Mar 26, 2015

How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor: An Interview with Dr. Mark Yarbrough

We are excited to have Dr. Mark Yarbrough join us to talk about his new book, How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor: A Practical and Entertaining Exploration of the World’s Most Famous Book. Dr. Yarbrough is Vice President for Academic Affairs, Academic Dean, Associate Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary. He also serves on the Executive Committee of the elder board and as part of the pastoral preaching team at Centerpoint Church in Mesquite, TX.

1. As one who serves in both the academic world and in the local church, how do you see this book bridging the gap that seems to exist between these worlds?

I’m privileged to engage both worlds. I think you are correct—there is a perceived gap between the academic world and the local church. Sometimes folks in the local church think that Bible study is best left to the “professionals” or those who have “academic” training. And sometimes those in the academy forget that we need to pass along the training that we have been so abundantly provided. 

It’s best for us to remember that we are all in this together. God’s Word is for all people, in all places, at all times. My prayer is that a book like this will make people run to the Word and spend time in it. Does it provide a sneak peak into the Seminary classroom? You bet! My hope is that when people do, they realize it is not as intimidating as they might think. Seminary students are simply on a quest to know God’s word more intimately. I hope that is the desire of every committed disciple of Christ. 

2. Many have noted that we live in an increasingly biblically illiterate age. How might this work help to address that problem, especially in our churches? 

  We do live in an increasingly biblically illiterate age. No doubt about it. That’s a true phenomenon because we are moving further into our post-Christian culture. More and more people know less and less about the Bible. However, there is another trend that scares me more: the church is lacking in biblical literacy. That’s a different context. Let me make a distinction here. Biblical illiteracy is generally a term that is used in reference to a culture or societies’ knowledge of the Bible. American culture (Christians and non-Christians alike), at one time, had a good working understanding of the Bible. The foundation of our nation—laws, ethics, codes, are established on biblical principles. And at one time everyone knew it. But that’s not the case anymore – hence the discussion of “biblical illiteracy.” However, as I said, there is a much more alarming discussion – and that is the lack of biblical literacy in the church. In other words, there is an alarming percentage of individuals who are regular church attending, professing “believers” who do not know the basics of the faith and God’s grand story as presented in the Bible.  

I certainly pray that this book will help address that problem. That’s why there is a three-fold division in the book: Know it! Work it! Live it! Let me give a quick overview. 

Know it!

In this section, we walk through two primary things: 1) an overview of the Bible, and 2) and an overview of basic Bible doctrine. Both areas are very succinct, but are given in an attempt to provide a framework for the basics of the faith. It is important for every believer to know the basic structure of the Bible and its foundational message. Let’s face it: the Bible can be intimidating. After all, God wrote it! But I have found that when people have a basic understanding of the 66 books…it empowers them to be a better student of the Bible as a whole. The second overview—Bible doctrine—is just as important. There are things that all believers, at all times, have always believed. We review those things and state their significance to our faith.

Work it!

This section deals with how to study the Bible. We look at a variety of things such as how to be good readers and observers. We also look at proper methods for “interpretation.” In academic circles, this is called hermeneutics—and we simply don’t talk about it enough. Our culture is growing increasingly comfortable with a hermeneutical approach of self-determined, subjective interpretation. In that model, anything can mean whatever the “interpreter” wants it to mean. So while this portion of the book gets a little more academic, I show the reader why “interpretation” matters. In that regard it is very practical. But we also look at other areas in this portion of the book—such as historical and cultural backgrounds. I’m on a mission to convince everyone that it is the Lord’s will for them to go to Israel (wink). In fact, that’s what one of the chapters is titled. We also look at how to study various types of Scripture such as narrative, poetry, prophecy, and letters. This second section deals with us as readers, or students, of the text. It reminds us how we should “Work” with the biblical text in order to better understand it. 

Live it!

The final section of the book is highly practical. The greatest temptation of every believer is to keep God’s word theoretical. While there are things we are supposed to know, and there are approaches to understanding that we must have . . . if we keep knowledge as facts and figures and do not embrace the life change of which that knowledge directs—we’ve simply missed the boat. Howard Hendricks once phrased it this way: “To know and not do is to not know at all.” He is spot on, and this portion of the book drives the reader to embrace the life change that God intends when we interact with His Word. Obviously this only occurs when one is in submission to the Holy Spirit.

On another note, I want to encourage all of us who teach and lead in the local church to do a couple of things. First teach regularly some type of “Basic Beliefs” course. I know it sounds so academic-ish when I say “course,” but I think you know what I mean. In some methodical way we need to be teaching believers what it means to be a Christian (basic doctrine/convictions) and the basic message of the Bible. This will help us address the declining biblical literacy issue rampant in our local churches. Second, we need to teach people how to study the Bible. Praise the Lord for faithful teaching churches. I have thousands of friends who are faithful expositors every Sunday. They preach through books of the Bible and give faithful lessons in a local church context. That’s great and we should never stop doing that. But we need to go one step further. We need to teach people how to study the word themselves. I’m afraid it is possible that we’ve spoon fed them a little too much, and have failed to teach believers to eat for themselves. Obviously that is not true of everyone, but we need to sound the alarm and get disciples reading and studying the Word for themselves. That’s why every local church needs to be teaching people the story of Scripture and Bible study methods. 

3. Although this book is not specifically aimed at preachers, how could a preacher benefit from reading this book? 

The content of the book will serve as a great reminder for any pastor. We all need to remember the basics and be challenged in our study practices. The text also has some real meat in it and will serve as sermon ideas. I have one extended portion over narrative literature that uses the book of Jonah as a case study. That alone is enough information for about 12 sermons!

4. Which chapter did you find the most challenging to write and why? 

Chapter 18 (“Dude I’m Sorry, I’ll Try to Do a Better Job”) and Chapter 19 (“Contaminated”) were both challenging and convicting. This is the portion of the book where I challenge us to live out our faith—the ultimate goal of Bible study. Although I record some stories I traditionally tell when covering this material, I was forced to reflect upon the human tendency to think we are not that bad off. Even believers can fall into that trap of thinking we are “a little better” than our unbelieving neighbors. Bottom line: arrogance reigns in the human heart, and even redeemed Christ-followers can fall into the trap of self-righteous thinking. We are nothing without Him, and we need to remember that daily. When we realize how desperately we need Him, then we remember that we need to be fed by Him through His Word.

5. Who are some of the people that most influenced your approach to reading the Bible and how did they help you? 

Wow. It’s hard to answer that question. I stand on the shoulders of giants—some whom you know, and some whom you do not. I’ve had the privilege of growing up in a great heritage of faith. My father and mother influenced me tremendously by living out the Christian life in front of me. They are both great students of the Word, so I was first influenced there. And they both received that model from their parents. Both sets of my grandparents were godly people who loved the Lord and His Word. Beyond that, I have been blessed with some longtime mentors in my life. I wrote about one of them early in the book. His name is Chuck Gilbert, and he continues to serve as a small-town pastor in Oklahoma. My Bible college professors also played an important part of my life and challenged me to cherish the Word. Of course, like many individuals, I have been formed by some long-time heroes of the faith at Dallas Theological Seminary. Howard Hendricks (a.k.a. “Prof”) made an indelible impact on me as a student and teacher. Mark Bailey (president of DTS) has also been a model to me as a teacher. His style of both scholar and pastor in the classroom is one I desire to emulate.

Many of my teachers have taught through good humor and it helped me learn, so I’ve tried to incorporate that into the book. It’s not entertainment for the sake of entertainment, but entertainment with a purpose that is undergirded with joy. I’ve seen that in the lives of those who have molded me, and by the grace of God, if the Lord tarries (and I pray He does not!), I will do that for the next generation.

Those interested in obtaining a copy of How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor can use this link. The book is also available on hundreds of Christian websites and Christian bookstores such as Mardel and LifeWay.

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