Tips for Studying the Bible
As Christians, we have a lot of questions that we don’t always know how to investigate on our own, and we’re grateful when somebody will come in and give us the quick answer. But if you’ve raised kids, you know that when your kids have a question and ask you to sort something out for them, they come away with one kind of knowledge. When you allow your kids to work through, and find, and research the answer for themselves, they come away with a completely different kind of understanding. I can remember when I first came to Christianity out of atheism, I really needed to examine the issues for myself. And let’s face it, there are lots of times when it’s not so much an understanding of the truth; it’s not so much that the truth is out there and I just can’t grasp it; it’s that I hold some type of prerequisite, presupposition, that prevents me from seeing the truth clearly.
That’s why for me, as a new Christian, apologetics websites were just as important as the skeptic sites I had been visiting. I wanted to get some balance and some clear thinking on the issues we know are inherent to the Christian worldview. I found myself applying the same skepticism I had as a detective, and an atheist, to my own examination of Scripture. Here is my approach to answering some of my own questions about Christian doctrine, and Christian evidence. These are principles and tools that may help you sort out the truth for yourself. To help you remember, each of them start with the letter “D”. First, some qualities I think are important as a student of the Bible:
First, be Devoted.
This is a matter of passion and interest. The truth is that most of us are just not interested in getting the answers until we hit a crisis point. If we were to measure where we spend our free time, our finances, and our gifts, we would find that we spend a lot of time examining other things. People who are passionate and have a strong desire to learn can do amazing things because they are devoted to begin with. And that’s what I would encourage all of us to cultivate. The questions I ask myself are, Am I truly passionate? Am I truly interested? Am I teachable? Am I eager? And does my allocation of time, resources, and energy, reveal that I am truly a God-worshiper? Am I devoted enough to not wait till a crisis and ask somebody else for the answer? Am I devoted enough to spend my time living a faith that always seeks the answer?
Second, be Deliberate.
I ask myself, do I have a purpose, an intention about the way that I study Scripture? Do I have a goal in mind? Am I purposeful about my approach to my faith? Am I intentional about being a good ambassador? I want to be a good Christian case-maker, and so every time I open Scripture, I mine it and look deeply into it because I want to be able to have a certain grasp of the doctrine, creeds, and essentials that Scripture teaches so that I can defend it to others.
Third, be Disciplined.
I ask myself, am I as disciplined about things related to my faith as I am about other hobbies or daily fitness? I’m disciplined about running and going to the gym a certain number of times a week. Am I that disciplined about the pursuit of my own faith? One thing I discovered is that discipline like this is the difference between those of us who excel at anything, and those of us who don’t.
Fourth, be Dedicated.
I ask myself, am I consistent? Have I been able to develop a pattern that I can really achieve on a consistent basis and can execute daily? Is the examination of my faith part of my long-term spiritual goals? As someone who podcasts, I have recognized that if I am simply a dedicated to doing it every week, after a while I’ll build an audience. It’s not that I have to be perfect in every podcast or be precise in every selection. I want to be, but there are times when I can fail. Yet, I don’t stop. If we were to do the same thing with our spiritual growth and commitment to reading Scripture, it won’t belong before we have a certain mastery of the issues.
Fifth, be Dubious.
I ask myself, do I understand the value of skepticism? Do I accept a doctrine blindly without ever examining it? Do I accept a position because it’s emerged from the Christian culture, rather than because it’s evidenced in Scripture? Detectives always have to be skeptical. Unfortunately, it’s like the basic premise held by the character Greg House, on the show “House;” Everyone lies. It’s that kind of skeptical approach to the issues that helps us want to dig deeper to the truth.
Last, be Detailed.
I ask myself, am I thorough in the number of tools and the kinds of tools that I use? Do I use trustworthy sources for my research? Am I seeking a broad source of opinions from people and sources that I know I can trust are orthodox? Do I sometimes read the other side of the story, as well, to see where other views come from, and then develop the discernment to know if those sources are telling me the truth?
Be deliberate, devoted, disciplined, dedicated, dubious, and finally be detailed. This is the kind of principled approach I would take in studying the Bible and Christianity. In addition, there are some tools that I think may help you:
Get the Right Bible
The first thing I did was purchase an inexpensive Bible with very wide margins. I also purchased a number of multicolored pens. As I studied through the Scripture, I made copious notes, circled and dissected things. I wrote in the margins until it got to the point that my own Bible was very difficult to read because it was filled with so many comments and links to other passages of Scripture. I constantly wrote in my Bibles. I went through several of them.
Get the Right Study Aids
I also needed to get a good commentary. I started with the Wycliffe Bible Commentary from Moody Bible Institute. It’s a 1962 commentary. I still have it on my shelf, and I still use it. It’s a very large Bible commentary for the New and Old Testament. I also have a Holman Bible Dictionary, which I used quite a bit. It’s helpful in looking up certain terms. Eventually one of the most important books in my collection as I was reading through Scripture was a book called Christian Theology, by Millard Erickson. It’s a systematic theology book. Another good systematic theology is by Wayne Grudem. If there was an encyclopedic reference or any research I could put to this text, I would do it, to see what others have seen there that I may not be seeing, or that will stimulate some thought for me. The last book I added to my shelf that I use in my study is a book that you may be familiar with if you listen to Greg Koukl. It’s J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig’s, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview published in 2003. I can tell you, as soon as it came out, I grabbed it, and I have used it in an incredible way. It’s been very helpful for me. Finally, I bought the PC Study Bible. There are also other brands of Bible study software , but this one has a number of Bibles, concordances, cross-references, commentary sets, dictionaries, encyclopedias, word reference books, Greek and Hebrew sources, in addition to all kinds of systematic theologies. I couldn’t even read to you the entire list. Logos is another great Bible software resource. And for phone apps, there are resources from Olive Tree. For those of you who don’t have those kinds of there are a few helpful Internet sites that may be good references for you. Two other websites are BibleGateway.com and BibleStudyTools.com. These have a searchable Bible with many translations. There are a number of commentaries, Greek and Hebrew, and other tools. There are also Christian history sites like CCEL.org.
As you begin to study on your own, here are a few tips:
First, start collecting resources
Everything that I started with, I purchased for pennies at my local library used bookstore or online bookstores like Amazon who link to small book retailers. It’s amazing how many resources are available. Start collecting and start creating your own library.
Second, think about the value of focusing on time, not distance
When I run each day, I don’t worry about how far I run, I worry about how much time I spend running. I make a goal to run for an hour. If that ends up being a certain distance or a greater distance, it doesn’t really concern me. What is important to me is to get the cardiovascular effort of running for that hour. Don’t worry about how slow you’re moving through Scripture. Be more concerned about the amount of time and effort you’re spending in Scripture, and be dedicated and disciplined.
Third, be patient with your own growth
One thing you learn working in apologetics, like I have for the last six years, is that there’s more and more that I don’t know. I often get impatient with my inability to get to the truth of everything. For me, it’s about disciplining myself to be patient. Slow and consistent gets it done.
When I challenged myself to write and defend my positions in writing, I grew in ways that I couldn’t imagine I would. Journal. Start a blog. Write these things out. It’s that process of writing that seals the deal.
So there are some tips tools, and basic principles I hope will help you to become a better Christian case-maker.