Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Inductive Bible study

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?


Erin said...

Wow, this was a heartening post! I come from a background steeped in IBS. To this day, it guides my own personal study. However, it has been painfully difficult for people to engage with it, at least in any rigorous form in my church (which is largely AA, interestingly). Kudos to you for not letting the word be captured by method. The press for IBS betrays many of western evangelicalism's modernistcommitments.

Joey said...

Thanks for the comment.

It has been a cause of endless frustrations with our fellow Western missionaries to teach the locals to use IBS as the primary approach in Bible Study and they are asking the students to do charting as their homework. But as expected, they simply could not do the it. It is indeed rigorous and I agree it betrays many of western evangelicalism modernist commitments which we in the east are fortunately or unfortunately spared.

Thanks again.

Charlie said...

I have already spoken, in person, with Joey about his blog comments but I want to post my comments on this website to stay true to the original intent: to have a fruitful discussion about the IBS method. I am one of the “western, independent missionaries” Joey referred to as holding the view that IBS is the only valid method of studying the Scriptures.

First, I would agree partially with Joey that IBS is a very difficult “church planting or evangelistic” method. However, there are many successful church planting teams in Asia (working with the “Asian mind” as Joey alludes to) who are using a form of IBS. The main support one needs in using the IBS method is the teaching of the Holy Spirit and since a non-believer cannot spiritually discern the Scriptures it would be virtually impossible for them to use IBS and achieve the desired results. IBS, especially the adaptation of the method that we are teaching to pastors and church leaders in Southeast Asia, is a “bible study” method not an evangelistic method.

Second, although an important goal of IBS is to learn and put into practice what is learned, there are some other overriding goals such as pastoral training so they may teach their flock they have been entrusted with, discipleship of pastors and other believers, and equipping the saints.

Third, although “bible storying” may be the preferred method in the mission field, it does not mean that this method is producing true “born-again” Christians that see their sin and need for a savior. Nor does this method produce well grounded Christians who can effectively stop drinking the milk of the word and move on to the meat. Are we to allow the “alleged” lack of analytical capacity in the Asian mind from truly learning God’s Word and become on fire Christians that can share the gospel of Jesus Christ and disciple others? Bible storying is also proven to be a light evangelistic method, full of emotion and experienced based teaching. This sounds very much like the seeker-sensitive churches springing up everywhere in the world. It also sounds very much like the itching ears Paul warns Timothy about when the last days are upon us. We are no doubt in the last day’s apostate church, the church of Laodicea, producing lukewarm Christians in the church. Shame on us if we don’t fight the good fight and we stop trying to train people to understand God’s Word, love God’s Word, share God’s Word and fight for the truth of God’s Word.

Fourth, when it comes to “bible study” (not evangelism), I would like to challenge people to share a more important or effective method; one that does not involve some form of IBS: observing the text verse by verse, interpreting the text and applying the interpretation to one’s life. Sure there are other bible study methods (i.e. topical, deductive, springboard, etc.) but they all have flaws and are truly not more important or effective.

Fifth, besides using commentaries or sitting under other pastors, what bible study method doesn’t put the bible in the mercy of the reader? However, as Joey should well know, the pastors we are teaching don’t have the luxury of commentaries and other pastors close by. They’re lucky if they have a dictionary! I believe this method, although tough for them, is the best method that can teach them effectively when they’re all alone, just them and the Holy Spirit. Again, I would challenge someone to show us a method that does not have flaws and does not need the luxuries we have in the West. So IBS puts the bible in the hands of the Holy Spirit who teaches the student, what could be more effective than that.

Sixth, as far as biases and filling in the gap, IBS actually trains you to not allow your biases to creep in and admonishes you against just filling in the gap. I would agree, any time you do that your treading on un-solid ground.

Lastly, in response to the 2 comments, we have not had “endless” frustrations, but it has been frustrating taking longer than we thought for the students to have the light bulb come on. But praise the Lord, after charting for awhile “all” the students are now correctly charting and starting to enjoy learning from this method. So there is fruit and we see that they will have the tools needed to go in some of the remotest parts of the world and effectively study and share the Word of God. I wasn’t sure what “evangelicalism modernist commitments” was so I looked it up and it equates to Liberal Christianity which I don’t subscribe to.

Thanks Joey for meeting today.

Joey said...

First, I want to make it clear that I am not against IBS. It is the method I am using in my personal study and whenever I study certain passages I use for teaching and preaching although my post would appear like it at first reading. Of course, I use other tools if I want to really understand what the author’s original intent to the original audience at that time. This information is not readily available if you are doing IBS independent from other sources. This may include using Hebrew/Greek which Charlie would agree shed new and exciting light to the passage you are studying. Which as you have said are not readily available to the people we are ministering to and in that case they have to make do to what tools are available for them. And most of the time, it’s just a dictionary in their own language, the Bible, prayer with the aid of the Holy Spirit.

And yes, when I said “independent western missionaries,” I have you in mind just because we are working closely and you are always in our thoughts and prayers. But more so, independent missionaries like us have the freedom to use method that we deem best. This is a luxury that missionaries sent by their denominational sending body do not have. They may use IBS in their personal Bible study but they are asked to use the method that endorsed by their sending body.

This post may appear that I have the last word about the effectiveness of the method. But this is not true, my sentence is full of thoughts and tentativeness as I use the word “it seems’. What I am saying and Charlie would agree with this, that any method is not foolproof. It can be misused and abused. And I tell you, I saw it happened (not from you guys though). Can an unbeliever use IBS and came up with a correct interpretation and application? Maybe yes but the probability is very nil. Can an atheist use this? Maybe not but again he can if he wanted to and obviously his conclusions more or less would be to come with some facts against the existence of a good god, unless of course, he is convicted by the Holy Spirit.

If done improperly and with too much confidence with our own ability, the tendency is to treat the Bible just like another documents to be studied, then for me, we treat it as if it is dead, static and frozen. But we don’t treat the Bible like that; we do not depend on our competency to make sense of what we read in the Scripture. We believe that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible and He is the one that illuminates and teaches us about God’s Word. Thus it is living and dynamic, what makes Bible study exciting. The Holy Spirit always has something new for us when we study the Bible. Maybe I was wrong in not putting the Holy Spirit to the picture in original post (and I apologize), but I am a Christian who strongly believes that without the help of the Holy Spirit, we are helpless.

I single out denominational biases as the main thing that creeps when we do IBS, this because it is true and it does happen. Why would a Baptist and a Charismatic study the same passage and come out with different conclusions? Is it possible to read the Scripture without biases? Yes, it is and this is what we should strive to do. But most of the times we study the Bible to prove or disprove particular belief and if we do IBS with that attitude biases would surely creep in.

With regards to filling the gap, one of my teachers told me that filling the gap is like hearing a phone conversation, where you only listen to the other person’s responses and you are left conjecturing about what the person on the other line was saying. We may be correct or maybe be totally wrong in our conjecture. But it makes me sad when a Bible teacher fills in the gap and the listeners take the “filler” as true. One example of this is the Gap Theory, which is I think is aptly named, it fills the gap and it is a theory. By the way it is not thought up by Christians who do IBS but by Bible scholars. But my questions are how many ordinary well meaning Christians actually believe that it is biblical? How much historical events some Christians believe had transpired during the gap? I agree with you that this is treading on un-solid ground.

And yes, it is a hyperbolic overstatement on my part, “endless” frustrations. All frustrations have to end somehow, sometime.:) My sentence may be vague, but the frustrations do not refer to the IBS alone but to the students who do not seem to get it as we expected them to (we have other frustrations as well beside teaching IBS). But I want you to know that I am very happy and encouraged that the students are learning and enjoying their studies now.

Thank you for engaging me in this conversation. I want you to know that this blog is just an avenue where I post my thoughts, sometimes some questions that I could get out of my mind that needs to be answered and discussed. This is where I expressed some critical thinking to things I strongly believe. Usually this makes me stronger to hold what I believe is true and learn to reason out why it is so. I just hope other would join the discussion but sad to say I only have few readers.

And yes Charlie, it was a delightful meeting.