Inductive Bible Studies and the Road to Rome

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It certainly is remarkable to witness such core evangelical institutions as InterVarsity and Urbana now showing openness and (is it possible?) even turning to Roman Catholicism.  But I think that with hindsight, we can see at least some of the forces at work.

One of these forces is the relationship between inductive Bible studies, spiritual individualism, and the road to Rome. 

When I was a new believer, I joined an inductive Bible study.  (This was almost the evangelical version of RCC confirmation: anyone could go to church, but "real" Christians were in home Bible studies.)  Unfailingly, our Bible studies were based on the IVP inductive studies, which focused on questions but not answers (good questions, too).  Within a couple of years I was being trained to lead such Bible studies, using the IVP booklet "How to Study the Bible."  I was trained that almost the worst thing I could do is to tell someone their idea about a passage was wrong, since our goal was to get people to experience the  Bible on their own.  The leader asked questions, and allowed the participants to answer the way it seemed to them.  Unless someone was way out of the box, their idea was to be given credence, and even if they were way out of the box they were not to be told directly that they were wrong.  All individualism, no authority.  All my truth, no the truth.  When I moved to a college teaching position and got involved in campus evangelism, it was the same, largely due to the overwhelming presence of the IV ethos.  (By the way, the word InterVarsity still evokes mainly loving and grateful sentiments to my heart.  It's just that an essential part of the IV approach is rampant individualism in spirituality, truth, and authority.)  The onset of postmodernity seems to have exaccerbated this situation, not merely in evangelicalism in general but at IVP in particular: no one has the right to insist on a normative meaning of a Bible passage. 

When I was in seminary a few years later, I had a discussion with our local InterVarsity rep, who was a seasoned, old-time IV veteran.  When I brought up my concerns about the dangers of inductive Bible studies and heterodoxy, she surprised me by saying, "Yes, InterVarsity believes in heterodoxy."  Now, this was just one person, but I think it was also the simple truth.  I amazed me that this would be stated as a virtue, but there it was.  I also think this embrace of heterodoxy was predictable, just as I think this IV-Urbana dabbling with Roman Catholicism is predictable.  The very organization that perhaps more than any other promoted the idea of individual interpretation and authority, now promotes articles written by those who are fleeing individualism for the safety of papal authority. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that institutions tend to produce their opposite, and here it is.  The reason is that the institution's excesses drive its people to its opposite as a remedy.  Just as evangelical converts who grew up in the most hard-core Roman Catholic homes are among the most fervent gospel believers, it seems to be adults who grew up in the most hard-core evangelical settings who are treading the road to Rome.  In this respect, InterVarsity, and especially its inductive Bible studies, represented an extreme form of evangelicalism that was in fact not all that biblical.  Therefore its conference website now promotes what used to be its polar opposite.

For my part, I no longer believe in inductive small group Bible studies.  Now, I am not opposed to small group Bible studies, and in such settings there should be a courteous and friendly spirit that invites participation.  But they also must be competently led and guided so as to avoid error and to avoid giving the impression that the truth does not matter, but only my truth.  In my view, small group Bible study leaders must be trained in doctrine and sound biblical instruction, and must operate under the oversight of the church elders.  The inductive Bible study is a purely post-modern practice, and one of the effects of post-modern spirituality will be the flight of its refugees to the false order and authority of Rome.

Once again, human innovation in spirituality, only loosely guided by God's Word, produces as many banes as it does blessings.

Posted January 30, 2008 @ 9:00 AM by Rick Phillips
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