A Good Book

Review by Dr Philip Satterthwaite

 

In the past year of so I have received more than one request to for teaching in the area of leading Bible studies. I sense that a number of church leaders and members in Singapore feel themselves to be in need in this area. Bible study remains a central activity in many small groups and midweek meetings, yet many Bible studies can seem curiously stale and unproductive. For many study leaders the temptation may be to turn to a study guide or to the Internet for inspiration. Yet these resources are not always ideal: study guides may be addressing different issues from those that concern you or your group; and Internet material always needs to be used with discernment, for there are many wild ideas floating in cyberspace.

 

If some of what I have written in the previous paragraph echoes concerns of your own, then you may be interested in Refreshing Bible Study, edited by Ian Paul. It is a volume in the Grove Biblical Series, a series I have been glad to commend previously in BTW. Six contributors, all of whom teach OT or NT in Britain, give suggestions which you may find helpful if you are looking for creative ways to approach the biblical text. The contributions are brief and suggestive, and you will probably find some more appealing than others. The following summarises some of the main suggestions.

 

Ian Paul, begins his Introduction with words of encouraging realism (‘The worst thing that Christians can do with the Bible is to make it boring!’) and goes on to ask why much Bible study is nonetheless less than exciting. Part of the problem may be that Christians do not quite know how to set about reading the Bible, and so Paul suggests three key questions which will provide a way into most biblical texts: What? (What is the text actually saying? - a particularly important question to ask when the text in question is familiar to us); Why? (Why does the text say what it does? Why did the writer or writers find it necessary to say this, and say it in the way that they did? What principle is being expressed?); How? (What do I/we do with this text today? What difference ought this text to make to me/us?). These three questions force us to focus in turn on three ‘worlds’ which any responsible Bible student must consider: the world of the text (the details of the text itself); the world behind the text (the context in which the text was written); and the world in front of the text (our own 21st-century world).

 

The remaining contributions all focus on how to set about answering these three basic questions. Doug Ingram speaks about ‘Enjoying the Story’: understanding how biblical narratives together form one extended story of God’s dealings, and learning to read the individual narratives with an eye to the skill with which they have been composed. Simply exposing ourselves to large sections of biblical narrative (reading them at one sitting) is good for us: our characters can be influenced by the text almost without our being aware of it.

 

Philip Jenson briefly describes some features of biblical poetry as found in the Psalms, and then invites us to try our hand at writing a psalm praising God. The aim is not to produce texts which can replace those in the Bible, but to encourage a greater understanding of how the Psalms work as texts, and a greater awareness of how we might use the Psalms in our own lives.

 

There are other ways of stimulating our imagination as we read the Bible, explored by the other contributors. What about Christian poetry (there is much) which suggests new insights into the text? How about deliberately reading a narrative text from the viewpoint of one or more of the characters? A group of Christians can engage in a ‘dramatic’ reading of biblical narratives, with different people reading the different ‘roles’. Certain films or novels or pieces of music (not necessarily explicitly Christian) may handle biblical themes in interesting ways, or stimulate us to come at the Bible with new questions (‘I wonder what the Bible has to say to this issue…?’). Certain pictures, whether the works of great masters or contemporary cartoons, may powerfully illustrate biblical truths. (But the trick is to be make sure that the ideas represented genuinely are biblical: some famous ‘Christian’ pictures may have misunderstood the biblical text.) Lastly, for the more analytically minded, charts, diagrams and large-font printouts of biblical texts (for marking up with coloured pens) may be a way ahead.

 

Here, surely, are plenty of ideas to try out! The booklet also contains suggestions for further reading and lists various internet sites which might be worth a visit. If you lead a Bible study, why not photocopy a chapter (only one, of course, to comply with the law) and applying some of the suggestions?

 

CHAPEL NOTES

 

Chapel on 26 January was taken by Dr Ng Peh Cheng.

Dr Ng shared her personal reflection on BGST's "Big Move" from Bishan to Tanjong Pagar. Learning from the experience of the Israelites, the "change" brought excitement (Numbers 13:26,27) but also challenges (Numbers 13:28,29). Caleb was confident of dealing with the challenges because the "change" was led by the Unchanging God. Worshipping the same Unchanging God, we are thankful to Him for writing a new chapter in the ministry of BGST as a Theological Education Institution for Lay Training since 1989 and we continue to trust Him to bless BGST to be a blessing to the church and the "new" community.

 

There will be no chapel on 9 February as it is a public holiday (Lunar New Year). Chapel speaker on 16 February will be Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

 

NEWS BITS

 

1.       New Admission. Mr. Kevin Lim is a student in the Dip. CS. He is an active lay leader in the CG and Worship Ministry at the Pasir Panjang Hill Brethren Church. He is the Vice President of Human Resource, PSA Corporation Ltd. and has obtained his Bachelor of Science (Hons) from The National University of Singapore.

2.        BGST offices and Library  will be closed on 8 February (at 1pm, Lunar New Year’s Eve) and on  9 & 10 February. School reopens on 11 February.

 

We wish our Readers

 

A Joyful & Blessed

 

Lunar New Year.

 

A Blessed Birthday to…

Mr Thomas Chong  7/2

Mr Tan Swee Meng  7/2

Mr Goh Kwan Koon  8/2

Ms Claire Tan  8/2

Ms Alfreds Shirani  9/2

Mr Joseph Tan  10/2

Mr Reid Rasmussen  10/2

Ms Chua Wei Chin  10/2

Mr Abel Choy  11/2

Mr Simon Wan  12/2

Mr Steven Seah  12/2

Dr Bryan Lim  13/2

Mr Andrew Chua  15/2

Dr Edith Quah  16/2

Mr Kessler Soh  20/2

 

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