I think what really stood out to me was the recommendation of D.A. Carson found on the front cover.
“If you are a high schooler, read this book carefully and thoroughly, and then loan it to your parents.”
The book he was referring to was Bible Study: A Student’s Guide by Jon Nielson. Nielson’s goal was to equip & encourage students to study the Bible. What I’ve found in over a decade of pastoral ministry is that too few people in the pews know how to study the Bible. This means that many churches are failing to train students, their SS teachers or small group leaders how to study the Bible. It is easy to hand them a study guide, we use those, but not train them how to do it.
As our men’s ministry considered what to study this year, they chose to study this book. Many of them felt a proper conviction that they needed to better understand how to study the Bible to better lead their wives and family.
There is the background for why he wrote the book, and why I read it. Now, how is the book?
Nielson starts with a number of truths concerning the Bible that need to be grasped as we begin to study the Bible. He starts with the doctrine that “The Bible is God Speaking”. He tackles the doctrine of Inspiration. If we don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God (He spoke it), we have no compelling reason to read and study the Bible. It is just an interesting story and confusing moral advice. But if God is speaking…. that changes everything. So he explains dual authorship and inspiration in an understandable way, and then gets into the implications of what we believe. He stands opposed to the post-modern notions of deconstructionism and for authorial intent as fundamental to meaning. Since the Bible is God speaking, our goal in studying it is to hear God speaking to us through the Scriptures.
Secondly, the Bible is powerful. It is not a dead book, but one that is “living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword”. The Bible will convert us, convict us, direct us and more. We have to respect the author’s agenda, and the words he chooses to use to convey truth.
He moves on to the perspicuity or clarity and understandability of the Bible. Not all things are equally understandable, but the important things are pretty clear. We can notice how the author writes to pick up on what the main point is thru things like repetition and other verbal clues.
He then talks about the Bible as literature. This is not to avoid the authority of the Bible. It is to understand that the Bible has different genres and we need to keep this in mind as we interpret and apply it. He lays out some good, simple principles for handling narratives, wisdom literature etc. A large portion of the book is taken up exploring these ideas.
He then addresses the Bible as one story. It may have many parts and acts, but it really is one unified story from beginning to end. This story is about how the Triune God saves sinners and restores the cosmos thru the work of God the Son. All of Scripture points us to Jesus in one way or another. It prepares us for Him, points us to Him, prophecies about Him and explains/interprets what He has done in His earthly ministry or doing in His heavenly ministry. The placement of the particular text in that larger context is essential to understanding the text most fully.
He then moves from the big picture material into the more “how to” material. He gives a few different methods of Bible study centered on the same types of questions: observation, interpretation and application. Each method is slightly different and may appeal to different people.
He concludes with challenging students to pursue Bible study for their own growth and the growth of their friends and church. He also lays out some challenges for pastors and youth pastors/workers to re-think how they approach ministry. We need to be training people to engage in the ministry of the Word, as we see in places like Colossians 3:16 (c.f. 1:28, 29).
The book has questions at the end of each chapter to help students (or adults) process and apply the information. This is a very good book. But I found it to be an incomplete book. Obviously students don’t want to read a 300 page book (usually). So the author made some tough decisions.
I think it would need to be supplemented by books like Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul or Playing By the Rules by Stein. These books go more deeply into the nuts and bolts of taking a passage apart so you can understand it. They talk about how words work in Scripture (and other books).
I think this book will benefit us in many ways as we go through it. I will supplement it in a few places. As we meet, I will have us work through passages of Scripture to apply the main ideas of the chapters. This makes a great book to give away to students (and teachers), as well as study together to train people in how to study the Bible.