BSF takes what they call a four-fold approach to the Study of God’s Word.
- An individual studies a passage of scripture by reading and answering questions about that passage and other passages which either parallel or support concepts in it for one week. Ideally the individual spends a bit of time each day doing this rather than doing a whole week’s worth of study in one sitting.
- That individual gathers with others in a small group (called a discussion group) where a discussion leader facilitates the process of going through the week’s questions and hearing answers from the others in the group. (The group stays together through the year and has no more than 15 members.)
- The individuals from many groups gather in one large group for a lecture offered by the teaching leader.
- The individual receives and reads written notes about the passage that have been prepared by leaders at the BSF headquarters and which reference various commentaries.
This week we are studying the 13th chapter of John’s Gospel. That means that through the week a person who does the study as it is designed will read that chapter carefully (one day each for a portion) and then one of those portions a second day, and then read the whole chapter — answering questions each day. Then they will (we will) gather to share our insights with each other over those passages, hear a lecture focused on this chapter and then read somewhere between 5 and 8 pages of notes on the passage.
Okay, so that’s the basic pattern or approach. The power in it is simple — it is the power of the Word of God itself.
Now I would like to take a poll. This would be much easier if we were in a room together or all connected live via a web conferencing system so you could raise hands (literally or virtually). I’ll imagine it. How many of you who either have participated in BSF or who have known about BSF would say that a hallmark of BSF is “the rules”?
Yeah…that’s what I thought. In my last two blog posts I’ve perpetuated that reputation and, well, its a reputation that is based on BOTH reality and misperception.
I’m not going to talk about every rule that may have ever been in the world of BSF — they have changed over the years — but I do want to address a few of them that I think are EXCELLENT for the purposes of BSF. I’ll start with what i think is my FAVORITE BSF RULE!
Okay, I’m using this Latin phrase which literally means “by Scripture alone” to mean that BSF asks participants to answer their questions based only on the passage being studied or those passages specifically referenced in the questions. The one exception is when a question is marked “CHALLENGE” in which case the students is encouraged to use any passage of Scripture that applies. In fact, the “rules” of BSF indicate that a student should not — in their written answers or in what they share in the discussion group — share what they’ve heard in a sermon, read in a book, or otherwise been taught by any human being. While this takes intentionality for most of us who are way too used to getting our Biblical truth pre-processed and pre-chewed by others, I find it both refreshing and powerful.
It is refreshing to sit in a discussion of God’s Word and not hear other people named more often than God as authorities on subjects of life and morality and relationships. Not only does it keep the focus on God and His Word as the source of TRUTH, it keeps our human preferences and even our disagreements from dividing us where we need not be divided. In my immaturity and humanity it is too easy for me to write off a person who quotes all of the preachers and authors I find annoying and a wee bit heretical. I expect they would just as easily write me off when I start quoting all the people I find fascinating or insightful or helpful.
It is also powerful to sit with a group of (in my case) women who come from a wide range of life experiences, faith experiences, and education — and together to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit as we look at the Word of God.
Let me digress for a moment to provide the context of my own perspective here. I’ve grown up with an abundance of opportunities to study God’s Word and to hear great teaching. I’ve attended a Christian liberal arts college which included great Biblical and theological teaching. I even attended Seminary for a season. I taught Bible to high school freshmen in a school in Indy for a few years. I served on a church staff. I currently am a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators. I’ve consistently been a part of great local churches. Whether I’ve stewarded well all of the opportunities I’ve had through these things is a topic for another day, but the reality is I have been feasting from the all-you-can-eat buffet for most of my life.
When I am sitting in a discussion group with women from similar and from very dissimilar life experiences as my own — and when we are stripped of some of the “stuff” that divides us into categories of “lifer” and “newbie” or of “educated” and “uneducated” or of “saturated” and “nominal” — God speaks His truth through His Word and His Spirit to anyone who will listen. He takes my breath away when a woman who has only known Jesus for a short time and who did not grow up in the church and who is markedly less educated than many in the class shares her response to a question and the depth of understanding is unfathomable. I love that.
Besides the fact that it’s refreshing and powerful, it’s effective.
I believe that one of the lies that often binds the local church to be ineffective is the lie that most of us are not capable to know God intimately or “correctly” without others to guide us. Now, I’m a firm believer in the roles of leadership and of teacher/preacher in the church and am grateful for the ways that God uses the community of faith to accomplish His purposes in my life. BUT. The Word of God (in a language that I can understand) and the Spirit of God living in me (which He does when I trust in Christ’s work on the cross to cleanse me from my sin and to reconcile me into relationship with God) are enough for me to know God. As I submit to God and His Word, I am transformed.