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The Problem with Bible Studies

August 7, 2012

I have a love-hate relationship with topical Bible study materials. Which might, in fact, be the most heretical thing I’ve said this year. Because they are our staple in the evangelical world, aren’t they?

I’m not saying they’re all bad, so don’t get defensive. I’ve done a lot of growing under some really good studies, and I know God uses them immensely.

But then the Hard Years came. And all I knew to do was to look for a book or a Bible study. I read a theological book on suffering. I leafed through Bible studies on depression. I stared long and hard at Beth Moore’s smile on the cover of Get Out of that Pit, and never could be compelled to go further than the first page.

Bible verses were tossed at me – especially Romans 8:28 (“God works all things for the good…”) and they bounced off my steel exterior. It all seemed trite and unpromising and irrelevant to what I was suffering. It’s not that the Bible is irrelevant to those who suffer, but when you’re in the grips of something dark, every word seems either to mock you or to not be enough.

It’s as if our answer to every difficulty and every sin is to know more about it, to know more about what God says about it. This is certainly helpful pre-emptively and then again after the struggle has begun to die down. But sometimes you can know all the Bible verses about it and know the theological acrobatics routine, and none of it helps.

So what to do when you see a loved one suffering, questioning God, and saying potentially explosive things?

You tell them you love them.

You give them a hug.

You call often to check up on them and take them with you to get coffee.

You don’t avoid the topic, but you don’t beat them over with it. Gently lead with questions, and if they are unresponsive, let it lie for now.

You invite them over for a meal, or bring one over and share it with them.

You let them know that they are not forgotten.

You give them time and space and permission to be angry and grieve. You don’t rush them through all of it to make yourself more comfortable around them.

You pray for them.

You see, sometimes, we push and push ourselves away so far from God’s love, and we become convinced that we cannot be brought back. We don’t need Bible studies or Bible verses tossed like grenades into our tender territory. We don’t need to know more about the problem. We need someone else to incarnate the words from Scripture, to be the love that we don’t believe in.

And I think this goes for most of life, not just times of suffering and grief. Rather than (or perhaps in addition to) starting a men’s Bible study/ministry on porn and sexual issues, stand side-by-side with men who struggle with this when Bible verses on purity ring dim, and show them the unconditional love that the Father has toward them. Plow slowly through their issues with them. 

Know a young wife who is navigating the strange new world of marriage? Invite her into your home – messy and teeming with children and never-ending laundry – and let her see you live those words about service and diligence and submission. Because when she reads Proverbs 31 on the page, she might be tempted to picture a woman who has it all together, when she can barely cook a meatloaf. But if she can picture you – doing the hard daily work of wiping bottoms and burning dinner and disciplining with love and picking his stupid socks off the floor day after weary day without grumbling - then she will have a better understanding of what a wife of noble character is: a Jesus-woman, not a trophy wife.

And no, it doesn’t fit well with our lifestyle. It takes time and sacrifice, and did I mention time? But maybe if we can make baby steps in this, if we can stop relying on Bible studies and programs for the answers, maybe the love and truth of Christ can come be embodied in us.

The point is not to drop Scripture as our frame-of-reference for life. We need these holy words. The point is to embody them for others who cannot read the Scriptures and absorb the truths there.

Have you ever gone through a time when Bible studies or Scripture seemed hollow? Were there Christians who embodied for you until you believed again?

What else would this look like?

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim permalink
    August 7, 2012 5:05 pm

    Great post, Aubry, and for me the best line was this: “You don’t rush them through all of it to make yourself more comfortable around them.”

    I don’t know that there was a time when Scripture seemed hollow, but there have been times when I was too numb to feel God’s word*. I have never been so numb as to be completely unable to feel the love of God through his people, though. No wonder Paul said “the greatest of these is love.”

    Tim

    *I’m not saying his word was ineffective, just that I wasn’t feeling it at the time.

    • August 7, 2012 6:30 pm

      Exactly…Gods word is powerful…but sometimes we can’t feel the power and we need others to show us and help us to remember.

  2. amariemarton permalink
    August 7, 2012 5:42 pm

    You hate the Proverbs 31 woman and you hate (sort of) topical Bible studies? Girl, you are going to get some angry comments! :-)

    Just kidding – I totally get your love/hate relationship with them, and I go through the same feelings every time my friends want me to attend the latest one offered at a local church.

    • August 7, 2012 6:29 pm

      Haha, I know, I beg for criticism, huh? I just think we are overdependent on them sometimes. :)

      • August 8, 2012 12:25 pm

        Being overdependent on them wouldn’t be nearly so bad if they were perhaps more deep and meaningful as opposed to shallow and repetitive.

  3. Tammy permalink
    August 8, 2012 9:51 am

    Thank you Aubry. You put into words here things that I have felt myself and not known how to describe. It’s not that you throw out the word altogether, it is in these times that the word acted out truly as love, is what is needed.

  4. August 8, 2012 12:39 pm

    > Have you ever gone through a time when Bible studies or Scripture seemed hollow?

    I’m there now and have been for some time. When you are careful to discern the word and apply context, much of the cliche phrases lose some luster. And the Bible study materials I’ve been exposed to, besides being terribly ethnocentric, often seem to do nothing but give advice. What makes it worse is how often the same things get repeated, as if a few words of scripture are sufficient inspiration.

    > Were there Christians who embodied for you until you believed again?

    I’m not even sure this is what I need. I know where my brothers and sisters embody Christ and where they fall short; what I need is to know there is more to them than what I see at Bible studies. That fellowship is important, too…

    I think you make great points here about the Word needing to be an active force. High literacy rates are still a relatively recent thing to humanity; written words alone have never intended to carry power without action accompanying it.

    I’m struggling to verbalize some other comments right now, but you seem to understand where even knowledge has it’s limits…and wisdom has to kick in so we don’t start looking as stereotypical as those around us already think we are.

  5. August 8, 2012 2:20 pm

    I’ve never liked topical studies much either. And what is worse is when I’ve been to “Bible Studies” where even though the topic was supposed to be whatever we were reading in the Bible, it was ALL application. It was (and is) frustrating to me because if I go to a “Bible Study” I expect that I am going to be…gasp…*studying the Bible* and that is so often not the case.

  6. August 14, 2012 11:28 am

    Oh yes! I’ve had fellow Christians chuck Bible verses at me as though that’s the answer to everything, when what I needed was to be heard, and to be loved. I’ve been known to yell at people who responded to my painful personal blog posts that way. When you’re going through deep pain or despair, this stuff can ring very hollow. I love what you say about incarnating the words, living it out, letting people see something in you and in how you’re living which they may not be able to get from reading/hearing Scripture. My very first clue as to the existence of God, back in my agnostic late 20s, was when I saw people being kind to a stranger – it still brings me to tears again and again, because it somehow registers deep in me that there is some extra dimension to this life, that there is goodness and kindness and generosity and people really doing the “love your neighbour” thing.

  7. ssebuwufu alex permalink
    October 30, 2012 8:55 am

    At times they confusing us and made us strand ended when is interpreted to others
    but at times they are useful to the new converts to know more about what they have believe thanks God bless you

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