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Today you can attend churches all over the world without leaving your couch thanks to online sermons and services. Why do a podcast on what the Bible means and how we know when we’re practically drowning in online sermons?
Because Bible study is a lost art. Listen to five random sermons from the internet and you’ll most likely hear something like these.
In the first sermon, the speaker circles around the text, but never lands on it. His talk is filled with language from the Bible, platitudes, and proverbs. His speech is highly entertaining and probably enhanced by a multi-media show. Everything he says may be true and highly motivating. It’s a good and proper sermon by today’s standards, but teaches nothing about the biblical text.
Sermonizing is not Bible study.
In the second sermon, the teacher reads a passage from the Bible. Then he releases a flood of words, exhorting us to five different things that all begin with the same letter of the alphabet. All five may be true, practical, and helpful, but the relationship between the text and the five is almost accidental. They share only few common words. We may end that sermon emotionally equipped to tackle the day, but we have gained no insight into the biblical text.
Whipping up exhortations from the language of Scripture is not Bible study.
In the third sermon, the teacher begins with a funny, intriguing, and captivating story. With all the promise of an Aesop fable, it dangles a moral truth before us which the speaker withholds until the end of the sermon. In between, he reads a text and tells lots more stories. They range from entertaining, to thought-provoking, to tear-jerking. In the end he returns to his opening story and deftly delivers the punchline. We may be profoundly moved and feel a great personal rapport with the speaker, but we have learned nothing about the text.
Story-telling is not Bible study.
In the fourth sermon, the speaker starts with a challenging question which cries out for a biblical response. But his answer resembles firing buckshot at a barn. The speaker peppers us with verse after verse from all over Scripture. He blazes through the Bible selecting only pieces of passages that further his chosen answer. Everything he says may be true and orthodox, but it’s not Bible study.
Proof-texting is not Bible study.
In the fifth sermon, the speaker reads the text and goes to work, but he keeps missing the target. Like a child learning to play soccer, he overshoots, undershoots, hits the crossbar or the posts, but he never hits the goal. He explains everything but the text. While he offers 30 minutes of true and profound observations, the passage remains untouched. The best we can say is “true, but not taught here.”
Observation is not Bible study.
The goal of Bible study is to explain the author’s intended meaning of a set number of verses to a particular audience in a language they understand.
The heart of Bible study is recovering the author’s meaning. The first question we ask is not: What is inspirational here? What is true here? What is devotional here? Or what practical application does this have for me?
The first question is: what did the author intend to say? Without asking that question, there is no real Bible Study. There is only entertainment, emotional appeals, exhortations to be perfect, and interesting but pointless story-telling.
My goal in this podcast is Bible study. In each episode I try to explain the author’s meaning for a set number of verses in plain language. In explaining what the author meant, I seek to model for you how I reached those conclusions. On my website I offer free tools and resources to improve your own study skills.
When I became a Christian, I was blessed to be surrounded by good role models and mentors who handled Scripture well. I had teachers who took me to the text and not around it. They interacted with the passage itself, not their party-line beliefs. When they finished, I had a better understanding of Scripture than when they started. They spent their time on the author’s meaning rather than platitudes. And in the end, I was taught, encouraged, challenged, and practically instructed.
God richly blessed me with Bible study mentors. Through this podcast, I hope to pay that forward and inspire you to learn what the Bible means and how we know.
Where to next?
New Testament Studies
Old Testament Studies
Learn to study: Bible Study 101
Photo by Dan LeFebvre on Unsplash