Bible Studies Versus Bible Study
This spring at my church we will finish studying our twenty-third book of Scripture over the past eight years. I can recall each of them, in order, because of the deep impact they’ve made on all of us: Ephesians, Ruth, John, Philippians, Daniel, Ezra, Esther, Malachi, Exodus, Hebrews, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, Matthew, James, Acts, Jonah, 1 John, Revelation, Titus, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Luke.
I’m not a full-time pastor; I split the preaching with other speakers. So walking through Scripture verse by verse provides continuity from the pulpit. But continuity isn’t the only reason we preach inductively. Many years ago I became convicted that inductive study is the most powerful form of preaching.
I remember seminary professor Jon Paulien sharing a time his spirit felt empty. One week he decided to visit a small, out-of-the-way church pastored by a simple old man. The old pastor wasn’t a dynamic preacher; he simply led his small congregation, verse by verse, through the deep exploration of a single passage of Scripture. Paulien left church that day with his spirit filled. Through the years I’ve heard other Adventist giants—William Johnsson, George Knight, John Nixon—testify, as Ellen White once did, to the power and delight of studying Scripture.
When people leave church each Sabbath, they should be thinking about the Word, not the speaker.
Bible study, not Bibles studies, is our purest Adventist heritage. The teenage founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church didn’t grow up with fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice questions about Adventist beliefs. They just had Scripture; and deep into the night they let Scripture unfold before them, verse by verse. The first Adventists studied Scripture to form their beliefs; they didn’t study beliefs to form their scriptures.
When we focus too heavily on Bible studies, rather than Bible study, we get away from how Scripture is supposed to be studied. “Preach the word,” counseled Paul to the young Timothy. “Be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).
Does this mean there’s never a place for topical sermons or topical Bible studies? Of course not. There’s a time for addressing the pressing issues and questions of the day. But pastors who come up with 52 topics a year are putting too much pressure on themselves. When people leave church each Sabbath, they should be thinking about the Word, not the speaker. And during the week they should be studying ahead.
Here’s a specific invitation for your church:
1. Choose a book of Scripture to study together, a short book such as Ephesians, Titus, or Jonah, or a longer book such as the Gospel of John. Use commentaries and study aids to go deep into the text.
2. Form a multigenerational creative team to plan special enhancements to the scripture each week: props, visuals, testimonies, ways to include people of all ages.
3. Study the Word together.
4. When you’re finished, start a new book. Watch what happens when end-time believers run to and fro in Scripture to “increase knowledge” (Dan. 12:4).
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12).
Andy Nash (firstname.lastname@example.org), a professor and pastor at Southern Adventist University, is leading an Israel study tour June 4-13, 2017.