Since I think a lot about the nature and parameters of Bible study these days, it was inevitable that my eyes fell on a book in the free pile at a local used book shop: Personal Bible Study by William C. Lincoln, published in 1975. A few quick skims across pages told me it might have something to offer, so I snatched it up.
Now, several months later, I’ve picked it back up again and am concerned. May I tell you why? (Yeah, I guess I can, because you don’t have my WordPress password and you can’t stop me!) Here are some nits (and, later, maybe some giraffes and walruses) I want to pick.
- Lincoln refers to the Bible as the most important book in all the libraries of the world. Good. But we should remember that the Bible is itself a library. It is a collection of “books” and shouldn’t primarily, in my opinion, be viewed as a sort of cohesive, interrelating self-commentary. Of course there are connections between Daniel and Revelation, and between the Psalms and the gospels. But each book/letter/prophetic oracle/narrative should first be understood as a discrete piece of inspired literature.
- Says Lincoln: “Since this book is the Word of God, it means that you are not left to depend upon fleeing visions of dreams in the night to determine what God wants you to do. It is not some subjective experience that guides you; it is a written record to which you return again and again for reassurance and further enlightenment.” I resonate pretty strongly with that statement, but to pick a little: the notion of “returning again for reassurance” smacks of the “pocket Bible promise book” approach, which Lincoln himself decries a few paragraphs later.
- “It is worth all the effort that you might expend in seeking to learn its truths.” Yes, yes … a hundred times yes. But the author continues: “ … the result will be a better understanding of what God is saying to you.” He emphasizes the “to you” part to an extent that gives me indigestion. God speaks to us in multiple ways, yes. But in this era—perhaps more than the one in which the book was written?—I don’t think we need more emphasis on self. It’s not appropriate to approach scripture primarily with a view toward what God is saying to me. That aspect may be pursued and purveyed later, after bona fide exegesis of the original text has occurred in some measure.
Next: a few approaches to scripture described by the author of this book, and their respective plusses and minuses