The Tentmaker and Inductive Bible Study
What do we mean by “inductive”? The term is now loosely applied to most question-oriented Bible studies, but most of these studies are not truly inductive. Many questions only test if the users can read. A truly inductive study asks thought-producing questions that help participants discover details in a Bible text, interpret them and then make the conclusions these details demand. A few benefits of this approach:
- Inductive study is ideal for Christians, because it breaks the problem of habit-focus and helps them to see new things. Every time you return to an old familiar passage you see new truths because meanwhile you have been reprogrammed by intervening Bible studies and experiences. This approach also helps you to analyze difficult passages–to crack the hard nuts.
- Inductive study is ideal for evangelistic (investigative) Bible discussions, because non-believing peers rarely consider us religious authorities. Also, involving them in the actual process of analyzing a passage helps them to understand how we use the Bible to interpret itself. This is very important for Catholic and Orthodox seekers who often accuse us making the texts mean what we want them to mean.
- Inductive study is demanded by the nature of Scripture. The Bible is literature, for only one reason: It pleased God to give us his revelation in the form of literature. So we must approach it as literature. We must take apart its words, grammar, sentence structure and literary devices. We must note figurative usage, emphasis through repetition, contrast, and its relationship to the immediate and wider contexts. The Bible is also ancient literature, so we must approach it in the way we approach other ancient literature, like Greek tragedies. We must ask not only 1) What does it actually say?, but also 2) What did it mean for the writer and the original readers/listeners and then, 3) What application, if any, does it have to us today? So the three main parts are observation, interpretation and application.
But unlike any other writings, the Bible is more than literature. So we pray, asking the Holy Spirit to help us understand it right. But God’s Spirit does not help lazy minds. He rewards careful, thorough study.
Inductive Bible study is essential for tentmakers, who most often serve in hostile countries that do not admit missionaries. You may find yourself in a Muslim city with no Christian church, and only a dozen other tentmakers. You may need to dig deeply in Scripture, not only for your own spiritual needs and those of your family, but for all the others, too. When the Saudi government broke up an English-language congregation in Riyadh, the members formed many small house churches. But it was an agricultural engineer who met with the house church leaders every week to prepare the Sunday sermon and pray for the members. In Kenya, Bill, a high school science teacher was asked to preach every third Sunday in the village church! He had never preached before. But inductive study is superb sermon preparation.
How are your Bible study skills?