

“I’m not saying everyone needs to go and rescue victims of human trafficking, but we all need to reach out to our neighbors and friends and be the light of Christ in the part of the world where God has placed us. Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘You must be born again.’ If our hearts have truly been born again, then they beat for exactly what makes God’s heart beat—a lost and dying world. I think in the Church we need to get our hearts beating again with God’s heart.”

It’s a transformation that Caine herself experienced. Undaunted also recounts Caine’s personal journey—overcoming childhood abuse and then discovering she had been abandoned by her biological mother at birth. “I hope that through being candid, I can show people that I was a kid left in a hospital without a name. I was abused for 12 years. If God can use me, he can use anyone.”

Caine is puzzled by Christians who don’t see it as their responsibility to act when they encounter injustice. The lives of Christ’s followers should mirror God’s work of redemption. “In John 17, Jesus prayed, ‘Father, I do not ask that you take them out of the world.’ Our purpose is to be in the world and have a different value system, a different set of priorities and a different way of thinking. The Bible is a redemption story from beginning to end. Genesis to Revelation shows God coming and dwelling among men and redeeming us. He did it in the tabernacle. He did it in the temple. He did it with Jesus. Now he’s working in these last days through the Holy Spirit in us, and every spiritual gift in Christ is made available so that we can reach the world.”

Caine fills so many roles in ministry, it would be understandable for her to feel pulled in different directions. But she sees her life holistically, and with her relationship with God as her foremost priority, everything else seems to fall into place. “By God’s grace, I’m running and not growing weary. I’m walking and not growing faint. I’m as passionate as ever. By God’s grace, our marriage is strong and dynamic. My daughters love Jesus and love their mom and dad. We love God—it’s not drudgery. When I stay focused on these things, I find I’ve got a whole lot of time to do everything God has called me to do.”

June Hunt

Finding Answers in God’s Word

Lynnea Fraser

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Nov–Dec ’13
“People need biblical hope and practical help when life’s challenges threaten to overwhelm them,” says June Hunt, biblical counselor and founder of Hope for the Heart, a ministry that provides guidance for counselors and those in need of counseling. Hunt, who is also a speaker and author, recently talked with Bible Study Magazine about the relevance of the Bible for all of life’s difficulties.

BSM: What is your personal Bible study method?

HUNT: The method I use depends specifically on what is going on in my life—what is the need? After becoming a Christian, I was deeply drawn to biblical truth—especially to passages that pointed to practical application of that truth. I’ve always sought after wisdom, so I’ve immensely enjoyed studying Proverbs, often marking passages that address anger, hope, pride, etc. As a result, when I open my Bible, I immediately see significant passages, and I can help others when I counsel them.

BSM: What is biblical counseling? What makes it unique?

HUNT: Biblical counseling is based on four key doctrines, each focused on Christ living in us: (1) the believer is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17); (2) each believer, through Christ, possesses all power necessary for change (2 Pet 1:3–4); (3) each must live totally dependent on Christ (Gal 2:20); and (4) each can rest assured of the hope of being conformed to the character of Christ (Col 1:27).

Those who seek Christian counseling often want help for problems that are not their most important struggles, but rather symptoms of those struggles. Just as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman in John 4:1–42, biblical counselors meet people at their point of need. In the process, we also discover and address deeper issues. An example would be the needs for love, significance, and security. God has created us to need these things, but if we seek to fulfill these legitimate needs in illegitimate ways—outside of his will—negative consequences will arise. Biblical counseling applies God’s truth to these underlying struggles to bring lasting healing and recovery. In my ministry, I often find the Spirit of God softening hearts and using biblical counseling as a subtle gateway to evangelism.

BSM: How do you study the Bible when thinking about difficult contemporary issues?

HUNT: When I begin researching a new topic, I examine each occurrence of the word I’m studying, and related words, throughout the Scriptures. When writing on anger, for example, I review every instance of “anger,” “indignation,” “wrath,” “fury,” and “rage” in Scripture. I spend hundreds of hours seeking to apply God’s Word to each topic. I consider contextual, historical, and cultural issues. In addition, I also consult my own personal library and opinions from leading authorities. For each topic, I ask, “Has God already spoken specifically about this in his Word? If so, what has he said? If not, are there biblical principles I need to consider?”

BSM: How does the Bible provide a framework for dealing with difficult life circumstances?

HUNT: The Bible is a framework for all of life’s issues. Although certain issues are not discussed in the Bible, that doesn’t mean the Bible is silent. For example, even though Scripture doesn’t mention anorexia, it does address underlying issues like low self-esteem, perfectionism, anger, and loneliness. It’s important to mine the Scriptures for principles related to real-life problems and develop steps to put those principles to work in our lives every day.

David Powlison

Loving Words

Rebecca Van Noord

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Mar–Apr ’11
When our study of the Bible stops permeating our lives, what has gone wrong? Dr. David Powlison, teacher of pastoral counseling for Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), says it may be because we view the Bible as abstract doctrine. We could also be misapplying the events in Scripture. Bible Study Magazine recently spoke to the editor of The Journal of Biblical Counseling about studying the Bible for application and about the need for interpersonal ministries to be informed by Scripture.

BSM: What is your framework for understanding how the Bible speaks to our life experiences?

POWLISON: The Scriptures themselves aren’t just normative truth about God, his promises and his will. The Scriptures capture how God speaks into the lives of particular people with particular struggles as they face particular situations.

When we do straight Bible study or Bible exposition, we study the interplay of message, original audience, and original situation. But when we seek to bring what’s going on in the Bible into our personal lives, we sometimes fail to update the audience and situation, and so we fail to relevantly adapt the message. What situational pressures are you facing? Where are you struggling? In order to rivet Scripture to life, we need to understand both Scripture and life.

Scripture is a ministry book. It applied with immediate, firsthand relevance. It still applies here and now, but with an applied relevance.

BSM: How do you define your counseling as biblical?

POWLISON: When I think of biblical counseling, I think of Ephesians 4. We are instructed to speak the truth in love and grow up into Christ. We’re told to speak loving, constructive, relevant words that give grace to those who hear (4:15, 29). What goes into having a constructive conversation of consequence?

What do we really mean by the word “counseling”? Counseling addresses our personal, interpersonal, and situational struggles. It brings to the table both what we do and what is done to us. And God is a wise counselor. In other words, counseling is about what Scripture is about—about how those things that go wrong are made right.

BSM: How should the Bible inform the way we counsel?

POWLISON: Wise counseling is not a theory, a system, or a program. It’s about a person—our redeemer. It’s understanding people’s problems and why our redeemer is immediately relevant and not just a religious add-on.

This calls for fundamental flexibility. So counseling ministry ought never to be boilerplate, pat answers, or a quick fix. First Thessalonians 5:14 communicates this vision for thoughtful flexibility: We’re called to admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, and hold on to the weak.

BSM: What challenges do churches face in counseling ministry?

POWLISON: If churches have unbalanced skills—they’re good at casting vision, administration and pulpit proclamation, but not very good at talking with people—that’s a problem. The ministry of Jesus is very conversational. He was always answering questions or starting conversations by asking questions. He created personal interaction. Churches often teach very little about how to wisely conduct conversational ministry. We often get our organizing principles and practices from Scripture. It’s not surprising that Christian people often don’t see that counseling needs to be as grounded in Scripture as all other aspects of ministry.

Don Moen

The Harmonic Life

Karen Jones

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Jan–Feb ’12
“Music has a way of disarming the nonbeliever because it is enjoyable and fun,” says Don Moen. “Most cultures, generations and churches can agree that God is worthy of praise. But in the practical sense, we need to put worship into action and help those who need it.”

From an early age, Moen had two great passions: music and God’s Word. He merged both talents into a mobile ministry that has taken him on a 40-year journey through every continent except Antarctica. Although he has many demanding projects, Moen is a musician with a gift for melody and a desire to share it.
A Lifestyle of Worship

To Moen, worship is about more than just singing—it’s a lifestyle. “There is something wonderful about coming together and singing songs. Music is the universal language and worship brings unity.”

Moen has written over 100 songs and produced 11 volumes of the Hosanna! Music series. He received the Dove Award for his work on the musical God With Us and has performed with musicians like Chris Tomlin, Twila Paris, Sara Groves, and Paul Baloche.

Recently, Moen gave up his 20-year tenure as a music executive at Integrity Media to form The Don Moen Company. He also launched a nonprofit organization, Don Moen and Friends, with a mission to bring hope and comfort to impoverished people across the globe. “Because of the touring I have done, I have friends all over the world who are ready to help.” His nonprofit has recently partnered with Food for the Poor to raise funds to build houses in Haiti.
Living Sound

Moen grew up in Two Harbors, Minnesota, where his mother—the church piano player—instilled in him a love for God and music. By age 12, he had accepted Christ as his savior and was becoming a gifted violinist. Moen developed his musical abilities and was eventually awarded with a music scholarship.

During his junior year at Oral Roberts University, Moen met Terry Law, founder of Living Sound—a contemporary Christian music group. Law invited Moen to audition for an upcoming overseas tour. “I told my Dad the tour would only be for a short while, and 10 years later I finally got off the bus,” Moen says. During that time, he was responsible for most of the group’s musical arrangements and productions.

Moen traveled with Living Sound to Europe, Asia, and South America. “We went all over the world doing missionary evangelism. I did three concerts a day and almost 1,000 concerts a year.”

He also traveled extensively in what was then the Soviet bloc, using music as a cover to help underground churches spread the good news. While in Soviet Russia, Moen saw firsthand what the personal cost of discipleship can be. “Those years were scary at times—but I was impacted by the commitment of young people in countries where taking a stand could mean going to prison. We take our freedom of religion here in America so lightly.”
Reaching the Underground

This year, Moen traveled to Vietnam—a country that does not look kindly on evangelizing: “The Party shut down our crusades in Hanoi and sent busloads of people back to their villages.” However, the underground churches there have a passion and determination to serve God, which Moen finds inspiring. “I think we forget how hungry people are. So many people are just waiting for someone to say, ‘I have some good news for you.’ ”
Honest Questions

While Moen appreciates disciplined habits, his life is too hectic for a strict routine. “I have read through the Bible several times, but usually I’ll meditate for hours on a passage and ask God to bring a revelation to me,” he says.

“Jesus is the living Word; the Bible is the written Word. Somehow we put a little less power in the written Word when we shouldn’t. These words contain the power to accomplish what they are talking about. The Bible says God’s Word will not return void but will accomplish the purpose for which it was said.”

Moen encourages believers to study the Bible with others and ask questions. “God is not afraid of our honest questions. If you walk out of your Bible study one week without the answer, that’s okay. Next week you may figure it out. We are never going to understand God completely. You can read the same Scripture 1,000 times and say, ‘I never saw that before.’ That is how awesome and mysterious God is.”
Filling the Vacuum

Moen often sees people trying to augment the Bible’s message by making it “cool” or “acceptable.” However, he believes there is real power in telling someone, “Do you know that God sent his only Son to die on the cross for us?” He trusts that when we present that message, all of heaven supports it. “I think the Holy Spirit helps us and convicts [the] person [who hears these words]. People are so hungry and ready to accept Christ. I see it all the time.”

Throughout his travels, Moen continually witnesses the thirst for God’s grace. He paraphrases C. S. Lewis: “Inside everyone is a God-shaped vacuum that only God himself can fill. People try to fill this vacuum with everything but the gospel. As Christians, we need to give people the opportunity to know God’s Word.”


Bible Study and Rock Music

John D. Barry

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Jan–Feb ’09
“Christ took our beating and paid the wages of our sin (Rom 6:23). He took our cuts for us … leaving us ‘Kutless.’ ”

The rock quintet Kutless has brought this message to a massive fan base. The band sold over 180,000 copies of their debut self-titled album, and 250,000 copies of their 2003 album “Sea of Faces.” Kutless started out as a campus worship band at Warner Pacific College, originally called “Call Box.” Today, three different singles by the band have reached the top of the Christian music charts.

The band’s passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ comes out when they perform evangelism conferences and fundraisers. The band performed for 100,000 people at the Billy Graham Crusade at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, CA. They also played a show which helped raise $50,000 to assist relief efforts after hurricane Katrina.

In the midst of a packed tour and recording schedule, band members find time to regularly do something they see as of the upmost importance—study the Bible.

Two of the founding members of Kutless—Jon Micah Sumrall, the band’s lead vocalist, and guitar player James Mead—sat down with Logos Bible Software’s Director of Ministry Relations, Scott Lindsey, for an interview about the importance of Bible study to the band.

BSM: Why is the Bible and Bible study integral to what you do as a band?

JAMES: The Bible and Bible study is important because what we do every night is fresh for whichever community we are in. I regularly have to be reminded that we are giving and out-pouring what we feel the Lord has called us to do—sing about our relationships with him, talk about what some of the songs mean, why they were written, and how they glorify the Lord. We have to not only be loving toward the audience, but the people who have been planning the show for months before we showed up that morning. Being studious with the Bible on the road is integral to what we do because we have to get filled back up somehow.

BSM: As a band, how do you stay on track with God?

JON MICAH: When we get off track with God it is usually corporate. We tend to slide together quite frequently. It is like a family. If you look at the typical family, if the parents are not doing well, then the kids are not doing well. Likewise, if the parents are doing well, the family as a whole often does well. It seems to be that way a lot with the band. If there are a couple of us not doing well, we are all heavily affected by that.

BSM: What is it like to study the Bible on the road?

JON MICAH: I have always been a fan of starting out my day reading the Word, but that didn’t work so well for me on tour—we are up late, get up early, and are then rushed off to interviews. Before I realized it, I had gone four or five days without reading the Bible. At some point, I came to the realization that I can always stay up a little bit longer to read my Bible. No matter what, your basic needs each and every day have to be met—you have to do whatever it takes to make sure you stay in the Word.

JAMES: When we are on our tour bus, I have a rule that I cannot get out of the bunk in the morning until I have read a chapter in the Bible. Usually I make myself do that rather quickly, because I have to visit the restroom. The Bible paired with intense motivation works really well!

We try and do what we can to stay in the Word. All of us in the band have iPhones, so throughout the day when we are thinking about a verse and wonder where it is, we just look it up on an application on our iPhone.

JON MICAH: The other day someone gave me a wallet that has a little printed New Testament Bible inside. It is a cool deal because you have your wallet, with your billfold, and a little New Testament Bible just slid in there. I think it’s important to have a way to get into the Word whenever, wherever, and however you can, especially when you travel.

BSM: As a band who has studied whole books of the Bible together, like Romans, what are some of the difficulties you experience when studying the Bible, and how do you deal with these difficulties?

JON MICAH: The hardest thing for us is carving out the time for everyone to sit-down together and study.

JAMES: I called most of the bands on our Creation Tour and talked to them about a study model for the road. I said to them, “I want us all to be feeding each other on tour. It does not have to be this ‘blow me away’ theological revelation for everyone on the tour, but every night let’s bring the focus back to Jesus, the grace and simplicity of his gospel; the reason why we are at a venue to begin with.” I said, “Let’s take turns—10 minutes—to just talk, pray, and sing a couple worship songs.”

JON MICAH: Even if you do not get into real deep theological study, and it is just real simple, refocusing for 10 or 15 minutes a day to read the Bible helps. Even if you just read a chapter, let it be, and do not say anything about it, it is still the Word of God—it never goes out void. There is a purifying effect that happens from just reading it that is incredibly valuable.

JAMES: What I have noticed from our tours in the past is that when we all agree to set the mood for a tour, it opens up more times throughout the day where we get into big discussions. I have been on tour with bands where the mood was such that we talked about things like the rapture from an eschatological perspective. As you set the mood, and really as any Christian in their individual life does, the imminence of the Lord has the opportunity to make you live differently. It opens up the conversations you have with others.

JON MICAH: Bible study is so important, yet it is easily neglected. We know not to make excuses, but I think that everyone has a hard time in their lives trying to stay in the Word; I think diligence is a common human struggle. Not being in church regularly puts you in a very dangerous place. If your study of the Bible gets neglected for a while, you can find yourself in a place where you really did not expect to be. You wake up one day, or you get home, and you say to yourself, “Wow. How did I get here? What happened to my walk with Christ?” My pastor growing up said, “You are never sitting still, you are either moving forward, or moving backward.”

BSM: How much does your Bible study affect your song writing?

JAMES: When writing a song, a little bit of everything comes into play. It involves what the Lord has personally taught us through our circumstances growing up, what he has put on our heart, and what we learn sitting in church going through the Word as our pastor speaks.

BSM: Being a band that regularly speaks and sings to thousands of people, there must have been times when your cup felt like it was half empty. Can you tell us about one of these times, and what you did to get through?

JON MICAH: I had a massive shoulder injury that I got skiing. I tore almost everything possible in my shoulder. It took me about two years to get healthy again—I was in a sling and had two surgeries on my shoulder. Making music and being on tour during that time was very frustrating for me. I often said, “God why have you placed me in a situation where I can’t do very well?” My Dad, who has a bad back and has had surgery on it, said to me, “The one thing that I have learned is that when I’m laid out and can’t do anything, the one place I can look is up.” The pain caused me to refocus. When I reflect on these difficult times in my life, I realize that God was getting my attention. I was so busy that it was the only way God could get my attention. Every once in a while it seems that God says, “I’m going to slow you down; I’m going to take you out, and here is what you are going to learn.” I think it is easy for us, especially young men, to have an almost invincible mentality—“I can go do anything I want, I can accomplish anything I want.” You get so focused on what you are going to do that you forget to focus on how frail you really are, how much you need a Savior. If it wasn’t for all these hard, difficult times where I experience pain, I wouldn’t understand what it is like to have good times. You can’t have the high times without the low times.

BSM: Do you try and incorporate theology, doctrine, or Scripture into your music?

JON MICAH: Occasionally, but I feel like the one thing that we are supposed to do is convey God’s love. I don’t feel like music is the place to prove a point doctrinally or theologically. I feel like music is the place to express what God has placed on our hearts. We try and make our music lyrically encouraging and ultimately point back to God.

With over 180 shows scheduled last year alone, and a forthcoming album, Kutless manages to stay very busy, but their love for the Bible and Bible study has never grown dim. At the heart of what they do, and who they are, is the Word of God—an encouragement to us all.

The Bible in Extraordinary Places
Lisa Welchel, Joel and Michelle Pelsue

Hollywood Bible Study

Christy Tennant

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Mar–Apr ’09
Christians working in the entertainment industry face challenges to their faith uncommon to other professions. Some separate themselves from mainstream culture, creating overtly faith-based films, novels and artwork, while others eagerly engage with secular culture, creating media for believers and unbelievers alike.

Even with these challenges, the devotional needs of show-business professionals are not that different from everyone else. Like the teacher or businessman who relies on a weekly small group or Bible study, there is a growing number of entertainment professionals finding support and encouragement through Bible studies specifically tailored to address their unique challenges.

When Lisa Welchel was starring as “Blaire Warner” on television’s hit show Facts of Life back in the 1980s, she was faced with the harsh reality of growing into adulthood in the public eye and bridging her Christian faith with her career. Welchel, who had become a Christian at age 10, had maintained a daily discipline of reading the Bible soon after her conversion.

“I went to Sunday school at my church, and they gave us these little envelopes to bring in each week with our offering. You could check off on the envelope whether you brought a friend or if you read your Bible every day. This really appealed to my pleasing, type-A personality—I enjoyed being able to check things off that list!” By the time she began work on Facts of Life, she was reading her Bible every day, a habit she says kept her grounded “like an anchor, no matter what happened.”

Entertainers often face questions requiring pastoral wisdom. Will I be compromising my faith if I take this role? Will I face too much temptation if I go to work for a summer at this theater? Am I guilty of selfish ambition? Is my ego crowding out the Holy Spirit?

Unfortunately, there are little or no seminary courses that teach pastoral candidates how to minister to believers in the entertainment industry. Rev. Joel Pelsue, founder of Arts and Entertainment Ministries in Los Angeles, realized in the early 1990s that there was a desperate need for ministers who knew how to serve people in television, film, and theatre. Pelsue and his wife, Michelle, were both pursuing careers in entertainment—he was a jazz musician and she was an actress—when they began to notice a gaping hole in many church ministries in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and Hollywood. “I was playing jazz in clubs in Santa Barbara,” he says, “and she was producing Shakespeare festival pieces.

In the process, God put us in the midst of artists who were everything from nominal Christians to full-on satanic worshipers. God began using us to help artists find freedom from the bondage of other religions. Even when we were dating, God showed us something special in this ministry arena.”

As the Pelsues began leading people to Christ, they looked for churches to recommend to these new believers, and came up short. This opened their eyes to see a need in the church. “By and large, people were apathetic,” he laments, “but even if they cared, they were ignorant [to the needs of the entertainment industry]. Ignorance and apathy … it really frustrated me.”

Pelsue recalls a significant revelation he had while a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. “Pastor Joel Hunter, who now serves at Northland Community Church in Orlando, was teaching a philosophy of ministry class I was taking. He said, ‘Sometimes what frustrates you the most is the very area God is calling you to serve.’ When I heard him say that, it totally resonated with me. What I saw was a disconnection between the church and beauty, the arts, creativity, and culture, which did not fit the God I know or the God I see in the Bible. That frustration with the church’s inability to affirm artists, purchase art, or even just allow drums in the sanctuary drove me nuts, and it ultimately propelled me on this journey.”

For the Pelsues, that journey included starting Arts and Entertainment Ministries (AEM) in 2004. According to their web site, AEM “was created in order to bring clarity into the strategic arenas of faith, creativity, and culture.” AEM helps artists wrestle through the challenge of authentically depicting evil, justice, sexuality, and redemption in a way that is true, without erring on the sides of either gratuitousness or sentimentalism. Recognizing entertainment as a powerfully persuasive medium, AEM seeks to help artists handle the responsibility of communicating humanity’s story, for better or for worse, in a way that is authentic, creative, and beautiful.

One way that AEM serves its artists is by offering “Artist Forums:” small group Bible studies that are particularly relevant to people in the arts. They offer a four-part series offering biblical theology for artists called “Bezalel Principles,” based on Exodus 31:1–11, helping them to better understand their calling. By studying Bezalel, artists find that they can and should play a vital role in helping others worship. To most people, Bezalel is a relatively obscure character in the Bible, one of the hundreds of names people skim past in their “Bible-in-a-Year” reading plans. However, for those called to the creative arts, he is a hero.

As Exodus 31:3–4 points out, Bezalel was chosen by God, filled with his Spirit, and gifted “with skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze” (NIV). The AEM study seeks to affirm creative gifts and callings, while addressing questions such as, “When do the things we create become idols?” and “Is the difference between art and idol merely semantics? Is it determined by the intent of the artist, by the perspective of the artist’s audience, or by a set of standard criteria?” By offering a forum for these discussions to take place, the Pelsues provide artists with spiritual and biblical foundations for their professions.

A Bible study with others who understood the particular challenges facing people in entertainment was a lifeline for Lisa Welchel during her Facts of Life years. “I went to the Church on the Way, and Jack Hayford was my pastor. One summer, the small group ministry went on hiatus, but Pastor Jack felt that those of us in the entertainment world especially needed that ongoing safety net of fellowship. So he formed a small group of people in the entertainment industry, and for about three years we met once a month.” The group included Michael and Stormie Omartian, pop singer Donna Summer and her husband, and Dallas star Charlene Tilton and her husband. An added bonus for Welchel was that a young, single pastor named Steve Cauble was appointed to help lead the group. Steve and Lisa met there and married two years later, just two months after Welchel filmed the final episode of Facts of Life.

Welchel says her small group “was a critical support system. It was a place we could feel free to be real, and know that the other members would protect one another’s privacy.” That safety was a precious gift to Welchel, who had been “burned” by people in church who had seen her more as a commodity than a sister in Christ. “There had been times when I had tried to be honest in church, and it ended up in the Enquirer.”

In 1999, across the continent from Los Angeles, in the other entertainment hub of the world, a small group of about eight actors began meeting every Monday night in New York City for Bible study, worship, and fellowship. In the decade since, the Haven, as it is now known, has grown to include professionals from every creative background, including fashion, television, film, theatre, publishing, and more. Actors involved with the Haven have starred in major motion pictures, Broadway productions, and television shows, and several have been nominated for Emmy and Tony awards. Most of the artists involved with the Haven are not pursuing careers in Christian media, but rather seeking to be involved in shows, films, and television for both believers and non-believers. Musicians at the Haven are more likely to be found performing in East Village clubs than leading worship at their churches, hoping that they will be able to “shine like stars in the universe as they hold out the word of life” (Phil 2:15–16). They find examples of common grace to share the good news of life in Jesus Christ.

Bible studies in Daniel and Jeremiah have been particularly meaningful to such artists. Rather than withdrawing from secular culture and creating a Christian sub-culture, these two books instruct God’s people to become immersed in the land into which they are planted, albeit as exiles, and develop relationships from which to share about God. Daniel, along with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, gained the respect and favor of the top influencers in Babylonian culture. They did not compromise their faithfulness to God, but engaged with those who were not worshipers of Yahweh, and when the time came for them to stand up for him, they were able to do so in a way that led others to worship also (see Dan 1–3).

Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah, inspired by God’s Spirit, instructed the exiles in Babylon to:

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper (Jer 29:5–7 NIV).

God’s people were encouraged not to withdraw from the pagan culture around them, but to fill it.

Just as Daniel and his compatriots were placed in positions as cultural influencers, so are the creators of media today. These culture-makers must be engaged in the church and given solid, Bible-based theology to help them approach their crafts.

Over the past decade and a half, new organizations have emerged to do just that. Hollywood Connect, for example, is a ministry that “connects industry believers to people who have information on surviving the idiosyncrasies of working in a town that would sooner dash a believer’s career objectives than strengthen them.” The ministry exists to help believers in the entertainment industry who are new to Los Angeles get connected in Christian communities “quickly and seamlessly.” By offering fellowship and Bible studies, as well as professional mentoring, development, and networking opportunities, these groups help Christians flourish in the mainstream entertainment world.

As Christians become more integrated into the secular media world, the need for biblical support and resources will grow. Thanks to Bible studies that deal directly with creativity and organizations that help believers become increasingly equipped to excel professionally in the entertainment industry, develop biblical foundations, and spiritual disciplines to approach their work in a way that upholds godly values—Christian values in the entertainment industry will affect not just Christians, but consumers of
Van Noord, R. (2014). Albert Mohler: Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In R. Van Noord, J. Strong, & J. D. Barry (Hrsg.), The Bible in the Real World: 31 Inspiring Interviews. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.


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