The answer to the question of what a Bible study is seems at first glance to be a simple one: an in-depth look at Scripture. But a recent article in Christianity Today entitled “Let Bible Studies Be Bible Studies” reveals that the answer can actually be fairly complex in our church today.
“Over time, ‘Bible study’ has become a catchall to describe all kinds of gatherings,” the writer of the article, Jan Wilkin, explains. “As we have expanded our use of the term, we have decreased the number of actual Bible studies we offer” (Christianity Today, March 2017, p. 26).
Churches indeed in many cases have shifted away from offering basic Bible studies in favor of studies that are topical or devotional in nature. Many now resemble more of a book club than a theology course.
Wilkin contends that this has led to a decline in Bible literacy in today’s Christians. There is still value to be gained by engaging in a line-by-line study of Deuteronomy, for example. It is still important to hone our ability to observe, interpret and apply biblical texts. It is still good for us to know the structure and order of the books of the Bible and to be able to know and find the chapter and verse of a meaningful passage.
Topical and devotional gatherings have strong purpose and meaning, of course, but they should not be a replacement for traditional Bible study. The maintaining of Bible literacy among Christians is at stake.
Wilkin suggests that we as church leaders are clear in our terminology of what is being offered in our congregations. Reserve the term “Bible study” for classes that are basic studies of Scripture, and call anything else “Topical Discussions On … ” or “Devotional Reflections About … ” Then the participant will better know what to anticipate.
Wilkin says that it sends a good message to your congregation to always offer something that is clearly a “Bible study,” because it shows that we as a Church make Bible knowledge a priority.
While there is nothing wrong with topical discussions and devotional reflection gatherings, we as the Church should never let good old-fashioned Bible study fall by the wayside.