Monday, August 31, 2015

BookPastor >> "How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor" (Mark Yarbrough)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on May 5th, 2015.


TITLE: How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor: A Practical and Entertaining Exploration of the World's Most Famous Book
AUTHOR:  Mark Yarbrough
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Faithwords, 2015, (368 pages).

Have you ever been in Bible studies where people seem to lack a sense of proper interpretation, choosing instead to depend on individual feelings and experiences? What about cases where members seem to talk over the Scripture with personal opinions instead of proper Bible study? At the same time, there are those sessions that appear too difficult for the laymen to grasp, ending up with confusion and frustrations at knowing the text but failing to see the God of the text? Associate Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dr Mark Yarbrough, offers this volume to assist Bible studies for folks like you and me. The title of the book appears rather intimidating as readers may harbour negative views of theologians and seminarians as people who talk above the normal head. While people do not want to skip important theological themes, they too do not want to let Bible studies become exercises of subjective opinions and individual fancies.

Yarbrough writes with tremendous empathy of the struggles of the layperson. He uses his coursework to help readers anchor themselves in a "Know It, Work It, and Live It" model. In KNOWING IT, readers will learn the general structure, story, and the substance of the text.

The basic plan for the book is based on the sequence of numbers:
  • Old Testament (5-12-5-5-12)
  • New Testament (4-1-21-1)
The Old Testament's 39 books are classified into 5 books in the Pentateuch, 12 books of History, 5 books of poetry, 5 on Major Prophets, and 12 Minor Prophets. The New Testament's 27 books are denoted by 4 gospels, 1 Acts, 21 letters, and 1 Revelation. Yarbrough highlights the general biblical thrusts of the narrative and texts, beginning with creation and the fall; continuing with the covenants and the judgments; the exiles and the homecoming; the coming of Christ and the crucifixion of Christ; the death and the resurrection; the growth of the Church and the persecution of the people of God; ending with the Revelation.

In WORKING IT, he helps readers learn for themselves what the Scriptures mean by using basic rules for studying the Bible. Ten chapters are allocated to help readers with the task of observing the text; reading the text with the genre in mind; interpreting the specific form of literature; understanding the nuances of language; appreciating the history and culture; knowing the contexts and genre of narratives, poetry, prophecy, and letters. Step by step, the author leads readers to dig into the Word for themselves. He supplies tips for understanding and selecting different English Bible translations. He gives tips on how to interpret and points out how NOT to interpret. Like a Seminary Professor, he lays down the details of the processes and the tools for interpretation. We learn how to interpret and study the New Testament epistles, learning about the author and audience, the problem and perspective, and the need to treat letters as unique personal communications instead of theological papers to be examined.

In LIVING IT, readers can apply the Word as revealed through the proper study process. After the initial heavy lifting done through the WORK IT process, readers will be ready to apply the Scriptures. Using the acronym GOAL, we learn to:

  • GIVE ourselves fully to the Lord
  • OBLIGATE ourselves toward spiritual change
  • ANALYZE our personal struggles
  • LIST practical steps for accomplishing targets
He ends the book with many resources for the layperson to use.

So What?

Loosely based on the popular Inductive Bible Study method popularized by scholars such as Howard Hendricks's Living by the Book and Kay Arthur's Precept ministries, the author expands on the basic OIA paradigm to give readers a very enjoyable path to studying the Bible. With Yarborough also from Dallas Theological Seminary, readers would expect a familiar pattern of Inductive Bible Study that Hendricks had proposed. What makes this book interesting is the many illustrations and examples which keep the word "boring" at bay. The systematic approach is a necessary process for group activity surrounding better Bible reading.

I like this book. There are so many wonderful tips and useful tools that readers will be encouraged to study the Bible for themselves and to look forward to study sessions that are purposeful. The framework used is important as it gives a common frame of reference for all to study. After all, Bible study group members need to stay on the same page in order to study the same page. There are three ways in which we can use this book. Firstly, use it as a resource for study. There is no need to abandon our old ways. In fact, we can let the ideas in this book refresh the way we have been conducting Bible studies. It supplements our existing studies in a way that will be minimal disruptions to our familiar patterns. Secondly, it can be used as an annual reminder to groups on how to study their Bibles. This is especially for those groups that have a high turnover of members. Perhaps, with a more structured and systematic format, there will be less changes. Thirdly, it can be used as a course to prepare church groups to do proper study.

While the book is written in a way that is simple, it is still preferable to have a seminary trained individual to teach and to guide members on how to use the methods and suggestions in the book. Having said that, it is still possible for ordinary laypersons to use this book to equip members toward better and more effective Bible studies.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Faithwords and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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