June 26, 2017

How to Study the Bible with Both Mind and Heart

Up until a few years ago, I wasn’t very adept at studying the Bible on my own. I knew some basic principles, like reading the introductory material and checking the overall structure of the book before diving in. But I thrived on commentaries and concordances and notes from sound theologians, rather than understanding God’s Word for myself first, then exploring what others had said about it.

It’s embarrassing to admit. After all, I was raised in a Christian home, attended Christian school for over twenty years, and sat under sound biblical preaching in my local church. I knew what the “right answers” sounded like and could usually tell when something was off, yet I couldn’t always explain why or pinpoint the exact details of what was wrong.

I was trained to recognize truth — which is critical, and I am so thankful for that training — but I didn’t really know how to reason it out on my own without first turning to Matthew Henry or John MacArthur or name-your-favorite-theologian.

When I researched material for Touching the Hem, I began to realize how weak my Bible study abilities were. I dove into the words of prominent theologians before ever carefully sifting through the plain text of God’s Word on my own — kind of like memorizing flashcards in school without ever learning why those answers are correct.

It became rather obvious that I relied far too heavily on commentaries and other study tools — things which are good and necessary, but cannot take the place of personal study and individual biblical literacy.

Being aware of my great inadequacy, I turned my sights toward seminary and enrolled in a class on hermeneutics, which is the process of biblical interpretation. That helped me better understand the literary and contextual elements of Scripture, the common grammatical and logical fallacies often committed when interpreting Scripture, and the specific distinctions between various genres (e.g., parables vs. historical narrative, law vs. wisdom literature). Side note: if you’re interested in learning more, I’d highly recommend the book Invitation to Biblical Interpretation.

How to Study the Bible with Both Mind and Heart - Biblical Literacy Matters

Unfortunately, I have a feeling I’m not the only who feels inadequate when it comes to Bible study. You may have no interest in attending seminary, and that’s okay. As eager as I am to continue my seminary education (as finances allow), I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not necessary for spiritual maturity.

But learning to interpret the Bible accurately is something every Christian must do! After all, every one of us is commanded to rightly handle the word of truth. (tweet this)

Thankfully, there are other tools besides seminary classes that can help us learn how to do that. One such tool is Jen Wilkin’s book, Women of the Word, which explores the importance of Bible literacy and outlines the major components necessary for profitable study.

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds

I’m usually skeptical about books targeted to women, since they often focus too heavily on emotional approaches and, quite frankly, lack depth. But I was pleasantly surprised at the substance and insight it offered, and appreciated the overarching focus on engaging the mind before the heart when approaching Scripture.

Women in the Word combines sound biblical reasoning with practical steps, helpful personal anecdotes, and even humor (ever heard of the Xanax approach to reading Scripture?) to explain the importance of biblical literacy and help anyone learn to study the Bible better.

Even someone like me, who’s been in the Word for over thirty years.

The book begins with a simple question that we all would be wise to consider: when you approach Scripture are you looking for truth about yourself, or truth about God? Too often we approach it like Moses did the burning bush, wanting to know what it can do for us but neglecting to see what it teaches about God. For instance, I’m studying through Proverbs right now and it’s easy to see what it says about how I should live — but the more important truth to understand is what it says about God, and then considering how I should live in light of that truth.

How to Study the Bible with Both Mind and Heart

The next major section considers the issue of Bible literacy, and our usual approaches to reading God’s Word — for instance: flipping the Bible open to a random passage each day (not reading it systematically), doing only topical studies (not reading it contextually), or relying too heavily on other people’s words about the Bible (not reading it directly).

It’s easy to think we’re getting sufficiently fed by reading selectively, but not all contact with Scripture builds Bible literacy!

With that much-needed foundation established for how we approach Scripture, the next five chapters outline some very practical steps for digging carefully through the depths of God’s Word — what Wilkin calls the “5 P’s of Bible Study” (bonus points for alliteration!):

  • Purpose: seeing the “big picture” landscape of the Bible
  • Perspective: doing biblical archaeology to understand the original setting
  • Patience: allowing ourselves to feel “lost” or confused as we begin
  • Process: reading multiple times before using any study tools
  • Prayer: seeking spiritual guidance before, during, and after our time in God’s Word

Lest it all seem too theoretical or abstract, Wilkin shares many examples of using these principles to study the book of James. I found those concrete applications very helpful. She also includes a short section for Bible teachers (or those who will be someday), which considers various aspects of preparation and delivery of a Bible study lesson or curriculum. As I prepare to serve as a missionary and pastor’s wife, I anticipate many opportunities to teach other women, and her suggestions will certainly be beneficial.

How to Study the Bible with Both Mind and Heart - We Become What We Behold

Whether you’re new to personal Bible study, or you’ve been doing it for thirty years, I’d highly recommend this bookIt’s a resource I will gladly recommend to every Christian woman (some men might appreciate it too!), and plan to refer back to it in the future as I develop a more diligent habit of studying God’s Word.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Also, I received this book for free from Crossway in exchange for providing an honest review. All opinions expressed herein are completely my own.


Comments

  1. I really really liked Jen’s book! A friend gave it to me and I highlighted a lot 🙂 I’ve been wanting to do one of her bible studies too…especially the Hebrews one she was going through recently. All of her materials are free online through her church I think. But I’m finishing up a study on Psalm 119 so didn’t want to take anything else on. One of my favorite parts of her book is when she wrote about the metanarrative of Scripture and how to consider how each book/letter fits into the grand scheme of the bible. Loved that! Her methods are also helping me study a psalm each year that corresponds with my birthday. I’ve been studying Psalm 36 this past year using her methods and in a few months will do something similar with Psalm 37 once I turn 37 🙂 Thankful for these resources.

    • Kim, I discovered her podcast on podbean, and she has free links to the study pages there too. I listened to one after reading through part of Judges, and loved it. I would like to work through one of her OT studies, but I just started Proverbs in January and really want to get through that first. However that might take me a year or two, at the rate I’m going right now! 🙂 Also, I love your idea of studying a new Psalm each year! It’s not too late for me to do one for this birthday month, right? 🙂

    • PS. Here’s the link: http://www.jenwilkin.podbean.com/

      • Thanks for the link to her podcast! I’d also like to do the Judges study sometime soon maybe. I know what you mean about staying in Proverbs for a while…I’m finishing up an 8-month study of Psalm 119. And I’m sure I could still study more. And oh yes, you could start studying Psalm 32 at anytime in your bday year 🙂 I love that psalm and it’s on my “to memorize” list 🙂