The final scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade depicts Indiana standing before a large table filled with dozens of goblets, each unique with varying degrees of craftsmanship and beauty. Indiana’s quest is to find the cup that is the mythical Holy Grail. His arch-nemesis chooses a cup first and drinks. The knight guarding the Grail calmly comments, “He chose . . . poorly,” as the man disintegrates to dust before our eyes. Indiana then steps up to the table, surveys the options, and chooses one. He drinks deeply—and lives. He’s rewarded with the knight’s commendation: “You have chosen . . . wisely.”
If you’ve ever been responsible for choosing Bible study curriculum, you may have felt a bit like Indiana, standing in front of a book-covered table. It can feel daunting. What do you do? Do you close your eyes, choose randomly, and hope for the best? Do you have a lifeline you call and rely on for an answer? Do you choose the latest study on the market, assuming it must be good if everyone else likes it?
Or do you have a way to discern whether a study is profitable, purposeful, and points to Jesus? The good news is that, unlike Indiana’s choice, there’s not just one option on the table that will be life-giving. But that doesn’t mean the options are equal or even harmless. It’s helpful, then, to ask a series of questions in order to evaluate possible studies—and to choose wisely.
1. Is It Profitable?
The Word of God is profitable. It’s profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training us (2 Tim. 3:16). So when I talk about choosing a “Bible study,” I’m talking about curriculum that requires us to open our Bibles and help us interact with Scripture by reading, meditating on, learning from, and responding to it. I’m not talking about merely reading a current book and discussing it. There are some great books out there—including books that help us better understand the Bible—but those aren’t in view when choosing a Bible study. So questions to ask include:
- Does this study require that I have an open Bible in front of me?
- How often does it put me in God’s Word? Every day? Five days a week? More? Less?
- Are the questions rooted in the text? Do they ask me to:
- First, carefully observe the text. What does it say? Does this resource help identify genre, grammar, context, and figures of speech used?
- Then, interpret the text. What did this mean to the people to whom it was originally written? How can that same message translate in time and culture to us today?
- And finally, respond to the text. Now that I know this, what should I do?
- Are the questions more about God and what he is doing or more about us and how we are feeling?
- Did the author choose words and phrases that can be easily understood by everyone (believers and unbelievers alike)?
2. Is It Purposeful?
Every study should cause us to grow in our knowledge and understanding of our triune God—his glory, his character, his mission, his ways, and his Word—and of ourselves as creatures made in his image yet broken by sin. Each study should also help us grow in our ability to learn truths from God’s Word and apply them in our daily lives. We want to choose studies that are “on target” for the people who will be using them.
For instance, you might see a need for increased biblical literacy, so you choose a study that walks through one book of the Bible at a time. Or maybe you see a need to better understand how all of Scripture fits together, so you choose a study that looks at the big picture. Sometimes you might need to press in on a particular topic—contentment, joy, hope, sorrow, suffering, or envy. Maybe your group is facing a particular challenge, or there are things going on culturally, politically, or socially that need to be addressed by God’s Word. Every group at any given time will be different. But do you have a reason for choosing the study you do? Being purposeful will help you choose wisely.
- What are some things this particular group needs?
- In what ways will this particular study help to meet those needs?
3. Does It Point to Jesus?
Ultimately, the entire Bible is about Jesus. It’s a story that culminates in his life, death, and resurrection. It should go without saying that we need to choose studies that point people to Jesus: studies that magnify his name and spotlight the truth of his saving work. But that doesn’t mean we only study the four Gospels! Jesus himself said all the Scriptures testify to him (Luke 24:27). As we choose studies, then, it is important to find curriculum that majors on Jesus and the gospel.
- In what ways will this study help me better understand the forgiveness, healing, redemption, grace, and hope that are ours in Jesus?
As you stand before the proverbial table to make your decision, ask God to direct you. After all, he is the One who has chosen to reveal himself to us through his Word. He is the One who, by his Spirit, will illumine his Word. And he is the One who, through his Son—the living Word (John 1:14)—will call people to himself. May he bless us as we study his life-giving Word.