At the beginning of December Tim was flat out with work had no spare time so I suggested I buy a few gifts for Christmas for myself from him so he didn’t have to think about it (the money comes from the same pot after all). Christmas Eve came around and I told Tim where to find the presents I’d hidden from myself so he could wrap them. He looked confused for a moment. I found out why on Christmas morning when my little stocking was more stuffed than anticipated. He’d forgotten the conversation about presents and had gone out and bought gifts for me anyway. So much for effective communication. I did appreciate the extra treats however.
Among the gifts I bought from him for me was Women of the Word, by Jen Wilkin. I’d been looking forward to reading it having read a review by Andrew Wilson on the Think Theology blog back in July 2017.
I love the Bible. It always astounds me how there’s always more to learn about God’s goodness and grace in it. There’s no question some parts are tough to understand and grapple with, but the more I grapple, the more it makes sense.
I’ve read the Bible in many different ways over the years. Last year I read the Bible through with The Bible Project, the year before I did a different Bible in a year reading plan. It’s a good thing to do, but at times when I’m following a plan such as that I find myself speed reading to get through my allotted chunk of chapters each day. I’m competitive even with myself…prone to slipping into some self-inflicted legalism, or reading just to keep up. It’s not to say I didn’t think about what I was reading or learn. God did speak to me. However sometimes I’d make a mental note to come back to some verses, and sometimes I did, but often I didn’t as I felt compelled to move on and check the box. I’ve felt a hunger for a while to slow down and dig a bit deeper.
The Bible Project, with its helpful videos at the start of each book of the Bible, is great at bringing your attention back to the big story of Scripture. Really helpful. I knew as the year went on though I needed to plan what I was going to do next. Should I go on the The Bible app and choose a devotional? The thing is, though devotionals are great, they still leave me itching for more. It’s too easy to read someone else’s thoughts about Scripture and not go any further. (Again, not saying they aren’t helpful as there are some great ones out there.) Neither did I want to dip in and out of scripture randomly depending on what I felt like reading.
Women of the Word has proved to be as helpful as I anticipated. I’m glad I own a copy as I can see myself referring back to it often. Andrew Wilson did an excellent job reviewing it if you follow the link above, but here’s what I found helpful:
Jen’s concern is to turnaround our approach to Bible study. She suggests we often approach Scripture the wrong way. We look for who we are rather than who God is. Also we allow our hearts to lead us, instead of using our minds to study the Word in order to know and love God more. The reason to read the Bible is not to accumulate knowledge, but to know God.
When I don’t have structure to my Bible reading I do tend to slip into some of the unhelpful habits Jen outlines in the book. ‘The Xanax Approach’ is looking for verses to make me feel better. ‘The Pinball Approach’ is reading whatever Scripture I happen to turn to. ‘The Magic 8 Ball Approach’ is the open your Bible and whatever verse your finger lands on is what I should do (I learned long ago that this is a very unhelpful and can be a bit scary). ‘The Personal Shopper Approach’ is doing a topical study by a famous Bible teacher on any given subject, selecting fragments of Scripture from all over the place. ‘The telephone game’ approach is reading books written about the Bible rather than the Bible itself. Finally, ‘the Jack Sprat Approach’ is avoiding the bits I don’t like, or only reading bits, characters, plots I identify with. Of course she details why these approaches are obstacles to true Bible literacy.
I’d say my most frequent habit is ‘The telephone game approach’, whether it’s reading books, blogs or listening to sermons. I’m a bit of a sermon junkie at times. It’s easy to let someone else do the work. Books, sermons and blogs are helpful but don’t replace reading the Bible for myself.
Jen’s aim is to move her readers towards Bible literacy, stitching ‘patchwork knowledge into a garment of understanding’. She outlines her 5 P’s of sound Bible study – studying with purpose, perspective, patience, process and prayer – and then pulls it all together with a practical how to chapter.
Women of the Word scratched an itch for me. I think it would for anyone, woman or man, eager to get hold of some tools to use in effective Bible study. Now I’m trying to apply what I’ve read. This is the challenging part as it takes time. A quick five minutes in the morning is not going to cut it, I’ve had to kick myself out of some evening laziness to get down to it. In the practical, ‘How to’, chapter Jen uses the letter of James as the text to study, so I’ve continued with it to try and get into a pattern. On her website, there are whole Bible study courses to download for free, including one on James.
It’s a discipline to concentrate on one thing and not flit around as I am prone to do. Yet in these last few weeks where there a number of trials to be faced there couldn’t be a more relevant passage to study than James. I marvel at this – even when I decide to do something methodically, God uses it to speak to me, the timing is just right. This is something of the point of Women of the Word. Reading the Bible is not about accumulating knowledge, but getting to know God who knows us through and through, and can transform our hearts and minds through the application of His word and the work of His Spirit in our lives.