Book review: Learn to Study the Bible
From the very beginning of my literate life, the Bible has been my favorite book. Growing up, we read a chapter of it daily, while the seven of us sat around the kitchen table. Either my dad would open up a chapter at random, or we girls would request one of our favorite stories. (My favorite was the story of Ehud, the left-handed judge of Israel who assassinated pagan King Eglon. Eglon was so fat that even the haft of the dagger disappeared in his belly, “and the dirt came out,” says the King James Version. It’s an intriguing story; you can read it for yourself in Judges 3.) My parents gave me my own King James copy when I was in elementary school, and I devoured it.
Reading the Bible alone in my room, I heard Jesus’ call to his disciples to follow him, and I responded with a wholehearted yes! I kept reading it, and over the years God has used it to transform my life. My hunger for it only grows. I now come to the Bible more open than before, hoping that God’s thoughts will rearrange my life, rather than fitting the text into my own framework. I’m always looking for ways to engage with scripture with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.
So when I received a copy of Learn to Study the Bible, by Andy Deane, giddy learner that I am, I eagerly read every word, with pen in hand. Deane has compiled forty different methods “to help you discover, apply, and enjoy God’s Word.” Most methods have a handwritten sample to show you how average Bible readers can transfer the idea to their own lives.
Most compelling to me about this book is the motivation and passion you can’t help but catch from Deane. He loves the Word, and his desire is to see other followers of Jesus have similar passion ignited. He pulls from numerous sources accessible quotes, rhymes, and most often verses from the Bible itself to help his reader comprehend its great riches, beginning with the verse on the front cover: “I rejoice at Your word / As one who finds great treasure” (Psalm 119:162). He openly shares with readers his own practices in Bible study, and his tone, while confident, is never condescending or pretentious. I don’t think even the newest Christian would be intimidated, one reason I recommend this book.
The other outstanding aspect of this book is its great practicality. For each of the forty methods, Deane breaks it down into step-by-step directions. They read a lot like an English teacher’s directions to a class of high-schoolers, and that’s OK. They’re easy to understand, and, just in case you don’t get exactly what he means, he includes a handwritten sample of the method. (All of those samples were lovingly written up by his wife; she must be quite the treasure, too.) The samples themselves are fun and motivating to read: Maybe I could go read the Bible right now and have some exciting or important truths revealed to me, too!
Some of these methods are fairly elementary, such as using the SPACEPETS acrostic to dig into a Bible passage:
S — Is there a sin to avoid, forsake, or confess?
P — Is there a promise to believe and conditions to meet?
A — Is there an attitude to change or an action to take?
C — Is there a command to keep?
E — Is there an example to follow?
P — Is there a prayer to pray or a priority to change?
E — Is there an error to mark?
T — Is there a truth to meditate upon?
S — Is there a specific thing to thank God for?
And some of the methods take more work, such as using reference materials or writing a paraphrase. There is also a useful section of Bible-study methods geared toward youth (those took me back to my English-teacher days!). Most importantly, each method ends with a final step of applying what you’ve learned to your life; the goal is transformation.
My English-teacher background helped make this book appealing to me, but it also made me a harsher judge. Honestly, I think the book’s most substantive weakness is its lack of good editing. Of course, punctuation and other mechanical errors annoy me when they make it into published books, and they embarrass me when those books have been written by Christians. Unfortunately, there were a lot of mechanical errors in this book. More importantly, though, shoddy editing led to a lack of information in this book. Chapter 46 is a list of recommended resources for building a Bible reference library, but it doesn’t include authors or publication information. The “Notes” section at the end, which is usually one of my favorite parts of nonfiction books, is also poorly edited. For example, a John MacArthur book is cited, but at least one word is left out of the title: “How To The Most From God’s Word.” Learn? Get? Glean? I’d be interested in checking out MacArthur’s book, but I’d first have to guess the missing word right.
In the delightful first section of the book, Deane explains why we should study the Bible and general methods for doing so, and cites a lot of Bible verses to back up his arguments. I looked up every verse he referred to but didn’t quote. Most of them are wonderful, but some seemed taken out of context. Just sayin’.
As with any methods book, some of the practical ideas might seem contrived or overly methodical, but I think that’s OK! Some students of the Bible will benefit from those things. There’s a method here for everybody who wants to digest more of the Bible, and with the Holy Spirit’s teaching, those times of study will be life-changing.
Even with its weaknesses, I love this book, and it has informed my Bible study since. It has reminded me of the beauty of the Scriptures and their power to transform my life. I recommend it to most readers. I would loan you mine, but, um, I kind of don’t want to share. Go check out your own copy of Andy Deane’s Learn to Study the Bible, and dig in!