When I first came to faith in Christ, Bible study tools were like comprehension drills:
“For God so ____ the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Though they were the spiritual equivalent of busywork, like those SRA boxes full of multi-colored reading comprehension cards tucked in the corners of 1960’s elementary-school classrooms, the fill-in-the-blanks books did a good job helping to acquaint me with the Bible’s content.
In a classic case of overselling, these Bible study programs claimed to be creating disciples. However, never in the gospels will you find the disciples sitting on rocks filling in the blanks of a quiz book. You will find a lot of life-on-life with Jesus. There were a few examples of extended instruction/sermons, healings and miracles, and conversation. Lots of conversations. There is an entire photo album’s worth of snapshotted conversation in the gospels; the frame for each beautiful portrait is the culture of rabbinic instruction into which Jesus was born. That instruction was shaped by questions and more questions.
I recently ran across a terrific discipleship tool that captures the flavor of this form of learning. The LIving Dialogue Series (Credo House Publishers) is a series of books that allow a pair or a group to talk through a book of the Bible, one section at a time. Yes, you could do this without an aid, but if you’re not comfortable developing the kind of questions that demand reflection, invite debate and challenge preconceived ideas, the books (five so far, covering Mark, Romans, Exodus, Hosea and John) offer a wonderful way to dig into the text.
The questions do not have easy answers; in fact, they are the exact opposite of fill-in-the-blank no-brainers. The how- and why-type questions demand that we dig into our own beliefs in order to fully interact with the text. Here are a couple of examples of the questions accompanying Mark 1:14-20:
- Jesus lured these fishermen to follow him. What “bait” do you think could have led these men to “immediately” respond to the call of a perfect stranger?
- Put yourself in their position – minding their own business, going about their daily work. Under what circumstances would a person say yes to such a call?
The books include tips on how to engage in meaningful dialogue – something in which few of us are well-versed – as well as an appendix with additional coaching for group members. The authors, John Dannemiller and Irving Stubbs, have created a unique and truly useful tool that would be equally at home in a traditional small group or by a pair in a coffee shop, accompanied by a tall soy latte no whip.