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Foundations for Christianity:
202 Foundations of Our Theology
and Hermeneutics

Our Approach: The Problem

The Problem
A Lesson From Abraham

When studying the Bible, a variety of methods of study are often applied. Character studies such as a look at the life of Abraham, Moses, or David are usually quite popular. Additionally, in a group Bible study, we might typically expect to encounter one of two popular approaches. Bible study groups may often center around one of the many devotional or academic books available for purchase for a small fee at the local Christian bookstore. Or, Bible study groups may instead option to take on a book by book approach looking chapter by chapter at Biblical texts such as Genesis, Isaiah, John, or I Corinthians just to name a few possibilities.

While these are all valid approaches to Bible study, we believe that with regard to understanding doctrine, such approaches fall short. Someone might say, "Well, maybe we're not studying doctrine." This would be a fine reply indeed if the persons involved in the study have already reached a mature mastery of doctrine. But if they have not, then studying characters or devotionals or even books of the Bible by themselves is inappropriate. To study such things before we have a sound, mature mastery of doctrine is a perfect example of putting the cart before the horse. Without a mastery of doctrine first, our studies of other people and concepts can often lead to unorthodox beliefs or imbalanced walks with God. A mastery of doctrine is of primary importance because false teaching comes in many forms, both subtle and overt. And only an understanding of sound doctrine can safeguard us against false doctrine.

When we study the Bible book by book, chapter by chapter or when we enlist the help of a contemporary author to help us with doctrine we automatically narrow our field of vision. Instead of being able to gaze over and explore the details of the entire Bible and all its relevant passages on a topic, we are forced to focus our attention on the words in front of us. Therefore, we are often forced to overlook important clues and details from the whole of the Bible and cannot assemble a complete Biblical picture on a subject.

If for example we select the book of Mark for our Bible study and decide to go through it chapter by chapter, we may indeed become familiar with the structure and content of that book. However, because of the way the Gospels and other New Testament books are set up, we will tend to jump from topic to topic as we move through a chapter at a time. This will have the tendency to break up our concentration. And, instead of providing us with a solid overview of a wide variety of Biblical topics, such an approach will result in a very narrow, limited understanding of each of those topics. That is because it is impossible to cover any topic in depth when covering several topics inside the span of a chapter from week to week. There is little time to study each topic in a chapter in the broader context of the Bible as a whole.

Furthermore, these methods of study often result in tunnel vision. They prevent the person studying from thinking outside the box to a large extent by focussing too heavily on the academic book, devotional material, or even Biblical book in front of them. While this does not prevent the individual from referencing other Biblical passages, it is expressly discouraging to such activity. Whether that book is a book from the Bible or a book from a contemporary author the result is the same. That book becomes the basis of the study and too much cross referencing and questioning inevitably gets viewed as tangential and disruptive to the group focus.

Because the need to understand sound doctrine is of primary importance to every believer, we must employ a better method of study in order to arrive at a balanced, mature, mastery and understanding of orthodox Biblical doctrine.