I’ll be going to my church’s Bible study group this coming Wednesday. It’s a six-week program, and we will be going through Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God, which is about Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son.
I was rather nervous about attending it, to tell you the truth. The last time that I was in a Bible study group (which was over a decade ago) was not a pleasant experience. I felt as if fundamentalist doctrines were being shoved down my throat, and that I was continually being judged over whether or not I had “grown” (whatever that means). I much prefer to be in a church service, where I don’t have to say anything and can take or leave what I hear, without my reactions being gauged. Regarding my church’s Bible study, I feared that I would be forced to talk, since some people there know that I have degrees in religion. But I wondered what I would say. I don’t want to ask a bunch of village atheist questions, and yet that’s where I am right now. I’m not an atheist, mind you, but I have a lot of hostility towards Christian fundamentalism. I can’t rattle off a bunch of spiritual platitudes that sound authentic and make me sound wise. In short, I don’t know how to act in a Bible study group.
Also, I wondered what I would learn from the Bible study. I already know Tim Keller’s spiel, for I went to his church for a year. And what more can be said about the Parable of the Prodigal Son?
As I look at the discussion guide, however, I am looking forward to the Bible study group. The study appears to have open-ended questions, such as “Who do you identify with more, the younger or elder brother? Why?” I’m genuinely interested in how the members of the group will answer that. One doesn’t need advanced training in religious studies (or even Bible literacy) to offer an edifying answer to that sort of question, for it is about spirituality, not head knowledge. So is much of what Tim Keller is talking about, even though he comes from a conservative Christian perspective. I may have issues with fundamentalism and the Bible, but I know that I run into problems when I make anything (e.g., material things, success, popularity, intellect) the basis for my identity and my happiness (which is Tim Keller’s definition of idolatry). In a Bible study group, I can learn how others deal with issues like that.
In terms of my own answer to the question of whom I identify with more in the Parable, I’d say that I used to identify with the older brother, who felt that he obeyed all the rules and got no love from his father (representing God) in return. Nowadays, I identify more with the younger brother, who made mistakes and yet was loved by his father.
I’ll be blogging about each session of the Bible study group that I attend. I find that I feel less alone when I blog about things. I also get to internalize what I hear by doing so.
Usually, in my weekly write-ups about church, I write about something from the service itself. Today, an infant was being baptized, and the pastor said that the baby was different after baptism than he was before. This overlapped somewhat with the pastor’s sermon, in which he affirmed that people who are baptized receive the Holy Spirit, which guides and cleanses. (This is a Presbyterian Church.) I’m rather skeptical about a ritual with water conferring on a person some spiritual power—and I’d say this about myself, not just a baby. Over time, I’ve awaited spiritual transformation less and less, as I’ve tried to make the best of my own humanity, with all of its flaws, rather than beating myself up for being human, or expecting some spiritual wave to overwhelm me and make me perfect. But, sometimes, having a particular outlook or attitude can be transformative, and perhaps that is what I can gain from the Bible study group, as I learn about how others are transformed.