One of my moonlighting jobs is series editor of The Good Book Guides – Bible study guides for small groups that are simple to use yet take the word of God seriously. It’s a concept I developed with The Good Book Company (click here for the Australian GBC website).
Earlier this year they ran an interview with me on their US website. Here it is …
How did the idea for the series initially come about?
Tim: In a nutshell, we felt there was a need for something that was simple to use, but still took the Bible text seriously, so the Good Book Guides have less text and more questions.
Underlying the Good Book Guides are some convictions about the Bible. We don’t believe the Bible is open to a variety of interpretations. The meaning of a Bible passage is determined by the human and divine authors. It’s not determined by the reader. We need to ask ‘What does this passage mean?’ not ‘What does this passage mean to you?’
We also believe the Bible is God’s Word for us today. That means studying the Bible must lead to action. Bible study isn’t an end in itself. It’s about knowing and serving God better. The value of Good Book Guides is not whether they lead to good Bible studies, but whether they lead to Bibleshaped lives.
What do you think are the main features of Good Book Guides?
Tim: Each study starts with a ‘talkabout’ question that opens up the topic. There’s usually no right or wrong answer to this question. This means anyone can answer the question which gets people into the swing of contributing.
Then the main chunk of the study is the ‘investigate’ section. These get people into the text. That’s the key thing. The important thing is good questions that open up discussion.
When it comes to application we have a combination of ‘apply’ questions for group discussion and ‘getting personal’ boxes for individual reflection. We also include some ideas for prayer because we want groups to get in the habit of praying in response to God’s word.
Why do you think they are so popular?
Tim: I hope people appreciate their biblical faithfulness and incisive application. But I suspect people also like them because they’re easy to use. The leader’s notes provide a summary of the key issues in the passage and guidance on questions. They’re fairly comprehensive so I hope they give leaders confidence even if they don’t see themselves as gifted Bible teachers.
What do you think sets them apart from other Bible studies?
Tim: One thing is the ‘Why?’ question. A lot of people approach the Bible asking two questions: ‘What did it say then?’ and ‘What does it say today? But there’s a key question that belongs in the middle: the ‘Why?’ question. Why did the author say this? Why did he say it to these people? Why does he say it in this way? If we don’t ask the ‘Why?’ questions then we usually end up drawing rather random parallels between the situation then and now. Only by asking why it was written then can we really understand how it applies to us today.
Some Bible studies take the Bible seriously but are somewhat heavy. Others are easy to use but don’t push groups towards a real engagement with the Bible. I want the Good Book Guides to be both: easy to use and interacting seriously with the God’s word.