Throughout the year I’ve shared book titles for pleasure and purpose. I am grateful for published authors whose education far exceeds my own; many good men and women have spent the bulk of their lives learning, teaching, and sharing through writings as their life’s vocation. Aside from my own continued learning, I am an advocate for women to learn, enjoy, and share God’s Word. In this blog post I will share the top ten book titles aiding my Bible understanding, expanding my knowledge of theology and the church, and those offering wisdom that speaks to the Christian life.
10) Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End by David Gibson reminds us of how living our lives in the present should be shaped by what is certain at life’s end. Seeing life as God’s wondrous gift frees us to live wisely and faithfully, Gibson engages the reader with his retelling of Ecclesiastes. I found this book especially helpful with long-term planning and decision making.
9) Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith by Joel R. Beeke is a book that will bring comforting peace to the child of God who is trapped in doubting her assurance of faith. Tackling the hard topics of both easy believism and hard believism Beeke presents a thorough biblical case.
8) Suffering: Gospel HopeWhen Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Paul David Tripp is an honest yet compelling book of comfort. Tripp offers an empathetic ear without trivializing our own sufferings. Personally, I found this book timely and helpful. This is an important book in the life of the church as we come alongside one another.
7) Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson focuses on the important lesson the New Testament has to teach us about the process of Christian growth to spiritual maturity. Rooted in the reality of the Christian life, Ferguson seeks to show what maturity is and how it is to be obtained. For me, this book prompted reflection time and again.
6) Knowing Christianity by J.I. Packer turns our attention to the central doctrines of God, the Bible, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As the author explores the principal elements of the Christian life, his book offers help and hope from the unchanging truth of God. Packer offers much more than the latest self-help books, laying out a vast picture of the Christian faith.
5) Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church by Michael J. Kruger is a readable and well-researched book. With little writing for the lay person on this time period, I had great appreciation for the author’s work. Through Kruger’s summaries, the reader is presented with practical data of the transitions faced by Christians in the second century that would determine the future of the church. I gained better understanding of Christianity as well as the church we know today. My only regret is that I had not read it sooner.
4) The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience by Jeremy Pierre is written specifically for counselors and shepherds. A Professor of Biblical Counseling, Pierre provides biblical truth as he shows how to carefully make diagnoses. While sharpening the counselor’s skills in remedy by way of scripture, he takes us into sound doctrine while equipping us to help with wisdom and love. This book is a discovery of a dynamic relationship with God and how it changes the way people respond to every other aspect of life. Pierre’s work is endorsed by Ed Welch, Bruce Ware, Russell Moore, and Alistair Begg.
3) The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders is a readable book on the Trinitarian shape of evangelical faith and practice. Sanders writes, “Nothing we do as evangelicals makes sense if it is divorced from a strong experiential and doctrinal grasp of the coordinated work of Jesus and the Spirit, worked out against the horizon of the Father’s love.” With a personal study guide included, I believe this book would be ideal for life application and group discussion. This book was a staple when teaching the Doctrine of the Trinity.
2) Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper is a reminder that Christians often pit thinking and feeling against each other. This book’s focus helps us to consider how thinking and things of the heart glorify God together. This book is helpful to any woman whose desire is to learn and grow in the Christian faith. I highly recommend Think to those who attend the Sunday evening class, Let’s Do Theology. My personal copy is on loan to my granddaughter. It’s an important read!
1) None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God by Matthew Barrett addresses how Christians have domesticated God, bringing him down to our level. Rightly lifting Him up as the Creator rather than the creature, Barrett presents the attributes of God as the most perfect, supreme being. This excellent book lays out clear, accessible terms in his glossary (helping the reader track the argument throughout the book). I found Barrett’s glossary superior to others in the comprehension of these particular theological terms. Without question, this was my best read of 2019. None Greater was an excellent resource in preparing to teach the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God.
+2) Last but not least, I would be remiss if I did not list two recurring titles in my yearly reading. Knowing God by J.I. Packer and The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer are two classics. Whether reading Tozer’s focus on the attributes of God, or J.I. Packer’s significant book on the glory and joy of knowing God, each time I am left better equipped to deal with basic spiritual truths in a practical way.
I hope my list encourages reading the works of these skilled authors. May you grow in grace and knowledge in the upcoming year.
Gradual growth in grace, growth in knowledge, growth in faith, growth in love, growth in holiness, growth in humility, growth in spiritual-mindedness – all this I see clearly taught and urged in Scripture, and clearly exemplified in the lives of many of God’s saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion to consecration I fail to see in the Bible. – J.C. Ryle
Recent weeks brought me to a place of digging deeper for the purpose of affirming what I had known as truth. In addition to my personal Bible studies, I read several books whose titles I will share with you here. My quest was to explore complementarianism going beyond the 1988 Danvers Statement (https://cbmw.org/about/danvers-statement/) and search for the church’s position throughout history. You should know that questions from women in my local church and community prompted my quest. In addition to biblical text, accompanied by numerous systematic theologies and commentaries, I found these resources helpful:
Wayne Grudem, Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood – writers explore key issues, including the interchangeability of male-female roles.
Andreas J. Kostenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner, Women in the Church – concluding the unfolding of biblical text in depth, they offer a roundtable discussion of women’s voices.
Michael J. Kruger, Christianity at the Crossroads – summarizes the best of contemporary research about second-century Christianity.
Diana Lynn Severance, Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History – encouragement through the telling of faith of ordinary women humbly trusting the Word of God and living to serve. Deeply researched survey of the last 2,000 years.
Kathleen Nielson, Women & God – A conversational book about what God says about women. Unpacks some difficult passages many want to avoid.
Amidst the books on my desk this week is my 2020 calendar. It’s the time of year that I begin transferring events and appointments. Seasons are an integral part of our lives and in comfort, we experience life in familiar places and familiar ways, with predictable people. The desire to be a good steward of time prompts me to pause, as I consider my days and weeks. Have these times displayed a life that is God honoring? Are there adjustments that need to be made for the upcoming year? We are challenged when seasons transition, yet with unmet expectations I embrace today. All things in all seasons come to us, not by chance but by God’s heavenly hand.
The red leaves on the maple out my back window are a reminder of God showing us new and different things about himself and his character when we slow down, take in the view, and rest in truth. God’s handiwork in seasons past provides hope and confidence for seasons yet to come. And as I study God’s providence this week, I am reminded once again of his ever-present power, sustaining and governing all things.
If God controls all things, how can our actions have real meaning? Even in recognizing God’s providence, we are responsible to do our part. Mistakes and shortcomings become opportunities to turn a corner as we move forward. As means for long-term growth, our past is used in shaping our present and developing our future. There are events fully caused by God and fully caused by the creature as well: The doctrine of concurrence affirms that God directs and works through the properties of each created thing.
Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology – AnIntroduction to Biblical Doctrine has words worth repeating: “We may sometimes forget that God works through human actions in his providential management of the world. If we do, then we begin to think that our actions and our choices do not make much difference or do not have much effect on the course of events.” To guard against any misunderstanding of God’s providence Grudem makes the following points of emphasis.
We are still responsible for our actions.
Our actions have real results and do change the course of events.
Prayer is one specific kind of action that has definite results and that does change the course of events.
In conclusion, we must act.
With this in mind, the thing on my desk I submit in prayer today is not the stack of systematic theologies or the textbooks for my current course work (though they do have importance), but the blocks on my calendar structuring my days. May God take pleasure in me as I fear and hope in his steadfast love, with the transition of each new season.
“A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the truth and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.” – Martin Luther, Luther’s Catechism
Our emotions are pointers to what we worship: What controls us? What do we desire above all else? What do we live for? What are we pursuing to satisfy ourselves? What do we need? What do we feel we have to have? If we trace these questions back, we will find what we really worship.
Perhaps it’s pleasure, control, respect, being understood, acceptance, opinions of others, being pretty, being pain free, golf, football, video games, tv, friends, family, food, exercise, shopping, to only name a few. We are all idolators and what we worship leads to our behavior.
“From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. . . . So it goes. Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” – John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
Consider Ezekiel 36:25-27, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules.”
It’s been awhile since I’ve shared with readers what they might find on my desk. Alongside my coffee mug and laptop this morning are: Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Michael Horton’s Pilgrim Theology, and Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology. This week’s resources beyond the weighty systematic theologies are Knowing God by J.I. Packer, The Attributes of God by Arthur Pink, None Greater by Matthew Barrett, Life’s Biggest Questions by Erick Thoennes, and The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. Close by are shelved Gregg Allison’s Theological Terms and Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. I’m in the thick of theology.
In Let’s Do Theology, a Sunday evening class, we discussed the study of God and how it has been widely recognized as the queen of the sciences. I emphasized that theology is not reserved for formal education but is actually something every single human being should desire to know. Yet, we should approach the study of God differently than other subjects. Theology is not a subject to place under a microscope or one we simply get to know. We want to be careful and cautious as we study God. We are studying the very One who spoke all things into existence. God has revealed himself to all of us and we should approach theology with prayer, excitement, humility, and expectation.
As I continue my personal study and preparation, I keep this in mind. And also, that the Scriptures from which my study flows will be working on me as God is revealed in a greater way. Unlike any other subject of study, I approach theology proper with reverence, awe, and respect. Below, I’m sharing a few of last week’s scripture passages and study notes on the incomprehensibility and knowability of God:
Hebrews 11:3 – “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Humans are always limited in their knowledge (finite), but God is not (infinite).
Psalm 145:1-3 – “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” Properly understanding how great and unsearchable God is humbles us, exalts Him, and should lead to greater worship.
Romans 11:33-36 – “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Acknowledging God’s infinite greatness and our inability to fully know Him should not lead to frustration, but to worship.
Isaiah 55:8-9 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are our ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Acts 17:28-29 – “for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring we out not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, and image formed by the art and imagination of man.” Not recognizing God’s limitlessness often leads to a weak view of God and the creation of idols (seen or unseen).
Exodus 20:3-5a – “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or the is in the earth beneath, or the is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God,” The worship of an idol brings God down to a god who is created by the creature.
Psalm 97:6-7 – “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. All worshippers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!” Isaiah 44:6 – “Thus says the Lord, the king of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” God has made Himself known and we are to strive to know Him as He has revealed Himself. Although, we must be cautious and careful not to add to or subtract from who He says He is. Our God is so great (and our belief in Him so important) that even the smallest change in perspective on who He is can transform our lives. In reality, our whole moral compass and standards in life have to do with who we believe God is.
John 4:24 – “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 17:3 – “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Romans 1:18-21 – “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” There is really no such things as atheists, only suppressors of the truth.
Hebrews 1:1-3a – “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” John 1:1-5 & 14 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the father, full of grace and truth.” Job 42:1-6 – “Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, and I will speak; I will question you and you make it known to me. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Even when we know God to some degree, our prayer should be to know him even more.
Erik Thoennes writes, “God’s incomprehensibility also means that beliefs can be held with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery.” and “We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know him and to please him with our lives.”
Jeremiah 9:23-24 “Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Knowledge of the one true God should be our greatest delight.
Having concluded the series, Doctrine and Disciplines of the Bible, I’m wrapping up with a refresher. We must be reminded of my original objective in developing these lessons: In my observation and humble opinion, there is an unmet call for evangelical women to devote themselves to actual reading and study of God’s Word itself. We are so full of all kinds of stuff offered by this world, which stagnates our growth and maturity. Our thoughts, our desires, and our energies are so used up, there’s little space left for the Word of God. Sadly, in many cases, the extent that most people read the Bible is checking off their time in YouVersion for the day. I find sincere women, who take the easy route of doing a Bible study, with good intentions. Yet they rely on the popular author’s writing far more than the words printed in their own Bibles.
In my quest, I began to scrutinize popular materials marketed as “Christian” and “Bible Studies” in the women’s market. Instead of finding support and teaching in sound doctrine, I found an abundance of world-based material, but a gaping hole which can only be filled by key theology (which creates confusion). My analysis showed me that the majority of materials marketed today more accurately fall into the categories of “Self-Help” or “Self-Care,” which are psychology-based. These “Christian” materials do not further biblical knowledge. Many popular titles outright contradict the Scriptures, or suffer poor exegesis (interpretation and explanation of the Scriptures).
However, I’ve perceived that women often desire further instruction in disciplines and doctrines, so in turn they can implement them appropriately and soundly.
Therefore, it is evident that the essential doctrine and God-honoring technique in practicing our disciplines has begun to fall to the wayside. Reading “Christian” authors can help guide us into growth-producing habits, fostering wellbeing. Hence when lacking theological wisdom, they can distort the readers’ understanding of the gospel, and encourage practices that tend to foster spiritual illbeing. Recent decades, filled with this sort of teaching, have resulted in bad theology.
When we do not know and understand good theology, we risk living out bad theology.
As Christian women, we need theology; the study of God is not merely for our good but for the glory of God himself. Doctrine of the Word of God (only briefly covered in this series) is the very foundation of theology: Christian belief is based on Scripture. In its four applications, doctrine is believed, practiced, confessed, and taught.
1 Timothy 1:18-19; 4:7; 6:21
2 Timothy 2:16
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ. – Colossians 1:28
Take note that the study in its entirety can be easily accessed at any time through the categories menu at www.debbieswindell.com, but let’s recap what we’ve covered in this series:
In Part One, Won’t You Join Me at The Table?, we established the invitation to every Christian to delight in God and things of God. The invitation of the spiritual disciplines is extended to all in whom the Spirit of God dwells, in order to taste the joy and contentment found in a Christ-centered lifestyle. Rightly practicing the disciplines requires our consideration of the Doctrine of the Word of God, as to understanding properly our reading of the Scriptures and applying appropriately our hearing and studies.
In Part Two, Trustworthiness of the Scriptures, the reader was confronted by our tendency to be relativists and the societal pressures that would have us believe that the Bible is no more than an old book left behind. Yet for 2,000 years, the Bible has taken hold of people’s lives, revealing both humanity’s sin and God’s grace through faith. And in the views of science, archaeology, and a vast amount of textual criticism, Scripture has in reality withstood the test of trustworthiness. It is imperative that the Christian places her confidence in the Bible as the voice of God when approaching her Bible reading and study. An accurate understanding of doctrinal truths reflects what the church is bound to believe, and good theology flowing from this stands in direct contrast to false doctrine. Sound doctrine of the Word of God is the foundation of all good theology.
In Parts Three and Four, Inspiration of the Scriptures and Inerrancy & Infallibility of the Scriptures, we established the importance of a right theology that affirms the trustworthiness of the Bible by way of its divine inspiration, calling for affirmation of its inerrancy and infallibility. God’s Word is trustworthy, conveying what is true and demanding what is right. Affirmation of the inspiration of the Bible furthers Christians’ maturity in their attitudes toward the Scriptures, the truthful voice of God. If we claim our Lord and Savior to be Jesus Christ, and that Jesus himself affirmed the inerrancy of Scripture, we must accordingly embrace the Scriptures as true and right. As God’s voice, the Bible is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.
In Part Five, Authority & Sufficiency of the Scriptures, we explored authority and sufficiency of Scripture. We discussed that God speaks sufficiently through the Bible with ultimate, comprehensive, final authority. He also has the right to command our thoughts, desires, beliefs, words, actions, and overall behavior. The supremacy of Scripture qualifies it as functional, instrumental, conferred, and the traditional guidebook in every aspect of life. Scripture contains all the words of God that He intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history. Now, it contains everything that we need God to tell us for salvation, trusting him perfectly, and obeying. God does not require us to believe anything about himself or his work that is not in the Scriptures.
In Part Six, Perfect Posture, we took a glance at the importance of the posture of the heart when coming to the Bible, whether for reading or for study. With perfect posture, we as His children are supernaturally renewed, moment by moment, day by day, as we read, hear, learn, and live out the Scriptures. God’s Word is precise, not ambiguous. We don’t need to merely admire the Bible; we need to understand it. By the renewal of our minds, rejecting conformity to the world’s rampant individualism, our Bible reading enables spiritual growth. We can know the truth, enabling us to think clearly about what God says is true and right.
In Parts Seven, Read the Bible Well, and Eight, The Hard Work of Bible Study, we acknowledged the cumulative benefits of the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and study: God may impress a verse on our hearts and minds in order to help us, but he has given Scripture as a whole to us so that its entire message will become the framework of reference for the rest of our lives. We do not occupy ourselves in Bible disciplines in order to get a “quick fix” to last for today, but rather to learn how to think, feel, and act in a God-honoring way every single day. When we rightly handle the Word of God, we engage in Bible reading and study for innumerable long-term benefits.
In Part Nine, Handle With Care, we looked at the importance of handling the Scriptures with care. There is a direct correlation between salvation, growth and maturity, and one’s ability to handle the Scriptures correctly. It is not a simple matter to understand the Scriptures, but with right understanding, they must also be applied rightly: A Christian is often known by how she handles the Word of God. It is the woman who lives in the Word and whose life is shaped and governed by the Word who is the kind of “worker” God approves in 2 Timothy 2:15. As we encounter the Bible rightly, with humility and thankfulness, we should handle the Scriptures rightly. But instead, we are maxed out in terms of our time, our ability to focus, and tied to our desires. We need to examine our own hearts, carve out time, and discover that God’s Word alone can satisfy our deepest desires in life. Foundationally, we must deal with the appetites of our hearts and make room for God’s satisfying Word.
“If I were the devil, one of my first aims would be to stop folk from digging into the Bible. Knowing that it is the Word of God, teaching people to know and love and serve the God of the Word, I should do all I could to surround it with the spiritual equivalent of pits, thorn hedges and traps, to frighten people off.” – J.I. Packer
Recreated from fall 2018 teaching notes, for the purpose of supplementing my teaching and discipleship, this online series is meant to be more than information transfer. With a correct posture, the reader has been invited to read the Bible well and do the hard work of Bible study while handling the Word of God with care. When Bible literacy is coupled with the ongoing practice of spiritual disciplines, the believer provides a pathway for maturity (by work of the Holy Spirit). And as the church matures, we become better equipped to further the kingdom’s work. Thus, it is to the glory of God.
Consider these questions as we close.
As a result of this study…
Have you put Scripture reading and study into practice, as biblical spiritual disciplines?
Have you been confronted with core doctrinal truths that resulted in heart change and application?
Do you believe you might now have a more discerning attitude?
Has it been necessary for you to make theological adjustments?
In what ways does your daily routine provide space for the Spirit to work?
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20
In Parts 7-8 of Doctrine & Disciplines of the Bible, our focus was the disciplines of reading and studying the Scriptures. In Parts 2-5, we explored the Doctrine of the Word of God. We have now established a shallow foundation for Bible reading and study. Continuing along this route, we must look practically into furthering the disciplines, and furthering them in a God-honoring way. And while not all believers have the gift of teaching, we will address such: All are responsible to pass on the truths they have learned in God’s Word. Thus, this part of the study focuses on “rightly handling the Word of truth.”
Once salvation occurs, growth and maturity comes before correctly handling the Scriptures. The Scriptures can be complicated: It is not simple to understand them. With right understanding, they must also be applied rightly. It is the woman who lives in the Word and whose life is shaped and governed by the Word of Truth who is the kind of “worker” God approves, as described in 2 Timothy 2:15. Also: As with all things done in the name of Christ, prayer is a vital element.
John 5:39; 14:6, 9
1 Corinthians 12:29
1 Timothy 4:14
2 Timothy 1:6; 2:15
2 Peter 1:3
How does prayer before study and a determination to handle the Bible carefully reflect your theology? Support your answer.
Keep in mind that we will handle the word of truth better if we know the word of truth. Like Israel’s kings, we should develop a habit of reading God’s word daily (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). “I’m afraid that’s the condition of many people today. They assume that our faith means taking a deep breath, shutting our eyes, and believing what we know deep down inside is absolutely incredible. In fact, Christianity has often been caricatured as the nonthinking man’s religion. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. When you become a Christian, you don’t throw your brain into neutral…You don’t commit intellectual suicide.” states Howard Hendrix, author and seminary professor. The Christian is often known by how she handles the Word of God, and mishandling the truth leads to misconceptions by the world.
Have you developed an intentional pattern in your Bible reading and study? What efforts do you make to know and retain what you study?
Read John 5:39, then Hebrews 1:3. God wants us to know Him. The way to know Him is through the Son. Do you look for the revelation of Jesus Christ when reading the Scriptures?
Godly wisdom is the ability to see life from God’s perspective, and react or respond to it with His mind. Why might it be important that we anchor our lives in God’s character?
Joel Beeke, professor of systematic theology, writes, “Spiritual growth begins with knowledge. We must be increasingly filled with the knowledge of Christ as the Agent of the Father’s will. If our spiritual life is a fire burning in our hearts, then doctrinal truth received by grace is the well-seasoned wood that fuels the fire, so that it burns hotter and higher.” A slow, steady fire gives light, but if the fire roars, it also provides warmth. Likewise, Bible reading and study is the means to develop spiritual maturity and godly wisdom. Godly wisdom is the ability to see life from God’s perspective, and react or respond to it with His mind.
Referencing Hebrews 5:11-14, have you become “dull of hearing?” Would you say your diet consists of spiritual milk, or solid food? Are you mature enough to discern truth?
We do not grow as Christians merely by using a spiritual barometer. We grow from the life-transforming renewal of our minds. Matthew Henry said, “Spiritual growth consists most in the growth of the root, which is out of sight. The more we depend upon Christ and draw sap and virtue from him…the more we cast forth our roots.” This spiritual maturity, in turn, comes from actually understanding and learning to apply God’s word to our lives. In doing so, we walk in Him.
Read Ezra 7:6-10. Having been a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses, Ezra is presented as the ideal priest in Israel. His mission was to lead God’s people in worship and holiness. This stemmed from a life of faithfulness. In the living of Ezra’s daily life, what specific words or phrases do you find in verse 10 revealing to us that he earnestly learned and applied what he knew to be true?
Why was Ezra’s expert knowledge of the law badly needed to those who had been exiled for 70 years?
1 Corinthians 8:3
1 Peter 2:2
2 Peter 3:18
How do we benefit today from teachers who have studied the Word vs. those attempts without proper study? Would you consider study of the Bible vital to handling the Word rightly in the teaching or counsel of scriptures? Explain.
What benefits might we find in reading, studying, and teaching the Bible within the community of God’s people, His church?
When Romans 8:28-30 is read alongside 1 Corinthians 8:3 and Galatians 4:9, the people of God clearly responded to his call in faith, and the faith required for justification is illustrated. In the fulfillment of God’s purposes, the redemptive work of Christ (by way of the Spirit) enables the believer. Do you see how fitting it was that Paul wrote these words, himself being a great example of someone who endured a great deal of suffering, yet continued to grow in his faith and love for Christ?
In Colossians 2:3-10, we read a portion of Paul’s appeal for Christian maturity. Where does it indicate the treasures of wisdom and knowledge to be found? In verses 6-7, which phrases describe believers who are alive in Christ?
In verses 4 and 5 of Colossians 2, Paul does not say that the church at Colossae has already been deceived, but from long experience he is familiar with times of attack from the enemy following a work of grace. Can you see where and why such an act could have a devastating effect on both individuals and the church?
Peter and Paul both understood the significance in the fact that Scripture confirms Scripture. In their writings, they make several points about holiness. Peter even quoted God’s holiness commands from several places in Leviticus. As we noted in previous posts, Jesus himself quoted Scripture in support and confirmation. Exhibiting the same humility and integrity, we can confidently build all of our beliefs upon the sufficient Word of God, which proves itself true.
Matthew 11:10, 16-17; 13:14-15; 15:4-9
1 Thessalonians 2:4
1 Peter 1:15-16; 5:5
Although Christians are commanded to share God’s words with others, can you clearly see the importance of doing so graciously,with dignity, honor, and respectfor the God whose holy Word you are sharing? Support your answer.
With interpretation, 2 Timothy 2:15 lays out the need to rightly handle the scriptures. The Greek verb orthotomeo means “to cut straight,” which is used here to refer to the accurate handling of Scripture. The reference here is to plowing, cutting leather, or cutting bricks or stones. Since the word “workman” most often refers to an agricultural worker in the New Testament, the word likely refers to “plowing a straight furrow.” This word serves as a metaphor for doing something carefully, accurately, and precisely. When interpretation is done carefully in Bible reading, study, or teaching, we are rightly handling the Scriptures.
Ezra 1:1-11; 6:8-12; 7:1-28
2 Timothy 2:12-15
Refer back to Ezra 7. Note some important details mentioned in Ezra 7:1-11 regarding Ezra’s study, what he learned, and what he taught. It’s possible that the king, in making the provisions mentioned in Ezra 6:8-12 and 7:22, actually intended to ward off the wrath of God against His kingdom. Nonetheless, we can note some of the benefits from Ezra’s dedication to God and His Law seen in 7:11-25. Identify them.
Did God’s people ultimately gain from Ezra’s study, dedication, and faithful leadership, as “the Lord, the God of our fathers” extended his steadfast love? Support your answer.
In light of Isaiah 60:5-7 and Ezra 1:1, whose hand controlled the blessing of provisions mentioned in Ezra 7:27-28? List these blessings.
In Titus 2:1, we see Paul’s charge to Timothy. When coupled with 2 Timothy 2:12-15, how might this apply to all God’s children? How would you present yourself to God?
Hendrix writes, “You see, it’s one thing to struggle with difficulties in interpretation; it’s another thing to distort the meaning of God’s Word. That’s serious. That’s something He will bring to judgment. So we need to be careful to learn how to interpret Scripture accurately, practically, and profitably.” Hendrix then mentions six pitfalls of interpretation to watch out for:
Misreading the text
Distorting the text
Contradicting the text
It is significant that Paul proclaimed the whole counsel of God, recognizing that everything written in the past was written to still teach us today. This was so that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. He also noted that Israel’s history contains examples that were written as warnings to us. The entirety of the Bible has value for all of us. With careful attention, we can glean important truths from every word it contains.
1 Corinthians 10:1-11
In 1 Corinthians 10:11, Paul sums up his teaching by saying that these things are examples and have been recorded as warnings. It is significant that in the same verse he refers to “the end” as the fulfilment of the ages. The culmination of all past ages having arrived in the coming of Christ has the implication that all previous ages come to their appointed end in him.
Past ages having been completed, their lessons are now teaching us. From this, we might reap the fruits of learning from those events. In verses 1-10, which experiences can you discern as being sins? List them. What lessons can be learned regarding these sins?
Elsewhere in Paul’s writings, the “word of truth” refers to the gospel message. On this basis, some infer that the Word refers specifically to the gospel, not the Scriptures as a whole. However, the connection between 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 4:2 suggests otherwise.
2 Timothy 3:16; 4:2
Reading 2 Timothy 3:16 and 4:2, are you able to identify the proper context of “word of truth” in this passage? Why might the context matter?
Whether reading, studying, or preparing to teach the Bible, the key is the context.
What was the context then?
What is the context now?
What is the truth that remains true, regardless of the cultural context?
Studying culture includes the areas of power, communication, money and economics, ethnicity, gender, generations, religion and worldview, the arts, history and time, place, and resources. If you can discern the accurate, author-intended principles from your reading and study of Scripture, you’ll have some powerful tools to help you apply this biblical truth. You’ll bridge the gap between the ancient world and your own situation with the timeless truth of God’s Word.
The principles of Scripture are universally relevant.
In the work of interpretation and application, we must be cautious of extrabiblical statements that might seem to reflect biblical truth. Persons may be using the same words, or presenting the same concepts that God mentions in His Word, but they may also be filling those words and concepts with completely different meanings. With the reader’s or teacher’s private interpretation comes the obligation to interpret Scripture correctly.
R.C. Sproul penned, “The doctrine of the sola Scriptura does not mean that the Christians are to pay attention only to their personal understanding of the Bible or that we can make the Scriptures mean whatever we want them to mean. After all, Martin Luther is often quoted as saying, ‘The Holy Spirit is no skeptic.’ The meaning of Scripture is not so uncertain that we can all come up with our own views and never know the truth. That would be a skeptical view of divine truth that says it is wholly subjective and objectively unknowable.”
Can you describe God-honoring interpretation and application, as contrasted to poor interpretation and application? Make a chart if needed.
Many times, scriptural teaching can even become distorted when a teacher or writer puts her own spin on it. It’s true that well-intentioned people may have been influenced by unbiblical teaching through various means, and not even be aware of it. But in reality, the Bible tells us that oftentimes men will suppress, deny, and distort the truth even if it is staring them in the face. If we are not rooted in the basics of the Bible, we are more likely to be swept away by half-truths and false doctrine. As a warning, God also tells us through His Word that Satan has been given limited power until Christ’s return. We should not be surprised by His attempt at sabotage.
Isaiah 5:20-21, 24
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
2 Thessalonians 2:3-12
Hebrews 2:7-8; 5:14
2 Peter 2:1-3
1 John 4:1-6
Along with outsiders, the apostle Paul mentions the possibility of people from within the church adopting false teachings and seducing the congregation (Acts 20:30, Romans 16:17, Colossians 2:8). How could this be applied to the church today?
Read Ephesians 4:11-16. How might the Christian woman avoid being “tossed to and fro” by crafty schemes and foolish teachings?
The Bible, being God’s own voice, means that when we dishonor doctrinal truth, we also dishonor God himself. Where in your life is there evidence of being “tossed to and fro” that has weakened your resolve to do what God says in his Word?
Evil often disguises itself as truth. How can we most quickly recognize error?
God does not want us to be spiritual babies: It is important to sit under solid, biblical teaching, and to fellowship with mature Christian women. In reading Hebrews 5:12-14, how might this make us able to discern what is best?
Stop. Pray that the Lord would expose your weakness and dependency on “popular” teaching, catchy phrases, and simple (sometimes comical) illustrations, rather than taking time and effort to seek doctrinal truth. Pray that He might show you where you are lacking discernment, in order to enable correct theological adjustment.
When Paul was meeting with the Ephesian elders, he said, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you.” He gave them everything profitable. Remember, they all had the life struggles we have. They had all the spiritual needs we have. Hence, be careful of what you accept as truth, influencing your own personal interpretation and application of a passage. If not, you risk passing on error. The Word, in and of itself, is the ultimate profitable source. The Word will strengthen the believer.
Identify warnings in the Acts passage. List them.
Sound application must begin with sound interpretation; it begins as soon as we sit down to read the biblical text; it includes our attitudes and our posture toward the Word.
As we reflect on a passage, we need to think about a specific application of the biblical truth to life and ask:
Am I open to hearing what the Spirit is saying to me through the Word about ways I need to adjust my life?
Am I characterized by making adjustments to my life based on God’s Word?
We need to be constantly aware that Scripture may have multiple applications, but we recognize only one best meaning and strict interpretation of Holy Scripture. Essentials for application would be:
a commitment to a high view of Scripture.
recognizing the Bible as our authority for daily living.
a conviction of the profitability of all of Scripture.
an understanding that only what the Bible says is truly important, as we accurately divide and plow into the Word of Truth.
a commitment to correct application of the instruction of the Scripture. This includes going beyond reading the Bible, and actually doing what it says.
In the “actually doing” what the Scriptures teach, how can our awareness of truth become a workroom for the Holy Spirit? Why is this encouraging?
In addition, we must have a willingness to be confined to the author’s intent. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul charges Timothy to be a diligent student of the scriptures, honoring the text in his teaching as he preaches the Word. All teachers of God’s Word automatically assume that same responsibility today.
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
1 Timothy 1:3-20; 6:12; 6:17-21
2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2:18; 4:1-22
Titus 1:1; 1:9-11; 2:1
Do you deny your difficulties with Bible interpretation and application? Do you allow pride to get in the way of consulting credible resources (print or persons)?
Read 2 Timothy Chapter 4. Paraphrase the sections indicated below. Make certain to note Paul’s words of encouragement, exhortation, and warning, and include these words in your paraphrase.
In verses 4:1-8, why was it important for Paul to urge Timothy to preach sound doctrine? What was happening at Ephesus? What event is mentioned in 4:1 to motivate Timothy? How might this motivate us today to handle the Word rightly?
What is the connection in correct interpretation and right application? How does slowly progressing, unchecked poor application take control of your Bible study?
In application of the Scriptures, it is important that we strive to know what is true. We must not contradict the Bible in any form or fashion, understanding that in most cases, the application can be easily seen from the text.
Application is the thoughtful appropriation of biblical truth to our lives – how we take it in, embrace it, and adjust our lives to bring them in line with the truth of God’s Word.
This application can be difficult to do consistently: our sinfulness tries to distort the text, and many of us have also been indirectly trained to think in vague terms rather than specific action. Application will likely take the form of a tangible action, worship, meditation, or adjusting our theology.
How does having an overall understanding of a passage and belief in God help you to think through the appropriation of biblical truth to your life?
In light of this study, identify some passages or biblical stories you now believe you have possibly misinterpreted or misapplied.
While determining your application of the Scriptures, discern what might be controlling your methods of meditation on them. Where is this happening in your life? Would you say your focus is more horizontal or vertical?
The Bible’s grand and glorious narrative helps frame our interpretation. It leads us to a balanced theology. The “big story” helps us to better understand the Bible’s “little stories”: In this sense, we can view the “big story” from above, before viewing the “little stories” from below. Even in our application, we should recognize that the Bible is one overarching saga.
1 Timothy 4:1-8
2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17
2 Peter 1:19-2:3
Which overarching theme of the Bible is seen in Matthew 5:17-18? Why would this be an important passage in interpretation and application?
List specific instructions in Paul’s charge to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-8. What is the warning found here, which applies to Bible teachers today?
Can you see the scope of application in 2 Timothy 3:16-17? Paraphrase this passage.
In James 1:22-25, do we learn that application should be taken from our hearing, reading, and study of the Bible? Do you find a warning in this passage? Explain.
Which warnings do you find in 2 Peter 1:19 – 2 Peter 2:3?
What might be the implications of the warnings found throughout this study? How does this encourage you to be diligent in proper technique of your personal Bible reading and study?
The Word of God is eternal and unchanging, but our world is not. Therefore, living out God’s truth demands that we plug it into our particular set of modern circumstances. However, we do not change the truth to fit our cultural agenda. We change our application of the truth in light of our needs, while remaining thoughtful and diligent about which aspects of a biblical passage are meant to be transferable to us.
Teachers of the Bible must handle God’s Word accurately as the “workmen.” We must emphasize what Scripture itself emphasizes, and focus on what Scripture itself focuses on. Although it is true that mishandling Scripture has eternal consequences, it is also true that handling the Scriptures rightly comes with reward.
2 Timothy 2:15
“Pooling of knowledge is edifying to the church; pooling of ignorance is destructive,” R.C. Sproul wisely penned.
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank your Bible literacy? Do you believe it has improved since you first began this study? What difference might that make to both yourself and others? Pray for the Lord’s conviction of where and how you need to fight biblical illiteracy.
In this study, we have established that God expects the believer to seek and obtain biblical knowledge. Why would only seeking horizontal, worldly knowledge be insufficient?
What areas of your life show (or lack) evidence of biblical awareness? Where are you knowledgeable and biblically aware, but your heart isn’t fully engaged? How might you be encouraged by God’s intervening grace?
In this series, we’ve established our goal: in applying sound doctrine and using proper technique, in reading and studying the Bible, we must have an intimate acquaintance with the mind of God. He has revealed all we need to live a life of godliness in commands and promises (illustrated in and through the lives of biblical saints and in Jesus supremely). Together, let’s continually feast on His words! As we do so, we will begin to slowly discover the rich treasure of God’s will in every situation and every circumstance of life.
Is it possible that past or present biblical illiteracy has caused you to begin to believe things that are not true, and in turn say things that are not true? Are there lies that might have been rooted in your past theology that have affected your actions? What lies could you be currently repeating? Be specific.
How is your view of Scripture, and God’s involvement in your study, connected to your daily life? How is your view of Scripture connected to your obedience to the great commission?
Our lifelong journey into knowing and loving God fuels growth, as we allow ourselves to be conformed to the knowledge and love of the Scriptures. The earthly reward of handling the Bible carefully (that which is God’s voice) is to enjoy the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: And the heavenly reward will be so much more!
An inability to understand the Bible obviously hurts the church, but it also hinders our efforts in furthering the gospel. Our purpose in these disciplines is not justreading for the sake of enjoyment or to havea Bible study, but it is so that we might know God more deeply, and ultimately, that we might walk away better equipped to join Him in His work, telling the nations how great our God is. Therefore, the goal of Bible literacy, in both reading and study, is to give God glory in making Jesus Christ known in a greater way.
Reflect on what you’ve gained in this study.
My goals after completing this study are…
As a result of my studies, I hope…
My prayer following the completion of this study is…