I have often wondered how we can help individuals and small groups to explore a book of the Bible. To discover things for yourself (rather than simply being told by someone) is a key value in inductive Bible study. But this does not necessarily mean sending people off on a journey of discovery without any help whatsoever; it can be hard to make sense of something if you have no idea what to look for. As an illustration: to build something from scratch can be fun if you have the necessary skills, but if not, you are better off with a less ambitious project – and with some clear instructions. So what would this look like in the case of studying a book?
Alternatively, consider this scenario: you have enjoyed some training in biblical studies, such as an SBS or BCC, and now others ask you to share what you have learned. The prospect of teaching an introduction to a particular book of the Bible, even in a small group, seems daunting and intimidating. How could one go about this?
In the past, I have developed short modules or study guides for Ephesians and Habakkuk for this kind of situations; they are available to subscribers of this blog (see column on the right for a registration option). They provide step-by-step guidance for a small group studying these books. But these are short books. How could this work for larger books such as Romans? (I am not quite ready yet to take on the really big ones like Isaiah or Deuteronomy…)
This month I am releasing my preliminary answer to this question. Preliminary, because it has not yet been put to the test. To be honest, I am hoping that some of you will volunteer as guinea pigs and let me know how it went and what can be improved.
Here are some of the characteristics of this DIY study guide:
- There are only a few observation exercises because it takes such a long time to work your way through a longer book in order to observe something or come up with paragraph titles. This probably doesn’t work so well in a small group setting.
- Instead, I have extensively used questions. The challenge was to come up with good questions. I have tried to think of questions that are not too easy or obvious, but that do help to notice something that might otherwise be overlooked. In addition, there are questions that force you to think deeper about something.
- The units are designed for a study time of about one hour and 10 minutes each (although I may have been too optimistic on this; they may well go longer, especially if you get into a good discussion). I am not sure if this is a good length. If possible, I would have opted for shorter sessions, but I found it hard to do a good job on a unit in the text in less time. There are 13 units, but at least one or two of them take at least two sessions. If that is too many, you are under no obligation to do them all. I would suggest starting with the first four units since they look at the book as a whole and give you its background and setting, but after this, you could also choose and pick. On the other hand, to spend 20 hours or so on Paul’s letter to the Romans does not seem out of proportion; they would be well invested.
- As with the shorter modules, there are several info sheets to provide information that I consider helpful for a deeper understanding of the text. There is also a separate answer sheet that provides short answers to most questions, in case you get stuck.
- You can use this guide by yourself, but you would probably gain much by being able to discuss things, even if with only one person. I would, therefore, recommend to do it together with others.
- It comes with a CC0 license, which means you can change it, use it, and distribute it any way you like; no need to ask for permission.
Why Study Romans?
Glad you asked. Here are three brief episodes from church history where Paul’s letter to the Romans made a profound impact on someone who in turn made a profound impact on the world.
3. You may have heard of Augustine, a well-known Church Father and theologian. He had lived a wild life in his youth and later became a professor of rhetoric in Milan, Italy. In AD 386, he was sitting in the garden of a friend, almost persuaded to begin a new life, yet lacking the final resolution to break with the old. As he sat he heard a child singing in a neighboring house: “Take up and read! Take up and read!” A scroll was laying there (it happened to be a copy of Romans), and taking it up, he read: “Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:13b-14). He would later say: “A clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”
2. In November 1515, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, began a series of lectures on Paul’s epistle to the Romans. But one huge obstacle stood in the way for Luther himself to understand the epistle: the phrase “the righteousness of God.” He took it to mean the righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous – a scary thought. Luther wrestled with it for a long time, until it finally dawned on him that the righteousness of God was the righteousness God gives to us on the basis of faith. Luther wrote: “I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” Within two years, Luther would nail his 95 theses to a door in Wittenberg and the Reformation would start.
3. Now to London, 1738. John Wesley had just returned from the British colonies in America, where he had gone to be a missionary to the Indians. He had returned a failure: he never ministered to Indians; instead, a scandal had erupted in the colony of Georgia, and he had been forced to leave. All this time, he had never been certain of his own salvation, so no wonder he didn’t do too well on the mission field. On May 24th, 1738, Wesley went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where someone was reading Luther’s preface to the epistle of the Romans. The experience he had while listening to this, he would later describe in these words: “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” He never doubted his salvation since, and many see this as the starting point of the Methodist revival that swept over Britain in the 18th century.
Romans is a powerful book. Its influence in history and theology is immense. Its influence in your life could be immense as well.
This is it for this month; the real meat is in the study guide. Register for monthly updates and have a look!
La conversion de Saint Augustin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fra_angelico_-_conversion_de_saint_augustin.jpg, Public Domain
Wesley: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_Wesley_by_William_Hamilton.jpg, Public Domain