Lesson 1: How do I talk about scripture?
Talking about Scripture
By Dr. Amy L. Peeler
As a recent convert to Anglicanism, I love all things via media. As Thomas Cranmer sought to draw from the insight of the Reformed movement and also the beauty of Catholicism in his formation of the Church of England, I believe it is often a wise theological decision to find the good on both sides of a spectrum but avoid going to either extreme. The model of the via media provides a helpful guide for knowing how to speak about Scripture with the members of your youth group.
The first spectrum involves speaking about Scripture both knowledgeably and as a mystery. When you talk to your youth about the Bible, they will realize very quickly if you have no idea what you are talking about, or issuing truisms and empty platitudes. This fact shouldn’t terrify, however, but, instead, provide encouragement for hard work and humility. If you are teaching Scripture, you need to be reading it daily, and if you are preparing a lesson, then you have committed to study for it. Ground your teaching in your own daily reading all across the Bible, but also take advantage of the resources for study around you, including fellow members of your church, books made available by your church, and online resources. A good place to begin for the latter is ntgateway.com or enterthebible.org, a clearing house for reputable websites and articles. True knowledge, however, also involves admitting what you do not know. You need not have all the answers, but if your students know you are trying to study—meaning that you can share your experiences of learning and tell them about tools you are discovering—you will inspire them to do the same. It is absolutely fine to answer a question with “I don’t know,” as long as you can follow it up with some thoughts about how you might go about finding the answer.
But, in the realm of Scripture, you cannot always find the answers. So, while your students need to see you using your mind to explore God’s Word, they also need to see you appreciate its mystery. Paul famously told the congregation at Corinth that in this life we see only as through a mirror dimly (1 Cor 13:12), and two thousand years later the same truth applies. God is God and we are humans, and that divide between the divine and the created means that our finite minds simply cannot comprehend his infinitude. Moreover, because we all read with the lenses of our own experiences and backgrounds, we will inevitably miss or misunderstand aspects of the text. This is not to say that we shouldn’t try to study and understand, but your young people need to realize that Scripture is not a specimen to be studied and dominated, but a living Word that studies us. Paul provides a good model of this approach. In Rom 9–11, Paul is wrestling with the question of God’s faithfulness to Israel. After three chapters of intense exegetical, philosophical, and theological work, Paul concludes with this citation:
“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
(Romans 11:33 NRSV)
He realizes that he can never fully know the ways of God, but he throws up his hands in praise at the end of his intense mental work, not before he has begun. You can be confident that you are able to speak knowledgeably about Scripture, because God has chosen to truly reveal aspects of his nature in his Word, but you should also know that you cannot speak fully about God—that revelation awaits the time when we will know God just as fully as he knows us (1 Cor 13:13).
The second middle path is the way of reverent questioning. As you study Scripture, it will not take long at all to realize that there are some very difficult passages. Why does God command Israel to kill the Canaanites (Deut 7:1–2)? Why does Peter urge slaves to obey their masters, even the harsh ones (1 Peter 2:18)? Why do parts of the gospel stories seem to tell different accounts of what happened during the life of Jesus (like was there one demon possessed man living among the tombs (Mark 5:1-20) or two (Matt 8:28-34)? If you do not allow your students to ask questions about such things or patch over them quickly with easy answers, they will seek those answers out from someone else, often popular Bible “authorities” who have lost their respect for Scripture, the Church, and even God. Instead, openly acknowledge the struggles you have with Scripture and allow your students to do the same. In many cases, scholars have done some hard work to propose possible solutions to those conundrums. Seek those out, but also be ready to admit that for some questions we may not be able to arrive at an answer that satisfies.
That is not to say that we are the judges of what is acceptable and what is not in Scripture. Questioning and challenging Scripture best serves the maturity of your youth group when it takes place in the safe confines of reverence for Scripture. We can ask hard questions of the text because we trust the God who wrote it. If you come to a difficult passage in Scripture, your default reaction should be that Scripture is trustworthy, or as Paul says, “holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12), and you may need to seek out the resources to solve the conundrum or remain in a place of discomfort until those resources come into existence or the Kingdom of God arrives in full.
Therefore, when talking about Scripture you should demonstrate both knowledge and humility, questioning and reverence. There are times, however, that the via media approach results not in appropriate moderation but in lukewarm mediocrity (Rev 3:16). One should not be “half-way” when speaking about Scripture. Instead, the final way to talk about Scripture is passionately. If you are reading, asking questions, and meeting God in the Word, your passion—manifest as excitement or even as frustration—will spill out when you are talking about the Bible, and, as every educator knows, a teacher with passion will ignite passion in her students.
Dr. Amy L. Peeler is an Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. She is presently pursuing ordination to the Priesthood with the Episcopal Church, USA.
Gathering and Opening Prayer (5 minutes)
Logistics and Organizational Topics (5-10 minutes)
Training Time (20 minutes)
- Who would be willing to share their passions about Scripture with us?
- Watch Video
- How have you talked about Scripture in the past?
- If you have been reluctant to talk about Scripture, why is that?
- Why do you think Amy continually emphasizes the discipline of daily reading?
- Do you think that if you are passionate about Scripture, others will be too?
- Jesus seemed to speak passionately about Scripture, did that always make others passionate? Why or why not?
- In her article, Amy says that students will sniff out empty and anxious words. On the other hand, she offers the potential response of, “I don’t know. Should we look at that together?” Are these two statements contradictory or complementary?
- Amy mentions reverent questioning as an approach to talking about Scripture. What do you think of this approach? Have you seen this in practice?
Take aways (10 minutes)
- What practical ideas do you have for incorporating Sabbath into your personal life? Into your ministry?
- Hand out essay for further reading
Close in Prayer (5 minutes)