Journeyman Project Dispatches from the Life of Patrick Fowler: Christianity Explored

3Nov/110

A Tool for Better Bible Study: NetBible.org

I have blogged a number of times on great Bible study tools that I run across. In all my reading and research, nothing appears to be more critical to our growth in the Christian life than personal, reflective time spent in the Scripture.

The problem I find too often, is that when people get into the Scriptures, they get hung up on difficult passages or odd themes. Most often, those who try hard to resolve those problems get lost in the extensive results that appear in a Google search, or they find that the freely available commentaries like Matthew Henry’s work from long ago, do not adequately answer their questions.

The problem that I find is that too much great content is locked inside the confines of publishing contracts and academic institutions that demand compensation for anything they create. Commentary sets that I use on a daily basis through the library at Dallas Theological Seminary cost thousands of dollars a set – $50-100 a volume. Although I do understand the need to appreciate great academic work, it shames me that virtually no good contemporary content has been made available by the American and European Christian communities…almost…

Tom Constable, a lifetime professor of the Bible at Dallas Theological Seminary, spent most of his career compiling notes on each book of the Bible. In the course of 30+ years, he has accumulated over 7,000 pages of guidance for those reading the Bible in an easy to understand, unbiased format. And he has always ensured that they could be obtained freely electronically by anyone who wanted them at soniclight.com

Now they are built into the NETBible website, so that you can access them as well as other notes and resources with the Bible side-by-side. As a student of the languages, I am also appreciative of the integrated Hebrew and Greek resources as well.

Hopefully, this is only the start of things to come.

www.netbible.org

12Dec/101

Preaching Genesis 25–Isaac and Rebekah

My final sermon of the semester was on the text of Genesis – the birth narrative of Jacob and Esau. It’s a simple passage, but one that created a lot of controversy in my class. It’s a text with many meanings…

The birth of Jacob and Esau is preceded by the prophesy that the “older shall serve the younger”. In the immediate text, this response is given to Rebekah after she inquires of the Lord regarding the pain that she is enduring in pregnancy. The prophecy in this respect is comforting: God assures Rebekah that her pregnancy is going properly—she will certainly bear children.

However, in the larger context of Genesis and in the mind of the Israelite audience, this prophecy also indicates that God is going to work through the younger son—Jacob/Israel, instead of the older son. AND, in the larger context of the Bible through the prophet Malachi and the letter to the Romans, this prophecy emphasizes God’s sovereignty in being able to direct circumstances as He desires: having control over and a knowledge of the future.

I had a hard time preaching the second meaning of the text in my sermon this semester—I didn’t feel that it represented the meaning of my specific passage: Genesis 25:19-26. I wanted my audience to walk away from the sermon thinking: Genesis 25 teaches Isaac and Rebekah’s faith and God’s comfort. I felt that if they walked away thinking: Genesis 25 teaches God’s sovereignty, they weren’t really getting the main point of the text—they were instead getting the main point of the whole Bible’s treatment of the text, or the main point of another text. I just could not see God’s main point in Genesis as God wishing to declare, “I’m in control”—I think we hear that message in the book that long before chapter 25.

Don’t get me wrong: you can use Genesis 25 to preach God’s sovereignty, but I think the audience should really walk away thinking that your main text was something other than Genesis 25—they should hear your main text as Malachi 1’s prophecy, “I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau” or Romans 9’s quotation of the text as it says, “…there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER ." Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED , BUT ESAU I HATED."”

Anyway—you’ve heard this rant before…perhaps my sermon will convince you. I hope you like the fruits of my labors, shared below…

My Sermon Preparation Documents: (Click to Download) 

The specific way I chose to illustrate the passage – My Homeletical Sermon Outline

The final result: My sermon audio – Version 1Version 2
My sermon script – click below to read…

12Apr/100

Thoughts on the Future of the Bible…

The Bible daily becomes more and more accessible to the world through increased literacy, cheap printing methods, and online downloads…the problem, however, is that the people now reading the Word of God do not know how to find it’s true meaning.

I, myself, have struggled with this very problem for most of my own life. My affection for sermons and books comes from a dependence upon other people, whom I trust to interpret the Word of God accurately in my ignorance.

In my previous small group, it was requested that we take time apart from study guides to study a book of the Bible directly, and I specifically avoided doing so because of my fear of misinterpreting the text.

In my time here, I have spent time specifically learning how to study the Bible on an academic level, and in a small group setting, thanks both to my school and my church. I am grateful for the opportunity to sit under men who have spent time learning to facilitate group discussion. I am elated to be listening to the instruction of men who have spent their entire careers studying the Word of God and translating many of the English Bibles we use today, including the newly released Lexham English Bible.

Unfortunately, the proper tools for proper Bible interpretation are still largely inaccessible. The most used English Bible interpretations are not free electronically (NIV, NASB, NKJV, MSG, NCV, NLT) and the only commentaries and lexical aids available are those that are so old they are outside copyright protection. These commentaries, like the one by Matthew Henry, are not helpful in understanding the text, since they mainly rely upon a limited understanding of Greek and the context of first century Israel. Dictionaries and Commentaries (IVP Bible Background Commentary and the TDNT) and Lexical Aids like BDAG and HALOT are $100+ a copy, in print or electronically. Bible Software with relatively helpful and accurate commentaries cost from $200 up to $2,000.

Scholars and teachers in the Christian circles get paid poorly enough, so I do no wish to downplay what little royalties they receive, however, I dearly hope that we can make these resources cheaper and cheaper in the future. In this respect, I do recommend to the computer user, The Word Bible Software, which is available freely and includes some original language tools, and iLumina Software, which is the best commentary-type resource I can find for the price.

The Word Bible Software

 

iL_BtmTag[1]

I am also extremely hopeful that we can start teaching our church members, especially our small group leaders, to lead Bible studies with a accurate understanding of the text. I think the Bible is a book that needs to be experienced in a group setting apart from listening to the pastor lecture from the pulpit. I think it is powerful and life changing to discuss the text at every level, and I hope to help men and women feel more confident in leading those discussions in the future.

1Jan/100

My New Bible: A Historical Journey through the Word of God

020682After a year of intense reading, going through the pages of Scripture at a breakneck pace, I've decided to make sure my personal study of the Bible this coming year becomes much more thoughtful and interesting. Along those lines, I have sought out a Bible that boldly reorganizes the passages of Scripture so that I can read the different books along the lines of history.

After some initial disappointment over the lack of Chronological Bibles available, I stumbled upon a gem by Thomas Nelson. Full color pages, integrated discussions on parallel secular historical events, and beautiful illustrations drew me into the great resource, and I highly recommend that you take a moment to look at it yourself at http://www.chronologicalstudybible.com/

I also need to mention that in my opinion, Chronological Bible Reading Plans are an insufficient solution. There are a lot of them, both electronic and print, but they do not do justice to the experience I am looking for, for the following reasons:

  1. They do not help me understand where the events of the Bible fit into the events of the surrounding world and cultures.
  2. They don't provide any commentary on how the passages they put together relate...so sometimes I do not know why I'm reading two passages on the same day.
  3. It's not easy to follow reading plans...not as easy as simply picking up a single book and reading straight through it.
  4. A physical Bible allows me to write notes, and go back to a single book for later reference, and surf through the historical organization of the text by flipping through pages.

In the end, if you are a serious Christian looking for a great new experience in reading the Word of God, add this to your library. I plan on having it as a constant companion over the next few years, as a testimony to another read through the entire Bible, and as a reference for my library for future ministry.

Thanks Thomas Nelson Publishers! I know that this Bible project was not cheap, free from criticism, or easy. It's a HUGE accomplishment and one that deserves a lot more appreciation than it has been given. For my part, I love it!

Buy it cheap at Christian Book.com

2Dec/090

Bible in a Year, Follow up: It’s not that big a deal!

Lately I've gotten a few astounded remarks regarding my Bible in a Year post. People see it as such a huge accomplishment...and while I agree that it's hard work, I think that its appropriate to put the work into perspective. It has been a humbling experience for me to realize some of the dynamics of reading below:

Everyone reads a lot more than they think they do:

Regardless of whether it is scrolling stock prices, passing billboards, online news headlines, or interesting novels on the shelves at Barnes and Noble, we live in a society of readers. And most of us digest a lot more text than we think. A year ago a friend of mine posted an astounding analysis of this very phenomenon on his blog, and it seems appropriate to share the results here:

blog reading totals

What are we feeding our minds with?

The question is not, 'Are we reading?' The question is, 'Is what we read building us up, or tearing us down?' If the principle of 'garbage in, garbage out' is true, then what is our constant appetite for television shows like "Desperate Housewives" and "24" doing to us? What is it turning us into?

Reading the Bible takes more time than reading a book:

The Bible is a book that involves deep meaning in every page. The act of reading it is an act that allows us to hear the voice of God. It should read at the speed of an academic paper...accompanied by notes, prayers, and appropriate amounts of research.

Thanks to Whitney, Dan and others for their insightful and challenging questions.