This is a follow up article to Only Bible Study Can Help You. “Bad Bible Study” popped into my head when I heard about a movie I don’t intend to watch: “Bad Grandpa.”
The greatest gift God bestowed on me through UBF was to love Bible study (Ps 119:97; 1:2) as the way to truly knowing God (Jn 17:3), being filled with the Spirit (Jn 6:63; Gal 5:22-23), and experiencing his trinitarian presence, love and immeasurable grace (Ps 34:8; Jer 31:3; 1 Ti 1:15). So I am as pro-Bible study as one can possibly ever be ever since I had a mystical conversion and became a Christian in 1980 while studying the Bible with a UBF missionary. I am a firm believer that grasping Scripture aright is the way to transcendence and to solving and resolving any problem in all of life. I have personally found this to be true. I’m sure that countless others have as well.
However, is there Bible study that is just bad? Interestingly, as I have been studying and preaching through the book of Isaiah over the past year, God and Isaiah repeatedly indicts his people for their “bad” Bible study and their “bad” Bible teachers. So what is bad Bible study?
Bad Bible study can come from obeying God’s word! Right at the outset of Isaiah, God rebukes his people for obeying what he commands in the Law (torah, instructions) (Isa 1:11-15). Yes, God rebuked them for obeying God’s word. Why? The NIV says, “I cannot bear your worthless assemblies” (Isa 1:13, NIV). The ESV says, “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly” (Isa 1:13, ESV). Though the people faithfully and religiously gathered for public worship in obedience to God’s word, God was appalled by their hidden iniquity, especially injustice, playing politics and oppressing the weak and powerless (Isa 1:17, 23; Mt 23:23).
Bad Bible study comes from obeying the Bible teacher’s human rules. “Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isa 29:13). How does this happen? For instance, I believe that sexual purity before (and after) marriage is a key to a happy life. So should a human rule be enforced in church by controlling and restricting dating of adult single Christians in the church? Thus, I posed the question: Marriage By Faith (Should No Dating be a Church Policy)? I also think it’s good to get up early in the morning to pray as Jesus did (Mk 1:35)…before drinking coffee, which is hard! But if early morning prayer meeting is imposed by the Bible teacher–as well intentioned as he/she might be–it becomes a “human rule taught by man.” I believe that faithfully attending church on Sunday should be part of a Christian’s staple and walk of life. But again, if this is imposed on others, it becomes a “taught human rule.”
So what is bad Bible study? For the record, I am pro-obedience (Jn 14:15, 21, 23; Ac 5:32). But I’ve seen how some Christian leaders and Bible teachers abuse their authority by enforcing and insisting obedience on their subordinates (“sheep”). This, I strongly believe, violates each person’s individual autonomy and freedom of choice. Therefore, I would regard any form of coercion, intimidation, guilt-tripping and “enforcing human/church rules taught by human Bible teachers” as “bad Bible study.”
Why? Because Jesus–the good, gentle, gracious shepherd–stands at the door and knocks gently (Rev 3:20). Jesus does not guilt-trip, intimidate, coerce or barge down the door! Jesus is also gentle and humble in heart (Mt 11:29a). He unburdens the weary and gives them rest (Mt 11:28). His yoke is easy and his burden is light (Mt 11:30). Thus, in Jesus, we find rest for our souls (Mt 11:29b).
Have you experienced “good” or “bad” Bible study?