Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Inductive Bible Study

The single most important activity I would recommend for the Christian who wants to grow spiritually and to learn to feed themselves is inductive Bible study. Prayer is vital in our relationship to God, devotional reading of Scripture makes sure that our focus remains on God and that we apply what we learn, but unless we learn to study and understand the Bible for ourselves we lack wisdom and may be tossed to and fro like a wave on the sea. Hebrews 5:12-14 (NIV) has this to say:

"In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."

What is inductive Bible study? It is study in which the sole source is the Bible, where we come to the text with no preconceived notions, and use observation, inference and logic to pull meaning out. Induction is different from deduction in that the latter starts with a premise or hypothesis and derives conclusions - the goal of inductive is to start with the particulars and come up with a premise or general principle. In other words, if I wanted to learn about frogs, there are two good ways to do it. I could go down to the library and read several books teaching about frogs, compare different authors and figure out who was right when they conflicted (deductive approach); or I could go down to the pond and study them (inductive approach) - seeing what they ate, what they did, how they laid eggs, and perhaps take it back to the lab for more study. This approach would take longer, and be a bit messier, but I would be a lot more likely to remember what I discovered for myself.

The basics of how to do inductive study are easier to understand than the definition!
  • Observation - what does the passage say?
  • Interpretation - what does the passage mean?
  • Application - what is my response to the meaning of the passage?
Observation involves looking closely at what is in the text. Ask typical reporter questions of who, what, where, when and how. Look for words that are repeated, contrasted. Mark your Bible. Make lists. At this stage, it's strictly "Just the Facts, ma'am!"  The next stage is Interpretation. Here you consider what all these facts mean. Consider the context. Ask 'why is this repeated?', 'why are these things contrasted?', 'how are these people connected?'. Consider Scripture as self-consistent, so avoid conclusions that contradict here or with other portions of Scripture. Look carefully for underlying principles. Finally, Application. Don't stop at just understanding what the text means, but to grow you need to ask what you're going to do with this knowledge. Is there a command to be obeyed? Is there a caution to be followed? If I acted in a way that showed I really believe this to be true, what would that look like?

There are a ton of outstanding resources on inductive Bible study, here's just a few:
- Kay Arthur's "How to Study Your Bible: The Lasting Rewards of the Inductive Method"
- Rick Warren's "Bible Study Methods: Twelve Ways You Can Unlock God's Word"
- "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth " by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.
- A two-page overview of the Inductive Method by Precept Ministries International.

One nice feature of Warren's book is that it goes through the details of twelve different methods of studying the Bible, including devotional reading and character studies as well as a number of different inductive Bible study methods. A lengthy excerpt and introduction can be found at Zondervan's site. Inductive study methods covered include: Chapter Summary, Character Quality, Thematic Study, Biographical Study, Topical Study, Word Study, Book Background, Book Survey, Chapter Analysis, Book Synthesis, Verse-by-Verse Analysis. These methods span the range from very basic to fairly advanced, and provide a great variety for serious students of the Bible.

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