Secular Bible Study

More ideas from Minnesota. Secular Bible Study casts wide net:

As if it’s not unusual enough that Trinity United Methodist Church and the Minnesota Atheists have joined forces to promote a project, wait till you hear what the project is: a Bible study class.

Granted, it’s not your normal one. At least, that’s the hope. Called Secular Bible Study, the program aims to “foster and nurture relationships between folks who would otherwise avoid each other,” said Chester O’Gorman, community outreach director for the northeast Minneapolis church. “Secular Bible Study hopes to attract a variety of people — Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, Christians and even Jews and Muslims.”

The weekly class will focus on the Bible’s historical and cultural context. Organizers have drawn up a set of ground rules designed to keep participants from proselytizing, but that doesn’t mean that they want to discourage disagreement.

What do you think about studying the history and culture of the Bible without reference to Christ, salvation, grace, and other controversial things that the Bible is about? Might this do some good, or is it just reading the Word of God as covered by a veil?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    Studying the Bible without Christ and His Cross would be a form of pornography; rather like watching as opposing to having sex.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    Studying the Bible without Christ and His Cross would be a form of pornography; rather like watching as opposing to having sex.

  • sandi

    Rather like attending a orchestral performance of a Bach with ear plugs.

  • sandi

    Rather like attending a orchestral performance of a Bach with ear plugs.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/TKls2myhrt Theresa K.

    Well, if you accept the premise that the prospective group are people who either have previously rejected Christianity or have not been exposed to it, what harm can come from reading God's Word? Wouldn't it be wonderful if even one of those people bought or acquired scripture for their home and decided to read it away from the group? God draws people to Himself by His Word (Romans 10:17). Of course, that person would then need to find a solid church to continue to grow in faith.

    What intrigued me was the statement from O'Gorman, ""We've discerned that people have lost or lack the skills to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue in the context of profound disagreement…An emphasis will be placed on dialogue among the group of small groups." This forum sometimes illustrates that shortage of skills. I know its a goal of mine to hone those skills.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/TKls2myhrt Theresa K.

    Well, if you accept the premise that the prospective group are people who either have previously rejected Christianity or have not been exposed to it, what harm can come from reading God's Word? Wouldn't it be wonderful if even one of those people bought or acquired scripture for their home and decided to read it away from the group? God draws people to Himself by His Word (Romans 10:17). Of course, that person would then need to find a solid church to continue to grow in faith.

    What intrigued me was the statement from O'Gorman, ""We've discerned that people have lost or lack the skills to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue in the context of profound disagreement…An emphasis will be placed on dialogue among the group of small groups." This forum sometimes illustrates that shortage of skills. I know its a goal of mine to hone those skills.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/TKls2myhrt Theresa K.

    Well, if you accept the premise that the prospective group are people who either have previously rejected Christianity or have not been exposed to it, what harm can come from reading God's Word? Wouldn't it be wonderful if even one of those people bought or acquired scripture for their home and decided to read it away from the group? God draws people to Himself by His Word (Romans 10:17). Of course, that person would then need to find a solid church to continue to grow in faith.

    What intrigued me was the statement from O'Gorman, ""We've discerned that people have lost or lack the skills to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue in the context of profound disagreement…An emphasis will be placed on dialogue among the group of small groups." This forum sometimes illustrates that shortage of skills. I know its a goal of mine to hone those skills.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/TKls2myhrt Theresa K.

    Well, if you accept the premise that the prospective group are people who either have previously rejected Christianity or have not been exposed to it, what harm can come from reading God's Word? Wouldn't it be wonderful if even one of those people bought or acquired scripture for their home and decided to read it away from the group? God draws people to Himself by His Word (Romans 10:17). Of course, that person would then need to find a solid church to continue to grow in faith.

    What intrigued me was the statement from O'Gorman, ""We've discerned that people have lost or lack the skills to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue in the context of profound disagreement…An emphasis will be placed on dialogue among the group of small groups." This forum sometimes illustrates that shortage of skills. I know its a goal of mine to hone those skills.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/WebMonk WebMonk

    If these were Christians studying the Bible like this, then obviously there are some problems – Christians specifically avoiding the central message as personally applicable is indeed nonsensical. But, these are non-Christians studying the Bible as a piece of literature (which it is, but much more too) and as a tool to understand the view of others.

    More power to them!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/WebMonk WebMonk

    If these were Christians studying the Bible like this, then obviously there are some problems – Christians specifically avoiding the central message as personally applicable is indeed nonsensical. But, these are non-Christians studying the Bible as a piece of literature (which it is, but much more too) and as a tool to understand the view of others.

    More power to them!

  • J. M. Braaten

    My inclination is that it unwittingly plays right into the secularist's and atheist's hands. It gives credence and precedence to their constant charge: There is a difference between the Bible of history and the Bible of Faith. This makes us both poor historians and Christians because our Lord's claims are fundamentally historical, and we end up making Bultmann more than a higher critic, but also a prophet.

  • J. M. Braaten

    My inclination is that it unwittingly plays right into the secularist's and atheist's hands. It gives credence and precedence to their constant charge: There is a difference between the Bible of history and the Bible of Faith. This makes us both poor historians and Christians because our Lord's claims are fundamentally historical, and we end up making Bultmann more than a higher critic, but also a prophet.

  • Dean Peterson

    I think Minnesota should be sold to Canada. We are extremely wrong here.

  • Dean Peterson

    I think Minnesota should be sold to Canada. We are extremely wrong here.

  • Dan Kempin

    Suggested promotional slogan:

    "Don't worry, we don't really believe it!"

  • Dan Kempin

    Suggested promotional slogan:

    "Don't worry, we don't really believe it!"

  • JonSLC

    Hmm. I think we can agree on this: What will make or break this event is how the Christians who are present communicate with the non-Christians. Who will be influencing whom?

    Is it Christians explaining why they consider the Bible important, namely, through it God interfaces with us and gives forgiving grace in Christ? Even some basic apologetic aims might be good. For instance, clearing away some false but popular notions about the unreliability of the New Testament documents. Could be beneficial if it's Christians "speaking the truth in love."

    On the other hand, if it degenerates into a mere "I'm okay, you're okay, let's just get along" type of meeting, is that benefiting anyone? More importantly, is it glorifying Christ?

  • JonSLC

    Hmm. I think we can agree on this: What will make or break this event is how the Christians who are present communicate with the non-Christians. Who will be influencing whom?

    Is it Christians explaining why they consider the Bible important, namely, through it God interfaces with us and gives forgiving grace in Christ? Even some basic apologetic aims might be good. For instance, clearing away some false but popular notions about the unreliability of the New Testament documents. Could be beneficial if it's Christians "speaking the truth in love."

    On the other hand, if it degenerates into a mere "I'm okay, you're okay, let's just get along" type of meeting, is that benefiting anyone? More importantly, is it glorifying Christ?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/TKls2myhrt TKls2myhrt

    Slightly off topic, but not really…

    Does anyone have a copy of Dr. Veith's "Why God's Word Is All We Need" they'd like to sell? It seems to be out of print. I'm guessing it would be a great read, in light of this post topic.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/TKls2myhrt TKls2myhrt

    Slightly off topic, but not really…

    Does anyone have a copy of Dr. Veith's "Why God's Word Is All We Need" they'd like to sell? It seems to be out of print. I'm guessing it would be a great read, in light of this post topic.

  • Nemo

    It seems to be available here
    http://www.audubonpress.net/product.php?productid

  • Nemo

    It seems to be available here
    http://www.audubonpress.net/product.php?productid

  • Joe

    That is not accurate. There are Christians involved with this Bible study. For them to set there and allow the dialog to ignore the basic purpose of the Bible seems to be an abdication of the primary job of the church militant.

  • Joe

    That is not accurate. There are Christians involved with this Bible study. For them to set there and allow the dialog to ignore the basic purpose of the Bible seems to be an abdication of the primary job of the church militant.

  • Jon

    The comment above about who influences whom is well taken. But consider this –
    My wife years ago took a New Testament class at a local community college. The class was to fulfil a humanities requirement. The Bible was not taught as the Word of God, but it was taken as seriously as Shakespeare or Homer.. Every student had to read the entire NT and was tested on its content. The history and culture of the NT era were respectfully discussed at length.
    My wife, not then a believer, was overwhelmed by the NT, which she had never read. She could not stop reading it, and eventually came to faith. Surely not everyone who reads the Bible ends up a believer, but I'm all for everyone reading it at any time, under almost any circumstance. Word comes by faith, and faith by hearing the Word.
    To be candid, I would much rather listen to a literature or history professor lecture seriously on the Bible than I would a pastor who treats it Sunday after Sunday as a kind of Aesop's fable, fit only for moralizing.

  • Jon

    The comment above about who influences whom is well taken. But consider this –
    My wife years ago took a New Testament class at a local community college. The class was to fulfil a humanities requirement. The Bible was not taught as the Word of God, but it was taken as seriously as Shakespeare or Homer.. Every student had to read the entire NT and was tested on its content. The history and culture of the NT era were respectfully discussed at length.
    My wife, not then a believer, was overwhelmed by the NT, which she had never read. She could not stop reading it, and eventually came to faith. Surely not everyone who reads the Bible ends up a believer, but I'm all for everyone reading it at any time, under almost any circumstance. Word comes by faith, and faith by hearing the Word.
    To be candid, I would much rather listen to a literature or history professor lecture seriously on the Bible than I would a pastor who treats it Sunday after Sunday as a kind of Aesop's fable, fit only for moralizing.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/DonS DonS

    I have a friend who is involved with Search Ministries, which is a missions organization having an objective of engaging the community in discussions about life and values without proselytizing. This engagement includes Bible study. My friend serves as a moderator of the discussions. He is available to each participant during the course of the series, but waits for the Holy Spirit to work on receptive hearts. It is a very effective ministry. Similarly, the Gideons have a very effective ministry, simply making the Bible available to people to read on their own. God's Word does the work, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, of drawing people to the cause of Christ. If this work is in that vein, then it may have value. On the other hand, if the "study" focuses on applying a liberal theological sheen to the Bible before its simple truths are permitted to penetrate receptive soil (i.e. more directed to discussion of relevance, interpretation, alignment with progressive values, etc.), then it is probably harmful to the cause of Christ.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/DonS DonS

    I have a friend who is involved with Search Ministries, which is a missions organization having an objective of engaging the community in discussions about life and values without proselytizing. This engagement includes Bible study. My friend serves as a moderator of the discussions. He is available to each participant during the course of the series, but waits for the Holy Spirit to work on receptive hearts. It is a very effective ministry. Similarly, the Gideons have a very effective ministry, simply making the Bible available to people to read on their own. God's Word does the work, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, of drawing people to the cause of Christ. If this work is in that vein, then it may have value. On the other hand, if the "study" focuses on applying a liberal theological sheen to the Bible before its simple truths are permitted to penetrate receptive soil (i.e. more directed to discussion of relevance, interpretation, alignment with progressive values, etc.), then it is probably harmful to the cause of Christ.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Excellent point and a very pertinent example, Jon. Thanks for this. The Word of God is efficacious, so it can do its work whenever it is read.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Excellent point and a very pertinent example, Jon. Thanks for this. The Word of God is efficacious, so it can do its work whenever it is read.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    this is called studying the bible as great literature. it is most certainly that. take a deep breath. relax. it is the context that makes it wrong. churches don´t study the bible as great literature. they use it to preach christ crucified. I hope we are talking about some non religious study group merely using the churches facilities. even that has a wrong context ….but ok.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    this is called studying the bible as great literature. it is most certainly that. take a deep breath. relax. it is the context that makes it wrong. churches don´t study the bible as great literature. they use it to preach christ crucified. I hope we are talking about some non religious study group merely using the churches facilities. even that has a wrong context ….but ok.

  • Joe

    Unfortunately, we are talking about a congregation of the United Methodist Church.

  • Joe

    Unfortunately, we are talking about a congregation of the United Methodist Church.

  • wcwirla

    This is an interesting idea, in my opinion. In the evidentiary apologetic, you simply ask the person to accept the Gospels as reliable eyewitness testimony. Nothing more. If you can actually maintain objectivity, the Word of God will speak for itself (Himself). I wouldn't dismiss this out of hand.

  • wcwirla

    This is an interesting idea, in my opinion. In the evidentiary apologetic, you simply ask the person to accept the Gospels as reliable eyewitness testimony. Nothing more. If you can actually maintain objectivity, the Word of God will speak for itself (Himself). I wouldn't dismiss this out of hand.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/WebMonk WebMonk

    Bravo frank on the great literature angle. The Bible is a great piece of literature even divorced from its God-breathed aspect. It can be studied as such. It ought to be studied as such at some point, even by Christians if for no other reason than there is a lot people can gain just by looking at something from a slightly different perspective. Obviously there is more to it than just Literature, but the literature is there too and can illuminate lots of other aspects.

    If Christians want to teach the Great Literature aspect to others, then more power to them as long as they don't denigrate or deny the "more" part of Scripture.

    I have no clue how they are teaching it. Are they teaching the Literature part while not denying or minimalizing the Word of God part of it? Great! Obviously more should be said by Christians, but this can be a great first step and introduction. Are they teaching it as a let's-all-hold-hands-and-be-friends-and-never-disagree sort of movement? Then bad!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/WebMonk WebMonk

    Bravo frank on the great literature angle. The Bible is a great piece of literature even divorced from its God-breathed aspect. It can be studied as such. It ought to be studied as such at some point, even by Christians if for no other reason than there is a lot people can gain just by looking at something from a slightly different perspective. Obviously there is more to it than just Literature, but the literature is there too and can illuminate lots of other aspects.

    If Christians want to teach the Great Literature aspect to others, then more power to them as long as they don't denigrate or deny the "more" part of Scripture.

    I have no clue how they are teaching it. Are they teaching the Literature part while not denying or minimalizing the Word of God part of it? Great! Obviously more should be said by Christians, but this can be a great first step and introduction. Are they teaching it as a let's-all-hold-hands-and-be-friends-and-never-disagree sort of movement? Then bad!

  • Heather S.

    My dad took a Bible history class in college, and he had been and remains an atheist. However, the Word of God can do powerful things, can bring someone to faith. I do not think it could hurt either. Most atheists have not read the Bible and have no idea what they're talking about when they dismiss the Bible as garbage. The only thing about a group Bible study is that there will be a bit of peer pressure to keep the atheist perspective.

  • Heather S.

    My dad took a Bible history class in college, and he had been and remains an atheist. However, the Word of God can do powerful things, can bring someone to faith. I do not think it could hurt either. Most atheists have not read the Bible and have no idea what they're talking about when they dismiss the Bible as garbage. The only thing about a group Bible study is that there will be a bit of peer pressure to keep the atheist perspective.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    The entire scriptures were written with the express purpose being as a testimony to the very person of Christ Jesus. It is wonderful that that book is also great literature that reflects the human condition so very well. it´s prose and poetry are amazing.

    again , in the context we are talking about, using a church facility and the name of the church, I am hoping that the intent is about Jesus. The Word WILL work it´s way regardless of that. an interesting article that makes one think eh?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    The entire scriptures were written with the express purpose being as a testimony to the very person of Christ Jesus. It is wonderful that that book is also great literature that reflects the human condition so very well. it´s prose and poetry are amazing.

    again , in the context we are talking about, using a church facility and the name of the church, I am hoping that the intent is about Jesus. The Word WILL work it´s way regardless of that. an interesting article that makes one think eh?

  • WPGCanuck

    If we believe in the intrinsic power of God's Word then we have to believe that as one studies it, the Holy Spirit is at work.

  • WPGCanuck

    If we believe in the intrinsic power of God's Word then we have to believe that as one studies it, the Holy Spirit is at work.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/WebMonk WebMonk

    I meant a Christian group studying the Bible while rejecting that the Bible is more than just Literature. That would sort of be like what Peter and sandi described. I don't think that's what is happening here though, at least it doesn't seem that way from the brief bit of news report.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/WebMonk WebMonk

    I meant a Christian group studying the Bible while rejecting that the Bible is more than just Literature. That would sort of be like what Peter and sandi described. I don't think that's what is happening here though, at least it doesn't seem that way from the brief bit of news report.


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