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Learning under lockdown: Driven by curiosity  

The internet offers us a wealth of options in learning more about the Bible. And while being curious always means wasting some time, these seeds of waste often bloom into fascinating flowers later on, writes Terry Young

Bible laptop

Once you start having fun with your Bible, you will want more information: what the text means, how early Christians understood it, and so forth. In the olden days, you would buy a book, discover it didn’t answer your questions, and buy another book – a chronic waste of cash and concentration.

However, the T-shirt slogan – Before you meet the handsome princes, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs – is true of Bible study, too. Curiosity, dead-ends, and fun discoveries always dance together.

The online world encourages us to take risks but also makes us risk-averse. Your kids will dive into a brand-new game, be wiped out six or seven times in an hour and yet become a magi master by the weekend. They know the sky will not fall, just for pressing the wrong button – whatever that is!

On the other hand, they are ultra-cautious about putting a day or two into what might be a dead-end. It’s amazing how much time you spend arguing with the next generation over whether something is worth doing, when it could have been done in four different ways in half the time!

Being curious always means wasting some time – but these seeds of waste often bloom into fascinating flowers later on. So, what is out there?

Follow the fun stuff

Many of you will be much better than I am at finding entertaining snippets online. I like a good illustration in 2-3 minutes: maybe Jay McCarl explaining how Jesus is the door, or Saltworks’ take on useless Bible study. These make for fun grazing and work well as inserts, introductions, or reflections in a service. Cartoons, artwork, images and readings are all out there, too, if you happen to be preaching.

A friend of mine has a 50-page rule – if a book doesn’t grab him by page 50, he dumps it. It’s quicker on the web and you soon know whether to keep watching or move on, which means you garner a lot of great stuff in an hour.

My problem is usually retrieving it later, especially since not everything that happens on the web stays on the web (I guess that works in two ways), and I’m only starting to think about curating my own library of what I like. I’ve always thought that a nice project for churches would be to build or extend their library whenever a new series was launched, bringing together good material for all ages.

Thirsty for Knowledge?

For more focused study, the internet is a phenomenal resource. Not everything is free, of course, but even downloadable books are useful, if you have the account, since it’s easier to search an e-book than hard copy. I find paper books easier if you have diagrams or figures that you may want to flip back to. If you can access the same material from different platforms, that’s helpful, too.

There is lots out there: if you are studying the ‘I am’ statements Jesus makes, particularly in John’s gospel, just put it into your search engine and see what scrolls out. You can sample the topic at almost any level, from easily read explanations to the original Greek. I quite liked Felix Just’s structured and very detailed notes, when I was doing some work in John.

Meanwhile, when I was looking for an accessible overview of Luke, I came across Mike Mazzalongo’s talk, which has subtitles and slides to accompany the lecture. All this is just the tip of the top of the iceberg.

Beyond this, most of you will have learned by now to surf for your favourite speakers, poets or songsmiths. I’ll leave the whole Christian music scene to someone better qualified.

Making good choices

Let’s simplify: what you select and what you share.

There are three main considerations in sharing. Will it offend? A US pastor I met was a superb speaker and skilful with his visuals but managed to offend key members of his congregation with classical oil paintings to illustrate some talks.
Will it distract? In Preaching Jesus Christ Today, Annette Brownlee notes the potential of illustrations to lead us away from the topic, rather than anchor us to it. As I recall, she was talking about stories, but it also applies to jokey or complicated diagrams.

Is it theft? We claim to abide by the eighth commandment (read Exodus 20, since there is a lot of uncertainty online) but we are an amazingly larcenous community, especially when we nick other people’s songs by adding a bridge, putting our name at the bottom, and dropping theirs. The point is, you need know a bit about copyright, most of which is clear and flexible and allows you to do what you want.

I’m not your judge in any of this but you need to know where these lines are drawn.

So much for sharing, what about selecting? If you are after doctrinal purity, then the fun stuff is usually on the other side of the fence. You may be shocked one day to discover that most of heaven is on the other side of your theological fence, provided your belief gets you that far. However, there’s a lot on the internet that won’t be in heaven, either.

This is a very old question disguised as a new one. John tells us we need to, ‘test the spirits to see whether they are from God,’ (1 John 4:1, NIV). Developing a mature Christian instinct takes time, so discuss it at home group, with your pastor or a Christian friend.

You may feel threatened by some of what you learn but you probably felt that way when the blue line came up on the pregnancy test kit. Not everything you learn on-line is remotely true, while some of what you discover will take time to work through. Life is scary, but God is a great God and has given you good friends.
There is some wonderful teaching around. Enjoy it!

Image | Pablo Varela | Unsplash

This is part of a series where Terry explores four ways of engaging with the Bible now:

Terry Young was born to missionary parents working in the Middle East. He has always tried to unify his life of worship and secular missions, and has been part of church leadership teams in Essex, and at Slough Baptist Church. He has written a few books that link worlds, including After the Fishermen, and Jake, Just Learn to Worship.

After a mobile early childhood his family settled in the UK to the northwest of Birmingham, and eventually he studied at the local university. After his doctoral studies he worked for 16 years in Chelmsford undertaking research and business development in the aerospace sector, where his interest was in fibre optics and photonics. In the end he gravitated to healthcare systems and moved to Datchet with a position as a university professor. He is a member of a Baptist church  


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Baptist Times, 03/06/2020
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