We’re proud to release our latest book, A Restless Age, by Austin Gohn. Read more about the new book here and some of its endorsements.
Am I the only who feels this way? I wondered for the umpteenth time. I was in the midst of a conversation with friends lamenting their iPhones. The complaints were familiar: our smartphones make us more self-focused, short-tempered, less able to interact with real people, eager for the approval of others, unable to read and communicate in-depth. The woes are limitless.
And I don’t disagree. I too have given over too much power to my phone. It has shaped me in a number of ways I’m not proud of.
But my secret thought in that conversation and others like it is this: I like my phone. I think it’s more helpful than hurtful—even (maybe especially) in my spiritual disciplines. Am I a fool to say I think it has actually aided gospel growth in my life?
In our effort to distance ourselves from the pitfalls of these devices, are we missing what a blessing they can be?
BRAND NEW TECHNOLOGY, SAME OLD PROBLEM
Throughout history, people have sounded the alarm every time some new technology hits the scene:
Socrates worried writing would cause our minds to grow lazy;
There were cries of information overload and chaos when the printing press was invented;
The distribution of newspapers caused concern that people would no longer get their news directly from the pulpit;
Worried parents thought that teaching reading in schools would certainly wreak havoc on the minds of their children;
Later generations worried the advent of radio and television would wreak havoc on their children’s ability to read.
Today, you can’t go on the Internet without seeing headlines bemoaning the connectivity and technology of this age, too. Those concerns are valid. Certainly, we should not consume new technology without carefully examining the ramifications.
Paul’s warning to the Ephesians is useful for us: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).
THE CAPACITY FOR GOOD AND EVIL
Just as the printing press can print the Word of God or pornography, our phones can deliver good or evil. With the Holy Spirit’s help and the accountability of a Christian community (and perhaps the implementation of some digital boundaries), we can choose to use our phones for our edification and sanctification, rather than for our destruction.
Our phones can be put to work to help us to obey this command in our current age: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
They can help us find wisdom and gain understanding, which is a blessing (Prov. 3:13). They can help us “do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thess. 5:15).
10 WAYS PHONES CAN BE USED FOR OUR GOOD AND GOD’S GLORY
The following are ten ways smartphones can be tools for our good and even God’s glory.
1. Hearing the Bible. Perhaps the most important way our phones can help sanctify us is by providing the Word of God through various Bible apps. While paper Bibles should not be replaced, Bible apps can provide customized daily reading plans, nourishment in a pinch, and add oomph to our quiet times. As I make my way through my Bible-in-a-Year plan, my app audibly reads along with me. In this way, not only am I reading the Word of God in my physical Bible, but I’m also hearing it as I go. This is especially helpful to me in the early morning when my mind is prone to wander.
2. Memorizing Scripture with voice memos. Storing God’s Word in our hearts (Ps. 119:11) is a sweet tool for sanctification. Using a voice memo app can greatly enhance Scripture memory. Reciting memorized portions into our phones allows us to immediately check our work against the written Word. The immediate feedback is excellent for catching mistakes and ensuring we rightly memorize Scripture.
3. Reading more books. Various apps allow us broad access to more books than in any other age. It’s normal today to travel frequently and commute long distances. That potentially wasted time can be redeemed as we listen to or read books we could not access prior to our smartphones. I am deeply indebted to Christian authors whose words have shaped me and library apps that have made wide reading affordable.
4. Growing through Christian blogs and websites. Smartphones allow us to access Christian blogs (like this one) and websites every day. Having the Internet in the palm of our hands allows us to wrestle with even deep theological issues at a moment’s notice. Whereas we would have needed to make a trip to a seminary library in the past, we can now immediately peruse a variety of sites and articles to help us gain commentary on a given Bible passage, theme, or difficulty.
5. Listening to a wide range of teachers and preachers. Many disciples find podcasts and sermons invaluable for growth and learning. Podcast topics vary widely from hearing news from a Biblical worldview to theological discussions, encouragement for moms to the history of racial issues in the church, and wisdom for Christian living. Access to a wide range of preachers and teachers from multiple theological backgrounds helps us keep growing both inside and outside our typical doctrinal bubbles.
6. Connecting with friends and family. Depending on one’s life stage or calling, texting can be a lifeline for Christian fellowship. Missionaries serving overseas, pastors or their wives reaching out to friends in their shoes in another city, or even new moms who need encouragement but don’t have time to meet or call a friend, can all benefit from receiving and sending encouraging texts. In our global, busy lifestyles, texting allows us to type out our prayers for one another. It can be a sweet and intimate way to keep in touch and build one another up.
7. Remembering names, prayer needs, and important dates. Phones can be a practical assistant, helping us practice hospitality on Sundays when we gather for corporate worship. We can immediately record the name of a newcomer to church right after we shake their hands. We can refresh our memories the following Sunday and greet them by name, making a warm and inviting impact. We can have our phones handy to record someone’s prayer request so we don’t forget it as soon as they walk away. Additionally, alarms can be set on our calendar apps to help us remember to pray for a surgery, an important test, or other need in our community.
8. Accessing special groups. While it’s no substitute for face-to-face friendship, Facebook can provide access to specific groups and ministries around the world. I’ve been able to connect with other adoptive parents, missionaries, ex-pats, and Christian women wherever I have lived around the world. These special niche relationships haven’t been available near me at certain times, and the online alternatives have been a source of strength and encouragement. Additionally, we can keep up with missionaries in various contexts through their secret online groups, which provide updates and prayer needs.
9. Understanding your community. Social media apps allow us to know what others in our communities are drawn to or hoping for. Based on others’ posts and what they’re chatting about, we can keep a finger on the pulse of what matters to those who attend our church, Bible study, or neighborhood fellowship. In this way, we can be better prepared for false teaching or false gospels when they arise, or fads that aren’t biblical. Social media allows us to be prepared in advance and contribute a gospel-centered voice to a conversation that might otherwise lack it.
10. Building one another up. Group texts are the way young adults communicate. Rarely do people call one another or use email. Texts are the best way to stay abreast of what is happening in the lives of our community members. Texts can be an excellent way to share joys and sorrows and prayer needs. They’re also a great way to coordinate group meetings, meals for people in need, and more. It’s nearly impossible to stay involved in relationships today without texting.
There is indeed a way to use our phones that will help us “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10).
Smartphones can be a powerful tool for our growth. Let’s consider how we might put them to work for our good and God’s glory.
 I am indebted to this article for this historical information. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2010/02/dont_touch_that_dial.html
Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters, and has served as a missionary for nearly two decades. She and her husband serve with Pioneers International and planted Redemption Parker, an Acts 29 church. Her passion is leading women into a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. Her book, Enough About Me: Find Lasting Joy in the Age of Self, is forthcoming with Crossway in 2020. Read more of Jen’s writing on her website or follow her on Twitter.
I still remember my first hermeneutics class, where I learned how to interpret the Bible. We were required to take one through my university. I was not excited to spend a semester learning what I assumed I already knew. I recall being stunned as I learned that I was far from reading my Bible correctly! I quickly found that I knew nothing of the context from which any of the biblical stories came from, nor had I ever even taken the time to look for contextual clues through careful study. Questions like, “Where does this passage occur in the book?” or “Who is the author speaking to?” had never crossed my mind. But once I learned some basic Bible study tools, everything seemed new and no text felt off-limits or unapproachable.
Recently, Crossway released new research and infographics that revealed people’s bible study habits. As a Bible teacher, I was shocked to see how many books of the scriptures go completely unread because they're hard to understand.
With countless Bible studies are available for churchgoers, this shouldn’t be something we have to grapple with. Yet biblical illiteracy remains pervasive among us.
Perhaps that's because we teachers too often assume people understand the importance of Bible study. Why should people learn to study the Bible? After all, it's difficult to understand ancient cultures and multiple genres.
WHY WE SHOULD STUDY THE BIBLE
Why do we want our people to study the Bible? Because the Bible yields its treasure to those who dig for it. Too often we take a shallow approach to reading Scripture: we want the application without the work, the easy-to-grasp imperatives without the hearty parables, the cozy promises without the uncomfortable truths. Christians should study the Bible to know God deeply. It is a book filled with the glories that teach, reproof, correct, and train us (1 Tim. 3:16), but it is ultimately a book about God and what he is like (Luke 24:27).
As G. K. Beale’s popular work states, “We become what we behold, we become what we worship.” We are formed by the things we do, by the liturgies we participate in, and one of these things that can form us into disciples of his words is the careful study of Scripture. This is why love must be what drives us to the text. Then our study will formational instead of just educational. Disciples are, by definition, learners, and that learning should change transfer across creed and into conduct. Doctrine must motivate practice. Truth has to move from our head to our hearts and actions.
As we seek to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27), our answer is to submit to be shaped by the author of life abundant. His words and his Spirit given to us are what guide us, as they point us consistently back to be like Christ.
A CALL TO BIBLICAL LITERACY
I shouldn’t have had to wait until a hermeneutics course to have at least some tools to study Scripture. Christian universities don’t bear the weight of training church members in biblical literacy—churches do. My local church should have equipped me with the basic tools for reading, understanding, and applying the foundational text of our faith.
Biblical literacy helps us more clearly recognize the gospel as it is reflected across all of Scripture. Even in portions of the Old Testament where it seems the difference between their culture and ours is too foreign and unfamiliar; Jesus, covenantal love and grace have abounded since the beginning. And that affects how we read scripture as a whole.
WRONGLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH
Many of us could tell horror stories of passages being skewed, and the marks the false interpretations leave on the lives they touched. Books like Finding the Love of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin unpack the many ways we have tried and failed to read God’s Word. You will no doubt find your reading habits implicated in some way, just like mine were.
But we can’t press on in learning to study if we don’t first know what we’re doing wrong. If being told that your way of studying and understanding has been wrong causes you a twinge of pain, this may be because it has become an idol in your own way of making Jesus out to be who you’d prefer him to be, rather than who he actually is presented to be in Scripture.
Hold fast, friends. Don’t let this warning deter you from stepping foot into what he has to offer you in his Word.
So many resources are readily available to understand the context and background from where the words of Scripture were written as well as resources on how to see meaning and application from them. Books like the aforementioned Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin, Asking the Right Questions by Matthew Harmon, and One-to-One by David Helm all outline helpful ways to approach the text. Online resources like stepbible.org, blueletterbible.com, and luminabible.org aid with things like cross-references and comparing translations of the Bible. Websites like bibleodyssey.org and thebibleproject.com can give you a feel for the history of the people and the literary structures within the book you may be reading.
TAKE UP YOUR SWORD
Teaching your people that these resources are easily accessible to them is a comfort, and helping them to test and discern these resources is so fruitful. A Sunday morning understanding of the Bible is simply not enough for the battle that wages from Monday to Saturday. We need to be able to readily approach scripture each day of the week.
There are a lot of voices out in our world, and we desperately need a whole body fighting together—and that means each of us must know how to fight. You wouldn’t send soldiers into combat without them knowing how to use their weapons; likewise, we shouldn’t send believers into the world ill-equipped to wield the double-edged sword of the word they have been handed (Heb. 4:12). Together, rightly handling the truth, we can be church bodies filled with the true and good news of the gospel, as seen page after page in God’s Word, and this should make a difference not only within our churches but in the world around us.
When we know how to read and reflect on Scripture, the Bible studies we lead and the discussions we have gain greater depth. We begin to see how a devotional that shies away from hard texts limits and stifles our spiritual growth. We see how shallow study gives a limited view of the magnificent depths of our great God!
Most importantly, though, Scripture provides us with hope. Scripture shows us the gospel. The Torah, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles, Revelation all point to knowing and treasuring the triune God. To know that God has spoken to our hearts and minds through his inspired Word ought to be a comfort to us. Knowing how to approach passages in their context and apply them faithfully to our lives shows us how to really recognize the hope we have in Christ. The more clearly we can read and glean truth from God’s Word, the more hope can take root in our hearts.
Christian, learning to read the Bible is ultimately up to you since each one of us will one day give an account to God of how we spent our days. I implore you: learn to rightly handle the Word of truth. Learn to study the good book for yourself. Don’t give up when there are so many tools to help you learn. Don’t give up when there are pearls on every page.
Alexiana Fry (M. Div.) is a wife and associate Women’s Director at Crossroads Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her passion and call are to see the church make whole disciples, pursuing the Gospel in the everyday mundane of life. She also finds herself to be highly caffeinated and blogging regularly at mygivingofthanks.com.
As the season of Advent comes into view, we wanted to invite our readers to pick up our resource, A Guide for Advent: The Arrival of King Jesus. With essays that will help you focus on the meaning and anticipation of the Advent season, this guide will help you walk closer to Christ as the day we celebrate his birth draws close. Enjoy this excerpt from our Executive Director, Jeremy Writebol, and pick up the ebook or paperback in time for the first Sunday of Advent, December 3.
The Greatest Fear
What is the single greatest fear that most people have about the Advent season, especially Christmas Day? I doubt it has to do with finding the perfect gift. Nor does it seem like the inevitable holiday weight-gain would rank as the greatest fear. Debates over religion and politics at the dinner table might earn a higher rank but even those fights are nothing compared to a deeper fear of the soul.
I believe it to be the lack of presence. Not a lack of presents (or gifts) but a lack of presence. No one wants to be alone during this season. We sing songs about being home for Christmas. Many Christmas films riff on the theme of being separated from family and loved ones at Christmas. We cower at the thought of waking up to ourselves with no lit tree, no joyful laughter, and with nobody to share the day. Consider the very ghosts that haunted Scrooge in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, they haunted him with lonely Christmases. Studies indicate that depression hits widows and widowers deepest at the holidays. I can almost guess that a full 98% of people reading this article would prefer to have someone, even if they didn’t really like them, to be with on Christmas over spending it with no one at all.
What is it about Advent that reveals this fear in almost all of us? If we look at the very nature of what it means we will find the very reason being physically alone during this season troubles so many. At its core it is more than just remembering the coming of God into our existence, Advent is about the actual presence of God in our existence. It’s the one season that reminds us that God is with us. So, when we consider a season that tells us God is with us and yet functionally experience it in loneliness a massive discord hits. The discord, for most, isn’t with God. It’s within ourselves. We should be experiencing presence. We should be with others and God should be with us.
Presence on the Way
Four hundred years is a long time to wait. The United States of America has barely existed for half of that time. It would be nearly impossible to understand the absence and silence from God for that amount of time. However, that is exactly where the people of Israel were. National culture and identity would go through an immense rewriting if it had been four hundred years since you had a prophetic word from the national center of worship activity. Certainly brief and dim glimpses of recovery and hope came and recharged everyone’s expectations but they were just that, brief and dim. Sure, they had the prophetic words of old to lean on. Isaiah did promise Emmanuel, even if that was seven hundred years ago.
Then, rumors started cropping up. Angelic visitations occurred. Barren old women conceived. Kings from the East traveled West. A nation immigrated within itself because of a census. A virgin was with child. Then, the rumors died down. Things went back to normal for another thirty years until a shabbily dressed man like Elijah began to speak for God in the wilderness. He was no respecter of persons and called kings, priests, and publicans to repent. A nation finally received a prophetic word: “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is present. God is with us. Emmanuel has come.”
Yes, Emmanuel, God with us. He was attested to be God by his words and works by doing things only God could do. God with us possessing authority to drive out sin, devils, and death. God with us doing justice, loving the outcast and the stranger. God with us dinning with the drunkards, the harlots, and the sinners. God with us clothed in the material flesh of our bodies. Emmanuel experienced the physical limitations, pains, and agonies of our condition. God with us bearing the wrath of God in our place for our offenses against God and taking our very own death-blow. God with us being laid in a tomb dead for three days, he, God with us, was miraculously raised to glorious new life again by the power of God–securing resurrection life for all who trust in him. God with us sent his eternal presence to indwell and empower us for lives of glory and mission. He hasn’t left us, in fact, God with us has come, became flesh, and lived in our very domain and gifted us his eternal presence so we would always be with him.
Jeremy Writebol is the Executive Director of GCD. He is the husband of Stephanie and father of Allison and Ethan. He serves as the lead campus pastor of Woodside Bible Church in Plymouth, MI. He is also an author and contributor to several GCD Books including everPresent and That Word Above All Earthly Powers. He writes personally at jwritebol.net.
Today we are re-releasing one of our most popular and helpful books, Sent Together by Brad Watson. Sent Together is helpful for both leaders and churches looking for wise and practitioner tested strategies to make disciples through community. The Second Edition includes updated content and has been thoroughly edited. If you have not picked up Sent Together today is an excellent time to get this into the hands of the leaders you are equipping to see gospel-centered discipleship move forward in your city.
Pick up a Kindle or paperback copy here.
Jesus does not simply call us to be a lovely community together, but he sends us out to our neighborhoods, towns, and cities to declare and demonstrate the gospel. In fact, the gospel beckons men and women to take up the call of leading and starting communities that are sent like Jesus.
In Sent Together, Brad Watson helps leaders discover what it means to start communities centered on the gospel and mission. By exploring the gospel motivations that send leaders to start missional communities, Watson gives readers a framework for the purpose and ways of building a community that is deepening its understanding of the gospel, while also sharing it. Sent Together will serve as a field guide for leaders and training guide for those called to start missional communities.
Brad A. Watson enjoys encouraging, challenging, and helping followers of Jesus to live on mission in community by helping them connect the gospel with its implications to their daily lives.Brad serves as an equipping elder of Soma Culver City in Los Angeles, California, where he lives with his wife and their three children. Globally, he has the privilege of coaching and resourcing church leaders on how to form gospel-centered communities that love God and serve their cities.
Brad is the author of the Together series of missional books (GCD Books) and co-author of Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection (Zondervan). He also serves as a board member of Gospel Centered Discipleship. Connect with Brad at BradAWatson.com where he writes about community, mission, coaching, and leadership.
I have some formal education but not as much as others. I don’t have a PhD. I’m not a professor. I’m entertained by mindless T.V. shows and video games on my iPhone. If asked to do a math problem I freeze, blackout, then vomit. However, I’ve recently become aware of how much the Bible actually pushes the importance of serious biblical study. “Yeah,” you may say, “I know we are all supposed to read the Bible as Christians.” However, I think I mean something stronger than that. I mean something closer to “almost all we should be doing is growing theologically because our devotion to the Bible shows how much we believe it really is God’s Word.” Yikes! That is a pretty strong statement. So let’s see if it is true. Let’s see what the Bible itself has to say about how much we should study.
High-level Bible Study
The Bible is not ambiguous about the fact that Christians are to be serious studiers.
We are told to love God with all of our “mind” (Mk. 12:29). We are commanded to “Destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). We are told to meditate on God’s law “day and night” (Ps. 1:2). We are told to discuss it with our children when we walk and when we rise and when we sit and at all times of the day (Deut. 11:9). We are told to question everything, especially teaching and “prophesies” (1 Thess. 5:21). We are called to supplement our faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge (2 Pt. 1:5).
And that’s not all . . .
The king of Israel was to copy God’s entire law by hand and read it every day of his life (Deut. 17:18). The sole academic requirement for elders is that they are “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). God’s people perish due to their lack of theological knowledge (Hos. 4:6). We are commanded almost forty times in Proverbs to seek, not just “wisdom,” but “knowledge.” Paul rebukes those who have a zeal (i.e. passion) for God but not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2).
And this is just a tiny fraction of all the times we are told to know God’s word, to seek knowledge, and to study, study, study!
Church Leaders Yesterday
We also see a pattern regarding the importance of education in church history. All the major players in church history seem to be very highly educated either formally or informally:
- Jerome translated the entire Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin.
- Augustine was a Rhetoric professor in Milan before his conversion and had a broad education in the humanities.
- Gregory the Great said, regarding the education of ministers, “No one claims to be able to teach an art until first having learned it through careful study. With what incredible boldness then do the unlearned and unskillful stand ready to assume pastoral authority, forgetting that the care of souls is the art of arts! For it is clear that the ills of the mind are more hidden than the ills of the bowels. And yet quite often those who have no knowledge whatever of spiritual principles dare to declare themselves physicians of the heart, while those who do not know of the use of drugs would never dare to call themselves physicians of the flesh!”
- Martin Luther had a doctorate in Theology and translated the entire Bible into German by himself while locked up in a castle struggling with spiritual attack. Luther thought that the biblical languages were so important that he said he would be willing to go to school with the devil to learn them. He also encouraged people to study until they “had taught the devil to death and had become more learned than God himself and all his saints.”
- John Calvin studied at both the University of Paris and at Orleans and wrote one of the most popular Protestant Systematic Theology textbooks ever.
- Ulrich Zwingli, in addition to having a strong formal education, had all of Paul’s letters memorized in Greek.
- George Whitfield and John Wesley both studied theology at Oxford.
- Jonathan Edwards graduated from Yale at 17 and then became the president of Princeton. His dissertation was delivered, of course, in Latin. He sometimes studied 14 hours a day and is considered to be the greatest mind to ever come out of America.
- Even those like Charles Spurgeon, who didn’t have a lot of formal degrees, were highly educated . . . Spurgeon tutored Greek at Cambridge.
Great church leaders in the modern era are the same way. Some of the most influential, godly, Christian leaders are also the most knowledgeable:
- John Piper has a PhD from the University of Munich.
- Wayne Grudem has a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard, a Master’s degree from Westminster (which broke off of Princeton Seminary), and a PhD from Cambridge.
- N. T. Wright has 5 degrees from Oxford, including two doctorates.
- Alister McGrath has 5 degrees from Oxford, including two doctorates.
- D. A. Carson, in addition to having a PhD from Cambridge, reads 500 books a year. Think about that… there are only 365 days in a year!
But what about the Apostles? Weren’t they uneducated?
Despite the overwhelming pattern above, some will object and say, “The Apostles were a bunch of uneducated fisherman and God seemed to use them despite their lack of training.” However, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, some were highly educated (like Paul who wrote a lot of the New Testament). Second, these other men spent three years personally walking with Jesus! What better education is there to knowing God then living with the God-Man for 3 years?! Also, the Apostles knew Aramaic (and some knew Greek and possibly Hebrew) which are more biblical languages than most pastors know. They didn’t need to study the background or culture of the Bible because they lived in it. They had also seen the risen Jesus, been commissioned by him to be Apostles, and had been empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. That is a far cry from anyone’s meager education today. In a sense we could say they had more theological training than anyone else, not less. Ministerial training is not about a lot of knowledge but about the right knowledge.
The above facts don’t make me want to be a Christian—they make me want to give up. If the above information is true then I feel like God will never use me. I’ll never attain the level of these guys. I don’t have a PhD. I don’t debate scholars in Latin. And I’ve never translated the entire Bible into a new language.
However, my purpose is not to tell you that you have to be a scholar but merely to correct a trend in our evangelical culture which seeks to make Christians a people of the heart without also being a people of the head. This shouldn’t make you feel as though you have to become an ivory tower monk. It should, however, encourage you just to take “baby steps” and to devote yourself to studying God’s word. Part of loving God more is to know more about him.
Jonathan Edwards described knowledge about God like firewood and passion for God like fire. A fire with no firewood just produces a big flash but no lasting heat. Firewood without fire doesn’t do much good either. But if there is a fire the more firewood you add to the pile the brighter and hotter it will burn. Theology is the ceiling to your worship – by knowing more about God your capacity to love him grows.
God uses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. So the power is not in education in and of itself. But it is the education that allows one to better unlock the treasures of God’s Word. That is why these men are great and that is what the Bible itself tells us to seek.
Reconnecting Head and Heart
We have a tendency to vilify academics and act as though study is somehow unspiritual. We also have a tendency to feel as though serious Bible study is only for the “experts.” However, God wants all his people to be serious Bible students. So how can we take some “baby steps” and what are some practical things we can do to grow? Perhaps this means participating in some of these activities:
- Asking seminary professors or pastors what books they recommend so you don’t waste your time on poor books.
- Auditing a class at a local seminary.
- Listening to seminary lectures on iTunes U.
- Just devoting yourself to reading for fifteen minutes a day.
- Asking more questions from people who know a lot about theology.
It’s not about reading a lot of books. It’s about reading the right books and to know what books those are you have to ask the guys who know. The easiest thing you can do to start is just to read the Bible a little every day. You won’t understand everything at first, but the more familiar you become with the Bible the more it will make sense over time.
It is easy to accidentally separate “head” from “heart.” We do it all the time. We either try to merely know facts about God (and not love him) or we just try to love him and conjure up emotion (and don’t correctly think about whom we are loving). However, it doesn’t have to be this way. The Christian is called to love God with our whole heart and our whole mind. It is not so much a “scale” or “spectrum” (which would mean that loving God moved one away from knowledge and having knowledge moved one away from love). Rather, these are two separate categories in which one should seek to grow. If one finds that they love God but don’t know much about him they shouldn’t try to love him less as if that will make them know more. Conversely, if one finds that they know about God more than they love him they should not study less as if being dumber will somehow make them love God more. Rather they should just seek to grow where they are weak whether that be head or heart.
The goal is not degrees but knowing God. Or, as church historian Justo Gonzalez says, “The goal of theological studies is not a degree or diploma. Their final goal is the contemplation of the face of God in the final reign of peace and justice.”