The Christian Disciplines: Study

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The average adult Sunday School class is far too superficial and devotional to help us study the Bible (Richard Foster).

Funny how last month’s discipline was fasting, something I’m usually pretty good at, and yet I had a real shocker. I started the year with a 40 hour fast but have been pretty rubbish ever since. Foster warned about letting the disciplines become vainglories. I think I fell into the trap.

And so to the discipline of study, something else I’m pretty good at. It’s kind of what I do, as a teacher and a scholar, and it’s one of the Mormon “Big Two” along with prayer. Good Mormons read the scriptures . . . a lot.

Of course, Foster does not simply have reading in mind, nor does he have much time for “Thought for the Day” style approaches to the Bible. He extols four steps to disciplined study:

1. Repetition. This is what I like about the Mormon Sunday School cycle or the Anglican lectionaries. The same stuff gets read again and again and again . . .

2. Concentration. Harder. So little time, so many distractions.

3. Reflection. Study followed by meditation.

4. Humility. Also difficult. Too often we study to confirm what we already think we know. The best books and the best experiences of reading are the ones which challenge us. In this, Deseret Book mostly fails.

I like some of Foster’s other suggestions, including going on study retreats. Monasteries are usually open for this kind of thing. I also like the idea of taking one book of scripture and reading it on its own. For Mormons, this might be a book other than 1 Nephi; for Christians in general, one of the Old Testament minor prophets or one of the lesser epistles. One continues to get the feeling that Foster is an eccentric, probably in good ways. For example, I cheered when he said that his children’s bedtime reading hour was sacrosanct, meaning even saying no to evening church meetings.

On p.88 he suggests a lists of Christian classics we should be reading. There’s some really good stuff there. My goal this month is to read Piers Plowman. I am also thinking about reading Matthew’s Passion with my family as we approach Easter.

Next month: Simplicity.

 

Comments

  1. This is such an important discipline — and we as a people need real help with it.

    Humility. Also difficult. Too often we study to confirm what we already think we know. The best books and the best experiences of reading are the ones which challenge us. In this, Deseret Book mostly fails.

    This is a perfect distillation of the problem that we, as a people, have with our scripture study. On bad days, I feel that we have completely devalued the scriptures to the point of seeing their only value in prooftexting the latest statements of current General Authorities. On better days, I hope and pray that our General Authorities are letting themselves be taught by the scriptures and not using them in this way in their own interaction with them (both in their study and in how they cite/use them rhetorically).

    Whatever the case may be with General Authorities these days, the most each of us regular members of the Church can do on this issue in our own lives is to avoid that temptation to value the scriptures only for their potential as such prooftexts, digging into their context and content for what they mean and can mean to us individually as God’s revelation to us.

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