I first learned about Inductive Bible Study when I was a first year student at the seminary. It was a requirement for our preaching class. It is describe as a method that uses the Bible as the main source of information about the Bible. There are three basic parts to inductive Bible study (1) observation: What does it say? (2) Interpretation: What does it mean? (3) Application: How does the meaning apply to me? This is done through verse-by-verse and analysis and defining each word within it. Thus if we learn what the portion of the Scripture means then we can put it into practice which is the ultimate goal of the Bible study.
When I attended a seminary on church planting few years ago, IBS was the method being endorsed to be used in starting a church. Evidently this method did not work in rural places and tribal people because these people are not used to analytical thinking. A change of method in Bible study was introduced by different mission organizations. With the emergence of narrative theology, Bible storying is now the preferred method being used in mission and church planting.
The verdict has been that it is more effective for rural villages and tribal people than the IBS. Considering the culture and worldview of these people, I think the assessment is correct.
In the mission field, there are independent missionaries who still hold the idea that IBS is the only valid method of studying the scripture. I am not surprised at all. They come here with an experience that IBS work effectively from where they come from usually the West. But for many Asian people who are not trained to think analytically, this method seems not to work.
I think IBS is important and I value it as a tool for Bible study. But definitely it is not the most important and the only method.
Moreover, it seems to me that IBS put the Bible in the mercy of the reader. Too often in the evangelical circles the Word of God is viewed as something static and frozen, waiting to be analyzed and dissected.
Biases creep in when one approaches difficult passages. Instead of accepting the most probable meaning of the passage that go against one’s bias, the passage is being interpreted instead with the possible meaning that best fit to the denominational belief.
I observed that in IBS there are lots of instances when the reader tries to fill in the gap. Filling in the gap is not bad. However, it may be wrong and usually based on extra biblical sources that again harmonize with one’s denominational teaching. The sad part about this is that the “filler” sometimes became to be accepted as true.
I talked with my friends, fellow Asian missionaries, together with local Pastors and we agree that IBS is indeed a good tool but a question hangs in the back of our mind: Is this method appropriate for us?