How to handle differing interpretations in Bible teaching

JohnB5200
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How to handle differing interpretations in Bible teaching

Post by JohnB5200 » Sat Jan 10, 2009 4:23 pm

First, let me say that I appreciate Steve's ministry and I podcast his daily program. I also have his book on Revelation.
I think Steve is always irenic, charitable and never combative. He tests everything by scripture and never hesitates to say "I don't know" or "this is just speculation."

Since Steve is independent and non-denominational, he can espouse whatever doctrinal views he wishes.
However, I teach an adult Bible class in a denominational church (my church history is both E Free and Southern Baptist though my current church is E Free.) And the implicit expectation is to stay in line with the pastor and denomination.

As I get older,though, I feel less and less dogmatic about a lot of doctrine I used to be passionate about (Calvinism vs.Arminianism, Hell, Free Grace vs. Lordship, charismatic gifts, gender issues, eschatology, to name a few.)

For example, I am teaching through Luke right now. Clearly, many (if not most) passages have multiple possible interpretations with equally high-IQ brains behind them.

How can I best teach with integrity and honesty without being polemical and argumentative?
How do I teach fairly with balance without making every class a comparative theology course?
Do I just need to pick a particular theological system and ignore the others?

Jill
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Post by Jill » Sat Jan 10, 2009 5:01 pm

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Last edited by Jill on Thu Feb 17, 2011 6:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

mikew
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Re: How to handle differing interpretations in Bible teaching

Post by mikew » Mon Jan 12, 2009 2:55 pm

Until recently I had been leading church meetings at a nursing home, as an extension of a Southern Baptist church.

There were people with a mixture of church backgrounds. And I wasn't supervised at all. So I was able to explain that my goal was to share not from tradition but from what I learned from scripture. As part of this I would mention (or at least have in mind) that these were mature Christians and could accept or reject the message. Furthermore, they have no need to be taught by man cause they have the Holy Spirit. (One big situation where we need to be taught by man is when we are focused on sin in a manner that takes us away from biblical guidance.)

Even if you hear a bad teaching, the true concepts from scripture can come to mind. I would remind them that even when I have heard or read a good Bible message that I have heard some concept that wasn't quite right. I then thought about the topic and came up with something apparently more in accord with scripture.

But I don't know how many Church groups would accept my approach on bible teaching.

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darinhouston
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Re: How to handle differing interpretations in Bible teaching

Post by darinhouston » Mon Jan 12, 2009 5:22 pm

karenprtlnd wrote:Steve has been both agreeable and disagreeable and combative and irenic. I also find him to be terribly funny when being ironical, and all in explicitly good taste. Steve Greggs freedom to be lucid and use irony in such good taste, comes from, I think, that he has actually read the Bible for himself. I might suggest this also for your students. The freedom to read the Bible for themselves over the cumpulsion to merely be taught/to teach stuff.
Amen, Karen.

I must add that one thing I find refreshing is Steve's approach to this very question. What he does, and what I would recommend, is (as Steve says) to "teach" and not to indoctrinate. If there are multiple views, respect your students enough to tell them so. If there's a view you lean toward, honestly say so. If you don't know, say what you know and confess your lack of understanding.

I think many teachers are afraid to be honest out of fear of confusing or misleading those they teach. Ultimate, though, if they grow they will have questions and if they are answered outside of the teaching they previously respected, they will have (from personal experience) more doubts than if they were told the full story to begin with but also will have very little basis to trust the other things they were taught.

In short, respect them enough to be honest and thorough.

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anochria
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Re: How to handle differing interpretations in Bible teaching

Post by anochria » Tue Jan 27, 2009 1:10 am

I'm a big advocate for non-denominational (community) churches for the very reason you're describing. It's one thing to be a believer in a denomination that holds to some doctrinal tenets you have some disagreements with. It's quite another to be a teacher in one, or a pastor.

In your environment, are you as a teacher able to say, "this is what our tradition has taught, though I respect diverse perspectives on the subject" or "this is what our tradition has taught, but is an area where I differ"?
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Re: How to handle differing interpretations in Bible teaching

Post by nancyer » Wed Apr 20, 2011 2:16 pm

I attend a Methodist church in So. Cal. Our denomination's basis for faith and Biblical understanding is Scripture, Reasoning, Experience and Tradition. Our Pastor is wonderful and offers a Bible study, called Scripture Encounters, twice a week. These are full on discussion groups rather than lecture and he is very open to differing points of view. When a Biblical point is questioned he will often say "we don't know, do we? Paul never mentions where so and so came from" or "we know very little about her history". Our Tuesday morning session is often attended by a lovely Roman Catholic woman who adds a great deal to our discussion and to my thought process. Pastor Bob loves it when she shows up, she keeps him on his toes he says. I know many denominational churches do stick with their own doctrine. I love the fact that our Pastor welcomes varying ideas and reasoning.

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mattrose
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Re: How to handle differing interpretations in Bible teaching

Post by mattrose » Wed Apr 20, 2011 5:07 pm

1. I think it is useful to eliminate the least likely interpretations first (but be ready to respond if someone brings them up, b/c the worst interpretations are sometimes popular).

2. I think it is useful to do the hard work of figuring out which interpretation is best from your point of view. Teach this interpretation (perhaps this will be the point on your handout if you provide one).

3. I think it is useful to mention other interpretations that you found strong. This should be limited to 1 or 2 other interpretations. Discuss why you, ultimately, do not consider them the best (but leave room for disagreement/discussion).

4. When there are competing interpretations that you just can choose between, simply let the class know this. Many times the class discussion will make 1 of the interpretations seem obvious or, at least, preferable.

* In regard to denominational churches, if they don't want you to voice certain interpretations, you shouldn't. Talk to the pastor/leadership about their parameters before you agree to teach a class. They should probably have some sort of 'teacher-commitment' thingy that you agree to before taking such a role (if they don't, recommend it to them). If you feel you can't in good conscience avoid interpretations that you believe are correct, then you should step down from that teaching position. Let the pastor/leadership know why you are stepping down openly, honestly and with a humble attitude.

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darinhouston
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Re: How to handle differing interpretations in Bible teaching

Post by darinhouston » Wed Apr 20, 2011 11:07 pm

mattrose wrote: * In regard to denominational churches, if they don't want you to voice certain interpretations, you shouldn't. Talk to the pastor/leadership about their parameters before you agree to teach a class. They should probably have some sort of 'teacher-commitment' thingy that you agree to before taking such a role (if they don't, recommend it to them). If you feel you can't in good conscience avoid interpretations that you believe are correct, then you should step down from that teaching position. Let the pastor/leadership know why you are stepping down openly, honestly and with a humble attitude.
I think your 4 points are great, but denominational or not, why assume there are (or should be) limits (beyond divisiveness) when such parameters haven't been established or pointed out in response to specific teaching? Why assume that a pastor will (or should) have such a controlling attitude (or by implication give him the idea that he could/should) if it hasn't been suggested. Once an issue or problem has been raised, perhaps there is wisdom in stepping down, but shouldn't one at least push back a little if teaching is being micro-managed to such a degree that topics not clearly heretical or otherwise presented in a divisive manner are criticized by leadership? That sort of submission to a single individual doesn't seem to be biblically warranted. Why not suggest that the teaching is within the pale of orthodoxy, and suggest humbly that the two of you present the subject to the eldership and see if agreement after consideration could be reached that a particular topic should be fair to present to the congregation? Of course, if a group of elders agree with the pastor, then by all means (unless you're prepared to take it to the congregation) step down or move on.

What if a teacher asks a group member (not a teacher) to stop contributing certain topics to a group discussion ? (without any suggestion that it is being done in a divisive manner or even creating division, but simply to quiet certain positions and defer to the teacher's position?) What if that teacher goes to the pastor, and the pastor agrees that the subjects are biblically sound, not presented in a divisive manner, but that submission should be honored in any event to honor the "authority" of the teacher with the group?) Where does it end? (as you may guess, I have some personal bias in this issue from past experiences)

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mattrose
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Re: How to handle differing interpretations in Bible teaching

Post by mattrose » Thu Apr 21, 2011 1:02 am

I think your 4 points are great, but denominational or not, why assume there are (or should be) limits (beyond divisiveness) when such parameters haven't been established or pointed out in response to specific teaching? Why assume that a pastor will (or should) have such a controlling attitude (or by implication give him the idea that he could/should) if it hasn't been suggested.
If parameters haven't been given, then I agree.

I wasn't thinking of control-freak pastor, but a church that had a standing policy (the pastor simply representing the church during the discussion).
Once an issue or problem has been raised, perhaps there is wisdom in stepping down, but shouldn't one at least push back a little if teaching is being micro-managed to such a degree that topics not clearly heretical or otherwise presented in a divisive manner are criticized by leadership? That sort of submission to a single individual doesn't seem to be biblically warranted. Why not suggest that the teaching is within the pale of orthodoxy, and suggest humbly that the two of you present the subject to the eldership and see if agreement after consideration could be reached that a particular topic should be fair to present to the congregation? Of course, if a group of elders agree with the pastor, then by all means (unless you're prepared to take it to the congregation) step down or move on.
I guess I am speaking from my own experiences. I've never heard of a pastor or church getting upset that a teacher within a church is teaching something non-heretical in a non-decisive manner! There's only an issue when the teaching is potentially heretical or, as is more often the case, the teaching is being done in a divisive manner.

I think you and I are probably on the same page when it comes to not having 1 person in authority. I am for churches establishing a 'teacher covenant' of sorts that are very basic (apostle's creed type stuff), but also include some statement against being devisive in areas of denominational doctriunes.

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mattrose
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Re: How to handle differing interpretations in Bible teaching

Post by mattrose » Thu Apr 21, 2011 1:11 am

Illustration...

At our church we never got around to making a 'teacher covenant'. We are pretty laid back and tend to deal with issues as they arise. We're a 'Wesleyan' church and our pastor recently preached a short series on the basics of 'what wesleyans believe'. As it turns out, one of our sunday school teachers is a strong calvinist and started making statements in his class about how he was going to show his class the correct view vs. what the pastor said. In other words, he started teaching hard-core calvinism to counteract the preaching series. I see this as divisive. He never talked to the pastor about this. We heard it through the men in the class.

Due to situations like this, I think it is a good idea to have a 'teacher covenant' in which teachers agree to be bound by some basic set of beliefs AND agree not to be divisive in secondary matters.

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